A Conversation With Producer Jason Michael Paul
Jason Michael Paul, the producer of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, is bringing this massively successful show to Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts on December 27. I’ve seen this show two times, and I look forward to seeing it again – it’s that good! Each time the music is updated to reflect new video games in the Zelda series or simply shaken up to offer something new for repeat attendees, such as myself. If you’ve never seen the show before, witnessing this performance in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center is the perfect way to do so. It’s a beautiful venue with wonderful acoustics, and the intimate environment will further immerse you in the spellbinding show that is The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses. In addition to picking up tickets to see The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses in Philadelphia on December 27, check out my interview below with Jason Michael Paul. We covered a lot of ground in this interview, including how this show came to be, Jason’s favorite Zelda video games, how he started off his musical career with Luciano Pavarotti at the Kimmel Center, and more. Enjoy!
For people that aren’t familiar with The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, how would you describe it?
Imagine the soundtrack of your youth being performed by a full orchestra and choir. A reimagined score, if you will, or The Legend of Zelda music, overseen and curated by the original creators themselves – of course, with my execution abilities – all over the world. It’s basically a celebration of the rich 30-year history of The Legend of Zelda franchise, from the very first game all the way through to Breath of the Wild.
All the visuals are updated, of course, with the latest editions of the games themselves, such as Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask on Nintendo 3DS, as well as Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD.
We also just added a new movement from Skyward Sword, making it the fifth movement in the symphony.
As the Producer, what’s your role in bringing this show to life?
I do everything. I just have two people that work with me. And independent consultants are hired on an as-needed basis. I have my Technical Director, who is running the show I produced. And, of course, I have the Conductor, who is conducting the show to the click track.
All of the bookings, all of the organization of the tour dates, the branding and identity for the show and all of the creation of the show – from all the video elements to the backgrounds that are created to the clicks that are created for the show’s music and lighting – that’s a creation of my development of this show. It’s become a seamless, replicable and flawlessly executed touring production.
How did this idea come to life? Did you approach Nintendo? Did they come to you?
I had been working with Nintendo on another show I was producing called Play! A Video Game Symphony. I presented, as part of that show, a lot of the blockbusters from Nintendo, of course. Mario, Metroid, Zelda, Kid Icarus – a lot of the first-party Nintendo games. The flagships, if you will. As part of that premiere that I did in Chicago, I had a who’s-who of video game composers – everyone from the East to the West; North America, Japan, Europe – they were all there, including Koji Kondo, and our relationship budded from there. Mr. Kondo was kind enough to play the piano for our Super Mario Bros. performance for the fans, and he also participated in a meet and greet. That’s where the collaboration and the musical connection began.
When the 25th anniversary rolled around for The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in helping them produce a concert in celebration of the 25th anniversary, which I did. I produced and promoted it in LA and London. I also consulted on the concert in Tokyo, lending some musical scores we created for the London and LA shows. I guess it was so successful that it evolved into a touring show, correct?
Yeah, that was exactly it. When we were conceptualizing the idea, we wanted it to be true to the symphony. That’s why we decided to create movements. It was the first video game concert to feature symphony movements. That’s why you’ll notice that the program is similar to that of a traditional symphony concert.
I’ve seen the show twice and I’m looking forward to seeing it again on December 27 at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.
Oh, that’s great! I thought I was talking to someone with virgin ears. Then, did you know that we also produced the 25th anniversary CD that came with Skyward Sword?
Yes, that’s a great CD! How much leeway are you given by Nintendo when it comes to your interpretation of the music?
We have to embellish and be creative with the medleys and the melodies. We strive to give it that richer, fuller sound. We’re going for that Hollywood sound. So, we want it to be Kondo meets John Williams. A lot of big brass and percussion. That’s what gives it that full sound. And, of course, we have 66 musicians, so we want to keep them all busy.
Does Nintendo actively play a role in the show? If so, how?
Only in the beginning, when we’re going through the approval process do we get anything through them. Anything the audience sees is all pre-approved by Nintendo.
What’s the process for selecting the playlist? You have so many songs to choose from.
Most of the songs we include in the movements are from console titles in the Zelda series. During the interludes we try and utilize music from the handhelds, such as Triforce Heroes. The overture is, pretty much, the greatest hits. The intermezzo is a palate cleanser – it warms you up for the second half of the symphony. With the finales, we try to end on the highest note possible. By the time the show’s over, we want you to feel like you have to go home and play the games because you’re so excited. (laughs)
And are there any songs you’ve had to fight to keep in?
Truly, I haven’t had any battles. We’ve been very fortunate. What we’ve wanted to do has always aligned with Nintendo’s vision for these shows.
What are your thoughts on the minimalist score of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild?
That game is very much about exploration. And that’s what I like most about that game, and I think the soundtrack reflects that.
What have you incorporated into the show that’s from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild?
You’ll have to wait and see. That game features a lot of sound effects. Something I always wanted to do was incorporate sound effects with orchestral performance, and that’s where I think we’ve succeeded with this new iteration that features the Breath of the Wild music.
What is your favorite Zelda theme? And why?
Wow! From a game or what I’ve created?
How about both?
Well, the overture because it gives a great overview of Zelda in six minutes or less. That’s really why I love that piece. It’s got all the elements and visuals of the series intertwined into one. It’s the greatest hits of The Legend of Zelda.
When it comes to the games, I really like the “Great Fairy’s Fountain” theme, which we don’t perform anymore. We replaced it with an equally beautiful intermezzo. But I really do love that piece and it inspired me to want to have harps in the show. One of the things that’s unique about our show is that we have two harps at the front of the stage. That’s for a reason.
There’s a lot. I love all the movements. I love all the themes. I love the music from Majora’s Mask. I love the music from Twilight Princess. Skyward Sword, of course.
Have you seen a surge in attendance as a result of the immense popularity of Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild?
That’s not a metric we’re able to validate. It’s not easy trying to sell tickets, so I don’t take any show for granted. And I hope that people will come out to the shows not only because of the popularity of Breath of the Wild and Nintendo Switch, but also because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime celebration of the series as a whole.
Are there any other series you’d like to build a show around? For example, Super Mario Bros., Metroid or Kirby?
I have my eyes on a few. I was the original producer of the Final Fantasy concerts back in 2004. I have presented projects to Square Enix, so hopefully I’ll get the chance to work with that franchise again. I’ve also presented projects to Nintendo, not just Zelda but the idea of doing a Nintendo All-Stars that features all of the big series, including Zelda. I’m hopeful that Nintendo will move in that direction at some point. The Elder Scrolls is on my list too.
What are your thoughts on Video Games Live and the great work they do?
There’s enough room in this marketplace for a variety of shows. Hopefully we can all focus on bringing music from great video games to the masses.
What’s your favorite Zelda game to play?
It depends. Growing up as a child, I had the gold cartridge for the original game: The Legend of Zelda. So, that was my favorite game at the time. As an adult and the father of a 10-year-old, Majora’s Mask is a blast. More recently, playing Breath of the Wild with my daughter on Switch is really fun. Also, as a professional, being able to work on the orchestral CD that came with Skyward Sword makes that game special to me because it’s one of my proudest accomplishments.
When did you get into video games?
I’ve been working in the video games industry since I was 19-years-old. I grew up with every console, from Commodore 64 to Atari to Pong and everything in between. My first job out of college was with PlayStation. I worked at the very first E3 as a grunt, working PlayStation’s booth.
I’m also a businessman, and I’ve been fortunate to always be on a path that has led me to artist and music management. I was also fortunate to be working with Luciano Pavarotti and The Three Tenors, doing opera shows all over the world. Being with the greatest three tenors in the history of opera at some of the biggest venues in the world was amazing. I was privileged.
That’s awesome! How did that opportunity come about?
Basically, I leveraged my network of contacts to the best of my ability. And I made sure to be very flexible and have a great desire to do better work than anyone. Be an Associate Producer at the age of 23. Just trying to fast-track it. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and meeting someone in the position to change my life forever.
When you visit a city like Philadelphia, how do you figure out which musicians are going to be performing? Do you contact a city’s orchestra and arrange it with them. What’s the process?
I work with a great team of contractors. It’s not that difficult, to be honest. I have a contract with the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), so I can only work with them in North America. It’s pretty much this simple: I make a call based on my instrumentation to the local AFM chapter. They have a schedule and they give me a quotation based on that sized orchestra. I also hire a choir master and he will hire the choir. It’s 24 members. Then we all do one rehearsal, which is the same day as the show.
This is the first time The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses is being performed at the Kimmel Center, correct?
Yes, I actually started my career at the Kimmel Center with Luciano Pavarotti and the Philadelphia Orchestra. So, I’ve always wanted to perform this show there. I like the intimacy of a concert hall. It creates a great environment for a show like this one. This show is designed for a concert hall and that’s where this show should live. It’s going to be the best night ever. I can’t wait!