Resources For Video Game Music Composers
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
I'm pleased to announce that my book, A Composer's Guide to Game Music, is now available its new paperback edition! I'm excited that my book has done well enough to merit a paperback release, and I'm looking forward to getting to know a lot of new readers! The paperback is much lighter and more portable than the hardcover. Here's a view of the front and back covers of the new paperback edition of my book (click the image for a bigger version if you'd like to read the back cover):
As you might expect, many aspiring game composers read my book, and I'm honored that my book is a part of their hunt for the best resources to help them succeed in this very competitive business. When I'm not working in my music studio, I like to keep up with all the great new developments in the game audio field, and I share a lot of what I learn in these articles. Keeping in mind how many of my readers are aspiring composers, I've made a point of devoting an article once a year to gathering the top online guidance currently available for newcomers to the game music profession. In previous years I've focused solely on recommendations gleaned from the writings of game audio pros, but this time I'd like to expand that focus to include other types of resources that could be helpful. Along the way, we'll be taking a look at some nuggets of wisdom that have appeared on these sites. So, let's get started!
Communities / Discussion Forums
When we're faced with stumbling blocks in our progress, many of us turn to online communities for guidance. From bulletin boards to social media groups, the internet has a lot of free advice to offer. This is especially true for new video game composers looking for business and career advice. For instance, in the open Facebook group "Video Game - Composers & Sound Designers," advice for newcomers is especially abundant. "It's all about meeting people, making friends, and finding out how you can enhance the creative vision for their project," offers Nick Borrego, while Alex Jones adds that her career tactics include "talking to people online through social media, forums etc, networking lots, attending all game or game audio related events I could and going to game jams."
We'll also find plenty of software/gear discussion in these communities, which often includes such topics as DAW recommendations and microphone discussions. We can even enjoy the benefit of the hands-on experiences shared by other game development pros, with more experienced audio folks describing their perspectives on such topics as the importance of the audio design document, and the difference between mixing for speakers or headphones. As we become more experienced and technically ambitious, we can find ample advice on working with audio middleware, including Wwise and FMOD. Below I've compiled a list of active online communities where we can go to ask these sorts of questions and enjoy the viewpoints of other game audio folks:
- Facebook Group: Video Game - Composers & Sound Designers
- Linked In: Game Audio Group
- Linked In: Game Audio Network Guild Group
- GameDev.net Music and Sound
- GearSlutz Music for Games Forum
- VGMDB Game Music Forum
- Game Audio Reddit
- Audiokinetic Wwise Community Q&A
- Firelight Fmod Studio Community Q&A
- Facebook FMOD Community
According to the results of the most recent Game Audio Industry Survey, audio middleware software is increasingly popular with the big developers, with the Wwise software application leading the pack among triple-A development teams (while indie and casual teams most often employ no middleware at all). Audio middleware apps have been steadily growing more sophisticated and intuitive over the years. Having some experience with an audio middleware software package can be a useful skill for an up-and-coming video game music composer, so I've included a list of those applications below.
Perhaps one of the most interesting innovations came from Steinberg in 2015 when they introduced the Game Audio Connect function into their Nuendo Digital Audio Workstation, allowing for easier importing and exporting of audio files between Nuendo and Wwise. While Nuendo isn't middleware software, its ease of use in conjunction with Wwise may make it a more attractive option for video game composers when choosing a DAW.
I've also included a couple of applications that are designed to enhance game audio engines by increasing their functionality. Elias is music engine software focusing on the horizontal re-sequencing model of musical interactivity. Pure Data is a programming language used for Generative / Procedural music creation. Below you'll find the complete list of software tools:
Video Game Music Scholarship
While most aspiring video game composers will be more focused on creative endeavors and career advancement, I've lately become increasingly interested in the mind-expanding research that's been pouring out of game music academia in the past few years. Our work as game composers is, after all, quite different from music composition for any other form of entertainment. Games are experienced and enjoyed actively rather than passively, and this stimulates different parts of our brains and influences the way in which we perceive and process sensory stimuli. It's possible that, by virtue of a greater awareness of the unique nature of our work as game composers, we can acquire creative and intellectual tools that will enable us to compose more effective music for games. With this in mind, I'm including four organizations engaged in academic research in the field of music for games:
- Ludomusicology Videogame Music Research Group
- Musicology Now - Video Game Music
- The Society for the Study of Sound and Music in Games
- Film and Multimedia Interest Group of the Society for Music Theory
If we want to compose timeless symphonies, one of the essential steps in our educational process has always been to attend symphonic concerts and experience the music first-hand. Likewise, if we yearn to write awesome rock songs, it's natural for us to go to rock concerts, soak in the atmosphere and see how the rock stars make their music come alive. Unfortunately, for a long time this option wasn't possible for video game composers. Until fairly recently, game music wasn't available to be experienced in live performance. Now, however, aspiring game music composers can soak up both inspiration and edification by attending large-scale concerts enhanced with big-screen game visuals and razzle-dazzle lighting effects. Here is a list of the concert tours currently performing video game music live in venues all around the world:
- The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses
- Video Games Live
- Kingdom Hearts Orchestra World Tour
- The Game Concerts
- Pokemon Symphonic Evolutions
- Final Fantasy Distant Worlds
To round out this collection of helpful online guidance for aspiring game composers, I'm including the following list of articles that are chock-full of good ideas for game audio folks.
Some of these articles are written by expert pros with decades of experience and famous projects under their belts. Some of the articles are written by newer audio folks with more recent success stories to share. A few of these links point toward discussions on community forums that include interesting advice and ideas from varying perspectives in the game audio field.
How to be a video game music composer – Tips from the pros
by Sophia Tong, GamesRadar.com
Music in the Gaming Industry – Getting a Job as a Game Composer
by Nelson Everhart, Kingsisle Blog
I want to be a game composer
GameDev.net community discussion
Getting Started as a Video Game Composer
by Bobby Prince, BPmusic.com
Where does an amateur composer find job, or is he heard?
Northern Sounds community discussion
How to Get Music in Video Games
by Kris Giampa and Erik Pettersson, Beatport.com
Pursuing a Career in Game Audio
by Nathan Madsen, GameAudio101
How to Wrangle a Job Writing Music for Computer Games
by Lance Hayes, Andertons Music Co.
Game Developers and Music Composers – How do you network?
TIGForums community discussion
GDC 2011 Talks #1: Tips for Prospective Video Game Composers
by Laura Shigihara, SuperShigi.com
Advice for Breaking Into a Career in Composing Music for Videogames
by Lisa Horan, Mix Magazine
I hope this collection of resources is helpful! Please let me know if you've encountered any other resources that you think would be good additions to this list, and let me know what you think of the article in the comments section below!
Winifred Phillips is an award-winning video game music composer whose recent projects include the triple-A first person shooter Homefront: The Revolution and the Dragon Front VR game for Oculus Rift. Her credits include games in five of the most famous and popular franchises in gaming: Assassin’s Creed, LittleBigPlanet, Total War, God of War, and The Sims. She is the author of the award-winning bestseller A COMPOSER'S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC, published by the MIT Press. As a VR game music expert, she writes frequently on the future of music in virtual reality games.
Follow her on Twitter @winphillips.