Resources for Video Game Music Composers: The Big List 2020

This photo shows video game composer Winifred Phillips working in her music production studio. Phillips has composed music for titles in five of the most popular franchises in gaming (Assassin's Creed, God of War, Total War, The Sims, LittleBigPlanet).

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hello there!  I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips, and it’s time once again for our yearly collection of top resources for game audio practitioners!  The following article contains an expanded and updated collection of links on an assortment of subjects important to the game audio community.  We kick things off with a list of concert tours and annual game music events.  After that, we check out the online game audio communities that we can join for support and assistance.  We’ll take a look at the software applications currently in use by game audio pros.  Finally, we’ll look at what’s going on in the world of game audio conferences and academia.

Everybody ready to go?  Let’s do this!

Concerts and Tours

If we want to get inspired and energized about our work as game composers, one of the best ways is by checking out an awesome game music performance.  So let’s learn about current video game music concert events and tours.  There’s lots of variety from which to choose, ranging from serious symphonic performances to rock events.  Below, I’ve alphabetically listed the concert tours and events that are currently underway. I’ve also included video clips that show performances from past shows.

Assassin’s Creed Symphony World Tour

Photo taken during the standing ovation at the end of the Montreal performance of the Assassin's Creed Symphony in 2019, in which composer Winifred Phillips took the stage in connection with her video game music for Assassin's Creed Liberation, featured in the Assassin's Creed Symphony world tour.

With its Paris premiere in June 2019, the Assassin’s Creed Symphony world tour features 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.  At the end of the Assassin’s Creed Symphony concert which took place last September in Montreal, the conductor Ivan Linn called me up from the audience to join the orchestra on stage for the standing ovation (pictured above).  I’m honored that my music is featured in this great concert tour!  Recently, the world tour added four new 2020 concert dates in the UK, bringing the total scheduled concerts to fifteen, with more concert date announcements promised.  Here’s a video from the November 2019 performance in Berlin, which featured the performance of my music, “Society Suite in 4 Movements” from Assassin’s Creed Liberation.

Bit Gen Gamer Fest

The Bit Gen Gamer Fest throws a raucous rock-and-roll party every year to celebrate game soundtracks.  It’s one day of gaming, head-banging nerdy goodness.  The July 2019 edition of Bit Gen Gamer Fest included 17 musical acts performing video game cover songs at the Ottobar in Baltimore.  Here’s a video of the Master Sword full set during Bit Gen XIII.

The Devil Awakens

An image accompanying a discussion of The Devil Awakens concert tour featuring music from the famous Devil May Cry video game franchise (from the article for video game composers by Winifred Phillips (game music composer).

Game composer Shoto Nakama has been busy lately on the live concert scene!  In addition to his past work as the producer of the Video Game Orchestra tour, he has also lent his name and music to “The Devil Awakens — Official Devil May Cry Concert Tour.”  Rather than a symphony orchestra, this tour features rock bands shredding to the music of the Devil May Cry franchise while accompanied by game footage on a giant screen.  The tour had its world premiere in March 2019 at Brighton Music Hall in Boston.  Future tour dates haven’t yet been announced, but the tour is coordinated by SOHO Live (the same concert promoter responsible for such tours as Pokemon Symphonic Evolutions and Distant Worlds), so we should stay tuned for future tour-date announcements. In the meantime, here’s more info about the Boston concert.

 

Distant Worlds: Music of Final Fantasy

Now in its thirteenth year, the Distant Worlds: Music of Final Fantasy concert tour continues to perform the music of Nobuo Uematsu in venues around the world.  The Distant Worlds Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus performs under the direction of Grammy Award-winning conductor Arnie Roth.  The next tour date will take the concert to the Place des arts in Montreal.  Here’s a video of their performance of the “Battle Medley – Concert Finale” during a 2019 performance in Phoenix.

Game Music Festival

This relatively new game concert series just had its second yearly event in Wroclaw Poland.  The concert took place this past October at the National Forum of Music in Wroclaw Poland.  The Game Music Festival concert in 2019 featured musical selections from Shadow of the Colossus, Assassin’s Creed II, Journey, and many more.  Since video isn’t yet available of the 2019 performance, here’s a preview video produced for the 2019 Game Music Festival:

Game ON!

The logo of the Game On! concert series, from the article by popular video game music composer Winifred Phillips.

GameON! is a touring concert series focusing on the music of blockbuster games from the modern era.  Each concert is performed by a different world-renowned local symphony orchestra led by conductor Andy Brick.  The concert tour recently descended on Washington D.C. for a performance at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall featuring the National Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 8 (pictured below).

Photo of a recent Game ON! concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, from the article by video game music composer Winifred Phillips.

Upcoming performances include the Oregon Symphony at Arlene Schnitzer Hall in Portland (Feb. 1, 2020) and the Houston Symphony at Jones Hall in Houston (May 21, 2020).  More information can be found here.

 

Joystick with the Malmo Symphony Orchestra

Like the Game Music Festival in Poland, the Joystick concerts in Sweden are an annual event, now in its twelfth year of performances by the Malmo Symphony Orchestra.  The program for Joystick 12.0 will focus exclusively on Japanese games, with performances featuring soprano Sabina Zweiacker, alongside presenter Orvar Säfström.  Featured compositions will include music from Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Super Mario, and Sonic the Hedgehog, among many others.  More information can be found here.  Here’s a performance of music from Metal Gear Solid V, as featured at Joystick 8.0:

Kingdom Hearts Orchestra Concert Series – World of Tres

Photo of a performance from the World of Tres symphonic concert tour, as featured in the article by video game composer Winifred Phillips.

Timed to coincide with the release of Kingdom Hearts III, this touring concert series features 22 performances in 17 cities around the world.  The program focuses on well-loved music from the Kingdom Hearts series as well as brand new selections from Kingdom Hearts III.  More information can be found here.

MAGFest

The “Music And Gaming Festival” (MAGFest) just finished another triumphant event in January 2020 at the Gaylord National Hotel in National Harbor, MD.  Part massive gaming tournament, part music festival, MAGFest is a four-day event unlike any other.  Here’s the full set of the Triforce Quartet at MAGFest 2020:

A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy

The chamber ensemble concert tour of video game music from the Final Fantasy repertoire is still going strong, with twelve concert dates currently scheduled for 2020.  Instead of the large scale orchestras and choirs we’ve come to expect, A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy uses small chamber ensembles and special arrangements designed for them.  These concerts have taken place in small venues and university recital halls, and the most up-to-date touring schedule can be found here.  Here is a performance of “One Winged Angel” from Final Fantasy VII that took place in Los Angeles in February 2019.

 

Video Games in Symphony

In this article for video game composers, Winifred Phillips discusses the Video Games in Symphony concerts.

Aalborg Symphony Orchestra presents a yearly concert event dedicated to the music of video games.  Conducted by preeminent video game orchestral conductor Eimear Noone, the Video Games in Symphony concert series celebrated its second annual performance on September 26th 2019 with a concert featuring music from such games as World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Kingdom Hearts, Skyrim, and many more.  More information about the concert series can be found here.  Below is a video highlighting the work of conductor Eimear Noone:

 

Video Games Live

Last but not least we come to Video Games Live.  Since 2005, Video Games Live has given hundreds of performances around the world.  Concerts currently scheduled for 2020 include February 28th in Jacksonville Florida and May 15th in Tacoma Washington.  Here is a clip of Video Games Live performing music from Skyrim during an April 2019 concert in El Paso, with help from the Franklin High School Choir:

 

 

Communities / Discussion Forums

Image illustrating the concept of online communities and discussion forums, from the article by Winifred Phillips (popular video game music composer).

The breadth and scope of the worldwide game audio community keeps getting bigger each year, which means that it can be difficult to keep up with the diversity and size of our community.  Thankfully, the internet provides us with all the tools we need to reach out and develop local communities for inspiration, advice and support.  First, I’ve gathered together a list of community groups listed alphabetically and organized by continent (they’re also available via this Google Map).  Following the list of location-specific community groups I’ve appended a list of general game audio communities and bulletin boards.

Game Audio Groups – Americas

An illustration of The Americas, as included in the article detailing resources for video game music composers, written by composer Winifred Phillips.

An image isolating the continent of Asia, as used to illustrate the listing of Asian game audio communities (in the article by popular video game composer Winifred Phillips)Game Audio Groups – Asia

Game Audio Groups – Europe

South Africa Game Audio Facebook

Australia/New Zealand Game Audio Facebook

General Game Audio Communities and Forums

An image illustrating the forums and communities available to game audio professionals (from the article written by popular video game music composer Winifred Phillips).

 

Software Tools

A depiction of a generic software application, used as an illustration of a listing of software available to game audio pros (from the article written by Winifred Phillips, award-winning video game composer).Software tools for game audio development and implementation have undergone some interesting transitions lately, as virtual reality has increased the demand for binaural soundscapes and truly three-dimensional sound.

Along with the usual middleware suspects, I’ve listed some additional sound tools designed to aid game audio folks in work for binaural and ambisonic projects (such as those destined for VR platforms).

Along with these tools are some software applications designed with video game composers in mind.  These include Wwise, FMOD, Nuendo, and Elias.

Game Music Conferences and Academia

An image heading for a listing of conferences and academic resources for game audio professionals, from the article written by game music composer Winifred Phillips.

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 filled with expert knowledge on 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

So that’s the collection of links this year!  Each year the lists grow and change, and it’s always interesting to see how the game audio field transforms from year to year.  Here’s hoping that we all had a fantastic holiday season, and that we’ll jump into 2020 with renewed zest for our work as game composers!

 
 
 

Popular game music composer Winifred Phillips works in her music production studio.Popular music from composer Winifred Phillips’ award-winning Assassin’s Creed Liberation score is currently being performed live by a top 80-piece orchestra and choir as part of the Assassin’s Creed Symphony World Tour, which kicked off in 2019 with its Paris premiere. 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, God of War, Total War, The Sims, and LittleBigPlanet.  Phillips’ other notable projects include music for the triple-A first person shooter Homefront: The Revolution (Deep Silver), and numerous virtual reality games from such accomplished developers as Supermassive Games, High Voltage Software, and Armature Studio.   She is the author of the award-winning bestseller A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC, published by the MIT Press. As the foremost authority on music for interactive entertainment, Winifred Phillips has given lectures at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, the Society of Composers and Lyricists, the Game Developers Conference, the Audio Engineering Society, and many more. Phillips’ enthusiastic fans showered her with questions during a Reddit Ask-Me-Anything session that went viral, hit the Reddit front page, received 14.9 thousand upvotes, and became one of the most popular gaming AMAs ever hosted on Reddit. Follow her on Twitter @winphillips.

Video game music composer: Getting your big break (2020 edition)

This photo shows video game composer Winifred Phillips working in her music production studio on music for the God of War video game. Phillips has composed music for titles in five of the most popular franchises in gaming (Assassin's Creed, God of War, Total War, LittleBigPlanet, The Sims).

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hey everyone!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips.  In the photo above I’m working on the project that launched my career as a game composer – God of War.  Starting a viable career in the game development industry as a composer can be an awesome task, and I’m often asked for advice about how to break into this business.  So each year I revisit the subject in an article that allows us to consider current ideas and strategies.  Along the way, we contemplate multiple viewpoints, both from expert music and game audio practitioners and by anonymous game audio folks in community forums.  An image depicting the cover of the bestselling book A Composer's Guide to Game Music, written by award-winning game composer Winifred Phillips.This can be helpful, because the common wisdom on this subject changes in subtle but appreciable ways with each passing year.  By revisiting the topic periodically, I hope that we’ll be able to obtain a deeper understanding of what it takes to land the coveted first gig as a composer of music for games.

Part of the reason I write this article each year is personal.  My own “big break” story is so extraordinarily unusual that it can’t provide much useful guidance for newcomers.  Being fortunate enough to have a famous game like God of War as your first game credit isn’t the typical entry path for a budding video game composer.  Yet, because I’m a fairly visible member of the game audio community who has written a book called A Composer’s Guide to Game Music (pictured), I’m constantly asked for advice by aspiring composers who want to start their professional careers and are having trouble getting out of the gate.  Since my own story is such a ‘bolt-of-lightning’ case study, I think it’s useful for us to study the more traditional entry paths when we’re trying to understand how aspiring game composers can get their start.  By the way, in case you’re wondering, here’s the story of how I landed my first gig – I told the story during a Society of Composers and Lyricists event in NYC, and it’s captured in this video:

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Composing Iconic Theme Music for The Dark Eye video game

This photo shows video game composer Winifred Phillips working in her music production studio on music for the latest game in The Dark Eye franchise. Phillips has composed music for titles in five of the most popular franchises in gaming (Assassin's Creed, God of War, Total War, LittleBigPlanet, The Sims).

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Glad you’re here!  I’m video game music composer Winifred Phillips.  Today I’d like to share some news about one of my latest projects as a video game composer: the newest installment in an internationally-acclaimed fantasy RPG franchise known as The Dark Eye.  During our discussion, we’ll break down the structure of one of the most important pieces of music I composed for that game.

The latest entry in the award-winning Dark Eye video game franchise will be released this coming Spring 2020 under the title The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes.  Before we begin discussing this project and one of the pieces of music I composed for it, let’s take a look at the announcement trailer that was recently released by the publisher Ulisses Games.  The trailer prominently features a sizable portion of the main theme I composed for the game:

As you can see from the gameplay captured in the trailer, The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes is an isometric real-time roleplaying game.  The developers have compared the gameplay of Book of Heroes to top RPG games from the classic era like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights.  The game offers both solo missions and cooperative adventures designed for up to four players.  Most importantly, the developers stress in an interview that their game will be faithful to the awesome fantasy world of the renowned RPG franchise – it will be “the most Dark Eye game ever.”  Composing a main theme is a heavy responsibility, since main theme tracks tend to be regarded as especially important in a composer’s body of work.  Just this week (Nov. 9th) I was interviewed on the Sound Of Gaming radio show on BBC Radio 3, and the main theme for The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes premiered on this broadcast, spotlighting my work as a game composer.  The entire show is available to listen at this link from now until Dec. 8th.  A main theme is not only a prominent showcase of a composer’s abilities, but also serves a crucial function within the main score of the game. So let’s explore that idea further.

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Composer Winifred Phillips answers Reddit’s questions in viral Ask-Me-Anything about video game music

Photo of popular video game composer Winifred Phillips, taken as 'proof photo' for her recent viral Reddit Ask-Me-Anything that hit the Reddit front page, receiving 14.8 thousand upvotes and garnering Reddit's gold and platinum awards.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

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.

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From the video game music of EA’s Spore Hero to Avengers Endgame: Composing the Hero Theme

Photo of composer Winifred Phillips working on the video game music of Spore Hero from Electronic Arts.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

The famous Avengers Endgame logo, from the article by video game composer Winifred Phillips.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:

Detail from cover image of popular video game Spore Hero (from the article by Winifred Phillips, video game composer).

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 famous faces of Avengers Endgame depicted in the official poster (an illustration from the article by video game composer Winifred Phillips)

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?

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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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