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.

 
 

MIDI for the Game Music Composer: Wwise 2014.1

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MIDI seems to be making a comeback.

At least, that was my impression a couple of months ago when I attended the audio track of the Game Developers Conference.  Setting a new record for attendance, GDC hosted over 24,000 game industry pros who flocked to San Francisco’s Moscone Center in March for a full week of presentations, tutorials, panels, awards shows, press conferences and a vibrant exposition floor filled with new tech and new ideas. As one of those 24,000 attendees, I enjoyed meeting up with lots of my fellow game audio folks, and I paid special attention to the presentations focusing on game audio. Amongst the tech talks and post-mortems, I noticed a lot of buzz about a subject that used to be labeled as very old-school: MIDI.

This was particularly emphasized by all the excitement surrounding the new MIDI capabilities in the Wwise middleware. In October of 2014, Wwise released its most recent version (2014.1) which introduced a number of enhanced features, including “MIDI support for interactive music and virtual instruments (Sampler and Synth).” Wwise now allows the incorporation of MIDI that triggers either a built-in sound library in Wwise or a user-created one. Since I talk about the future of MIDI game music in my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, and since this has become a subject of such avid interest in our community, I thought I’d do some research on this newest version of Wwise and post a few resources that could come in handy for any of us interested in embarking in a MIDI game music project using Wwise 2014.1.

The first is a video produced by Damian Kastbauer, technical audio lead at PopCap games and the producer and host of the now-famous Game Audio Podcast series.  This video was released in April of 2014, and included a preview of the then-forthcoming MIDI and synthesizer features of the new Wwise middleware tool.  In this video, Damian takes us through the newest version of the “Project Adventure” tutorial prepared by Audiokinetic, makers of Wwise.  In the process, he gives us a great, user-friendly introduction to the MIDI capabilities of Wwise.

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The next videos were produced by Berrak Nil Boya, a composer and contributing editor to the Designing Sound website.  In these videos, Berrak has taken us through some of the more advanced applications of the MIDI capabilities of Wwise, starting with the procedure for routing MIDI data directly into Wwise from more traditional MIDI sequencer software such as that found in a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) application.  This process would allow a composer to work within more traditional music software and then directly route the MIDI output into Wwise.  Berrak takes us through the process in this two-part video tutorial:

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Finally, Berrak Nil Boya has created a video tutorial on the integration of Wwise into Unity 5, using MIDI.  Her explanation of the preparation of a soundbank and the association of MIDI note events with game events is very interesting, and provides a nicely practical application of the MIDI capability of Wwise.