Interview: Megan Carnes
By Cassandra Litten
Megan Carnes, a 27 year old Chicago native currently living in Los Angeles, is a woman making her own way in the very much male-dominated field of media composition.
Her ever-growing list of credits include composition work for feature-length films, shorts, animation, television, and video games. Notably, “The First Stars I See Tonight” from the Emmy winning show HitRECord on TV and the award-winning short film The Video Dating Tape of Desmondo Ray, aged 33 and ¾ and follow-up web series, This is Desmondo Ray!.
While we talk, Megan reveals that the previous morning she’d woken up to news that her score for Desmondo collaborator Steve Baker’s short animated film I’m Still Here had won her another award, this time for “Best Original Score” at Tropfest, the world’s largest short film festival, held annually in Australia.
From her website she proudly states: When I'm not doing something music-related, I'm usually petting a cat or eating something covered in cheese.
[ Cassandra Litten] Okay, so to start we like to throw out a kind of ice-breaker question, a “get to know you” kind of thing. Cool?
[ Megan Carnes] Sounds great, go for it.
[ c.l ] What is one piece of media that you’re obsessed with right now? Anything at all.
[ m.c ] Emma Gonzalez giving the speech about gun control and telling Tr*mp how we need it as one of the survivors of the [Stoneman Douglas] school shooting. I’ve been watching it a bunch. It’s great.
Knowing Megan, it is not particularly surprising that she would think of this rather than a newly released film or recently-binged Netflix show (like what I would have answered - looking at you, Mindhunter). Though she is witty and funny, often making fun of herself on social media in a way that is relatable rather than deprecating, she is an artist of fierce magnitude. Her principles are evident in the work she chooses to take on. She is enormously talented and passionate and, despite being somewhat soft-spoken, has never been shy about challenging the status quo.
We spend some time talking about how we met and how long we’ve known each other, both of us shocked to realize it’s been nearly a decade. In September 2010, we signed up for a website called HitRECord.org, a collaborative production company run by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Although neither of us is as active on the site as we once were, we have made everlasting friends and connections, relationships that have helped to guide us toward our artistic goals.
The most exciting thing we discuss, and what made me really push for having Megan featured in our second issue, is her work with video game music composition.
[ m.c ] I wasn’t really a gamer growing up or anything, but I started getting into, in my adult life, pretty artsy, indie games. The way you write music for video games is a lot different than film scoring, I think it’s really fun. Instead of writing a regular score, you make these building blocks that kind of sit on top and work together musically. Because in a game, you never know when something is going to happen. It depends on what the player chooses. … It’s a really different and interesting way of writing music, I wanna do more of that. Ideally I’d like to do films and games. Games I haven’t really done before, heavily. I’m trying that right now. That’s why I’m making my game.
[ c.l ] Yes! That’s what I was going to ask about next. Tell us the story behind Inter-View.
[ m.c ] Game developers won’t hire a composer who hasn’t worked on a game before, but I also don’t want to do it for free. I would do it if it was a game I was really interested in, but I don’t really want to do it just to get the credit, you know? So I thought, what’s a little thing I can put together to show that I can do this? It was supposed to be simple, but it ended up as something different. I had this idea to have it in an interactive format, where you’re getting asked multiple choice questions and how you answer brings up different layers --
[ c.l ] Like Choose Your Own Adventures?
[ m.c ] Yeah! Pretty much. And then it creates a piece based upon your answer. So, I decided to do a Kickstarter and got some people on board - David Sugarman to write, Soju Shots to illustrate, both from HitRECord - and so I have to make the game now rather than it just being an idea that I come up with and forget about. It’s forcing me to finish. I’m learning a lot of things. I’ve made tiny little games before, but nothing this complicated. I’m learning a lot about programming and audio programming, and as it goes on I keep adding new things. I think it’s a pretty neat concept, I hope, and I think it’ll be a good way for people to experience my music, and be able to tell that I am able to do this.
[ c.l ] That’s an interesting way to go about that - to let people know that you can do that. It shows such initiative.
[ m.c ] [laughs] Thank you! I think it’s more from stubbornness. I’m very adamant about not working for free, unless it’s a project that I really, really like. So, I think it came from that more than anything.
[ c.l ] [laughs] I mean, that’s fair!
[ m.c ] [laughs] I’ll just make my own game!
[ c.l ] So, what’s the progress with that? How are things going?
[ m.c ] It’s coming along really well! The artwork, I got the first piece and we’re talking about what else to do with the art. It’s been written, I’m waiting to get instrumental parts back to me. I’ve also started getting some of the audio programming stuff, you know, queueing different layers up if you choose a certain answer. It’s been really complicated, but it’s coming along.
[ c.l ] That sounds great!
[ m.c ] Yeah, it’s definitely different. I’ve never been in charge before, I’ve always been someone who’s hired to help someone with music. So it’s been pretty intimidating, but exciting.
We close up our interview wishing each other luck on our separate endeavors and I feel a surge of pride. I have followed Megan’s work from her college days to the present and to see how far she’s come since the first time we met is endlessly inspiring.