Recently I spoke with Composers Kaveh Cohen and Michael Nielsen about their work on Forza Motorsport and their careers.
How did you get into composing?
Like most kids, I started with piano lessons when I was very young. Although I enjoyed learning
and playing classical pieces, I think I was more interested in experimenting and soon
discovered I was able to compose my own little melodies. I think the big aha! moment for me
was seeing E.T. in 1982 and hearing John Williams’ now legendary score. I asked my parents to
buy the theme from the movie on a 7” vinyl – which I still have in the studio today – and I would
sit in front of our turntable, listening to this music over and over. I think that’s when my love for
scoring really took hold.
When I was younger, I was involved in writing, producing, and engineering pop and rock music.
I collaborated with some renowned artists, but I never landed a ‘hit.’ I believe many of my
songs leaned towards a dramatic and cinematic nature, perhaps not fitting the trends of that
time. I’ve always been drawn to pushing the boundaries of rock and electronic music toward a
more cinematic realm while also blending orchestral scores into a hybrid world. As I gradually
dove further into the realm of scoring, I found immense satisfaction in working without the
constraints of song structure. That musical freedom was very inspiring.
Compare/contrast this score to the prior games in the series.
I think it’s the studio’s aim is to give each new game in the franchise some new qualities and
features while continuing to push visual and audio boundaries, so we did quite a lot of
exploration over the 3 years we worked on the score. This score differs mainly in the more
intense areas of the game that lead up to racing. Although powerful and intense, the musical
approach was definitely more minimal and less busy than our previous scores. In other areas of
the game, I think this score continues to have an elegant and lush hybrid approach to the
What have been your biggest challenges and your greatest triumphs with the score?
I would say the biggest challenges typically come in the exploration or discovery stages of the
project, where we’re working with the audio director to find the musical language and sound of
the game. This can take quite a lot of time, with a lot of back and forth and experimentation.
Once you feel like you’re on to something, then others higher up in the studio are going to
weigh in, and you’re also going to contend with directional changes to the game itself as it
develops, which can send you back to the drawing board. The greatest triumph is always when
music is approved and when a project is finally released!
I agree. I believe there’s a phase in the game’s development where the tone and the function
of the score can be somewhat elusive. That initial exploration phase poses the biggest
challenge as you’re essentially starting from scratch. However, once you finally settle on the
sonic landscape of the score, it’s an incredibly rewarding feeling.
How much music was created for the game?
I would estimate we wrote probably around 3 – 3 1/2 hours of music total, when factoring in the
early exploration stages. Not all this music made it into the game, and of the music that did,
not all is on the album. When we assemble the score album, our hope is to craft a great
listening experience so we spend quite a lot of time curating and music editing the music for
At what point in the process do you see any gameplay and how much information are
you given at the start?
We’re generally given a broad overview of the layout and structure of the game when we start.
This really helps inform where music is needed and how it flows from section to section within
the game. Although it doesn’t have a linear story, a game like Forza Motorsport presents its
own unique challenges for continuity based on how the music needs to transition from various
areas of the game to others based on what the player chooses to do. It has to function
emotionally as well, building a player up to a race or bringing a player back down from the
excitement of a race. We’re often working in parallel to the game’s development so from time
to time we will see early animations or stills that help us get a feel of the look and texture of the
Do you play the game to get any ideas for music or just to relax?
I’m a big fan of the game outside of working on it and I do play it quite often, usually with my
son. I don’t often refer back to the previous games in the franchise for inspiration. I think our
hope and aim is to capture what has worked in the previous games, and what the fans of the
franchise have liked, and push it forward in new and innovative ways.
I do play it for fun. However, it’s a bit hard to detach yourself from the score when you’ve
worked so hard on it. When the music comes in, my attention usually shifts to thinking about
how the score is working within the game. In a perfect world, we would be handed a
completely finished game to score, but that’s entirely impossible.
Compare and contrast your work in film, television, and games, which do you prefer
In my personal experience, I would say the biggest difference between television projects and
film and video game projects I’ve scored is the schedule. Television often has a very tight and
condensed schedule, requiring a lot of music to be turned around very quickly. This is
particularly true of weekly episodic shows. They also differ in how their stories arc so there is a
technical difference in scoring approach to scenes. Obviously, film in particular presents an
opportunity for a composer to develop pieces over long story arcs. Outside of these things, I
think film, TV, and games also have a lot in common as far as instrumentation, orchestration,
electronic programming, etc. go.
What would you say is the biggest accomplishment you have had to date and what
would you say are your ultimate goals?
I honestly would say my biggest accomplishment to date is not a particular project or score,
but to have been able to create, and so far sustain, a professional career as a composer via
our company, Ninja Tracks, is able to help other composers start their careers. Growing up
and watching my personal musical heroes and their careers, my own goal has always been to
continue to work on interesting projects with people from all walks of, keep experimenting and
growing as an artist and composer and to hopefully continue to have a career in music until the
How long was the process of creating music for the game?
We worked on the game for about 3 years.
If you had carte blanche, what would you say your dream project is?
I have a deep love of Americana, so my personal dream project would be something like
Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers.
Something like a Blade Runner would be awesome!
What do you have coming up next?
Unfortunately, we’re not able to share, but there should be some exciting things coming up in