When playing a video game, the music can often be just as memorable as the gameplay itself. Video game music has the power to transport players to alternate worlds and heighten the emotions they feel while playing. Aspiring composers often struggle with how to compose effective video game music that captures the essence of the game while providing a unique listening experience.
This article aims to serve as a step-by-step guide for those who want to delve into the world of video game music. Whether you’re a musician looking to get into game composing or a game designer looking to learn more about game music, this guide offers a wealth of information. We’ll cover everything from the importance of understanding the game genre to composing tips from industry professionals.
II. Step-by-Step Guide
When it comes to composing video game music, there are a few key steps to keep in mind.
Establishing a Melody
The first step is establishing a melody for the game. This melody should be memorable and represent the essence of the game. The melody will be the backbone of the entire soundtrack, so it’s important to get it right.
For example, the iconic Super Mario Bros. theme is a simple yet effective melody that represents the game perfectly.
Developing a Theme
Once the melody has been established, it’s important to start developing a theme for the game. This could involve creating variations on the melody or incorporating different musical styles that fit with the game’s genre.
For example, the theme for the Legend of Zelda series is known for incorporating a lot of different musical styles, from orchestral to rock.
Incorporating Sound Effects
The final step is incorporating sound effects into the soundtrack. This could involve using musical instruments to create sound effects or incorporating real-life sounds into the music.
For example, in the game Minecraft, the soundtrack incorporates sounds from the game, such as mining and crafting, to create a unique and immersive listening experience.
III. Interviews with Professionals
Learning from experienced professionals is an important part of any learning process. This section includes interviews with prominent video game composers who discuss their personal experiences and offer advice for aspiring composers.
Different Styles of Composing Video Game Music
Composers often have different styles when it comes to composing video game music. For example, some composers like to create orchestral scores while others prefer to incorporate electronic music.
Composer Tom Salta, who has worked on games such as Killer Instinct and the Halo series, notes that his style is heavily influenced by classic rock music. “I love taking those classic rock sounds and incorporating them into modern electronic music,” he says.
Personal Experiences in the Industry
Composing video game music is a unique industry, and each composer has their own experiences to share. Some composers have backgrounds in film scoring or classical music, while others come from a more electronic music background.
Composer Jesper Kyd, who has worked on games such as Assassin’s Creed and Borderlands, notes that his background in electronic music helped him transition to composing video game music. “I was always interested in creating soundscapes and using atmospheric sounds in my music,” he says. “That experience has been invaluable in my work as a video game composer.”
Advice for Aspiring Composers
Finally, each composer has their own advice for aspiring video game composers. Some offer advice on the technical aspects of composing, while others focus on the mindset required to be successful.
Composer Austin Wintory, who worked on the game Journey, encourages aspiring composers to be true to themselves and find their own unique style. “Don’t try to be like anyone else,” he says. “Find your own voice and let that guide your compositions.”
IV. Tips from Experts
In addition to learning from industry professionals, there are also tips and tricks that can help aspiring composers create effective video game music.
Best Software to Use
There are a variety of software programs available for composing video game music, but some are more effective than others. Composer Jason Graves, who has worked on games such as Dead Space and The Order: 1886, recommends using a digital audio workstation such as Cubase or Logic Pro X. “These programs allow you to create realistic-sounding orchestral scores,” he says.
Instruments and Effects to Include in the Score
When it comes to creating an effective game soundtrack, the instruments and effects used can be just as important as the melody and theme. Composer Garry Schyman, who worked on the game Bioshock, notes that he used a lot of non-traditional instruments in his score, such as a musical saw and a bowed psaltery. “These instruments helped create a unique sound that fit with the game’s atmosphere,” he says.
Writing for Different Game Genres
Composing for different game genres requires different approaches. For example, a puzzle game might require a more subdued soundtrack while an action game might require a more fast-paced score. Composer Inon Zur, who has worked on games such as Fallout 3 and Dragon Age: Origins, notes that understanding the game’s genre is key to creating an effective soundtrack. “You need to understand what emotions the game is trying to evoke and create a score that fits with that,” he says.
V. Analyze Popular Game Soundtracks
One way to better understand how to compose effective video game music is to analyze popular game soundtracks. This section breaks down specific game soundtracks and discusses the composer’s approach to the music.
Final Fantasy VII
The soundtrack for Final Fantasy VII, composed by Nobuo Uematsu, is considered one of the best in video game history. The score is heavily influenced by classical music and includes a mix of orchestral and electronic sounds. The music is used to heighten the emotional impact of the game and often features leitmotifs, or musical themes that represent characters or events in the game.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The soundtrack for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, composed by Jeremy Soule, is an epic orchestral score that perfectly captures the game’s sense of adventure. The music is heavily influenced by Nordic folk music and features a choir chanting in the game’s fictional Dragon language. The score is used to create a sense of awe and wonder as players explore the game’s vast world.
VI. A Voice-Based Approach
Composer Winifred Phillips suggests a voice-based approach to composing music, breaking down tips into categories such as melody, harmony, rhythm, and instrumentation.
Phillips suggests using a memorable melody that is easy to hum or whistle. A successful melody communicates the essence of the game or game character in a way that is easily recognizable.
Phillips believes that harmony is key to establishing the mood of the game. Selecting the right chords and chord progressions will create the emotions that are necessary for the gameplay experience.
Rhythm provides energy and pacing to the music. Phillips suggests using rhythm to support the melody and adding contrasting rhythms to heighten the excitement.
The instrumentation provides the color and texture of the music. Phillips suggests using unique combinations of instruments to create a distinctive sound for the game.
VII. Audience Response
The ultimate goal of composing video game music is to create a soundtrack that resonates with the player. Understanding the audience and their emotional response is key to creating a successful score.
To create music that connects with the audience, composer Peter McConnell suggests understanding the context of the game and the emotions it is trying to evoke. “The music should articulate what’s going on in the game in a way that supports the player,” he says.
VIII. Fun Ways to Create Video Game Music
The final section of our guide explores fun and unconventional ways to compose music that stand out from the crowd.
Some composers incorporate everyday objects into their music to create unique soundscapes. For example, composer Rich Vreeland (also known as Disasterpeace), used a typewriter and a thunder tube to create sound effects for the game Fez.
Ambient sounds are a great way to add atmosphere and depth to a score. Composer Darren Korb, who has worked on games such as Bastion and Transistor, notes that he often uses environmental sounds that match the game’s setting. “If a game takes place in a forest, I’ll incorporate bird songs into the music,” he says.
Composing video game music is a unique and exciting field, but it can be challenging to create a soundtrack that captures the essence of the game while offering a unique listening experience. By following a step-by-step approach, learning from experienced professionals, and incorporating tips from experts, aspiring composers can create effective video game music that resonates with players.
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