Fighting game characters aren’t one-dimensional, and neither are their theme songs. Daniel Lindholm discusses what inspires his catchy tunes, and how he uses the characters’ movesets, stories, and designs to produce their signature music.
If you’ve ever jammed out to Zeku’s funky theme song or put Cody’s theme on repeat, you’ve sampled just a taste of Daniel Lindholm’s contribution to SFV’s music. Lindholm has written music for half of season three’s characters, including Menat and Ed’s themes, and even composed the score for the individual stories of some of the characters. He let us in on his creative process, as well as his history in games music, and what it takes to create some of gaming’s most iconic themes.
Take these two fists and swing ‘em back in your direction
Daniel Lindholm wasn’t expecting to write music for Street Fighter V. Although he’d worked for Capcom in the past to create music for Resident Evil 6, he’d been going through a bit of a dry spell; it wasn’t until an agency recommended him to Capcom’s Street Fighter team that he got the chance to write a theme for their newest character, Ed. “I didn’t try to pursue it or anything,” Lindholm recalled. “One day, I was invited to an agency because their internal temp guy was interested in the music I write. He managed to recommend me to people at Capcom for a possible future job, and that turned out to be Ed, the boxer.”
As many fans suspected, Ed’s theme was loosely based on Eminem’s Lose Yourself, something that Capcom was a bit wary of in terms of copyright infringement. “They said, ‘You managed to replicate that song, now please change it so we don’t get sued,’” Lindholm laughingly recalled. “I changed the bassline [to echo] something you might remember… there’s this band called Digital Underground, with Tupac, and they had a song called The Humpty Dance. When I heard that song, I thought that was a cool bassline. I didn’t have to use the Eminem rock bass. I took influences from my childhood and put them in [Ed’s theme].”
Lindholm did not provide the voice to go over his beat, nor the song’s explosive lyrics: those belong to Caleb Combs, who provided Lindholm with two different versions of the song to choose from. “I got two different files, a version A and a version B,” Lindholm explained. “I told myself, ‘If I hear the word ‘fist’ inside the song, it’s gonna be a hit.’ A was more aggressive, and B was more laid back. I asked them to choose A, because it fits the beat better. Ed was my first character.
Then they also said, ‘Hey, we’d like you to do the scoring for the story.’”
Character themes VS character stories
Lindholm’s work for SFV’s individual character stories was a bit different than creating a character theme; while he would receive a kind of digital package of information for singular characters, Capcom provided him with the entirety of the stories’ footage.
“They actually gave me the entire story cutscenes, with a blip in beginning where the music would start, and another one at the end,” he explained. “They said, ‘Maybe you should use instrumentation, or a theme or rhythm from battle mode in this scene or that sequence, but the rest is up to you.’ So, I had free reign, unless they specified me to do something.”
While Lindholm had a wealth of sources for SFV’s general story, he uses an assorted collection of materials to create individual characters’ signature sounds. “The first thing that happens is that the client gives me early alpha footage of the character in motion,” he stated. “I also get a spreadsheet with some concept art about the character and small, written text about their personality. They sometimes give me the way the character speaks, but I don’t know what they sound like.”
For Lindholm, characters’ themes should aim to complete who they are, and reflect their evolution throughout their stories. “The main goal is for the music and the character to merge together,” he said. “It’s the character’s attitude that should decide how the music should sound. [The aim is to] try to complete the character, basically.”
Lindholm cited Sakura as a pivotal example of this, explaining that her growth from a schoolgirl to an adult influenced her new theme. “I got to write her theme, but some people are like, ‘I like the Kasugano residence theme.’ I didn’t write that theme. I think the character resembles her growth from fanhood to womanhood. Her character needs to be more mature, and that’s why we settle on this… not club-house, but straight-house music for her.”
Zeku’s theme is largely hailed as a favorite of many SFV fans, and it is Lindholm’s favorite, as well. For the aged Bushinryu master, Lindholm decided to seek out genres that aren’t listened to by the current generation, as well as elements of traditional Japanese music.
“Zeku has always been like, ‘What music aren’t we listening to these days?’” he stated. “I’m an 80s kid, and I listened to 70s disco. He’s almost wearing a disco outfit. We’re gonna have funk music, that’s my first image.”
Lindholm went through two iterations of Zeku’s theme before settling on its final rendition, calling back to his own history as a saxophonist. “No one knew what Zeku would sound like,” he explained. “There were no guidelines to him, but I churned out two previous versions before I settled on the song right now. Usually, funk music is always brass or sax, but it sounded too general. I needed to change the melody. Zeku is Guy’s master. Ninjas come from Japan, so I was like, let’s go with a flute.”
While the two unreleased editions never made it into SFV, they are just as funky, and you can listen to them on Daniel’s YouTube channel to get a feel for Zeku’s earlier vibe.
Turning the beat back
Much like Sakura, Cody’s theme song reflects his recent story developments, with callbacks to his theme in Street Fighter IV. “I’m not sure if they did it in Alpha 3, but in SFIV they had that voice sample,” he stated, referencing the song’s now-famous ‘turn the beat back’ line. “I had the voice sample and I cut it up by words: ‘turn-the-beat-back.’ Everyone associates those words with Cody. I switched it around, and it turned into a meme. It was not something I had in mind, but it sounded cool.”
Cody’s current theme rightfully takes elements of New York hip hop to bring the sound of Metro City to life. “We’re talking more NPC sampling culture, which is part of hip hop,” Lindholm said, “so why not just mix it up a bit? I also had a different version of the music itself before we started. They asked if I could make it more NY hip hop. It ended up as more of the Bronx, as darker hip hop. The brass section has been the same, but the bassline was darker in that part. It didn’t sound positive for Cody’s new perspective on life. He’s had this nihilistic view, but now that he has a purpose in life, I wanted to make it lighter. The intro was a small inspiration from SFIV.”
From fighting games to RPGs, and everything in between
Lindholm’s work in fighting games differs from his music in other titles, which encompasses everything from the Yakuza series to pachinko machines. “When we did Resident Evil 6, we were given very strict instrumentation pallets we should work with,” he explained. “I got assigned to write for Chris’s campaign and Ada Wong, and those styles really fit me. Inside that style, I had a lot of free creativity. It was up to me to make stuff up.”
Lindholm also composed music for Yakuza: Dead Souls, where he had more creative freedom. “I had no direction, it was just, ‘do something,’’ he said. “For Dead Souls, they had one song in mind, for the scene where you’re on a Jeep with a machine gun. They asked, ‘Can you write this Nine Inch Nails type song?’ And it was doable.”
Street Fighter V appeared to give Lindholm similar creative freedom with looser guidelines. “I was very free to do what I wanted aside from the legacy character, Cody,” he stated. “He has a fixed theme, that thing you must get it into the song. All the other characters, Ed, Menat, and Zeku, it was all me. There was no direction except for music styles, and Zeku was completely original. It was total freedom for me to go back to my roots as a sax player, to enjoy performing. The flute you hear and the trumpet you hear is all me, but I’m using my breath to program those instruments.”
Lindholm’s music is arguably some of SFV’s finest. With iconic themes such as Zeku’s and Cody’s, his mark on the game is a standout amongst the rest of the score. He divulged that he’ll be composing the theme of one other character in Season 3; with only G and Sagat left, fans can anticipate another exceptional theme to come in the future.
Keep an eye out–Season 3’s newest character is on its way soon, and so is his theme song!