Alumni Profile: Kasson Crooker—Plastic Guitars and Race Cars
Kasson Crooker wasn’t even a fan of video games when he came to Berklee in 1991. Now, as audio director at Harmonix, he helps create games like last year's hit Guitar Hero II and the upcoming Rock Band.
"I grew up with 8-bit video games: Atari 2600, Intellivision, arcade games. Then during the '90s when things moved over to the Sega Genesis and the PSOne, I didn't play anymore," says Crooker. "I'm kind of a non-gamer working at a game company."
When he graduated, the music production and engineering major just knew he didn't want to be a studio engineer. Luckily, his last-semester internship at Lexicon turned into a full-time job, and he spent the next four years testing effects processors and recording equipment.
From there, he went on to work at Watertown game company Papyrus, doing sound design for Nascar racing games for the PC. "They had no audio person on staff. . . . They were making a lot of money, so I had a huge budget," says Crooker. "I got to build a studio, I got to compose some music for the games, I got to do a lot of sound design, and I got to foley. I actually recorded race cars on the track."
After a stint in L.A., where his band Splashdown was signed by Capitol Records, Crooker returned to Boston and discovered Harmonix through a friend whose brother worked there. He's been with them since their first console game, FreQuency, in 2000.
"For the first few games I did a lot of making sounds, writing music, recording dialogue for tutorials. Then we started making multiple video games at the same time. . . . We had small teams on each game, and each team had an audio lead, and I was overseeing all the different teams," says Crooker. "Then an opportunity came up with a small, portable interactive game, which we're working on right now, and I'm running the whole game. I oversee audio people, artists, programmers, and game designers."
Crooker's job at Harmonix dovetails well with his own music. With so many musicians on staff, the company is very flexible about letting them go on tour for weeks at a time. His own band, Freezepop, has had songs featured in a variety of games. A song they had in Guitar Hero 2 has been on the iTunes top 100 electronic songs chart for seven months—and it hasn't even been released on an album yet.
Crooker's biggest piece of advice for Berklee students? Be flexible. "Companies really want an audio person who is well rounded," he says. "They might say for this part of the game we need to record dialogue, for this part of the game we have to write some interactive music, and you also need to know how to mix it in surround. The ability to compose and mix and stay on top of audio technology is important. Don't limit yourself to 'I'm only a composer.'"