Guest Post: David Freeman Talks Music For Video Games

This week I have a guest blogger share a little bit about how to create compelling music for video games. I've always been intrigued by the way composers have to create cinematic scores while allowing extreme looping flexibility, and David really nails it with this post.  

Without further ado, here's David Freeman's thoughts on creating great music for video game scores:

5 Tips to Consider When Making Music for Video Games

Similar to a memorable and effective film score or soundtrack, well-crafted video game music helps define the game’s identity, and dictate the story and gameplay. For composers who are thinking about applying their skills to the gaming industry here are five tips to consider.

1. Partner the Music Along with the Scene

A game score works in the exact same way as a film score. It is designed to amplify scenes and create an emotional connection between the player and game. This link has to be established by composer in every game, whether it is a story-driven RPG or a 2D fighting game. 

Fact Mag ranks 2D action role-playing game Hyper Light Drifter at number one of their ‘The 10 Best Video Game Soundtracks of 2016’ thanks to the “grimy psychedelia” of the soundtrack and its profound effect on the gamer. The takeaway: music should always intensify what is happening on the screen.

2. Think Outside the Box

Through the many advancements in technology, the art of making music has become exponentially easier. However, any committed video game composer shouldn’t take this as a cue to not push their craft to its limits. In Clash’s 7 of the Best: Video Game Soundtracks’ list back in 2013, they applaud Japanese video game composer Yuzo Koshiro for his remarkable innovation in sound and technology in 1992 Streets of Rage. Like all genres of music, composers should be looking for innovative ways to create new sounds.


 

3. Make the Music Universal

American musical composer and conductor Arnie Roth recently collaborated with legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu for the Final Fantasy game series. Roth likens Nobuo to legendary film composer John Williams wherein they are both masters of the craft. The best video game music composers shouldn't feel restricted by the medium.

4. Study Music

In an interview with Games Radar, Garry Schyman, who has television credits from shows like The A-Team and Magnum P.I and video game music credits in Bioshock, stresses that a good education is critical and that it is imperative to learn tradition scoring techniques which include orchestration and composition. Schyman also stresses that listening to different genres of music gives any composer versatility and depth.

5. Be Aware of the Importance of Music in the Industry

It's no secret: more gaming companies have partnered with musicians. Popular songs are often used in trailers to help promote the game. Famous examples include “Not Your Kind of People” by Garage for Metal Gear Solid V and “Survival” by Eminem for Call of Duty: Ghosts. There have also been games based around famous bands and their musical output. In the online gaming landscape, Guns N’ Roses Video Slots on Slingo uses music as a key ingredient in its gameplay, specifically appealing to the nostalgia of rock fans across the globe. Both these cases demonstrate how popular and familiar music can create an instant audience connection. It is important for a composer to be aware of how popular music is now used by the gaming industry.

Most gaming companies won't be able to afford music licensing for their games, which is why the score has to be of top quality. For Winifred Phillips (Assassin’s Creed III, Little Big Planet) a good composer is able to really let their best artistic inspiration come through. Speaking to the Boston Globe, Phillips notes that what excites her the most is when a composer pushes the envelope by using “different ideas” and “unexpected choices”. She also noted how game music is becoming more prominent in popular culture with videogame concerts touring the world. In 2012 the soundtrack for the PlayStation 3 game Journey was nominated for a Grammy and was competing against scores by John Williams and Hans Zimmer.