An Interview with Kyle Morrison
Stories Through Sound is a blog featuring interviews by industry professionals across the audio and post production fields. This week, we're interviewing Kyle Morrison.
Kyle Morrison is a composer, producer, session musician, and CASIO sponsored artist. A trained classical pianist, Kyle is known for producing a musical hybrid of Scandinavian metal and majestic, video game inspired piano; a unique genre that can only be described as PIANOMETAL. After releasing the first ever Pianometal concerto in 2016 to overwhelmingly positive reviews and reception, Kyle went on to release a full album in 2017. Pianometal earned multiple nominations for album of the year from a variety of publications, and fully cemented the iconic and cinematic experience that became this new genre.
A sponsored CASIO artist since 2011, Kyle has fronted the bands TRIPHON and SHATTERSPHERE. He is also known for his work with World Wrestling Entertainment composer Jim Johnston, singing the original version of the WWE theme “Don’t Question My Heart” in 2007. Kyle is currently a member of melodic death metal band Dead City Crown and power metal band Atherna. In addition, he is also the lead composer in the upcoming video game The Arcana Ritual Theater.
Was there a defining moment when you realized that you wanted to incorporate your skills as a classical pianist to be a part of your career?
I don't think there was so much a defining moment as it was an inevitable merging of my passions. I started playing video games at 5, discovered Metallica when I was 9, and started playing piano at 12. My life's mission has been to try and incorporate piano, heavy metal, and video games together in any and all ways possible. I've been playing keyboards/piano in metal bands since 2002. As a piano teacher, I would offer my students the option to play video game music instead of traditional classical music in order to keep them motivated. I am the lead composer for the upcoming video game The Arcana Ritual Theater which calls for quite a bit of heavy metal along with some more traditional video game music. I am very, very grateful to be working on that project, as it is pretty much all things I love combined into one.
On your website you describe the style you play in as “a musically schizophrenic hybrid of chaos and tranquility” otherwise known as PIANOMETAL. What inspired you to create Pianometal?
I had a serious burnout in 2014 after playing in bands for about 12 years. While I really loved the music and enjoyed a good amount of success, something wasn't sitting right deep within me. I took one of those proverbial long walks on the beach and tried to find out what was truly inside of me, musically speaking. If I had no restrictions, if I had full control over the creative process, if I wasn't worried about album sales or singles, if I was solely focused on making music that would please only me, what would that sound like? I spent months in my studio just messing around and shaping a sound that was truly unique to me. Something influenced by video games, heavy metal, and classical piano. Something completely over the top with the only goal being my personal satisfaction.
I started off by doing instrumental video game covers in a piano/metal style. After doing a few of those, my sound began to define itself and I decided to start composing original music in that style. I did some research to try and find out if someone else had already come up with this "pianometal" concept and it turns out I was the first one, haha! So I have been running with it ever since and it’s my proudest musical accomplishment. My goal with the genre now is to continuously expand upon it, incorporating different styles of metal and instrumentation, and inviting as many of my friends as possible to play on the songs.
How did you go about becoming a CASIO sponsored artist? What are some ways being a CASIO sponsored artist has affected your career?
Being sponsored by Casio has been a dream of mine since I started playing the Privia series back in 2005. The Casio Privia series continues to be my favorite line of digital pianos. The Casio brand wasn't typically used very often in the metal scene, but I considered myself more of a pianist than a synth player. I use fully weighted 88-key pianos instead of reduced sized keyboards, so I’m kind of an oddball in that sense. I tried to pitch myself over the years to Casio and found some luck with it in 2011 when I got a chance to meet with them at The Summer NAMM Show. I had come prepared with music, pictures, and I even put together a video presentation for them showcasing me playing Casio pianos for sizable crowds on a regular basis. I wanted to be part of the roster sooooo bad! For some crazy reason these guys took a chance on me and I became the first death metal pianist on the company roster. I have to thank Mike Martin, Mark Amentt, and Stephen Schmidt for taking that chance and having me on board. I hope I was worth it, haha! I've had a really great relationship with Casio since then and it has expanded to the point where I became a product trainer and got involved in other aspects of the company. I've had the opportunity to travel with them all over the country and participate in a ton of awesome events. The people at Casio are phenomenal and I hope to work alongside them for as long as they'll have me.
Is there a piece of audio gear that you couldn’t live without?
Besides my Casio pianos, I think it would be nearly impossible for me to compose metal without the Shreddage libraries from Impact Soundworks. I often describe myself as a guitarist trapped inside a pianist's body. I've always wanted to play guitar but kept my concentration on piano and the years just flew by, haha! Shreddage 3 Jupiter and Hydra lets me compose metal with deep sampled 7 and 8 string guitars respectively. It's pretty easy to create realistic sounding metal guitars fairly quickly. I also use Shreddage 3 Abyss for 5-string bass to create a full band sound. At this point, Shreddage is a necessity for me, can't live without it!
Has the pandemic had an effect on how you manage your career? Do you foresee any big changes coming to the music industry in the near future?
Well for starters, I certainly don't travel much anymore, haha. I have been focusing more on composition, studio projects, and production. I have gotten quite a bit done from my home studio this year, as I have completed a ton of new music for The Arcana Ritual Theater as well as my bands Dead City Crown and Atherna. Live music and touring will be another story. The music industry was suffering long before the pandemic and there are a lot of problems that have been made much worse by our incompetent government coupled with predatory conglomerates eager to seize on the hardships of independent venues. LiveNation, in particular, has a slew of new policies that cut artist pay 20% across the board, impose harsh financial punishment upon artists for cancellations, and further punishment for ticket sales "not meeting expectations." With all of these hostile new policies that are designed to further burden artists, I'm in no hurry to get back out there and perform under those terms and conditions.
Many people in the music business are seeing no relief, forcing them to seek other work in different areas outside of music. Lord knows we aren't making a living off of Spotify royalties. I do try to look on the bright side of things, but realistically speaking, I don't see one right now and I wouldn't expect things to get better anytime soon.
What advice would you give to someone trying to start their career as a musician and composer?
Haha! Oh, where to start? First and foremost, be a good person. Be pleasant, positive, offer compliments, support others, and don't be that person that thinks being a cutthroat is the best way to advance your career. There are a million other people just like you that are trying to be heard. The jerks sink to the bottom and it doesn't matter how good you think you are. Be humble, stay humble.
Make sure you love music enough to lose money over it. Unless you come from a wealthy background, you will probably be poor for a long time and have very little free time to spend with friends, family, or on other hobbies. If you aren't completely obsessed, this isn't for you. This industry is volatile, with no set hours, very few days off, no paid vacation, benefits, salaries, retirement packages, 401ks, and many other things your non-musical counterparts will enjoy. Generally speaking, don't have kids early, don't get married young, and be ready to dedicate everything you have towards this. If this sounds scary, don't do it! Music is a fine hobby that you can enjoy in your spare time! But If you are still hungry to make this your life, then welcome aboard! You'll be in great company :)
Anything else you'd like to add?
Sure! If you'd like to check out the scope of my work, click the links below. I have been hard at work finishing up new releases set for 2021 with new Pianometal, Dead City Crown, Atherna, and one more band that I can't mention just yet. You can also check out a demo reel of the music that will be in The Arcana Ritual Theater. Thanks so much for having me, wishing you all the best with Command + S!
Keep up with Kyle!