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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The North American Conference on Video Game Music

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I’m very pleased to share that I’ll be giving the keynote address at the North American Conference on Video Game Music!  This conference brings together musicologists, music theorists and scholars to study a relatively-new genre in popular music during in an intensive two-day exploration of the art and science of video game scoring, the challenges facing the game composer, the unique characteristics as compared to scores for other entertainment media, and the relationship between the musical content and the mechanics of modern game design.

Last year’s conference sparked great interest and enthusiasm, including a feature article in Wired Magazine, widespread media coverage courtesy of The Associated Press, and a National Public Radio piece entitled “The Study of Video Game Music Gains Recognition.”

This year’s conference program includes many intriguing presentations. Some of the session titles include, “Immersion into what? The sound world of Sid Meier’s Civilization V,” “Navigating the Uncanny Musical Valley: Red Dead Redemption, Ni no Kuni, and the Dangers of Cinematic Game Scores,” “Music Appreciation and the Mario Bros.: The Pedagogy of Musical Hermeneutics,” and “Compositional Techniques of Chiptune Music,” among many others.  The entire conference program can be found here.

Moudy Hall, site of the North American Conference on Video Game Music

Moudy Hall, site of the North American Conference on Video Game Music

A Composer's Guide to Game Music, winner of the Global Music Award Gold Medal for an exceptional book in the field of music.

A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, winner of the Global Music Award Gold Medal for an exceptional book in the field of music.

The conference will take place on January 17th and 18th in Moudy Hall on the TCU University campus in Fort Worth, Texas. I’ll be delivering my keynote address, “The Role of Music in Video Game Immersion,” at the end of the first day of the conference, and I’m looking forward to it!

Right after my keynote I’ll be signing my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music (The MIT Press), and it will be great to meet some more wonderful readers and hear about their experiences in the field of game music.  Should be tremendous fun!

On the second day of the conference, I’ll be participating in a TCU Society of Composers Seminar entitled “Composing for Games Q&A with Winifred Phillips.”  Really looking forward to meeting everyone and having a discussion about game music with such an impressive assembly of scholars and game music lovers!

The conference is organized this year by a committee of distinguished academics in the field of musicology:

  • William Gibbons, co-editor of Music in Video Games: Studying Play (Routledge),
  • Neil Lerner, editor of the book series Music and Screen Media (Routledge),
  • Steven Reale, winner of the Dean’s Innovation Award for Scholarship and Creativity from Youngstown State University and presenter of the Tedx talk, “Playing Games and Playing Music,”
  • Karen Collins, author of Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design (The MIT Press)
  • James Buhler, co-author of Hearing the Movies (Oxford University Press),
  • Daniel Goldmark, co-editor of The Cartoon Music Book (A Cappella).

Here’s a video that recaps last year’s highly successfully conference:

Thanks so much to the North American Conference on Video Game Music for creating such an outstanding event!

 

Jon Burlingame Reviews A Composer’s Guide to Game Music

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I’m very excited to share that my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, has been reviewed by the nation’s leading writer on the subject of music for films and television, Jon Burlingame!  As the most respected journalist in the field of music for visual media, Jon Burlingame writes regularly for Variety, and also contributes to The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Newsday, Emmy, Premiere and The Hollywood Reporter.

Illustrious author and journalist Jon Burlingame, receiving a BMI Special Citation of Appreciation award in May 2014

Illustrious author and journalist Jon Burlingame, receiving a BMI Special Citation of Appreciation award in May 2014

His review article about my book appeared in the Film Music Society features section.  He described the book as a “beautifully organized, intelligently written book about music for games,” and said that “gamers as well as composers may be fascinated by her thorough analysis of what music works, and why, in various game genres.”

I’m both humbled and elated by this review, and very happy to share it with you!  You can read the complete review here.

A Composer’s Guide to Game Music

Today, my book, A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC, was released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.  It’s a huge day for me.

In December of 2011, I was finishing up work on my music contribution to LittleBigPlanet PS Vita when my music producer, Winnie Waldron, turned to me and said, “You should write a book about game music.”  Before that moment, it had never occurred to me that I might have something to share about my experiences as a game composer, so I initially laughed off her suggestion.  She paused, and then casually remarked that I should go and look over all those game audio books I owned (I have a pretty large collection) and then maybe ask myself if I had anything to say that hadn’t already been said.

A few days passed, and eventually I did look those books over. I took along a pad of multicolored sticky notes. Every time I felt like I could add something to what I was reading, I stuck a different colored note on the page, letting the edge hang out.  When I was done, I had a pile of books that looked like a rainbow had exploded inside them. Staring at all those little slips of paper convinced me to write the book.

I’ve been creating video game music for over 10 years, ever since my first project, God of War.  With every game score I composed, I learned so much… not only about the art and craft of game composition, but also about myself as an artist.  Game music composition is a thoroughly unique art form, imposing both technical and creative challenges that aren’t found in any other discipline. When I started in this profession, I didn’t really understand how complex everything would be… how much I didn’t know… how much I would need to learn.

A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC is a guidebook, from my perspective as a game composer with experiences to share.  It’s been over two years since I first started writing it, and I’m very proud to say that my book has just hit retail. It’s out of my hands now, and I’m excited that see what readers think of it.  I hope it proves to be a helpful resource.  If you’re curious about my book, you can watch this video trailer.  I’m interviewed in the trailer, and I got the chance to talk a little bit about my reasons for writing the book, and what I hoped to share with readers.  Here’s that video:

My book is available for sale on Amazon.com.  If you choose to buy it, you’ll have my heartfelt gratitude!  And if you enjoy it, I’d be grateful if you share your thoughts about my book on its Amazon.com page. The launch of my book is a tremendously special day for me, and I’m happy to share it with you!

Rest in Peace, Game Developer Magazine

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I was incredibly saddened to hear that Game Developer Magazine was to cease publication. I’m looking at the magazine as I write this. It has a bleak jet-black cover with the words GAME OVER, dead center in plain white lettering. Those two words bring a pang to my heart.

When I attended my first Game Developers Conference, I was offered a free subscription to the magazine as part of my registration process. I signed up for the subscription right away – it was a bit of a thrill for me. For someone so new to game development, being offered that free subscription felt a little like a secret initiation – as though I had been found worthy of joining the community and would now receive the benefit of knowledge that only the insiders knew. Of course, I was well aware that this was a tremendous exaggeration, but a part of me clung to the conceit that the magazine subscription was a little rite of passage.

I rarely read the magazine in any organized, consecutive manner. Mostly, I enjoyed opening to random pages and reading whatever article I saw there. The Design of the Times articles were eye opening for me, providing tremendous insight into the struggles of designers. I had no idea that the pursuit of the fun factor would be so remarkably complex, requiring such a deep knowledge of psychology, economics, and the long and rich history of game systems from both the ancient past and the present day. With every issue, my appreciation for the struggles of game designers grew.

Articles about programming languages, artificial intelligence and physics were written in an arcane lingo that skimmed my consciousness in the same way that liturgical Latin might have done. This was the language of the ancient society of technicians, engineers and coders – it wasn’t meant for me. Nonetheless, I did read a lot of these articles, because now and then there would be a moment of humor, a glimpse of pathos and exhausted camaraderie, or a spark of enthusiasm and inspiration that would reach out of the labyrinthine text and capture my imagination. If I had overheard such a conversation at the watercooler, and one of the engineers noticed me listening and gave me a shrug and a smile… that feeling is close to how I sometimes felt, reading those articles.

The interviews were always surprising and interesting. It seemed to me that there must have been something about the journalists of Game Developer Magazine that inspired people to speak with startling frankness and gritty honesty. I read blunt observations about the video game marketplace. Successes and failures of games were discussed in the context of economic realities and the changing expectations of gamers. Prominent developers openly grappled with the problem of fitting their creative aspirations into a business model that sometimes couldn’t accommodate them. Triumphant developers crowed about their bestselling games, and hardened veterans shared war stories about the big hits that almost were.

Of course, I eagerly pored over the Aural Fixation column, since it focused on the audio side of game development. The technical articles were always fascinating, and this extended into the audio product reviews. Several products that I first learned about in Game Developer Magazine are now a part of my working life.

I loved the Arrested Development column at the back of the magazine, where the keenest observations about game development would come leaping out of the magazine, dressed in the disguise of sharp and irreverent humor. This sweetly acidic dessert at the end of the meal was always the perfect finish… but I’ll admit that I often ate dessert first.

As a magazine that depended on advertising revenue to stay afloat, Game Developer Magazine was wounded deeply when many of the companies making software development tools consolidated. Where before, there were many software companies buying ad space in the magazine, now there were only a few. For the magazine’s parent company, the meager profits simply couldn’t justify the continuation of Game Developer Magazine. The decision was made, and that final issue with the stark black cover was shipped out. GAME OVER.

Nothing I can write here could adequately pay tribute to Game Developer Magazine.  It provided me with a connection to an industry I loved. Every month, the magazine helped me to cultivate a deeper understanding of the struggles and successes of my fellow developers, and for that I am grateful. My heartfelt thanks go out to the writers and editors of Game Developer Magazine, for their creativity and their passion.  I’m sure that they will all find great opportunities awaiting them in the field of digital games journalism, and I am looking forward to reading their contributions… but I will miss the unique combination of talents and personalities that made up this dynamic team of writers.  Thanks to one and all for the many years of insight, instruction, and community spirit that you shared with me.  I’ll never forget it.

You can read the entire final issue of Game Developer Magazine in a free PDF that they’ve made available at this link. Below you’ll find a list of the former editors-in-chief of Game Developer Magazine, along with either their Twitter pages (if applicable) or their LinkedIn profiles.

Patrick Miller @pattheflip

Brandon Sheffield @necrosofty

Alex Handy

Jamil Moledina @jmoledina

Simon Carless @simoncarless

Jennifer Yeamans (Olsen)

Alex Dunne @adunne

Mark DeLoura @markdeloura

Larry O’Brien @lobrien