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.

 
 

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 systems at GDC 2017: what are composers using?

By video game music composer Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Video game composer Winifred Phillips, presenting at the Game Developers Conference 2017.The 2017 Game Developers Conference could be described as a densely-packed deep-dive exploration of the state-of-the-art tools and methodologies used in modern game development.  This description held especially true for the game audio track, wherein top experts in the field offered a plethora of viewpoints and advice on the awesome technical and artistic challenges of creating great sound for games. I’ve given GDC talks for the past three years now (see photo), and every year I’m amazed at the breadth and diversity of the problem-solving approaches discussed by my fellow GDC presenters.  Often I’ll emerge from the conference with the impression that we game audio folks are all “doing it our own way,” using widely divergent strategies and tools.

This year, I thought I’d write three articles to collect and explore the ideas that were discussed in five different GDC audio talks.  During their presentations, these five speakers all shared their thoughts on best practices and methods for instilling interactivity in modern game music.  By absorbing these ideas side-by-side, I thought we might gain a sense of the “bigger picture” when it comes to the current leading-edge thinking for music interactivity in games. In the first article, we’ll look at the basic nature of these interactive systems.  We’ll devote the second article to the pros and cons of each system, and in the third article we’ll look at tools and tips shared by these music interactivity experts. Along the way, I’ll also be sharing my thoughts on the subject, and we’ll take a look at musical examples from some of my own projects that demonstrate a few ideas explored in these GDC talks:

So, let’s begin with the most obvious question.  What kind of interactive music systems are game audio folks using lately?

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Variation for the video game composer: the music of Little Lords of Twilight

Pictured: video game music composer Winifred Phillips at the BKOM booth during GDC 2017.

Since one of my most recent projects, Little Lords of Twilight, became available worldwide earlier this year and was recently greenlit on the famous Steam platform, I thought I’d write this article to share some of my creative and technical process in composing the music for this game. In particular, this project presents a great opportunity to look at how compositional variation (as we understand it from music theory) can be useful for the structure of interactive music.

Developed by BKOM Studios, Little Lords of Twilight won a Best in Play Award at GDC 2017, a Best Designed Mobile App Platinum Award from the BMA Awards, a Communicator Award for Best Mobile App, and has appeared on numerous “Best of” lists, including those published by PocketGamer, Explore Gadgets, and GameInOnline.  As a player-versus-player turn-based strategy game, Little Lords of Twilight offers a unique gameplay mechanic influenced by the in-game passage of time.  Day and night cycles dramatically alter your character’s appearance and abilities. Depending on whether it is currently day or night in the game, your character will have access to a completely different complement of awesome skills and spells to wield on the battlefield.

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Composing video game music to build suspense, part 5: semi silence

Winifred Phillips - video game music composer - working on the music of The Da Vinci Code video game in her music production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Welcome to the fifth and final installment of my five-part article series on music composition techniques for stimulating tension and suspense in video games.  These articles are based on the presentation I gave this year at the popular Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, entitled Homefront to God of War: Using Music to Build Suspense.  If you haven’t yet read the previous four articles, you’ll find them here:

Now that we’ve considered the power of Ominous Ambiences, Jarring Jolts, Creepy Clusters, and Drones of Dread, let’s take a look at the last item on our list of suspenseful music composition techniques – Semi Silence.

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Composing video game music to build suspense, part 4: drones of dread

Winifred Phillips, video game music composer, at work in her studio on the music of the original God of War.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Welcome to the fourth installment of my five-part article series discussing music composition techniques that heighten tension and suspense for video game projects.  These articles are based on the presentation I gave at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, entitled Homefront to God of War: Using Music to Build Suspense.  If you haven’t read the previous three articles, you’ll find them here:

Before we move on to the next music composition technique in our suspense-building arsenal, I’d like to briefly revisit a video game project we discussed in our last article; the popular Dragon Front VR game for the Oculus Rift, developed by High Voltage Software.

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