Resources For Video Game Music Composers

Video game music composer Winifred Phillips, at work in her music production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

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):

award-winning video game music composer Winifred Phillips' book, A Composer's Guide to Game Music, is now available in paperback.

From the article by Winifred Phillips (composer of video game music) - depiction of the book cover of A COMPOSER'S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC.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

From the article by video game composer Winifred Phillips, an illustration for the 'community discussion' resources list.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:

Software Tools

An illustration for the 'Software' resources list, from the article by video game music composer Winifred Phillips.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

From the article by game music composer Winifred Phillips, an illustration for the 'music scholarship' list of resources.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:

 

Concert Tours

An illustration for the 'concert tours' section of resources, from the article by award-winning video game composer Winifred Phillips.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:

 

Educational Resources

From the article by video game music composer Winifred Phillips, an illustration for the 'educational resources' list.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 are written by expert pros with decades of experience and famous projects under their belts.  Some 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

Conclusion

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!

 

Photo of video game composer Winifred Phillips in her music production studio.Winifred Phillips is an award-winning video game music composer whose most recent project is the triple-A first person shooter Homefront: The Revolution. 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.

 
 

Video game music systems at GDC 2017: tools and tips for composers

Photo of video game composer Winifred Phillips, working in her music production studio on the music of the SimAnimals video game.

By video game composer Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Welcome back to this three article series that’s bringing together the ideas that were discussed in five different GDC 2017 audio talks about interactive music!  These five speakers explored discoveries they’d made while creating interactivity in the music of their own game projects.  We’re looking at these ideas side-by-side to broaden our viewpoint and gain a sense of the “bigger picture” when it comes to the leading-edge thinking for music interactivity in games. We’ve been looking at five interactive music systems discussed in these five GDC 2017 presentations:

In the first article, we examined the basic nature of these interactive systems. In the second article, we contemplated why those systems were used, with some of the inherent pros and cons of each system discussed in turn.  So now, let’s get into the nitty gritty of tools and tips for working with such interactive music systems.  If you haven’t read parts one and two of this series, please go do so now and then come back:

  1. Video game music systems at GDC 2017: what are composers using?
  2. Video game music systems at GDC 2017: pros and cons for composers

Ready?  Great!  Here we go!

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Video game music systems at GDC 2017: pros and cons for composers

Video game composer Winifred Phillips, pictured in her music production studio working on the music of LittleBigPlanet 2 Cross Controller

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Welcome back to our three article series dedicated to collecting and exploring the ideas that were discussed in five different GDC 2017 audio talks about interactive music!  These five speakers shared ideas they’d developed in the process of creating interactivity in the music of their own game projects.  We’re looking at these ideas side-by-side to cultivate a sense of the “bigger picture” when it comes to the leading-edge thinking for music interactivity in games. In the first article, we looked at the basic nature of five interactive music systems discussed in these five GDC 2017 presentations:

If you haven’t read part one of this article series, please go do that now and come back.

Okay, so let’s now contemplate some simple but important questions: why were those systems used?  What was attractive about each interactive music strategy, and what were the challenges inherent in using those systems?

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More Business Advice for the Game Music Composer

Winifred Phillips (video game composer) working in her music studio.Every so often, I like to grab some time between music composition gigs to gather together the current general wisdom regarding career strategies for game music composers (since so many of my readers are new to the industry and looking for guidance).  In this article, I’ve included some of the stand-out ideas garnered from three online resources – a Gamasutra article by a former audio designer for Rockstar North, an awesome discussion thread on Reddit about effective communication strategies (found in the GameAudio subreddit), and a roundtable discussion at GameSoundCon about best business practices for game audio pros.

Make some noise! Getting a job creating sound and music for videogames

Audio Director Will Morton of Solid Audioworks (formerly a senior audio designer and dialogue supervisor at the famous Rockstar North development studio), has written a comprehensive article for the game industry site Gamasutra about getting jobs in the game audio field.  The article, entitled “Make Some Noise! Getting a Job Creating Sound and Music for Videogames,” focuses on the importance of experience, networking and a polished presentation in order to sufficiently impress a potential employer/client.  While much of the article is solid advice that might apply to a job seeker in any industry, a few areas impressed me as particularly interesting for game composers to bear in mind.

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Communication Tips for the Video Game Composer

Video game composer Winifred Phillips, working in her music studio.A successful career as a video game composer involves much more than our day-to-day challenges in our music studios. In addition to our role as music experts, we need to be well-rounded business people and great members of a creative team.  As a speaker in the audio track of the Game Developers Conference this year, I had a chance to take in a wide variety of GDC sessions, and I noticed how often teamwork was discussed.  Along the way, a common idea emerged from many of these talks — good communication is key. This is a concept that I explored in my book (A Composer’s Guide to Game Music), so I was delighted to see a further discussion of the issue at GDC this year.  Far from just a valuable personality asset, the ability to communicate well must be considered a top priority: as intrinsically valuable as rock-solid competency, awesome artistry or compelling vision. Good communication amongst team members can make or break the development of a game. As game audio pros, we share this in common with our coworkers in other segments of the game development community. However, it becomes especially important for us to focus and emphasize good communication when we’re working remotely as independent contractors. With that in mind, I thought I’d use this article to briefly highlight some GDC 2016 sessions in the game audio track that discussed this popular topic, so we can think about more ways to enhance and improve our communication skills.  And later we’ll discuss a practical example from my work on the music of the SimAnimals game from Electronic Arts.

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A Grammy Category for Game Music Composers

grammys-650pxIt’s Grammy Awards time!  This coming Monday, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) will throw its annual party, and many golden gramophones will be awarded to the popular recordings that were deemed most worthy this year. This is one of the most prestigious honors for any musician. Each year, Grammy nominees are selected as representing the top of their field: the very best in professional music.  There are 83 Grammy categories this year, ranging from famous categories like Album of the Year to lesser known categories such as Best Children’s Album.  Among those 83 categories, we don’t find a Best Video Game Music category listed… but we do see the category Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media (Includes Film, TV, Video Games and Other Visual Media).  The Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media category has gone through some interesting transformations during the long history of the Grammy Awards. In this article, we’ll be taking a walk down memory lane, exploring the ways in which the Visual Media category has changed to accommodate video game soundtracks.

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A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, now in Japanese!

 

A Composer's Guide to Game Music by Winifred Phillips, now on sale in Japanese! Published by O'Reilly Japan.

A Composer’s Guide to Game Music by Winifred Phillips, now on sale in Japanese!  Published by O’Reilly Japan.

I’m excited to share that my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, was released today in Japan in its newly-published Japanese-language edition!  O’Reilly Japan has published the Japanese softcover of my book in Japan under the title, “Game Sound Production Guide: Composer Techniques for Interactive Music.”

This is the Japanese cover of the book. In Japanese, A Composer's Guide to Game Music is titled "Game sound production guide - composer techniques for interactive music," by Winifred Phillips.

Side-by-side, these are the covers of the two editions of the book. In Japanese, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music is titled “Game sound production guide – composer techniques for interactive music,” by Winifred Phillips.

I’m very excited that the Japanese language edition of my book has already hit #1 on the “Most Wished For” list on Amazon Japan!

The Amazon Japan "Most Wished For" list.

The “Most Wished For” list on Amazon.co.jp.

Coincidentally, the English-language version of A Composer’s Guide to Game Music is now #1 on the Kindle Top Rated list, too!

The Kindle "Top Rated" list on Amazon.com.

The Kindle “Top Rated” list on Amazon.com.

O’Reilly Japan is located in Tokyo, and is dedicated to translating books about technological innovation for Japanese readers.  They are a division of O’Reilly Media, a California publishing company that acts as “a chronicler and catalyst of leading-edge development, homing in on the technology trends that really matter and galvanizing their adoption by amplifying “faint signals” from the alpha geeks who are creating the future.  O’Reilly publishes definitive books on computer technologies for developers, administrators, and users. Bestselling series include the legendary “animal books,” Missing Manuals, Hacks, and Head First.”

oreilly

From what I’ve gathered, my book – A Composer’s Guide to Game Music – is the first English language book about game music to be translated into Japanese and sold in Japan.  There are a few other books available in Japan on the subject – but they were all originally written in Japanese.  These include a book exploring game sound by the audio hardware designer and sound developer Shiomi Toshiyukia text on creating sound for games with the CRI ADX2 middleware by Uchida Tomoya, and a book on producing game music and sound design by the artist “polymoog” of the dance music duo ELEKETL (pictured below, from left to right).

books-ama-jp

I’m tremendously excited about the Japanese edition of my book, and my excitement comes in large part from the venerable tradition of outstanding music in Japanese games.  From the most celebrated classic scores of such top game composers as Koji Kondo (Super Mario Bros.) and Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy), to the excellent modern scores of such popular composers as Masato Kouda (Monster Hunter) and Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts), Japanese video game composers have set the creative bar very high.  I’m incredibly honored that my book will be read by both established and aspiring game composers in Japan!  I hope they’ll find some helpful information in my book, and I’m excited to contribute to the ongoing conversation about game music in the Japanese development community.

I’ve always loved Japanese game music.  In 2008, I participated in a compilation album in which successful game composers created cover versions of celebrated video game songs from classic games.  The album was called “Best of the Best: A Tribute to Game Music.”  I chose the music by Koji Kondo from Super Mario Bros., and recorded an a cappella vocal version.  It’s currently available for sale from the Sumthing Else Music Works record label, and can also be downloaded on iTunes.  You can hear the track on YouTube here:

If you’d like to learn more about the rich legacy of game music composition in Japan, you can watch an awesome free documentary series produced by the Red Bull Music Academy, entitled “Diggin’ in the Carts: A Documentary Series About Japanese Video Game Music.”  The series interviews famous game composers of Japan, which means that the interviews and narration are both in Japanese (with English subtitles).  Here’s an episode that focuses on modern accomplishments by Japanese game composers:

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Studio1_GreenWinifred Phillips is an award-winning video game music composer whose most recent project is the triple-A first person shooter Homefront: The Revolution. Her credits include five of the most famous and popular franchises in video 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 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press. As a VR game music expert, she writes frequently on the future of music in virtual reality video games. Follow her on Twitter @winphillips.