Dutch Video Game Music Composer Joris Hoogsteder Finds Opportunity in OC

Hoogsteder and his studio (Courtesy Brandon Toy)

Three years ago, a devoted love for composing brought Joris Hoogsteder from the Netherlands to Orange County. He has completely immersed himself in his passion, earning his masters in Composition and Theory from Cal State Fullerton, working at Moonwalk Audio with the renowned composer Adam Gubman, and freelancing. Since living in OC, he has composed/arranged music for over 30 video games, famous YouTubers, commercials, and even the Royal Wedding.

Video game music can be the most underrated yet most kick-ass part of the playing experience. It takes serious effort, precision, and creativity to formulate music (and good music at that) that is in-synch with what’s happening on screen. Sweet nostalgia fills our ears when we hear the distinct sounds of Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Street Fighter, Tetris, or Sonic the Hedgehog.

Hoogsteder’s fascination with video game music began when he was younger and frequently played video games. His personal favorites are Rayman 2: The Great Escape and anything by Koji Kondo.

“I would always figure out how the music operated within a video game,” Hoogsteder tells the Weekly. “It’s kind of like a puzzle.”

He explains how players decide for themselves whether they’ll move forward, backward, turn left or right, and the music must always coincide with the choice that’s made.

“You have to play music that is memorable but also doesn’t get in the way or get annoying, which can be tough,” Hoogsteder says. “I have to judge if I would listen to this piece of music for 20 hours in a row.”

He gives a brief rundown of the tricks within the layers of music during a video game.

When nothing is happening, the music is mellow. This could be as simple as just strings playing. When something happens, like an enemy comes on screen or you’re passing someone in a race, it switches to a different version of the same piece of music – this could be added brass to intensify the sound. Different layers accompany what’s happening in the game.

Thinking about music and ensuring there is a synergy between the audio and visual aspects is what captivates Hoogsteder the most.

Hoogsteder’s natural talent for writing music was discovered unexpectedly when he was in high school. He was chosen to play a piece by Beethoven for a Charlie Brown musical at a theater school. He was unfamiliar with how to play the piano and how to read notes, but the diligent drummer quickly taught himself. His musical ability was recognized and as a result, he asked if he wanted to write songs, which he had also never done before.

He decided to take on the challenge.

“Before I knew it, I was writing musicals for them, like full-fledged 12 song musicals,” Hoogsteder says. “I still help them out every now and then. They gave me the chance to experiment with that kind of stuff.”

Musicals played a vast role in everything he did. If he wasn’t watching them, he was writing them.

At this point, Hoogsteder had never considered moving to the United States. He was unsure of his plan to become a professional drummer and considering other options he had not yet found.

After doing some research, he realized commercial music would be fun and that writing musicals would be a dream.

Within his major, he did a lot of film scoring and made music for motion picture media. Finally, he had a hybrid of the two passions he enjoyed most, and that became the beginning of his journey as a composer, orchestrator, and producer. During his second year of college was when he developed his musical taste and found out how exciting writing video game music was.

Hoogsteder was a scholar throughout his academic career. He earned his bachelors with honors in MediaMusic from ArtEZ School of Music. During his bachelors’ program, he studied with Tom Salisbury of The Pointer Sisters as well as arranger for John Williams and Danny Weijermars, co-founder of AudioEase, Altiverb, and Speakerphone. He also took classes with Junkie XL, composer for Man of Steel, Divergent, Deadpool, etc. and Borislav Slavov, composer for Crysis. While in school, Hoogsteder received a scholarship. Once he graduated, he decided that he would come to California to go to a university to pursue his education.

Hoogsteder had been in California before, and because Holland is so Westernized, there wasn’t much of a culture shock when he decided to move over 5,000 miles away from home. He loved the beach, meeting new people, and the fact that he could network and collaborate with his heroes in Orange County.

Since working at Moonwalk Audio, Hoogsteder has been grateful for the projects he’s been able to work on and the knowledge he’s acquired from doing so.

“I love everything I do, really. I never have a bad day. I’m really happy about that,” he says.

His proudest moment thus far is taking on his biggest responsibility yet as an arranger for Valve’s annual largest
video game tournament in the world last summer. He had 11 days to arrange a completely original medley of all the music from the large-scale multiplayer video game, Dota 2. This was a multi-million dollar event where the Valve Studio Orchestra and rock band, Critical Hit, would be expected to play his arrangement during the final round of the competition. Hoogsteder was in Holland at the time that it needed to be worked on and despite the nine hour time change, he Skyped with his colleagues every day to ensure everything went accordingly. And it did. 20,000 people attended the performance and over 5 million live-streamers watched it.

“I’m very happy with what I do, to keep these things going. Working on these big projects is a fucking blast. I hope to continue doing that and see where things go,” Hoogsteder says. “It’s just good times. I know you have to keep working like that because you don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring. I’m never getting used to this stuff…I’m always like, ‘holy shit that just happened.’ It’s very important to stay humble and stay excited about stuff, and never take things for granted – that’s the most important.”

Yvonne Villasenor is often in a sleep deprived daze daydreaming about ’90s heartthrobs, dogs, upcoming album releases, and what she’s going to eat for dinner. When she snaps back to reality, she writes about OC’s latest music and artists.

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