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Member Since 12 Apr 2004
Offline Last Active Aug 01 2014 10:59 PM

#5103104 Trying to learn a little bit about game music

Posted by ChrisHurn on 21 October 2013 - 06:14 AM

Hey there,


Personally I think you'd have more luck just showing your composer what kind of thing you're after. It's all good and well to learn some terminology, but don't expect to be able to use it accurately for a while -- you'll probably just end up confusing your composer.


The best thing you can do is find tracks that represent the flavour of the piece you want. But if you want your composer to really shine - you have to accept that their stylistic choices and ideas will come through alongside that idea (which is really what you want, if you appreciate how good music can really enhance a game, otherwise you just end up with carbon copy stuff that sounds like everything else). Good 'casting' is key here.


The reason trying to describe musical concepts you don't really understand is a bad idea is because we all have different interpretations of things, and unless you really, really know what you're talking about, at some point you're just going to get confused, the composer will get confused, and if they have questions, you'll probably end up sending them in a different direction altogether.


A good composer will be able to pick up on the soundscape/ideas you like based on the music you send them as examples. Just keep in mind that you should be looking for things that represent the feeling or vibe or idea you want, or maybe the sounds -- be careful about getting to caught up in wanting things exactly like the 'temp' track, or the track you had in mind when you wrote the scene/whatever. Of course feel free to describe things you like - just don't feel like you have to be 'musical' about it. You can just pick out the bits of the track you like, describe the sounds you're hearing (maybe you like the sort of continuous low bass stuff, or the eerie synth pads, or the light percussion or whatever - if you can't describe it musically just say what you're hearing, and this is why it's useful to have examples).



Just my opinion.

#4858474 Introduction, Music, and Questions

Posted by ChrisHurn on 06 September 2011 - 10:15 PM

First of all, Welcome to the forum. I really enjoyed listening to your music, thanks for sharing. Here is my opinion regarding your question.

When it comes to writing music for games, you've got two things you need to focus on: Writing kick ass music, and making connections. The first thing you're going to want to do is get yourself a website, even if in blog format, something which says here I am, I exist, I'm a composer, here's my music. Keep it simple for now, nobody really cares how many years you've played the tuba, or whatever. The music, and your attitude will speak for itself.

When it comes to indie games - the budgets are tight. Very tight. And there's always somebody willing to do it for less, or free, or cheap, so you have to be aware of that. Now, that's not to say you should just work for the cheapest rate in town because you should ask yourself this: are they hiring me for me or are they hiring me 'cause I'm cheap? Granted when you have no experience or not much, you're going to want some projects under your belt, and that may mean working for cheap, or free. But be careful what you do. If all you care about is experience, then just reply to every 14 year old kid making an MMORPG and do the soundtrack, at the very worst you've got a catalogue of epic tracks to sell later, or release to other game developers....

But if you're smart, you'll choose your projects carefully. Doing things for free isn't always bad, if it's going to get your name out there too. A lot of composers have been burned (as well as artists, sfx, etc) because they come on board far too early. This works when you're working on the next Final Fantasy but if you're working on an indie game with people you have no idea about and they haven't finished a game before etc, you have to be careful. Sometimes it's a good idea to show interest early on and maybe when they have a demo or are close to releasing it you can come on board and contribute some music at that stage - because the way you get further as a game composer is by having released titles under your belt, otherwise all you have is more demo tracks (and some good experience, but nobody knows that).

It is a good idea to have as many types of music as you can in your portfolio. In an ideal world people would hire you for your musicality, your stylistic choices, your ability to write a catchy theme, whatever, but not too many people think that way. If you're lucky and get developers that really appreciate game music, and how it can make or break their game instead of just looking to fill spaces, you should consider yourself very lucky. But either way, a lot of the time in the indie circles you'll have people who are looking for music that is exactly what they want for their game. And even if you're extremely talented, diverse and musical, they might just give it to somebody else because they had a fun quirkly little drum and bass tune in their portfolio. That's not to say you want to just be a walking library of sound because afterall, you've got to keep your own thing going without trying to be an ipod, but it's something to think about and pay some attention to in the early days...after all, that's how you build contacts, which leads me to...

Contacts. What you want is to find people who will work with you again and again. The more successful their games become, the more work you get (because the best way to sell yourself isn't just having a website with some tracks, its having your music in a game a lot of people play, the emails will flow if that happens 100x faster than before). Of course it is a balancing act. Do you take that quick and dirty iphone game which will pay you a lot of money for writing do do dooooo dooo, or do you spend six months risking it all on an upcoming action thriller game that might never be finished, or may end up the indie game of the year? Somewhere in between, a bit of both is ideal. Meet all kinds of developers. I wouldn't bother spending too much time around other composers, personally I find it to be one of the quickest ways to get myself into a state of depression, only so much pretentious anaylsis I can take...that's just me though. In my opinion you should put your energy into game developers.

If you're sending out mass emails, don't just do what most people do and send a copy-paste job all over the place. Sometimes that can work if you're lucky and you just happen to have the right track in your library at the exact right time, but you owe it to yourself and your future game composing career to take the time and choose developers that might suit you, and you suit them. Take time to look at their games, play them, comment on them, make a connection. Connections are what you need. Your ticket in the door is x developer who you started working on a small game with, but then they made another game, a bigger game, and needed your music, and then they won x prize, and then that game got published..and before you know it, you're in demand. That's the dream, anyway.

From a technical point of view it is wise to always be aware of who's doing what, what games are doing well, are there any trends currently...it is also a good idea to spend some time seeing how other games handle their music. Writing music for an RPG for example can be very different from an always changing dramatic realtime action game, or something like that. Sometimes it's all looping, othertimes you have beds of textures that come in and out depending on what is happening, etc.

That's a quick and dirty version but I guess the bottom line is just keep writing good music, always be looking to see what else is out there, learn more , experiment, get some projects under your belt, make contact with developers...rinse and repeat! Never stop learning.

On a final note, don't be afraid to look into other areas of game development - and more generally, what makes a good story. Understand the Hero's Journey, that type of thing. And whilst you don't have to learn any programming to be a successful game composer, it wouldn't hurt to understand a bit about the process. Most of my work is in films, but I've always found that the best music I've written has come not nessessarily from the project but the people I am working with. There's that saying the music can only be as good as the film (or in our case, the game!) , and maybe that's not always the case, but I find it to be more often true than not.

Because you feel good about working with somebody who is inspiring. They understand and appreciate your work, and you understand them, you like the project, the art is great, the characters are interesting (or the game is just really fun/cool/whatever), and you feel more inspired, more involved. And it shows in your work. Then you might get people who just say "hey I need a track for the game make it sad", and you know the work is going to be subpar. In a way it would be like a director telling an actor to 'be sad'. There's no such thing. That's poor directing, it's result directing, and it's going to end in a cardboard performance, the same way it might end up with a generic score. It's not that they didn't give you descriptions, because that's not what you need nessessarily, it's the fact you didn't feel an emotional connection between them and the game, and your work - and how that might effect the end result, the game.