Hey everyone! I’m video game music composer Winifred Phillips. This past April, I gave a lecture on video game music composition techniques at the invitation of The Library of Congress in Washington DC. It was the first speech on game music composition given at The Library of Congress, and I was tremendously honored to be able to represent the field of video game music! My presentation was entitled “The Interface Between Music Composition and Game Design,” and was supported by a full house in the Whittall Pavilion of the Thomas Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress. In a previous article, I posted a partial transcript of the Q&A portion from my Library of Congress session, including some of the best questions from the Q&A. Since then, The Library of Congress has included a video of my entire presentation as a part of their permanent archival collection for future generations. I’m very pleased to be able to share the entire video with you!
Glad you’re here! I’m video game music composer Winifred Phillips, and I’m the author of the book A Composer’s Guide to Game Music. Recently my publisher The MIT Press requested that I host a question and answer session on Reddit’s famous Ask Me Anything forum, to share my knowledge about game music and spread the word about my book on that topic. I’d be answering questions from a community consisting of thousands of gamers, developers and aspiring composers. It sounded like fun, so last Thursday and Friday I logged onto Reddit and answered as many questions as I possibly could. It was an awesome experience! Over the course of those two days, my Reddit AMA went viral. It ascended to the Reddit front page, receiving 14.8 thousand upvotes and garnering Reddit’s gold and platinum awards. My AMA has now become one of the most engaged and popular Reddit gaming AMAs ever hosted on the Ask-Me-Anything subreddit. I’m so grateful to the Reddit community for their amazing support and enthusiasm!! During the course of those two days, the community posed some wonderful questions, and I thought it would be great to gather together some of those questions and answers that might interest us here. Below you’ll find a discussion focused on the art and craft of game music composition. The discussion covered the gamut of subjects, from elementary to expert, and I’ve arranged the discussion below under topic headings for the sake of convenience. I hope you enjoy this excerpted Q&A from my Reddit Ask-Me-Anything! If you’d like to read the entire AMA (which also includes lots of discussion of my past video game music projects), you’ll find the whole Reddit AMA here.
Hi! I’m video game music composer Winifred Phillips, and sometimes my game music shows up in places I never would have expected. A little over a week ago, while I was eagerly watching an awesome trailer for the just-released blockbuster Avengers Endgame, I was suddenly stunned to hear my own music in it! (I’ve embedded the Avengers Endgame trailer that features my music at the end of this article.) What made this moment even more jaw-dropping for me was that I had originally composed this music for the video game Spore Hero (a game from Electronic Arts’ popular Spore franchise). Just as a reference, here’s what the characters look like in Spore Hero:
The style of Spore Hero couldn’t be further away from that famous Avengers style, as expertly displayed in the Avengers Endgame trailer. Yet the same music was used for both projects.
The Spore Hero music I was hearing in the Avengers Endgame trailer was my “Hero Theme,” which functions essentially as a leitmotif within the Spore Hero score – it’s the central recurring melody in the game. By virtue of the theme-and-variation technique, the melody undergoes a gradual transformation from invitingly cute to heroically epic.
The Avengers Endgame trailer featured the most dramatic iteration of this theme. When I recovered from the initial surprise, it occurred to me that a mini-postmortem of this particular melodic theme might be the best way to explore an interesting topic: how does a single theme transform itself from an amiable melody to an avenging one?
On April 6th I was honored to give a lecture at the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress in Washington DC (pictured right). As a video game composer, I’d been invited to speak by the Music Division of the Library of Congress. I’d be delivering the concluding presentation during their premiere event celebrating popular video game music. My lecture would be the very first video game music composition lecture ever given at the Library of Congress. I was both honored and humbled to accept the invitation and have my lecture included in the 2018-2019 season of concerts and symposia from the Library of Congress.
In my presentation, I included many topics that I’ve written about in previous articles. My lecture topics included horizontal resequencing, vertical layering, and interactive MIDI-based composition. I explored the various roles that music has played in famous games from the earliest days of game design (like Frogger and Ballblazer). I also discussed how music has been implemented in some of the awesome games from the modern era (like one of my own projects, Assassin’s Creed Liberation).
My lecture was supported by a full house in the Whittall Pavilion at the Library of Congress. The audience gave me both a warm welcome and lots of great questions following the conclusion of my lecture. Afterwards, the discussion continued during a book signing event that was kindly hosted by the Library of Congress shop. During the book signing event, I was pleased to sign copies of my book A Composer’s Guide to Game Music. I also got to talk personally with quite a few audience members. Such an engaging and insightful crowd! It was a pleasure getting to know these lovely people. I really enjoyed the lively conversation – I had the best time!!
Delighted you’re here! I’m very pleased to share that over the next two months I’ll be speaking at two fantastic events focusing on music in video games! My two presentations will explore the unique structure and character of video game music, and how it helps to better envelop players in the worlds that game designers have created. I thought that this article might be a good opportunity to delve into some of the ideas that form the basis of my two upcoming talks. First, I’d like to share some details about the presentations I’ll be giving.
The Library of Congress has invited me to speak this April as a part of their “Augmented Realities” video game music festival. My presentation, “The Interface Between Music Composition and Game Design,” will take place at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. I’m very excited to participate in this event, which will be the first of its kind hosted by the “Concerts from the Library” series at the Library of Congress! The “Augmented Realities” video game music festival will also include panels on video game music history and preservation presented by distinguished curators and archivists at the Library of Congress, a special documentary screening that explores the ChipTunes movement, and a live “game creation lab.” My presentation will be the concluding lecture of the festival, and I’m honored to speak at such an illustrious event! If you find yourself in the Washington DC area on April 6th 2019, you’re very welcome to come to my lecture at the Library of Congress! Tickets are free (first come, first served), and they’re available now via EventBrite.
But before my lecture at the Library of Congress, I’ll be making a trip to San Francisco for the famous Game Developers Conference that takes place this month. For the past few years I’ve been excited and honored to be selected as a Game Developers Conference speaker in the Game Audio track, and I’m happy to share that I’ll be speaking again this month in San Francisco at GDC 2019! My talk this year is entitled “How Music Enhances Virtual Presence.”
So happy you’ve joined us! I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips (pictured above working on my career breakthrough project, God of War). Today I’ll be discussing a hot topic that we’ve previously explored, but that definitely deserves to be revisited periodically. This is one of the most popular subjects that I’ve addressed in my previous articles here: How does a newcomer get hired as a game composer?
I’m asked this question frequently, and while I offered quite a lot of advice on this topic in my book A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, I’m keenly aware of how urgent the need is for updated guidance on this issue for aspiring video game composers. Game music newcomers often feel adrift and alone in the game industry, and some good advice can be a welcome lifeline. In my book, I described the career path that led me into the game industry and allowed me to land my first gigs, but I’m well aware that my experience was pretty unique. With that in mind, I’ve collated some recent research and insights from some top game industry professionals in this article, in the hopes that some of these expert observations might prove helpful. There are lots of original and provocative viewpoints presented here, so we should feel free to pick and choose the strategies and tips that will work best for us.
Also, later in the article you’ll find my presentation for the Society of Composers and Lyricists seminar, in which I answered the question about how I personally got my start in the games industry (for those who might be curious). Finally, at the end of the article I have included a full list of links for further reading and reference.
VR development is continuously innovative and cutting-edge, and I’ve been fortunately to experience this first-hand. As an example: one of my more recent virtual reality game projects was music for Audioshield Fitness, developed by the creator of the famous Audiosurf music-rhythm game. I was asked to compose the new official Audioshield Theme for release with the Audioshield Fitness game, which takes the core game mechanics of Audioshield and pumps up the challenge with obstacles that make players dodge and duck to the music. The result is an intense workout that was named as one of the top 5 VR Fitness Games of 2018 by PerfectBodyMate.com. To maximize the power of the Audioshield procedural system, my composition had to attune itself to the system’s powerful music analysis algorithm and deliver moments of both challenge and spectacle. I composed and mixed the music with specifically-targeted EQ frequency ranges where I placed rhythmic elements and punchy crescendoes. The Audioshield music analysis system then reacted to this audio content and changed the pacing and content of gameplay to match these variables. It was a fun challenge! Here’s a video showing how that worked:
Composing for virtual reality is its own unique discipline, requiring a specialized set of skills and tools. In this article, let’s collect some resources that explore the techniques, tools, and technologies associated with VR audio development. Let’s also take a look at the professional community of VR developers that are there to help each other through the rough spots. Ready? Let’s go!