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Vronim

¿Want to create you own environment music? It's not that hard

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Note: This is for people who for any reason don't have the budget to hire a sound designer. This is not a tutorial on how to compose, are quick tricks so your starter game or prototype isn't soulless for lack of music. (Edited by mod at OP's request)

I think the biggest fear of every solo or small team developer is the music, think that they can learn to code, to concept, even to 3D model but NEVER compose. The thought of learning music scares them to death, they think that its just not for them and if playing and instrument it's hard, composing it's an impossible situation, but there is a problem with that thought...

 

You're a creative person, and you love music

Music is inside all of us, I literally can't think of anyone who doesn't love music, its just in our nature.

So if music is our nature, how hard can it be to create music?

Not that hard, actually. I'm sure in some moment of your life you have singed something instead of talking it, or scatted some extra punch line to a song of your liking, or just whistled something that you never heard but came out of you because you were in a good mood, or anything related to creating a melody with your mouth.

The problem its not creating the music, its writing it and develop it...

 

You're better composing than you think

Probably you have been in the thought that music it's too complicated, and when you see a music sheet it's just way too much, and involves a lot of knowledge and years of practice.

At the most part you're right, music is no easy skillset and usually comes with mastering a lot of different instruments in order to understand them, but to create environment music you only need a few handful of that skills. And when I say just a few I'm no kidding, really you just need to know what you want and then follow a small set of rules while following your heart.

I know you don't believe me, so I will prove with this small video. You will "compose" with only 6 notes (download a piano app first, if you have a keyboard even better):

I know the video says hollywood music, but it easily applies to videogame music as you may see. And if you watched the entire video and experimented with the information you're probably a lot more confident about your music skills and thinking "how many of this tricks there are?"

A LOT 

Which leads me to my next point:

 

You don't want to be a musician

Or maybe you want to personally, but at least for environment music you don't need to be one.

Environment music is fairly simple

Seriously, saying that to make a nice loop (because environment music is no more than that) is being a musician is an offense to all the real musicians in the world. A musical piece is a small story, and as any story it has a narrative, an individuality, usually needs to be catchy and a lot of other factors that are the true challenge of composing.

Instruments are just a plus

Also, you don't need to learn no instrument. It would help, for sure; it helps you to understand better why music happens, gives you a natural physical way to express your music, etc... but probably you already are full of tasks and don't have time to develop fine motor skills. So don't think that you can't compose if you can't play an instrument; musician often say that if you can't play you are not really a musician... but as I said: you don't want to be a musician.

You don't need music theory

Ok... maybe I'm exagerating with this one. But as you saw in the video, you can compose just following a small sets of rules, and depending on how complicated you want you music for your game is how much you will need to expand and understand that rules.

 

You only need the right tools

As game developer you know that all the tasks you perform would be a looot harder and slower without your favorite tools (game engine, graphics software, etc); this tools not only save us a lot of time, we don't have to even understand how they work , only use them to create and manipulate our idea.

Take GameMaker for example, you don't need to know coding to produce an entire game. Sure, it will limit you to something simple, but you're indie, you know: Simple can be better.

So it's clear that there must be a tool that eases that process. So, what tools you need?

As always, the answer is: it depends on what you want. But for now, for you to understand how this tools usually work and what you need to search for, I'll give you this one:

Learning Music - Ableton

Its a free web tool where you will learn to compose in a different way than the usual used in music schools. First you will learn to compose with nowadays technology, and then you will learn the theory of how you did that. Sounds weird, right?

Not that much actually... when we learn to talk first we learn to produce sounds, then words, then speak, then read, then write, and only then we learn the rules of everything we have learned. So it's pretty much the same course, only using music as our form of speech; because, at the end of the day, thats what we're trying to do: communicate with sounds what we communicate with our graphics and our mechanics and every part of the gameplay.

 

Start now, and keep practicing

As any other skill, composing, even small simple loops is no easy task. It's not as hard and as time consuming as you think, but it surely is a challenge.

So if you're developing your own game and you don't have the budget for a sound designer or even you don't think anyone can express what is really on your mind, or any other reason you think you need to produce your own music, I really recomend you to start right know with the Ableton tool and give it just a few minutes a day with a little "composing" practice (really, you will be experimenting day 1) and keep experimenting there until you think you have enough to migrate to a real DAW and maybe keep learning for you to create more kick-ass pieces.

So I said: music it's our nature, you're a creative person, environment music is a lot simpler, and there are tools that eases a big part of the process, and for all that I really think that you can write your own environment music if you want.

I hope this helps you to understand a little better music, and specially overcome that thought that music its not for you, because music is IN you.

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This article needs a lot of work. Tons of grammatical errors and, to be blunt, I don't fully buy into your premise.
(Edit: Leaving this up for transparency - the OP and I talked privately and worked it all out. For more context read my post down below.)  

Sure the tools for creative music are more available than ever but that doesn't help a brand new composer understand all of the nuances and all of the production techniques out there for making a solid soundtrack. Or even just a single song. 

To put it another way - I could pop a brand new composer into a multi-million dollar studio and they wouldn't really know where to start or what to do. The end product would suffer. Likewise, I could put a cheap laptop with only free software and VSTs in front of a pro, Grammy award winning composer and that person would make something that just ROCKS. So it's more the person and the knowledge/experience they have than the tools. 

Now, if you're writing from the approach of a hobbyist just wanted to learn and take a stab at composing - I can sorta buy into that. But I doubt this given how many times in this post you dismiss or write off the concept that composing music is hard and feel that truly anyone can do it. 

On the surface - yeah, everyone CAN compose. But would it be a GOOD composition? Would others want to listen to it? Would their players of the game enjoy it? That's a big distinction. 

I think for someone to write truly effective music, be it "environmental" or not, there needs to be a lot of time invested learning, listening and studying the craft of music. 

I'll put it another way: I have an animation program that is super easy to use, but my animations still suck compared to most because I haven't put in the time to really learn and polish how I animate things I draw. That requires time, patience, study and practice. Music, like so many other things, is exactly the same. 

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Posted (edited)
7 hours ago, nsmadsen said:

This article needs a lot of work. Tons of grammatical errors and, to be blunt, I don't fully buy into your premise. Sure the tools for creative music are more available than ever but that doesn't help a brand new composer understand all of the nuances and all of the production techniques out there for making a solid soundtrack. Or even just a single song. 

To put it another way - I could pop a brand new composer into a multi-million dollar studio and they wouldn't really know where to start or what to do. The end product would suffer. Likewise, I could put a cheap laptop with only free software and VSTs in front of a pro, Grammy award winning composer and that person would make something that just ROCKS. So it's more the person and the knowledge/experience they have than the tools. 

Now, if you're writing from the approach of a hobbyist just wanted to learn and take a stab at composing - I can sorta buy into that. But I doubt this given how many times in this post you dismiss or write off the concept that composing music is hard and feel that truly anyone can do it. 

On the surface - yeah, everyone CAN compose. But would it be a GOOD composition? Would others want to listen to it? Would their players of the game enjoy it? That's a big distinction. 

I think for someone to write truly effective music, be it "environmental" or not, there needs to be a lot of time invested learning, listening and studying the craft of music. 

I'll put it another way: I have an animation program that is super easy to use, but my animations still suck compared to most because I haven't put in the time to really learn and polish how I animate things I draw. That requires time, patience, study and practice. Music, like so many other things, is exactly the same. 

You really took it the musicians way I said. Just interpret it like i'm saying that all the effort you  took to learn can be summarized in this little post; and then you ignored the final  line where I say that just was to teach how not is THAT hard, but you need to practice.

Also, using you animation program example, as someone who has produce enough animations, let me tell you that I didn't know how to animate, then I found CAT system from 3ds max which lets you animate by editing an existing animation while you're watching on real time and THAT helped me to understand how to create my own animations. And you know what? no animator got offended that "it was just a hobbyist approach or watnot"

So stop preaching that you need to spend your life to a skill just because "only the pros" can do it. I think everyone in this forum knows things like GameMaker let not coders "code" something really good, not just a "hobbyist" product... 

In other words: you only need to learn as much as you need, and YES you can make people feel things with just basic music theory and 6 notes, just because there can be better approaches makes it "lees of a composition"

So yeah, maybe people who is focused on the area could do better, but in INDIE dev (first line of the article: small teams) NO ONE is focused on one area. The concept artist often models and animates while the programmer design mechanics, etc, etc. And there no one is saying "a pro modeler could do better", "better if you hire an animator, because those are years of practice"

As I said on my post: people who perform a hundred tasks think music is a task they couldn't do no matter what... and I saying that they can.

And in none of those areas pros come and say "it took me years, so you can't do it". No one in this forum is supposing that you need to spend the next 5 years to learn modeling, animation, concept art or whatever to start you indie game. Really you think that as a musician you're that superior to those other areas? That animating or modeling is easy? Or that you need to hire a pro for each single area that you want, being a small team? 

Edited by Vronim

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You really missed my point and claiming I'm saying a lot of things that I simply didn't say. 

My main critique with your article is how much you dismiss the craft and amount of practice that writing/producing music actually takes. And yes, you did mention needing to practice once (or twice) in the article... but for the rest of it the tone, overall, was very much a "anyone can do this." 

And like I already said, sure... anyone can compose music... but can it be good music? Further bit of context for you - I'm always trying to get better at what I do even 14 years later... and I hope to always be striving to make my good even better. This is a life journey... which is kind of what threw me off from you post and premise. Yes, you can make music but often times, especially when starting out what you create wont even be up to your OWN expectations. 

Perhaps you misunderstood how I meant that. I even tried to show an example of how I'm learning to animate and how difficult it is to get something even I (as a complete noob) feel is good. I've taught and mentored young composers and at the very beginning they often don't feel like their work is good because they're comparing it to other pieces. 

Never have said "it took me years, so you can't do it" and in fact that kind of mantra does directly against what many of my posts and vlogs detail (if you take the time to read and view them). 

Edit: I'll put it another way, I don't disagree with everything in your article. And I fully understand and appreciate the journey someone makes when first starting out. I remember my own journey QUITE well... which is why I do so many things to try and help others starting out. You seem to take my criticism personally and I don't mean it that way. 

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One more edit: I shouldn't have mentioned the grammatical errors. That was a bad call on my part. I apologize.

A bit of context on this: we moderators at GD.net review article submissions and want to present a certain level of quality. A certain level of substance. This way we get more readership and GD.net is seen as a valuable resource. The original post is formatted much like an article so I went into that mindset when reading and responding to it. That... and the subject matter clearly hit a nerve with me. :) But I still think there's some validity to my response. Hopefully it conveys. 

The OP and I had a very positive exchange of direct messages on here and understand each other better. I just wanted to update the forum, should anyone be curious or interested. 

 

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Posted (edited)

Yeah, I admit maybe I misunderstood part of it... maybe because that image I have of elitist musicians...

 

In any case, the overall message that was in the first response I feel like it could disencourage people who may have seen a grasp of "oh... maybe its not that hard as I thought, maybe I don't have to waste half my budget on music" and then "oh no... false hopes"

I know it wasn't the intention of the message at all, but gives that feel that "you can try, but if you don't aim for musician you're not achieving anything"

Holding my posture in the part of: this is all just to take out the fear of composing, many indies waste a lot of money on amateur composers that will charge them them mommas and won't give them anything better than the principles on the first video. You know? 

You only need a few weeks of practice to create something decent for a first game, a prototype or anything related to not having enough budget.

Edited by Vronim

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I am all for encouraging people to pick up composing, but this article is a little misguided. The education and tools required are more accessible than ever, but that has never been the hard part. Like any skill, the hard part is actually practicing your craft. "A couple minutes a day" isn't going to cut it, and never has. I understand this article is a tutorial on how to make basic, just-good-enough music, but why would anybody who's already investing hours a day on creating a game want mediocre music in said game?

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30 minutes ago, Don Oskar said:

but why would anybody who's already investing hours a day on creating a game want mediocre music in said game?

Not enough budget/time
Being a first game
Prototyping and wanting to have "a little more"
Really small games (like idles and whatnot)
Or just giving an idea to a speciallist "I want it to sound a little like this feeling " 

 

As I said, this is no introduction to the world of music, its for small games that lack soul and without this wouldn't have any music or would be produced by a third rate "professional" for a small budget

 

In most cases we would want our game to be made by the top tier of each area, unfortunately for us, that not is always possible. I just want to get out some fears, not diminish the hard work that is producing music (even environmental) Many game just need a few notes in the background to make them feel more alive, and deciding those notes is no easy task, but also is not as hard as really "learning music"

 

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Regarding this: 

On 7/4/2019 at 3:38 PM, Vronim said:

Or just giving an idea to a speciallist "I want it to sound a little like this feeling " 

it's very tricky. I hired an artist for a small video game I was making once.  I'd be very, VERY concerned that my own lack of skill and craft when it comes to art might lead my hired artist down the wrong path! :P Instead of making the artwork myself, I provided references to other styles and then he worked with me on quick little concepts to get the basic feel and scope right then spent more time on the polished finalized versions. 

I think that approach is much better and, to be honest, more often used by developers. At least in my own experiences. I can't think of a single time I've had a developer approach me with their own music as references for what I should do in their game.

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On 7/4/2019 at 4:38 PM, Vronim said:

Not enough budget/time
Being a first game
Prototyping and wanting to have "a little more"
Really small games (like idles and whatnot)
Or just giving an idea to a speciallist "I want it to sound a little like this feeling " 

 

As I said, this is no introduction to the world of music, its for small games that lack soul and without this wouldn't have any music or would be produced by a third rate "professional" for a small budget

 

In most cases we would want our game to be made by the top tier of each area, unfortunately for us, that not is always possible. I just want to get out some fears, not diminish the hard work that is producing music (even environmental) Many game just need a few notes in the background to make them feel more alive, and deciding those notes is no easy task, but also is not as hard as really "learning music"

 

Great response, thanks for the clarification.

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