Hauntingly beautiful music from a hauntingly beautiful voice ... You'd have to have the soul of a black dragon not to be transported by the strains of video game music composer, arranger, and musician Malukah of Monterrey, Mexico. Malu's evocative cover of "The Dragonborn Comes" from Bethesda's video game Skyrim catapulted the unassuming musician to more than 8 million views across her own channel, Bethesda's blog, and countless other gaming sites that couldn't get enough of her ethereal voice.
And wouldn't you know it? She's a World of Warcraft player. While she was reluctant to discuss exactly which WoW track she's been toying with for an upcoming cover (but come on, given her style, is it so difficult to figure out?), we did get her to chat with us about her music and her love of gaming: Malukah, on the cusp of becoming a musical force to be reckoned with.
Main characterAlixir Race and class Blood elf paladin (retribution/holy) Guild Blades of the Immortals Realm Mug'thol
WoW Insider: Congrats on the millions and millions of views for "The Dragonborn Comes"! Your Skyrim music covers are absolutely stunning. But this fine crowd of readers, of course, is more interested in your WoW cred. Your About page mentions what you call "a tiny World of Warcraft addiction." You're among friends here, so 'fess up!
Malukah: Thank you so much! The entire Skyrim soundtrack has been a great inspiration in game and out, for me and for many others who also love the game and Jeremy Soule's music.
I played the seven-day free trial of WoW on January 2009. It was supposed to be a week of research for an indie game studio that needed music. I ended up playing for two years.
My playstyle is very laid back, mostly questing alone or with one or two friends. Part of me wishes I knew what belonging to a raiding guild feels like, but the other part of me loves to explore lands and play without too much on the line. I panic easily in WoW. ... I am a bit embarrassed about this because I am certainly not the best player and my gear is a bit sad. Hahaha! But I hope people understand.
I have characters both Alliance and Horde. I don't know if this makes me a bad WoW player for not picking sides... Hehe! Started out Alliance but after a year, I realized I wanted to enjoy the music of the Horde cities and territories without being scared of getting beat up all the time. I don't want to play in a PvE server because I still like that little fear of possibly running into enemies occasionally.
I always play with the music looped. It puts me in a good mood.
We would agree that your music puts us in a good mood! How would you describe your music -- in the words of a curious potential reader, "what's your thing?"
Acoustic folk music is where I feel the most at home. I enjoy working in other genres, but ultimately, I keep coming back to this one.
Where does your music come from? What's your musical background and training?
I started taking piano lessons when I was 8, followed by drums and guitar. Out of all the hobbies I had, music was a constant and my fascination with it kept growing over the years. Eventually I attended Berklee College of Music and graduated with a dual degree in music production and engineering and film scoring.
Guitar is my favorite instrument because it makes me feel the strongest connection to music. Guitar is what made me start writing songs, and songwriting led me to start singing.
I don't know Julia personally, but a friend's cousin who is currently at Berklee got to be part of that choir. He told us about it and I thought it was the coolest thing! I sadly graduated before that.
Who would you cite as your major musical influences? What do you listen to after you've taken off your creative hat for the day?
Film and game soundtracks are definitely high on the list. Star Wars was the first movie that made me realize films had a dedicated composer, and it sparked my interest in the field.
I had the Skyrim soundtrack on repeat for many months. Lately, I've been listening to the Journey soundtrack by Austin Wintory. That game was magical. I also love Lisbeth Scott. Her albums always make me feel peaceful.
Video games have obviously struck a lasting note with you. Where else do you find inspiration? Books, movies? I saw your Game of Thrones preview -- are you a series viewer, a reader, or both?
Watching the Game of Thrones TV series made me start reading the books. I love this story! The great thing about books, film, and games is they present characters and circumstances you wouldn't always be able to imagine or experience in your own life. That exposure to an emotional response from a perspective different than your own can be a great source of inspiration. The thoughts it can provoke become building blocks in your arsenal when creating something later on.
My favorite book is Ender's Game. I turn into an infomercial whenever I talk to friends about it. I also love The Lord of the Rings (books, movies, soundtracks), and The Shawshank Redemption is my favorite movie.
What would you consider your musical niche or specialty? Are gaming and movies where you want to stay?
As moving as music can be on its own, there is something very special that happens when it's synched to video or graphics. If I had to pick a single musical path, working with visual media would be it.
And so are you a full-time musician now, or is there still a day job in the picture?
As of two months ago, I am a full-time musician. The encouragement from people who have heard the covers motivated me to finally make this decision.
Watching your videos is such a warm experience. You're just shining -- it's so obvious the passion you have for this music and how happy you are here in this element. Still, we all know that a creative field like this poses so, so many challenges. Is there one aspect of the creative effort that you've found especially tough, or is there anything that comes along with building a name for yourself that you've found harder than expected?
Thank you for that. It does make me happy. The biggest challenge for me is video itself. I'm camera-shy (well, camera-mortified), and it's been a great learning experience for me to face that fear.
The most difficult thing now that my YouTube channel has more subscribers is to not freak out. I am terrified of screwing up and sometimes it can be hard for me to realize when a musical arrangement is done. I keep battling this feeling that it could be better ... that it should be better. That the world will end if it's not. Haha! I have to keep trying to push those thoughts aside and just enjoy the music. A work in progress.
Obviously, your viewer hits tell the story of what your listeners love. But what do you think? What of your own work is closest to your heart? (I know, it's like asking which of your children you love best ...)
"The Dragonborn Comes" will always be very special to me since I had absolutely no expectations when I made it. No pressure, no anything. My videos used to get 300 views. But out of all the covers I've done so far, I think the Mass Effect tribute "Reignite" might be my favorite because it has original lyrics, and writing them was fun. I would often pause the game mid conversation to jot down keywords and ideas. By the end of it, I had several pages of stuff that I tried to summarize into the short lines that make the song.
Anything you tried that just didn't take off?
Web design. Haha! For about a year, it was a nice additional income when music wasn't going very well, but I have to say... I am no designer.
But your music -- you really exploded! How or why do you think the Skyrim video got so, so many hits, from the 300 or so you used to get to millions and millions? What changed, or what happened?
So much of that is due to the game itself and what this franchise and the music of Jeremy Soule have meant to people over the years. At the same time, "The Dragonborn Comes" is a stunning song regardless of who sings it and the context it's played in. I think folks unfamiliar with Skyrim can still be moved by it. I am very lucky that the response to the version I did was positive. The support it got from several video game sites, and Reddit allowed it to reach more people than I ever thought possible!
What was the reaction over at Bethesda to your Skyrim covers?
It was unreal that both Bethesda and Jeremy Soule responded via Twitter and Facebook that they had enjoyed the covers! Bethesda also kindly posted Dragonborn on Bethblog. It's so great when developers and composers take the time to show support for fan-made tributes.
What about inquiries from other game companies? How has your growing YouTube presence impacted your work?
I'm grateful to the YouTube community for helping me find other musicians who inspire me, like Gavin of Miracle of Sound and DJ Headhunterz. People encouraged me to reach out to them via YouTube comments, and I'm thankful I did. It led to collaborating in an original Skyrim tribute song written by Gavin (Legends of the Frost), as well as working with Headhunterz who has done a beautiful Hardstyle version of Reignite.
Through YouTube, I have also met several indie game studios with which I hope to work with in the near future!
What are you working on right now, musically?
I'm working on a "Rains of Castamere" cover (the Lannister song from Game of Thrones). I've also been writing music for a mobile game and original songs for a new album. I hope to be able to make a WoW cover once I start playing MoP!
And what about games? What are you playing?
I'm in the middle of Uncharted 2. I recently got a PS3 and I'm loving the series! I keep trying to play Skyrim Dawnguard, but I get so easily distracted by all the pending quests I had from before the DLC. And I'm counting the days until Halo 4!
What about Mists of Pandaria? Will we see you there?
Yes! I took a break from WoW for awhile because I felt I was playing without thinking about it ... just to avoid things about my life that were not going well. These days, I feel I'm in better place where I can play to enjoy it and still keep the schedule and routines that have been working for me. I hope I can maintain that balance throughout MoP. "I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) ... a blind ex-serviceman and the guildmates who keep him raiding as a regular ... and a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.