Resources for Video Game Music Composers: The Big List

Video game music composer Winifred Phillips creating music in her video game music production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hey everybody!  I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips.  Every year, between working in my studio creating music for some awesome games, I like to take a little time to gather together some of the top online resources and guidance available for newbies in the field of video game music.  What follows in this article is an updated and expanded collection of links on a variety of topics pertinent to our profession.  We begin with the concert tours and events where we can get inspired by seeing game music performed live.  Then we’ll move on to a discussion of online communities that can help us out when we’re trying to solve a problem.  Next, we’ll see a collection of software tools that are commonplace in our field.  Finally, we’ll check out some conferences and academic organizations where we can absorb new ideas and skills.

Ready?  Let’s get started!

Concerts and Tours

An image accompanying a discussion of popular video game music concert tours and events, from the article for video game composers by Winifred Phillips (game music composer).

Let’s check out some of the great concert events and tours that are circling the globe, offering famous video game music performed live to audiences ranging from sedate symphony halls to screaming mosh pits. There are tons of ways in which we game composers can find inspiration in these performances, and there’s a wealth of options from which to choose.  If our tastes lean towards the more classical side of things, we can check out the big orchestral concerts like the Video Games Live and Distant Worlds tours, or we can opt for the subtler pleasures of a chamber ensemble approach with the intimate music of A New World.  Then again, some of us would rather head for the mosh pits and get ourselves some head-banging good times.  These folks may want to opt for events like MagFest and Bit Gen Gamer Fest.  There’s something for everyone in the collection of links below.  I’ve also included video clips that show notable performances from past shows.

I’d like to start with a concert tour that was just announced last week, and that means a lot to me personally:

Assassin’s Creed Symphony World Tour

Kicking off its world tour in June 2019, the Assassin’s Creed Symphony will feature the most popular music selections from the entire Assassin’s Creed game franchise, including music from the score I composed for Assassin’s Creed Liberation.  I’m very excited that selections of my Assassin’s Creed Liberation music will be performed by an 80-piece orchestra and choir as a part of the world tour.  The concert tour will premiere in the famous Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, best known for hosting the Oscars ceremonies each year.  This is a brand-new concert tour that hasn’t premiered yet.  Since there aren’t any videos from past shows, here is the official trailer from Assassin’s Creed Liberation, featuring three of the tracks from my Liberation score: “Stealth,” “In the Service of Humanity,” and “The Hunt.”

A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy

This concert tour of video game music from the Final Fantasy repertoire takes a unique approach.  Instead of opting for large-scale orchestral ensembles and choirs, A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy uses small chamber ensembles and special arrangements designed to accommodate them.  The result is a complete reimagining of Final Fantasy music, allowing well-worn tracks to feel more fresh and personal.  Three concerts are currently set to take place in small venues during 2019, including performances in Los Angeles, Seattle and Atlanta.  Here is a performance of the “Chocobo Medley” from a 2017 show that took place in Vancouver.

Bit Gen Gamer Fest

The Bit Gen Gamer Fest is an annual event celebrating game soundtracks during one jam-packed day of music and mayhem.  Feeling like a cross between a rock festival and a video game arcade, the July 2018 edition of Bit Gen Gamer Fest included 18 musical acts performing video game cover songs at the Ottobar in Baltimore.  Here’s an extended video of the X-Hunters full set during Bit Gen XIII.

Distant Worlds: Music of Final Fantasy

Launching into its twelfth year of touring the world, the Distant Worlds: Music of Final Fantasy concert tour continues its quest to spread the music of Nobuo Uematsu to video game fans everywhere.  The performances include the large-scale Distant Worlds Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Grammy Award-winning conductor Arnie Roth.  Here’s a video of their performance of the Final Fantasy VII Main Theme during a 2014 performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Game Music Festival

This is a brand-new game concert series, planned to be a yearly event.  The concert took place this past October at the National Forum of Music in Wroclaw Poland.  Sponsored by GameMusic.pl, the Game Music Festival concert featured musical selections from Heroes of Might and Magic, Grim Fandango, Ori and the Blind Forest, and three Blizzard properties: Diablo, World of Warcraft, and Starcraft.  Here’s a trailer produced by the concert series for their first annual event:

Joystick with the Malmo Symphony Orchestra

Like the Game Music Festival in Poland, the Joystick concerts in Sweden are intended as an annual event.  Joystick is now entering its eleventh year of offering video game music as performed by the Malmo Symphony Orchestra.  The program for this year’s concert includes selections from The Witcher 3, Hitman 2, Horizon Zero Dawn and Final Fantasy VII, among others.  Here is a performance of “The Dragonborn Comes” track from Skyrim, as performed during the Joystick concert in 2013.

MAGFest

The “Music And Gaming Festival” known as MAGFest takes place over the course of four intense days each year in which massive gaming tournaments run 24 hours a day and banging video game music concerts play loud and long into the night.  In addition to the big yearly bash (coming to National Harbor Maryland in January 2019), the nonprofit MAGFest organization also sponsors a touring concert series called Game Over, and several smaller music/gaming events that take place around the country.  Here’s a cover version of the Mega Man 3 Intro music as performed by The Advantage during MAGFest VI:

Metal Gear in Concert

The Metal Gear in Concert tour began with two performances in Japan before coming to Paris in October 2018.  This coming year, the Metal Gear in Concert tour will stage two concerts in the United States, including its stateside premiere in March 2019 at the United Palace in New York City, and a Los Angeles performance in April at the Wellshire Ebell Theatre.  The tour features a 70-piece orchestra and performances by vocalist Donna Burke, best known for singing the themes for both Peacewalker and The Phantom Pain.  Here is a video of Donna Burke performing the Snake Eater theme during the Metal Gear in Concert performance in Paris:

Video Games Live

Finally, we have the granddaddy of them all – the Video Games Live concert tour.  Since its debut in 2005 at the Hollywood Bowl in LA, the Video Games Live concert tour has pursued a rigorous schedule involving hundreds of performance dates around the world.  The Video Games Live series eschews its own orchestral ensemble in favor of recruiting local symphony orchestras and musicians in each of the touring cities and towns it visits. The result is a touch of local flavor influencing the character and size of every Video Games Live performance.  Here is a clip of Video Games Live performing music from the Overwatch game during a 2018 concert in Germany:

So now that we’ve looked at the concert tours that can get us inspired to make great game music, let’s look at other resources that can help us to stay energized and improve our skills.

Communities / Discussion Forums

An illustration for a discussion of social communities for game composers - section of the article by video game music composer Winifred Phillips.Need help?  Expert advice?  A shoulder to lean on?  These are some of the most popular online communities where you just might find the answers you’re looking for.

The game audio community is tremendously friendly and approachable.

Some of these communities listed below are focused on specific topics (such as a software application).

Other communities have a broader mandate to discuss any and all issues pertaining to game music composition and sound design.  Feel free to explore the below links and find a community that’s a good fit for you!

 

Software Tools

Image illustrating a discussion of the popular software useful to game audio pros, from the article by Winifred Phillips for video game composersThere are a wide variety of audio middleware solutions available for implementing audio and music into games, and I’ve listed some of the more high-profile software packages below.

Some of these middleware solutions are designed specifically with video game music composers in mind, to provide a user-friendly way for us to have the best control over the music implementation process.  These include Elias, FMOD, Nuendo, and Wwise.

The rest are more general-purpose audio implementation tools, with the exception of the Facebook 360 Spatial Workstation (designed with Virtual Reality and 360 video applications in mind) and PureData (designed specifically for generative music uses).

 

Game Music Academia & Conferences

An image accompanying a discussion of academic scholarship and educational conferences for game composers - section from the article by Winifred Phillips, video game music composer.

When we’re in the mood to broaden our minds and think about our discipline in a new way, there are lots of scholarly organizations and conferences ready to offer us some inspiration and enlightenment!  First we’ll check out a list of academic and scholarly groups dedicated to studying the history and practice of music creation for video games.  After that, we’ll see a list of the yearly conferences that focus on audio and music creation.  Most of the list consists of conferences exclusively dedicated to the video game industry, but one of the conferences (Music & the Moving Image) offers a more general “music for media” event that includes video games in its offered content.

Academia

 

Conferences

Conclusion

I hope you find some good resources and helpful information in this list!  Please let me know if you think I should add anything else to this collection, and let me know what you think of the article in the comments section below!

 

Photo of video game composer Winifred Phillips in her game composers production studio.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. Follow her on Twitter @winphillips.

 
 

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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Understanding Audio in VR – A Game Music Composer’s Resource Guide

Video game music composer Winifred Phillips working in her game composers production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

When I’m not at work in my studio making music for games, I like to keep up with new developments in the field of interactive entertainment, and I’ll often share what I learn here in these articles.  Virtual reality is an awesome subject for study for a video game composer, and several of my recent projects have been in the world of VR.  Since I’m sure that most of us are curious about what’s coming next in virtual reality, I’ve decided to devote this article to a collection of educational resources.  I’ve made a point of keeping our focus general here, with the intent of understanding the role of audio in VR and the best resources available to audio folks.  As a component of the VR soundscape, our music must fit into the entire matrix of aural elements, so we’ll spend this article learning about what goes into making expert sound for a virtual reality experience. Let’s start with a few articles that discuss methods and techniques for VR audio practitioners.

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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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Video Game Music Production Tips from GDC 2016

Game Composer Winifred Phillips during her game music presentation at the Game Developers Conference 2016I was pleased to give a talk about composing music for games at the 2016 Game Developers Conference (pictured left).  GDC took place this past March in San Francisco – it was an honor to be a part of the audio track again this year, which offered a wealth of awesome educational sessions for game audio practitioners.  So much fun to see the other talks and learn about what’s new and exciting in the field of game audio!  In this blog, I want to share some info that I thought was really interesting from two talks that pertained to the audio production side of game development: composer Laura Karpman’s talk about “Composing Virtually, Sounding Real” and audio director Garry Taylor’s talk on “Audio Mastering for Interactive Entertainment.”  Both sessions had some very good info for video game composers who may be looking to improve the quality of their recordings.  Along the way, I’ll also be sharing a few of my own personal viewpoints on these music production topics, and I’ll include some examples from one of my own projects, the Ultimate Trailers album for West One Music, to illustrate ideas that we’ll be discussing.  So let’s get started!

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Interactive Music for the Video Game Composer

Game Composer Winifred Phillips works in her studio on the music of the popular Spore Hero video game As a speaker in the audio track of the Game Developers Conference this year, I enjoyed taking in a number of GDC audio sessions — including a couple of presentations that focused on the future of interactive music in games.  I’ve explored this topic before at length in my book (A Composer’s Guide to Game Music), and it was great to see that the game audio community continues to push the boundaries and innovate in this area! Interactive music is a worthwhile subject for discussion, and will undoubtedly be increasingly important in the future as dynamic music systems become more prevalent in game projects.  With that in mind, in this blog I’d like to share my personal takeaway from two sessions that described very different approaches to musical interactivity. After that, we’ll discuss one of my experiences with interactive music for the video game Spore Hero from Electronic Arts (pictured above).

Musical Intelligence

Baldur BaldurssonPhoto of Baldur Baldursson, the audio director for Icelandic game development studio CCP Games (part of the article by game composer Winifred Phillips) (pictured left) is the audio director for Icelandic game development studio CCP Games, responsible for the EVE Online MMORPG.  Together with Professor Kjartan Olafsson of the Iceland Academy of Arts, Baldursson presented a talk at GDC 2016 on a new system to provide “Intelligent Music For Games.”

Baldursson began the presentation by explaining why an intelligent music system for games can be a necessity.  “We basically want an intelligent music system because we can’t (or maybe shouldn’t really) precompose all of the elements,” Baldursson explains. He describes the conundrum of creating a musical score for a game whose story is still fluid and changeable, and then asserts,  “I think we should find ways of making this better.”

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