The Big Index 2023: Articles for Game Music Composers

 

Video game composer Winifred Phillips was nominated for a 2023 Society of Composers & Lyricists Award for her music for the video game Jurassic World Primal Ops.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Welcome!  I’m game music composer Winifred Phillips, and just before the holidays I was ecstatic to learn that my music for the Jurassic World Primal Ops video game was nominated for a Society of Composers & Lyricists Award!  In all the excitement following the announcement of the SCL Awards nominees, many budding game composers reached out to me for advice regarding their own career trajectories.  I found myself referring many of them to articles I’ve written in this space over the years – articles covering the widely diverse topics that interest us as game composers.

Since 2014, this series of articles has explored the evolving state of our industry and the tools and techniques that can help us make great game music.  Over time, these articles have become a fairly deep repository of information. After referring so many budding composers to articles in this lengthy series, it has occurred to me that this sizable collection has become quite difficult to navigate – partially due to the many topics that have been explored over the years.

Discussions have included many of the creative challenges that make our profession unique.  Through an examination of the structure of interactive music systems, numerous dynamic composition techniques have been investigated.  Along the way, we’ve pondered how game music composition has been accomplished in the past, and where it might be going in the future.  A profusion of resources have been collated in these articles – including the best methods to find gigs, and awesome networking opportunities that can benefit a game composer’s career.  There have also been examinations of resources that can keep us inspired and creatively energized.

Together, these articles constitute a living document about game music composition.  However, they definitely need an index at this point.  With that in mind, I’m offering this ‘big index’ of articles I’ve shared over the years, organized by subject matter.  We can navigate around this index using the following menu:

Dynamic Music in Games | Game Music Business | Game Music And Cognition | Game Music Composition and Production | Game Music Events and Interviews | Game Music in Virtual Reality

Dynamic Music in Games

An illustration supporting a discussion of interactive music, as incorporated into the article by BAFTA-nominated game composer Winifred Phillips. This article offers a portal to over a hundred articles about video game music composition.

This is one of the most-discussed topics among experts in the game composer community: dynamic music.  These articles explore the various systems for dynamic music construction and implementation.  We’ll also find discussions of the relationship between game music and game players, including ways in which gamers influence the music as they play.  There are also a collection of case studies with real-world examples for discussion and analysis.

Dynamic Music Case Studies

Dynamic Music General Concepts

Dynamic Systems

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Game Music Business

A depiction of financial iconography, complementing a discussion of the business of video game music composition (as included in the article by game music composer Winifred Phillips).

When we’re not considering the creative and technical aspects of our work as game composers, we’re consumed with the demands of maintaining our business and finding work.  These articles focus on tips for keeping our business lives running smoothly.

Career Development

Resources

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Game Music and Cognition

This illustration depicts the intersection between game music and cognitive function, as discussed in an assortment of articles by BAFTA-nominated game composer Winifred Phillips.

One of the most intriguing topics of discussion has been the influence of game music on the psychology and intellectual performance of gamers.  These are the articles that investigated the relationship between game music and a gamer’s psyche.

Mental Processing

Virtual Presence

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Game Music Composition & Production

An image illustrating the concept of music composition in the field of video game development, as included in the article by BAFTA-nominated video game composer Winifred Phillips.

These are the articles directly relating to the nuts-and-bolts of our profession: the process of music composition.  Topics range from expressing a musical style, to creating a memorable theme, to effective production and implementation.

Music Composition: Themes and Variation

Music Composition: Thoughts on Style

Music Composition: Research and Technical

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Game Music Events and Interviews

An image supporting the concept of conferences, conventions and interviews - as included in the article by award-winning composer Winifred Phillips.

Live events featuring game music have proliferated over the years – from popular conferences and conventions, to famous concert tours.  In this section, we’ll find guides and overviews for in-person game audio gatherings.  This section also includes transcripts from interviews that took place during these events.

Events

Interviews

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Game Music in Virtual Reality

This image forms the heading for the article section about Virtual Reality, as included by video game music composer Winifred Phillips.

Virtual reality profoundly impacted our work as game audio professionals.  VR revitalized the disciplines of ambisonics and binaural sound.  In the process, VR became a wonderful opportunity for us to change our thinking about what game audio can accomplish, and how ambitious we can be in our work as game composers.  These are the articles that focused on Virtual Reality and its impact on our work in game audio and music.

VR Headphones

VR Physiology and Perception

VR Technology and Resources

VR Workflow

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Further Reading

A Composer's Guide to Game Music is published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, and is available in many university and public libraries. Written by game composer Winifred Phillips, the book is a resource for the technical and creative questions of aspiring game composers.

I wrote the book A Composer’s Guide to Game Music to explore the creative and technical issues facing video game composers, and this book remains a resource for more detailed discussions of many of the topics from the above index.  The book is published by The MIT Press.  It’s available in many university and public libraries, and is also available here.

Conclusion

That concludes this big index of articles!  I hope you’ll find it helpful!  Thanks so much for joining me as we explore the fascinating world of game music composition!

 

BAFTA-nominated composer Winifred Phillips is shown here in her music production studio. Phillips is the author of over a hundred articles on the art and craft of video game music composition. She is the author of the book A Composer's Guide to Game Music, published by the MIT Press.Winifred Phillips is a BAFTA-nominated video game composer.  The music she composed for her latest video game project Jurassic World Primal Ops is nominated for a Society of Composers & Lyricists Award for Outstanding Score for Interactive Media.  Other recent releases include the hit PlayStation 5 launch title Sackboy: A Big Adventure (soundtrack album now available).  Popular music from Phillips’ award-winning Assassin’s Creed Liberation score was featured in the performance repertoire of the Assassin’s Creed Symphony World Tour, which made its Paris debut in 2019 with an 80-piece orchestra and choir. As an accomplished video game composer, Phillips is best known for composing music for games in many of the most famous and popular franchises in gaming: the list includes Assassin’s Creed, God of War, Total War, The Sims, and Sackboy / LittleBigPlanet.  Phillips’ has received numerous awards, including an Interactive Achievement Award / D.I.C.E. Award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, six Game Audio Network Guild Awards (including Music of the Year), and three Hollywood Music in Media Awards. She is the author of the award-winning bestseller A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC, published by the MIT Press. As one of the foremost authorities 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. An interview with her has been published as a part of the Routledge text, Women’s Music for the Screen: Diverse Narratives in Sound, which collects the viewpoints of the most esteemed female composers in film, television, and games.  Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Diegetic sound and music for the video game composer (GDC 2021)

Photograph of video game music composer Winifred Phillips in her music production studio. This photo illustrates Phillips' work on two popular video games developed by Sumo Digital.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hello there!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips.  Next week, I’ll be giving a lecture during the Game Developers Conference 2021 event.  During my lecture, I’ll be talking about the music I composed for Sumo Digital for both the Sackboy: A Big Adventure and Spyder video games.  My lecture is entitled, “From Spyder to Sackboy: A Big Adventure in Interactive Music,” and will take place on Friday July 23rd at 3:40pm PT.  Although GDC is still an all-virtual affair, the event does provide lots of opportunities for experts within the game development community to share their knowledge, coupled with forums enabling game audio folks to network and learn from each other.  In addition to my prepared lecture, I’ll also be participating in a live Speaker Q&A that will take place right after my presentation.  It should be a lot of fun!  Really looking forward to sharing my experience working with Sumo Digital simultaneously on these two fantastic games.

The famous logo of the Sackboy: A Big Adventure video game, as included in the article by award-winning video game composer Winifred Phillips.

This was an incredibly rare and awesome opportunity for me to compose music for two projects simultaneously in development by the same company.  Because of this, I found the comparisons between the two games fascinating.

My talk will delve into the mechanics of the dynamic music systems in both games, An image of the official Spyder video game promotional poster, as included in the article by video game music composer Winifred Phillips.showing how a comparison between these two projects can shed some light on the utility of the top interactive techniques and strategies.  While comparing this list of interactive music techniques provided me with a lot of material for my GDC lecture, there were other ways in which the two projects were similar.  I thought I’d share some brief thoughts on one of the other common threads I found between these two Sumo Digital games.

As composers, we’re often asked to provide a general atmosphere that adds either character to gameplay or distinctive flavor to menus.  If it’s a horror game, maybe we’re being asked to provide a crushingly heavy drone of doom during tense exploration, with soul-shuddering tone clusters bubbling up from the darkness and then sinking back down into the murky depths.  For a whimsical game, we might be creating airy, open textures with little mischievous accents from the mallets or woodwind section… or maybe we’re creating a brightly whimsical melody for an opening menu or splash screen.  If it’s a fantasy roleplaying game, we may be providing softly ambient tracks for exploration, with a pensive flute wandering gently through Gaelic figures.  Or maybe we’re creating a thunderously epic main theme for an opening menu, designed to emphasize the world-shattering stakes of the adventure to come.

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Game Developers Conference: Ask Me Anything about being a video game music composer

Promotional photo used in connection with the Ask Me Anything session with video game music composer Winifred Phillips, taking place as a part of GDC Summer 2020.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hey everyone!  I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips.  GDC 2021 is coming this July 19th to the 23rd, and I’m excited that I’ll be giving a talk during this year’s conference!  My talk is called, From Spyder to Sackboy: A Big Adventure in Interactive Music, and I’ll be sharing more details about my talk as the conference gets nearer.  Once again, GDC will be a fully virtual game industry event this year.  I think all of us who have participated in GDC’s awesome online events over the past year have really enjoyed the experience.  Considering the long list of structural and logistical changes that had to be made, it’s amazing how smoothly everything went!

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Composer Interview: GDC Showcase Game Music Q&A

Pictured: video game music composer Winifred Phillips, at the Moscone Center in San Francisco giving her GDC speech. This photo is included in the article about the GDC Showcase event in 2021.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

This March, the GDC held their first-ever Showcase event.  This online gathering provided the game development community a chance to get together and share expert knowledge in the time window usually occupied by the full-fledged Game Developer Conference in San Francisco.  Completely free of charge, this event featured talks fromThis image includes the time and place details for the GDC Showcase lecture, Homefront to God of War: Using Music to Build Suspense, given by award-winning video game composer Winifred Phillips. the GDC Vault: a repository of lecture videos from the long history of the conference.  During Showcase week, GDC curated a selection of lectures from their illustrious history and spotlighted those talks in live-streams accompanied by enthusiastic text discussions in an accompanying chat box.  One of my lectures from a previous GDC event was featured during this GDC Showcase, and I was happy to participate in the chat discussion, answering questions and providing additional resources.  My lecture was entitled, “Homefront to God of War: Using Music to Build Suspense,” and you can watch the entire video of my lecture for free at this link in the GDC Vault.

While the videos remain a part of the GDC Vault, those chat discussions from GDC Showcase are no longer available in any form.  I found the chat conversation during my lecture session to be lively, intelligent and tremendously worthwhile, so I preserved the text of the discussion and I’d like to share portions of it here. As we all know, these sorts of text-chat discussions don’t really allow for lengthy answers, and often the questions fly by so fast that there’s little time to elaborate on ideas.  With that in mind, I thought I’d expand on some of the topics brought up during my GDC Showcase session.  You’ll see that I’ve organized this article under topic headings, quoting the original chat excerpts and then adding a few additional thoughts to flesh things out.

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Composer Interview: Examining the Craft of Video Game Music Composition

Photo of video game music composer Winifred Phillips in her music production studio. This photo illustrates the awards and accolades received by the music of the Spyder video game.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Glad you’re here!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips.  Last year, I participated in an online discussion session during a popular live-stream chat event hosted by Video Game Music Academy.  The lively conversation that took place there seems worth sharing at this point.  What follows is a partial transcript of the most substantive conversation from that hour-long session.  I was interviewed by public school music teacher Daniel Hulsman.  At the time, one of my projects had just released – the Spyder game for Apple Arcade – which had won a Global Music Award that year and was also nominated for a NAVGTR Award (pictured above).  Much of the discussion focused on that project, but it also touches on my work in other games, and the topics broaden out to encompass more of the top issues pertaining to the craft of video game music composition.  You’ll see that I’ve also included a few videos here and there to supplement the transcript and illustrate the discussion.

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The Big List 2021: Resources for Game Music Composers

Photo of game music composer Winifred Phillips, pictured in her music production studio at Generations Productions LLC. This photo was taken while Phillips was delivering her presentation for GDC 2020.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Glad you’re here!  I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips, and every year I compile a “big list” of the top online resources available for game audio folks.  It’s an evolving list that expands each year as more awesome professional tools and great networking opportunities become available.  However, before we begin, it’s important to acknowledge what the Covid-19 pandemic has done to our industry this year.  While the games themselves are as popular as ever, those of us making assets for these games are working under extraordinary circumstances.  It’s harder than ever to meet face-to-face, and our community can feel a bit fractured and distant.  With that in mind, let’s kick off this list with a look at how we’re connecting with each other in the time of the coronavirus, exploring how conferences and events have adapted to our socially-distant world this year.  In doing so, I’ll be sharing some videos from conferences that took place entirely online, including the full-length video of the talk I gave in 2020 at the Game Developer Conference (pictured above).  After that, we’ll once again explore the best available resources in the form of online community groups, software applications, and academic institutions with wellsprings of expert knowledge to share.

So if everybody’s ready, then let’s get started!

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Getting your big break – 2021 edition (Video game music composer)

This photo depicts game music composer Winifred Phillips working in her music production studio at Generations Productions LLC on the musical score of the Sackboy: A Big Adventure game from Sumo Digital. Winifred Phillips is an award-winning video game music composer whose credits include games from five of the biggest franchises in gaming (Assassin's Creed, God of War, Total War, LittleBigPlanet, The Sims).

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Delighted you’re here!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and this past year has been particularly busy for me.  I’ve released several projects this year, including Sackboy: A Big Adventure (my latest, pictured above) – and I’m very pleased that my Waltz of the Bubbles composition from Sackboy: A Big Adventure just won a Global Music Award, and is nominated along with the rest of the game’s soundtrack in this year’s NAVGTR Awards!  In between projects, I’ve given three virtual talks this past year at the Game Developers Conference in March, the VGM Academy Live event in April, and the GDC Summer event in August.  Popular events like these are great opportunities to touch base with the community and exchange ideas about the art of game composition and the business of being a video game composer.

All during this time, I’ve been keeping up with this blog, writing monthly articles that explore different topics of interest to us as game composers.  In addition to the regular monthly entries, every year I write an article that tries to answer the question, “how does an aspiring composer break into the video game industry?”  This is the question I’m personally asked most often, and it’s one I always struggle to answer.

Part of the reason for this is that my own “breaking into the business” story is so unusual.  My first video game project happened to be a triple-A blockbuster (God of War from Sony Interactive), The logo of the original God of War video game from Sony Interactive Entertainment. Game music composer Winifred Phillips was a member of the music composition team for this video game.and I was able to land the gig because an example of my work landed on the desk of a music supervisor for the project at exactly the right time.  What are the chances of that?  It’s akin to being struck by lightning, and I certainly can’t advise young composers to depend on that kind of lightning to strike.  But I don’t want to leave hopeful young composers in the lurch either.

So every year, I revisit the subject, trying to learn what helpful advice might be offered by virtue of the common wisdom that exists at the time.  In expert articles and community posts, the subject is ceaselessly examined and reconsidered.  It’s an evolving conversation that shifts in subtle but appreciable ways from year to year.  So this is the 2021 edition, in which I share the interesting observations I’ve gathered from online sources during the previous year.  Hopefully, this article will provide some guidance and support for those who are embarking on their own game music careers. But first, in case anyone might like to hear a fuller retelling of my own “breaking into the business” story, here’s an interview I gave in 2011 with GameSpot in which I recount how I landed my first gig.  The relevant discussion begins at 4 minutes and 15 seconds:

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Video Game Music Composer: The Interactive Music of SPYDER (Part 2)

Photograph of video game music composer Winifred Phillips in her music production studio. Phillips is the video game composer for the Spyder game, developed by Sumo Digital for Apple Arcade. Her credits include games in five of the biggest franchises in gaming, and she is considered an authority on video game music who has given lectures at such venues as the Game Developers Conference (GDC), the Society of Composers and Lyricists, and the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Welcome!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and I’m glad you’ve joined us for this continuation of our discussion of the dynamic music system in the video game Spyder!  As you may recall from our previous discussion, Spyder is a spy thriller set in a retro world that’s vibrant with the famously over-the-top music and aesthetic of the late 1960s to early 1970s.  The game was developed by Sumo Digital for the popular Apple Arcade gaming platform.  The protagonist is an intelligent gadget resembling a tiny robotic spider.  This device, named “Agent 8,” was created by an elite British spy organization.  As the hero of the game, Agent 8 undertakes high-stakes espionage in order to defeat a sprawling evil organization known as S.I.N.!  Sumo Digital recently released a developer diary video about the making of the music of SPYDER, so let’s check that out:

As you could see from the video, the Spyder video game features a dynamic music system designed to convey the iconic 1960s style of a classic spy thriller.  In this two-part article series, we’ve been exploring how that system was created.

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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.

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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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