For New Composers Breaking Into the Game Music Business


Breaking Into the Business

I’m often asked for the secret to breaking into the business of composing music for games. I dedicated a chapter of my book to that topic, so I’ve definitely given the issue a good deal of thought, but I’ll admit that it’s a complicated and difficult road for every newcomer to traverse. The toughest aspect of the journey is at the very beginning, when those initial efforts to secure work don’t immediately pay off. Patience and faith are both important virtues, but they don’t offer a lot of comfort at the beginning of an aspiring game composer’s career. While in my book I tried to supply as much useful information on the topic as I could glean from my own career and my experience in the business, I know that everyone has a different path to tread, each with its own unique challenges. So I’m going to dedicate this blog to a list of articles and community discussions about how to break into the business of composing music for games, written by a lot of smart folks with experiences to share and hard-won advice to impart. In the ensuing heap of game industry wisdom to be gathered from these articles, I hope that a few newcomers will find some helpful guidance, and a modicum of comfort as well.

How to be a video game music composer – Tips from the pros
by Sophia Tong,
Music in the Gaming Industry – Getting a Job as a Game Composer
by Nelson Everhart, Kingsisle Blog
I want to be a game composer community discussion
Getting Started as a Video Game Composer
by Bobby Prince,
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,
How to be a Video Game Composer
by Kevin Kelly, G4TV
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,
Advice for Breaking Into a Career in Composing Music for Videogames
by Lisa Horan, Mix Magazine

Game Convention Speaking Engagements 2014


This fall is going to be a busy one for me!  In addition to the release of one of my projects – a very big video game that I’m quite excited about (more info coming soon) – I’ll also be doing three speaking engagements.  I thought I’d share info about those here, in case any of you might be attending.  It would be great to see you there, and if you bring along a copy of my book (A Composer’s Guide to Game Music), I’d be happy to sign it for you!

GameSoundCon 2014

October 7th & 8th
Millennium Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles


It’s my pleasure to speak at GameSoundCon again this year!  Last year was tremendous fun, and I’m looking forward to giving another lecture to the wonderfully creative and enthusiastic game audio folks who attend GameSoundCon!  My presentation, entitled “Advanced Composition Techniques for Adaptive Systems,” will take place on October 8th.  Here are a couple of photos from my presentation last year.

A portion of the audience for my presentation at GameSoundCon 2013

A portion of the audience for my presentation at GameSoundCon 2013

Speaking at GameSoundCon 2013

Speaking at GameSoundCon 2013

Audio Engineering Society Convention (AES 137), 2014

Thursday, October 9th – Sunday, October 12th
Los Angeles Convention Center

Audio Engineering Society Convention 2014

I’m looking forward to speaking at this year’s AES convention.  My presentation, entitled “Effective Interactive Music Systems: The Nuts and Bolts of Dynamic Musical Content,” will take place on October 9th.  I’ll also be speaking on October 10th as a part of a panel entitled “Game Biz 101: How to Jump Start Your Career.”  The panelists also include Guy Whitmore (Studio Audio Director at PopCap Games), Stephan Schütze (Audio Director of the Sound Librarian), Richard Warp (Audio Lead at Leapfrog Enterprises), and our moderator Steve Horowitz (Audio Director, Nickelodeon Digital).

Montreal International Games Summit, 2014

Monday, November 10th – Tuesday, November 11th


It will be a tremendous pleasure to speak again at the Montreal International Games Summit.  Last year was a fantastic experience, and I’m looking forward to returning to Montreal!  My presentation will be entitled “Music, the Brain, and the Three Levels of Immersion.”  Here’s a video of my presentation at last year’s Montreal International Games Summit.

Musical Feel Versus Mechanical Integrity

In a blog article for Gamasutra, game designer Rodain Joubert explores the role of music in games, particularly those in which the music is a central part of a puzzle-solving mechanic (such as the gameplay in Auditorium, FRACT OSC, and Circuits).  He also brings up an idea which arrested my attention, and which will be the subject of this blog:

What is the relationship between Musical Feel and Mechanical Integrity?

Joubert defines Musical Feel as the emotional payoff that is delivered by the game’s score, which depends on the quality of the compositions and their ability to deliver a good experience to the player.  Mechanical Integrity, on the other hand, is the ability of the gameplay to exist apart from the music and still be enjoyable — the implication being that music can either provide a crutch for weak gameplay or interfere and distract from strong game mechanics.  While Joubert concentrates on music games, I found myself thinking about the broader implications of such a tug-of-war scenario as the one he’d described.

As composers, we typically strive to create a score that has a very strong musical feel. Elements such as melodic composition, complex harmonic progression, thematic development and sophisticated instrumental arrangement can all combine to give our tracks that strong musical feel.  But what if the development team would rather we strip away these elements?

Sometimes, a development team may choose to assign the musical score a set of very simple tasks, such as setting the pace with the use of a basic rhythmic momentum, or establishing an atmosphere by using synthetic pads and ambient textures.  These choices may serve the mechanical integrity of the game, by creating a musical undercurrent that supports the gameplay without interfering with it.  But such tactics can also go too far, when the music becomes so simplified that it is perceived as uninteresting by players.  The score loses its musical feel.

Personally, I think that these two objectives would need to be well balanced.  As long as both musical feel and mechanical integrity are given appropriate weight and consequence, we can be confident that our game music will be both entertaining for players and supportive to the mechanics of the game.