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Retroid

I want to be a game composer

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Hi everyone, I am new here. I am 29 years old, and live in Ontario Canada. Anyway, I have played and studied music my whole life, and I have played and loved video games, and video game music for as long as I can remember. I would love nothing more than to become a successful video game composer. I have NO idea how to get started. I have a bunch of music made, and I have no shortage of ideas for more. That isn't the problem. I just don't know what to do with it now. Should I be sending my stuff to game studios? How do I do this in a way that it will get noticed? Is there any special software or technology I need to know for making game music? Right now I work primarily in Logic on the Mac, using a bunch of third party plugins. Thanks in advance for your help.

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Hey Retroid,

Welcome! There are a few things to do at the start.

One of the first things to do is realize that writing music for a video game can be vastly different than writing music for a more linear experience, like a CD or movie. In a CD or movie there is a sequence of events that will never change. A song on a CD will always be the same length and follow the same solo order each and every time. In a movie the hero will always do the same series of actions and make the same choices each and every time you watch that movie. Not so in video games because they're interactive. I'm sure you're already aware of this at some level but I've found some new composers forget that this can change the way they have to score their music. To prep for this you should know how to make your music:

1) Have an intro that only plays once
2) Have a looping section
3) Have parts that will come in/drop out based on game play
4) Have music that will change to other cues when needed
ETC

Not every piece of game music needs all of these characteristics every time, but knowing how to do them will be helpful.

When scoring smaller games like those on the Nintendo DS and cell phones you may need to be able to write in MIDI format and use samples to make the music fit within a small space. Basically be able to export out your music in various formats and understand what each of those formats will do to the overall sound as well as the size of the file.

So, how to get started? I'd start working on some projects! Put together a website that showcases your abilities and personality. Start networking with folks and getting your name out there. It may take some time but you'll eventually start getting work.

Best of luck to you!

Nathan

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I always say this - start to gain experience with game mod teams. There will be plenty of projects that will eventually get cancelled or put on hold because of various reasons, some will prove to keep developing (even if very slowly), but whatever the experience with mods will be - it will be yours. Also you can build some nice portfolio with the projects you were involved with. And when you feel you are making music at an appropriate level - it will be the time to take your skills to the next level - the commercial one. ;)
For a start - get yourself a website, be it myspace.com or virb.com to show your skills. Then you can go to moddb.com and get yourself on deck with a mod team or try here, at gamedev.net.

Hope that helps.

Cheers,
Michal

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Jason, your first job is to clearly define your goals.

Let's simplify this "game composer" end goal as this: You want to compose music for games.

If you first think of yourself as a composer and then a composer for games, then you can more easily start to define what it is you want to become.

What kind of composer do you want to become? How do you envision what you will bring to games? What role will composing for games play in your life, what do you expect such a pursuit to satisfy?

In otherwords, what do you expect to do for games, and what do you expect games to do for you.

I'm serious now, and don't just say money, because it has to be something real in your life.

The reason I say this is because pursuing this sort of work can and often is extremely challenging, and only those with a will and fortitude of steel and a heart filled with drive and passion will actually get anywhere.

Let me be clear: this work will break you.

You will be rejected, laughed at, pittied, shunned, snubbed, used, pressured, and every day can be an upward hill battle for true respect and decent pay.

You will be tested, your loved ones will turn on you for all the time you spend away from them, the skies will turn black, lightning WILL destroy all your equipment, you will go into debt, creditors will be hounding you, you will try to convince the other grocery clerks at the crap job you work at that you DO make music for video games, and they'll be like, like what? Mario and stuff, and you'll be like yes--but more like a mod of Half-Life where everyone has magical sprinkle rainbows for weapons, and there's problem solving like tetris, and you can do whatever you want, but right now the company is just a small forum and a couple of guys with a dream... etc.

This will go on for YEARS.

Then one day, after a million hours of networking in person, on AIM, on MSN, on Skype, on websites, and thousands of dollars in loans and wages spent on the latest and greatest equipment, plane tickets to conferneces and expos, hotel expenses, and hundreds of rejections, people wanting to use you for free, promises of back-end royalties, etc--you will get a job.

For you it will be HUGE, but it's just a side project--a trite thing--who cares, it's real, it pays, you can cut back or even quit your other job, and you can tell people in the industry that you're legit, and they'll believe you, moderately.

Finally, you'll tell your friends and family and all your ex-coworkers that you write music for games.

They will be impressed and find you interesting.

Then a small child somewhere down the line will say "Wow, did you write the music for Halo?"

And you'll just smile, laugh a little, and realize that if your spirit and heart didn't break before, it will, at that moment, splinter into a dozen pieces.

This work is a JOURNEY.

But it is a journey of action, of doing, of always taking the next step, of challenging yourself, of pushing yourself to your limits--without being asked to.

The biggest question that will weigh on your mind throughout this journey will be this: What is my next step?

This is why you will need to define your goals clearly. You will want to do your best to break down those goals into small, incremental steps.

Abstract words of advice I have reiterated several times:

Be a jack of all trades and a master of ONE.

You will need to negotiate a landscape of multiple disciplines and game styles. Be comfortable doing almost anything music related and be comfortable at least discussing almost anything related to game development whether it be programming, art, modeling, design, etc. But, be VERY good at at least one thing, so good, in fact, that peers in game audio will admire your ability (or commend it, at least).

Be known.

When a company wants to hire a composer, only team projects and companies that pay bottom dollar go fishing for composers, everyone else asks themselves "who do we know?"

Your job is to be known.

Not just to be known, but to be known for the better.

Be ready when opportunity knocks.

Knowing when you're ready isn't always obvious. However, you must understand what is involved in creating music for games, for implementing music in games, etc. Ask yourself, in all seriousness, how big a project can you really handle? Continue to ask yourself this question. I think it's good to get experience with non-commercial endeavors to push yourself--to impose demands on yourself that you wouldn't normally, since that is certain to happen in a professional situation. At the same time, spend a lot of time with personal projects to develop and hone skills related to YOUR interests in music for games. When you're good at that one thing, opportunity will be more likely to knock, when you're known for being awesome at that one thing, opportunity will be even more likely to knock.

There is, of course, no formula for opportunity--simply that you must be open to it knocking at any time. It will likely catch you by surprise.


Any questions? Clarifications?

What do you think is your next step?

To get anywhere, you must be proactive.

[Edited by - Dannthr on January 3, 2010 5:31:53 PM]

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Hi, here are my suggestions. Hope it would help.
First of all, I think it would be useless to always emphasize how much you love video games and how many games you've played, unless you specified something detailed about the game audio designing.

Secondly, I have many friends who graduated from music colleges and I believe they are absolutely talented in music composing. However, while I asked for some pieces of music they produced, what they gave me was just some pieces of paper on which their music was scored. Well music is not heard in this way. Everybody feels your music using his ears, which means you cound not only write music down in paper, but you gotta also produce it as a digital audio files, which means you couldn't make your MIDI files which sounds fake, especially when you are in small budget and got no money to record some real instruments.
Also, having the skill of mixing is necessary. You don't have to mix like an outstanding mix engineer but sometimes, especially in the beginning, you would work alone, which means nobody else would be assigned to mix your music. Everything would be done by yourself.

Hope this is useful.

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Thanks a lot for the replies everyone. I somehow missed this thread in my email, so I will do my best to answer everyone's questions.

First of all, here is a link to a myspace page with some of my stuff on it:

http://www.myspace.com/jasonwelshmusic

It is separated into stuff aimed for sci-fi type games, and for fantasy type games. Those are the two things I am most interested in doing. I know you probably don't get to choose that sort of thing, but it is what comes naturally to me, so I wanted to put my best foot forward so to speak.

As for your questions Dannthr, I will do my best to answer them. First of all, the type of composer I would like to become is one who can accurately, and honestly convey mood, emotion, atmosphere, and use melody and harmony to augment the gaming experience for gamers who are playing the kind of games I enjoy playing, most notably sci and fantasy RPGs, adventure, or shooters. What role will composing for games bring to my life? Well, I cannot even begin to tell you how satisfied I would be to be able to sit down and play a great game with my music enhancing the experience for myself, and others. Video games to me are all about imagination, and becoming lost in the possibility of other worlds. When I create music, I really try to put myself in those places mentally. If I can project that element successfully into a graphical environment that will be experienced by many, it would be a dream come true.

So, sorry if I missed anything, and I really do appreciate the great replies everyone. I look forward to hearing more from you.

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