Video game music composer gives lecture at the Library of Congress

Photo of video game music composer Winifred Phillips giving a lecture at the Library of Congress (Whittall Pavilion, Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington DC). Winifred Phillips' lecture was the first video game music composition lecture given at the Library of Congress.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

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 Popular video game music composer Winifred Phillips is here shown outside the Thomas Jefferson Building (Library of Congress, Washington DC), where she gave the first-ever video game music composition lecture at the invitation of the music division of the Library of Congress.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!!

The video of my full lecture will be posted on the Library of Congress web site within the coming months.  However, I thought I might offer a preview in the form of a partial transcript including some of the top questions from the Q&A session that followed my lecture.  So here are some of the questions that were posed – starting with a question about a topic of great importance to the Library of Congress – copyright protection for artists!

The Library of Congress logo, from the article for video game composers by Winifred Phillips (game music composer).


Question I know copyright is a big thing, so I was wondering how do you approach that?  So that you can avoid having the copyright issues?  At least from your experience?

Phillips: Copyright is a very interesting and important aspect of our work.  A lot of games are structured specifically around the idea of using licensed music. I’m sure you can think of a lot of Electronic Arts sports games in which music is introduced for the first time.  You find a band that you really love by playing one of those sports games.  That’s been a really big avenue for young artists to make their start, and it’s been great for the music community at large.

No game developer wants to find out that they’ve used a piece of music and that they haven’t secured the rights appropriately.  Particularly if you’ve fallen in love with a track.  You’ve incorporated it into your game, and (oh God forbid) you’ve actually structured your gameplay around it.  Then you find out you can’t use it!

It’s great that the Library of Congress has served the artistic community for so long in making sure that artists are protected.

Popular video game music composer Winifred Phillips is pictured during her lecture at the Library of Congress (Whittall Pavilion, Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington DC). Presenting her lecture to a full-house at the Whittall Pavilion, Winifred Phillips gave the first video game music composition lecture at the Library of Congress.

Question What challenges do you face, or conventions do you follow, when you are mixing down a dynamic piece of music for a retail CD release? Or for a promotional material?  How do you make that stay interesting to the listener, if it’s not as dynamic as it once was?

Phillips When you’re composing music for a game, you’re essentially composing a lot of different bits and pieces.  You know that during gameplay they’re going to be triggered by the progress of the player.  So it’s essentially a flexible, fluid story.  I try to think about the most impactful course that the player might have taken through that level…  through that piece of music. Then I will construct in my music production software an ideal course, an ideal way to go through it.  I’ll mix it so that it becomes a memory of the experience of playing that game.  A lot of the people who buy these soundtracks are people who have played the games.  They want to own the music because they want to relive the experience.  That’s what I’m thinking about when I’m pulling all of the interactive elements together.  I want to create a sort of ideal listening experience.

Question How often do you use virtual libraries, in comparison to a real orchestra?  Do you use virtual libraries more for mockups, or do you use it more for scoring a game?

Phillips There have been projects where I’ve used it just in the mockup stage at the beginning. Then the project has gone on to record with a live orchestra.  So that’s always fun. But then there are other projects where the budget is just not going to accommodate that.  One of the things that’s important to me as an artist is the option to work with both large studios and also indie teams that don’t have the same kind of budgets. It allows me to do a wide range of projects that are exciting and creative.

To make an orchestral sample library sound satisfying and realistic requires a minute attention to details.  Also, a really good understanding of how sample libraries work.  How live musicians play.  Then, you can approximate the sound in a way that’s going to feel satisfying for listeners.  On the other hand, when you’re dealing with a live orchestra, you really want to be able to take advantage of the strengths of that medium, and appeal to the expressiveness that a live orchestra or live soloists can bring.

A photo showing Winifred Phillips (popular video game music composer) as she presents the first-ever video game music composition lecture to be given at the Library of Congress (Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington DC).

Question As someone who plays musical instruments but who has never composed – if I were to try to make an indie game or something and I wanted to make my own music – what kind of recommendations would you have?

Phillips I’ve seen development teams in which the main developer also creates the music.  There have been some really interesting games that have been created that way.  If you are a musician creating a game, you can sense how the music fits into the mechanic of the game – since you’re creating both.  So that’s something that I’ve seen done.  But I do think that if you haven’t composed before, it might make sense to try to start doing some of that first, before you try to bring those two elements together.  They’re Popular video game composer Winifred Phillips discussing her music from Assassin's Creed Liberation during her lecture at the Library of Congress (Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington DC). This was the first video game music composition lecture given at the Library of Congress.very different disciplines.  You want to have a basic skill set.  You want to be comfortable with that, before you start taking something that’s hard in and of itself (music composition), and then adding into it something else that’s hard in and of itself (game design). You don’t want to get overwhelmed.

If you are familiar with any student teams, or teams that are involved in game jams, you could get involved in that.  A game jam is one of these events in which all of these game developers come together to create games on the fly really quick.  It’s actually a lot of fun, because it becomes a way to be very creative and solve problems right on the spot.  It’s also a fantastic opportunity to jump into a team right away as the composer.  You get an opportunity to just think about that part of the game, to create the music within the structure of a team.  I think you’d learn a lot about what goes into music composition for games.  Do that first – before you put the thousand ton weight on yourself by doing both things at the same time.

Question Given the gaming consoles and other platforms have grown so much in terms of their capacity, what limits do you feel are placed now (or still) on your budget?  And what’s your response then, in terms of strategies that you bring to increase your expressiveness?  What resources are available, while still remaining within the resources allowed?The Library of Congress organized a book signing event to take place immediately following a lecture presented by popular game music composer Winifred Phillips in the Library of Congress (Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington DC). Winifred Phillips signed copies of her book, A Composer's Guide to Game Music, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.

PhillipsThat definitely becomes an issue from project to project.  I can’t honestly think of a single project I’ve worked on when budget doesn’t become a factor, even when the budgets are very large. There’s always the opportunity for your ambitions to explode beyond the boundaries that any game budget can accommodate.  At that point you triage the situation.  You look at it and you say, ‘how can I maximize the potential of a smaller amount of music? How can it provide coverage for a game and not become too repetitive – too annoying?’  You don’t want your music to become a negative. You always want it to be something people love.

I’ve talked about vertical layering, the idea of music broken apart into its individual layers that can be used separately.  That makes one piece of music more flexible to cover a larger amount of time. It can morph and change and become more adaptive to what’s going on.

On the other hand, there’s also the quite valid consideration of when music should settle back into silence. That gives the player room to absorb the moment. You strategically place music in those positions where it’s going to have maximum impact, where it’s going to be meaningful. You can still have a satisfying musical experience in the game without needing an enormous budget to accommodate it.

So those are two approaches that can address the problem.  But it’s a continuing problem.  Every game development studio wrestles with it at one time or another. We’ve all got the hope and the yearning to do something really special with music.  A lot of the times we can!  Sometimes the restrictions can make us be creative in ways we couldn’t have predicted.  That is the way to grow as a development team or as an artist and composer. So these challenges can serve to make us grow and become better.


The Library of Congress logo, included in the article for video game composers by Winifred Phillips (game music composer).

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this partial transcript of the Q&A session from my lecture at the Library of Congress.  Be sure to revisit this space over the coming months, when I’ll be posting a link to the full video recording of my lecture on video game music composition.  The video of my lecture will be preserved as a webcast on the Library of Congress web site, where it will become a part of the Library’s permanent collection.  In that capacity, my lecture will be available in the Library of Congress collection for worldwide viewing and for the benefit of future generations.  It was a tremendous honor to give a lecture at the Library of Congress!  I’m grateful to the Library of Congress’ Music Division for inviting me to speak about my work as a video game composer!

 

Photo of video game music composer Winifred Phillips giving a lecture at the Library of Congress (Whittall Pavilion, Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington DC). Winifred Phillips' lecture was the first video game music composition lecture given at the Library of Congress.Popular music from composer Winifred Phillips’ award-winning Assassin’s Creed Liberation score will be performed live by a top 80-piece orchestra and choir as part of the Assassin’s Creed Symphony World Tour, which kicks off in 2019 with its Los Angeles premiere at the famous Dolby Theatre. As an accomplished video game composer, Phillips is best known for composing music for games in five of the most famous and popular franchises in gaming: Assassin’s Creed, LittleBigPlanet, Total War, God of War, and The Sims.  Phillips’ other notable projects include the triple-A first person shooter Homefront: The Revolution, and numerous virtual reality games, including Scraper: First Strike, Dragon Front, and many more.   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. Phillips’ is a sought-after public speaker, and she has been invited to speak about her work as a game composer at the Library of Congress, the Game Developers Conference, the Audio Engineering Society, the Society of Composers and Lyricists, and many more.  Follow her on Twitter @winphillips.

 

 

Video Game Composers: How Music Enhances Virtual Presence (GDC 2019)

In this article about Virtual Presence in VR written for video game composers, Winifred Phillips (video game composer) is here pictured working in her music production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

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 logo, included in an article discussing popular game conferences, from the article for video game composers by Winifred Phillips (game music composer).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.

The GDC logo, accompanying the discussion of networking at such famous game conferences, from the article for video game composers by Winifred Phillips (game music composer).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.

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Composing video game music for Virtual Reality: Comfort versus performance

In this article series for video game composers, Winifred Phillips is depicted in this photo working in her music production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Delighted you’re here!  I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips, and I’m happy to welcome you back to this four-part article series exploring the role of music in VR games! These articles are based on the presentation I gave at this year’s game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, entitled Music in Virtual Reality (I’ve included the official description of my talk at this end of this article). If you haven’t read the previous three articles, you’ll find them here:

During my GDC presentation, I focused on three important questions for VR game music composers:

  • Do we compose our music in 3D or 2D?
  • Do we structure our music to be Diegetic or Non-Diegetic?
  • Do we focus our music on enhancing player Comfort or Performance?

In the course of exploring these questions during my GDC presentation, I discussed my work on four of my own VR game projects –the Bebylon: Battle Royale arena combat game from Kite & Lightning, the Dragon Front strategy game from High Voltage Software, the Fail Factory comedy game from Armature Studio, and the Scraper: First Strike shooter/RPG from Labrodex Inc.

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Composing video game music for Virtual Reality: Diegetic versus Non-diegetic

In this article for and about the craft of video game composers, Winifred Phillips is pictured in this photo working in her music production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

So happy you’ve joined us!  I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips.  Welcome back to our four part discussion of the role that music plays in Virtual Reality video games! These articles are based on the presentation I gave at this year’s gathering of the famous Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco.  My talk was entitled Music in Virtual Reality (I’ve included the official description of my talk at this end of this article). If you haven’t read the previous two articles, you’ll find them here:

During my GDC presentation, I focused on three important questions for VR video game composers:

  • Do we compose our music in 3D or 2D?
  • Do we structure our music to be Diegetic or Non-Diegetic?
  • Do we focus our music on enhancing player Comfort or Performance?

While attempting to answer these questions during my GDC talk, I discussed my work on four of my own VR game projects – the Bebylon: Battle Royale arena combat game from Kite & Lightning, the Dragon Front strategy game from High Voltage Software, the Fail Factory comedy game from Armature Studio, and the Scraper: First Strike shooter/RPG from Labrodex Inc.

In these articles, I’ve been sharing the discussions and conclusions that formed the basis of my GDC talk, including numerous examples from these four VR game projects.  So now let’s look at the second of our three questions:

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Composing video game music for Virtual Reality: 3D versus 2D

In this article written for video game composers, Winifred Phillips is here pictured working in her music production studio.

Welcome!  I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips, and this is the continuation of our four-part discussion of the role that music can play in Virtual Reality video games.  These articles are based on the presentation I gave at this year’s Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, entitled Music in Virtual Reality (I’ve included the official description of my talk at this end of this article).  If you missed the first article exploring the history and significance of positional audio, please go check that article out first.

Are you back?  Great!  Let’s continue!

During my GDC talk, I addressed three questions which are important to video game music composers working in VR:

  • Do we compose our music in 3D or 2D?
  • Do we structure our music to be Diegetic or Non-Diegetic?
  • Do we focus our music on enhancing player Comfort or Performance?

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Composing video game music for Virtual Reality: The role of music in VR

In this article for video game composers, Winifred Phillips is pictured working in her music production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hey everybody!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips.  At this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, I was pleased to give a presentation entitled Music in Virtual Reality (I’ve included the official description of my talk at the end of this article). While I’ve enjoyed discussing the role of music in virtual reality in previous articles that I’ve posted here, the talk I gave at GDC gave me the opportunity to pull a lot of those ideas together and present a more concentrated exploration of the practice of music composition for VR games.  It occurred to me that such a focused discussion might be interesting to share in this forum as well. So, with that in mind, I’m excited to begin a four-part article series based on my GDC 2018 presentation!

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Video Game Composers: The Tech of Music in Virtual Reality (GDC 2018)

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

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

The Game Developers Conference is almost here! I’m looking forward to giving my presentation soon on “Music in Virtual Reality” (Thursday, March 22nd at 3pm in room 3002 West Hall, Moscone Center, San Francisco).  Over the course of the last two years, I’ve composed a lot of music for virtual reality projects, some of which have already hit retail, and some of which will be getting released very soon!  As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what role music should play in a virtual reality game. During my GDC talk in March, I’ll be taking my audience through my experiences composing music for four very different VR games –the Bebylon: Battle Royale game from Kite & Lightning, the Dragon Front strategy game from High Voltage Software, the Fail Factory comedy game from Armature Studio, and the Scraper: First Strike RPG-Shooter hybrid from Labrodex Inc.  In preparing my GDC presentation, I made sure my talk addressed some of the most important creative and technical hurdles facing video game composers working in VR.  However, time constraints ensured that some interesting info ended up ‘on the cutting room floor,’ so to speak.  So, I’ve written two articles that explore some of the best topics that didn’t make it into my GDC presentation.

My previous article focused on some abstract, creative concerns facing video game music composers and audio folks working in VR.  In this article, we’ll be turning our attention to more concrete technical issues.  Ready?  Let’s go.

New Binaural Developments

Illustration of popular binaural developments in VR audio, from the article by composer Winifred Phillips for video game composers.VR games currently focus on binaural audio to immerse players in the awesome soundscapes of their virtual worlds.  As we know, binaural recording techniques use two microphones, often embedded in the artificial ears of a dummy head (pictured right).  By virtual of the popular binaural recording technique and/or binaural encoding technologies, game audio teams can plunge VR players into convincing aural worlds where sounds are spatially localized in a way that conforms with real world expectations.  The technology of binaural sound continually improves, and recently the expert developers of the Oculus Rift VR headset have refined the quality of their VR sound with two significant upgrades.

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