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.

 
 

VR for the Game Music Composer: Audio for VR Platforms

In this article written for video game composers, Winifred Phillips (video game composer) is here pictured working in her music production studio on the music for the Scraper: First Strike game, developed for popular VR gaming platforms (PSVR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive).

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hello there!  I’m video game music composer Winifred Phillips.  Lately, I’ve been very busy in my production studio composing music for a lot of awesome virtual reality games, including the upcoming Scraper: First Strike first person VR shooter (pictured above) that’s coming out next Wednesday (November 21st) for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Windows Mixed Reality Devices, and will be released on December 18th for the Playstation VR.  My work on this project has definitely stoked my interest in everything VR!  Since the game will be released very soon, here’s a trailer video released by the developers Labrodex Studios, featuring some of the music I composed for the game:

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VRDC 2017 takeaways: VR music for the game composer

Video game music composer Winifred Phillips, at work in her music production studio - from the article about music for virtual reality / VR.The Game Developers Conference is always an awesome opportunity for game audio experts to learn and share experiences.  I’ve given presentations at GDC for a few years now, and I’m always excited to hear about what’s new and notable in game audio.  This year, the hot topic was virtual reality.  In fact, the subject received its own dedicated sub-conference that took place concurrently with the main GDC show.  The VRDC (Virtual Reality Developers Conference) didn’t focus particularly on the audio and music side of VR, but there were a couple of notable talks on that subject.  In this article, let’s take a look at some of the more intriguing VR game music takeaways from those two talks.  Along the way, I’ll also share some of my related experience as the composer of the music of the Dragon Front VR game for the Oculus Rift (pictured above).

Inside and outside

The talks we’ll be discussing in this article are entitled “Audio Adventures in VR Worlds” and “The Sound Design of Star Wars: Battlefront VR.”  Here’s a common issue that popped up in both talks:

An illustration of music in the popular VR platform, from the article by Winifred Phillips (video game composer).Where should video game music be in a VR game?  Should it feel like it exists inside the VR world, weaving itself into the immersive 3D atmosphere surrounding the player?  Or should it feel like it’s somehow outside of the VR environment and is instead coasting on top of the experience, being conveyed directly to the player?  The former approach suggests a spacious and expansive musical soundscape, and the latter would feel much closer and more personal.  Is one of these approaches more effective in VR than the other?  Which choice is best?

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Video game composers can make you smarter! (The music of Dragon Front) Pt. 3

Winifred Phillips, video game music composer, pictured at the GDC 2016 display for the Dragon Front virtual reality game.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Welcome to the third (and final) article in this three-part discussion of how video game composers (like us) can make strategy gamers smarter!  We’ve been exploring the best ways that the music of game composers can help strategy gamers to better concentrate while making more sound tactical decisions. During this discussion, I’ve shared my personal perspective as the composer for the popular Dragon Front strategy game for VR.

In part one, we discussed the concept of ‘music-message congruency,’ so if you haven’t read that article yet, you can read it here.  In part two, we explored the meaning of ‘cognition-enhancing tempo’ – you can read that article here.  Please make sure to read both those articles first and then come back.

Are you back?  Awesome!  Let’s launch into a discussion of the third technique for increasing the smarts of strategy gamers!

Tension-regulating affect

From the article by game composer Winifred Phillips, an illustration of 'psychological affect.'In psychology, the term ‘affect’ refers to emotion, particularly in terms of the way in which such emotional content is displayed.  Whether by visual or aural means, an emotion can not be shared without some kind of ‘affect’ that serves as its mode of communication from one person to another.  When we’re happy, we smile.  When we’re angry, we frown.

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Video Game Music Composer: Music and Sound in VR Headphones (Part Two)

Photo of game composer Winifred Phillips in her music production studio, from the article "Video Game Music Composer: Music and Sound in VR Headphones (Part Two)"My work as a video game composer has lately included some projects for virtual reality games (more info on that in the coming months), and as a result I’ve been thinking a lot about the awesome potential of VR, and have also been writing lots of articles on the subject.  Earlier this month I began a two-part article that focuses on the experience of the end user, and the gear with which they’ll be enjoying our video game music and audio content (you can read part one here). So, let’s now continue our discussion about the new generation of headphones designed specifically for VR!

In this article, we’ll be discussing two headphone models:

  • Entrim 4D
  • Plantronics RIG 4VR

So let’s get underway!

Entrim 4D headphones

Photo of the Entrim 4D, from the VR headphones article by Winifred Phillips (award-winning game music composer)This March at the famous SXSW convention in Austin, Samsung showed off a piece of experimental technology promising to bring a new dimension of immersion to virtual reality.  It’s designed specifically to complement their popular Samsung Gear VR device, and it works by virtue of electrodes that send electrical signals right into the wearer’s head!  As if virtual reality itself weren’t futuristic enough, now we’re talking about a device that zaps us to make the VR feel more real!  It’s called Entrim 4D (pictured right).  We’re talking about it here because (among other things) Entrim 4D is a pair of audio headphones built specifically for VR.

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Game Music Middleware, Part 4: Elias

Middleware-Blackboard

Welcome back to my blog series that offers tutorial resources exploring game music middleware for the game music composer. I initially planned to write two blog entries on the most popular audio middleware solutions (Wwise and FMOD), but since I started this blog series, I’ve been hearing buzz about other middleware solution and so I thought it best to expand the series to incorporate other interesting solutions to music implementation in games.  This blog will focus on a brand new middleware application called Elias, developed by Elias Software.  While not as famous as Wwise or FMOD, this new application offers some intriguing new possibilities for the creation of interactive music in games.

If you’d like to read the first three blog entries in this series, you can find them here:

Game Music Middleware, Part 1: Wwise

Game Music Middleware, Part 2: FMOD

Game Music Middleware, Part 3: Fabric

Elias-Logo

Elias stands for Elastic Lightweight Integrated Audio System.  It is developed by Kristofer Eng and Philip Bennefall for Microsoft Windows, with a Unity plugin for consoles, mobile devices and browser-based games.  What makes Elias interesting is the philosophy of its design.  Instead of designing a general audio middleware tool with some music capabilities, Eng and Bennefall decided to bypass the sound design arena completely and create a middleware tool specifically outfitted for the game music composer. The middleware comes with an authoring tool called Elias Composer’s Studio that “helps the composer to structure and manage the various themes in the game and bridges the gap between the composer and level designer to ease the music integration process.”

Here’s the introductory video for Elias, produced by Elias Software:

The interactive music system of the Elias middleware application seems to favor a Vertical Layering (or vertical re-orchestration) approach with a potentially huge number of music layers able to play in lots of combinations.  The system includes flexible options for layer triggering, including the ability to randomize the activation of the layers to keep the listening experience unpredictable during gameplay.

Elias has produced a series of four tutorial videos for the Composer’s Studio authoring tool.  Here’s the first of the four tutorials:

There’s also a two-part series of tutorials about Elias produced by Dale Crowley, the founder of the game audio services company Gryphondale Studios.  Here’s the first of the two videos:

As a middleware application designed specifically to address the top needs of game music composers, Elias is certainly intriguing!  The software has so far been used in only one published game – Gauntlet, which is the latest entry in the awesome video game franchise first developed by Atari Games for arcade cabinets in 1985.  This newest entry in the franchise was developed by Arrowhead Game Studios for Windows PCs.  We can hear the Elias middleware solution in action in this gameplay video from Gauntlet:

The music of Gauntlet was composed by Erasmus Talbot.  More of his music from Gauntlet is available on his SoundCloud page.

Elias Software recently demonstrated its Elias middleware application on the expo floor of the Nordic Game 2015 conference in Malmö, Sweden (May 20-22, 2015).  Here’s a look at Elias’ booth from the expo:

Elias-NordicGame2015

Since Elias is a brand new application, I’ll be curious to see how widely it is accepted by the game audio community.  A middleware solution that focuses solely on music is definitely a unique approach!  If audio directors and audio programmers embrace Elias, then it may have the potential to give composers better tools and an easier workflow in the creation of interactive music for games.

Interview about Game Music on The Note Show!

The_Note_Show1

I’m excited to share that I’ve been interviewed about my career as a game music composer and my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, for the newest episode of The Note Show!

The Note Show is a terrific podcast that focuses on interviews with professionals in creative fields.  I’m very proud to have been included! Famous guests on The Note Show have included Hugo and Nebula award-winning sci-fi author David Brin, actress Kristina Anapau of the HBO series True Blood, video game designer Al Lowe (Leisure Suit Larry), actress Lisa Jakub (Mrs. Doubtfire, Independence Day), and Steven Long Mitchell and Craig Van Sickle, creators of the NBC series The Pretender.

A-Composers-Guide-To-Game-Music_Book-Cover
This is my second time being interviewed on The Note Show, and I’m so glad to have been invited back!

In this interview, I talk about my work on the LittleBigPlanet and Assassin’s Creed franchises, my latest project (Total War Battles: Kingdom), how composing music for a mobile game differs from composing for consoles or PC, and how my life has changed with the publication of my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music.

In the podcast, we also talk about the National Indie Excellence Book Award that my book recently won, as well as the importance of optimism for an aspiring game composer.

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You can listen to the entire interview here:

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Here’s some official info from the creators of The Note Show:

The Creative Professional Podcast – Music & Arts Interviews

The Note Show is a creative journey where host Joshua Note returns to chat life and art with creative people across the world. We interview musicians, artists, comic book creators, novelists, directors, actors and anyone creative and bring you new people and experiences every week!  The Note Show is a Podcast for and featuring Creative Professionals from all walks of life. As long as it’s creative, it’s here on The Note Show.

The show’s host, Joshua Note, is a terrific interviewer who is also the author of a children’s book due for release in 2015.  In addition, Joshua studied classical composition and orchestration at Leeds College of Music and Leeds University, and in 2012 he produced a for-television animated series and worked on several projects for television and cinema.

Joshua Note, host of The Note Show

Joshua Note, host of The Note Show

In his role as the host of The Note Show, Joshua asks intelligent questions about what it means to be a creative person in modern times, and his interviews are always fascinating!  My thanks to Joshua and the staff of The Note Show – I had a great time!