'Red Dead Redemption 2' Official Score Launches on Digital Platforms

Courtesy of Rockstar Games

"It's safe to say that we created more than three times the amount of music that you would ever hear in one playthrough of the game," director of music Ivan Pavlovich tells The Hollywood Reporter.

It's time to hit the range with The Music of Red Dead Redemption 2: Original Score.

The official score of the best-selling Western game from Rockstar launched on Friday morning across all major digital music platforms, including Apple Music and Spotify. Presented in collaboration with Lakeshore Records, The Music of Red Dead Redemption 2 was composed by longtime Rockstar collaborator Woody Jackson, who previously worked on the studio's Grand Theft Auto V.

The score features contributions from a wide range of artists and musicians including Venezuelan producer Arca, saxophonist Colin Stetson and Indonesian experimental band Senyawa, among others.

The release of the game's score follows the launch of Red Dead Redemption 2's original soundtrack in July on digital platforms. 

Crafting the music for a game as large as Red Dead Redemption 2 posed a stiff challenge for Ivan Pavlovich, director of music on the title. Pavlovich previously worked on Rockstar games such as Grand Theft Auto V and the original Red Dead in 2010, but with its 2018 sequel, he sought to create a "living score" that adapted to the in-game world as players progressed through it.

Pavlovich caught up with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss the process of crafting Red Dead's sonic world, building a soundscape that encompassed a "massive sweep of 19th century America" and how he bagged talent like Willie Nelson, D'Angelo and Josh Homme as contributors (hint: a hurricane played a part).

Can you explain the phrase "living score" and what it means to you in the context of the technology?

There are three different music systems in the game: mission score, which we use to accompany the big, focused narrative moments; dynamic open world score; and then we have the songs that play in key moments in the game. There is a fourth way for music to appear in the game, and that is the music you hear played by in-game characters, whether that’s Javier getting the gang together around the fire to sing "Cielito Lindo" or a passing stranger with a harmonica. For us, a "living score" refers to the dynamic open world score that is reacting in real time to the slightest actions by the player. 

The dynamic score consists of a range of pieces of music broken up into their component pieces, or stems, that can be seamlessly layered on top of each other or transitioned between in order for it to feel like one consistent, living piece of music. Bass sounds live on one stem, certain kind of percussion on another, guitar on another, et cetera. Woody Jackson did an amazing job at creating this living soundscape across the game.

By triggering and blending these stems, we can seamlessly adjust the mood and atmosphere to match the choices that you, as Arthur, are making moment to moment as you navigate the world. It can be something as significant as escalating tension when there’s conflict between you and another character, or something as subtle as introducing new sounds to alert a player to unseen danger, like a rattlesnake in the grass.

What new challenges did the technical advances in the process present? What was easier or harder about doing this game compared to the last?

The first challenge was simply the size: Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place across a massive sweep of 19th century America through five fictional states that cover everything from mountain regions and the heartland plains down into the south and out to the Western frontier, and we wanted each area to have its own distinct character and sound.

The second relates to how much more complex the system was that we were using to create the score. The original Red Dead Redemption also used a stem system, but we were limited to five separate tracks of stems, and each had to be recorded in the same key and tempo. For Red Dead Redemption 2, we had 11 separate tracks of stems to work with and we weren’t limited by tempo or key. And, of course, once you remove the limitations, you’re creating more freely, but it was a challenge to make it all sound exactly as seamless as we wanted it to. 

What about scoring Red Dead Redemption 2 differed from the original game?

The score for the original Red Dead Redemption was more heavily influenced by traditional and Spaghetti Western sounds, but we wanted to create our own unique sound for Red Dead Redemption 2. The diversity of the landscapes we were working with for Red Dead Redemption 2 allowed us to incorporate many more diverse sounds into the overall mix, such as the work from collaborators like Colin Stetson’s incredible work on the saxophone, or Arca’s ambient electronics that are used across the open world, or the unique instrumentation and vocalization of Indonesian band Senyawa that helped us create a unique atmosphere for each section.

The soundtrack to the original Red Dead Redemption is quite ambient and pastoral. This time we tried to incorporate more unusual noises as an additional element, subtle flourishes that would add to the atmosphere but never distract you too much. Then, as you build up the action, the score would naturally build from the ambient pastoral moment in a very natural way.

Speaking with Rockstar’s founder, Sam Houser, it was very important to us that the changes were subtle and didn’t feel like the player could easily understand what was triggering a change in the musical soundscape. We didn't want the score to sound like a video game action sample pack just kicked in. That’s a lot easier to do with electronic sounds than it is with acoustic sounds, but what we achieved with Red Dead Redemption 2 feels like a real leap forward.

How much music needed to be composed for a game of this size?

An enormous amount. It’s hard to put an exact number on it, given that you have so many different kinds of music we were creating. Not only are there multiple versions of the various stems for open world score and missions, but we also have multiple versions of certain songs to be played based on the choices you have made in the story. It’s safe to say that we created more than three times the amount of music that you would ever hear in one playthrough of the game.

How did talent like Willie Nelson, D’Angelo and Josh Homme get involved in the project? Did they voice interest or were they approached with the opportunity?

After the mission score and the dynamic open world score, the third major component to the musical landscape of the game are the songs that support specific moments in the game. This time, rather than have those songs be more disparate, we wanted to use [producer] Daniel Lanois’ iconic sound as the sonic through-line for all songs to complement the incredible work Woody had done with the score. We are all big fans of Lanois’ work going back to his work with Dylan on something like The Man in the Long Black Coat, or his work with Willie on the Teatro album. Daniel wrote "Cruel World" especially for Willie. Josh was a lucky accident. We were getting ready to record Willie’s version of the song, but a hurricane prevented him from coming to L.A. to record. Daniel then sent the track to Josh in the hopes that we could get a version in time for the game. Josh was on tour in Australia but jumped into a local studio there and recorded a version. Then, with just days to go, Willie was able to fly out and meet Daniel to record his own version. We liked the two versions so much we used both. 

D’Angelo was someone we already had a relationship with and was a fan of the game. Daniel Lanois had received a beautiful track, "Crash of Worlds" from collaborator Rocco De Lucca, and we all thought that D’ Angelo would sound perfect on the track. Luckily for us, he was into it and it became one of the most emotional moments in the game.