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Embrace Your Musical Skills and Start Making Music For Games

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making music for games

Source: Freepik

Video games captivate a lot of people, and maybe you’re one of them too. As you may be aware, music is an element that makes video games appealing, acting as a driving force behind the ambience and emotions, alongside immersive narrative and dynamic gameplay.

From the spine-tingling melodies of a haunted house to the pumping beats of a high-stakes battle, video game music has the power to transport us to the virtual realm. Knowing how powerful music is in video games may spark your interest in making music for games on your own.

If you’re looking for a complete guide on how to start making music for games, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will discuss more about video game music. We’ll start from its definition and evolution to the steps involved in composing music for games.

Keep on reading and get the insights you need to become a video game music composer yourself!

What is Video Game Music?

Video game music, or VGM for short, refers to the sound elements specifically composed to accompany video games. It enhances the player’s experience along with the narrative or storyline and gameplay.

Video game music has the power to evoke emotions and immerse players deeper into the virtual realm. Players can feel the atmosphere presented in the game and become a part of the game world with the support of appropriate sound design.

For example, game music can heighten tension during suspenseful moments, evoke a sense of wonder in mysterious landscapes, or elicit emotional responses during touching storylines. 

The possibilities are boundless, any emotions can be provoked in a gameplay. That’s why making music for games calls not only for creativity but also a passion for developing high-quality games.

The Evolution of Video Game Music

Video game music has been around since the early days of arcade games. But game music was limited to monotone sounds at that time. Take Super Mario Bros, Froggers or Pong as an example to get an idea of how game music used to sound.

The reason why video game music was limited to monotone sounds is due to confined computer storage. With only 16 to 128kbs of internal memory, game developers preferred to focus on the graphics and coding, rather than the game’s soundscapes.

However, as technology advances, making music for games is no longer limited to monotone sounds. It’s now feasible to incorporate more complex soundscapes in gameplay, creating a more realistic gaming experience.

Persona (series) is a great example to discuss. With its focus on Japanese high school students going about their lives and confronting conflicts with their personas, it offers a realistic sense to its players, thanks to its rich soundscape.

Another example is GTA. While playing GTA, you will be presented with a virtual realistic world, where you can drive around the cities with blasting music playing from the radio. This is something that could only be achieved with modern technology in-game music production.

Despite advancements in video game music, some modern games still employ monotone sounds. Monotone sounds, also known as chiptunes, remain popular, especially for those who want to relive their childhood memories of playing old arcade games.

What Distinguishes Making Music For Games From Other Uses?

Making music for games differs from composing music for other uses in several ways. First, when you write game music, you need to shape the sounds in a way that can depict as many as possible scenarios.

Games are different from, say, television programmes or films, where there will only be one plot along the storyline. Instead, games have a lot more plots, depending on how the players interact with the game, which eventually leads to a variety of storylines.

Second, making music for games also entails the possibility of the players idling during gameplay. Unlike television programmes or films, games offer a more interactive experience. This is where the soundtracks have to adapt to different gameplay situations.

To accommodate these idling moments, the soundtracks must remain pleasant to hear, even during quieter moments in the game. Video game music composers usually employ tracks that can loop or transition smoothly, without becoming jarring to the player’s ears.

Making Music For Games: Different Types of Sounds

Now that you know that making music for games differs from other uses like television programmes or films, it’s time to explore the sound elements within a video game. These sound elements serve to accompany the gameplay in respective ways, as explained below:

Underscore

Underscore refers to the musical elements playing in the game background. It serves to enhance the atmosphere and emotions of a game without drawing too much attention to itself.

In addition, underscore compositions are usually subtle, unobtrusive, and seamlessly loopable. It becomes the signature sound of a game that supports the gameplay, rules the players’ emotions, and enhances the overall gaming experience without becoming a distraction.

Diegetic Music

Diegetic music is any sound element heard by the characters within a game. It’s a part of the narrative and becomes a part of the game’s environment, rather than being added for the player’s benefit alone.

Some forms of diegetic music exist within a game, including but not limited to:

  • In-game radio or jukebox
  • Character performances
  • Environmental music
  • Battle chants

Adaptive Music

Adaptive music refers to the dynamic sounds that adjust and respond to the player’s actions and choices in real time. It’s created to give a more personalised and immersive musical experience to enhance the player’s emotional engagement.

Furthermore, adaptive music provides players with a sense of context. It can change depending on a variety of factors such as gameplay events, time of day, or action intensity.

For instance, in a tense game atmosphere, the sounds occur at rapid intervals, creating a sense of urgency. Conversely, during calm moments, a gentle ambient soundtrack plays and creates a tranquil mood.

How To Make Music For Games?

Making music for games, as we previously discussed, is different from composing music for other purposes like television programmes or films. For that reason, you need to consider the fundamentals and learn the steps involved afterwards, as we explain below:

The Fundamentals

The fundamentals of video game music distinguish it from other uses. These include sound loops, transitions, and the playability factor. Why is it important to consider these fundamentals?  Let’s delve deeper into each of these aspects.

Sound Loops

Sound loops, which involve the repetition of sounds, serve to assist players during gameplay. Unlike linear narratives found in television shows or films, video game players have unique gameplay experiences that can vary in duration.

This is where looping becomes advantageous. It allows the music to adapt seamlessly to the individual player’s progress, regardless of the varying time it may take each player to complete the game.

While sound loops serve an important purpose in games, the instruments should still be fun to hear. Boring sounds will only make players feel bored out, worse, they may leave the game already.

Transitions

Transitions involve smooth shifts between different musical pieces or layers to reflect changes in gameplay or environment. Such events as entering a new level, encountering enemies, or reaching significant milestones can trigger these transitions.

Implementing transitions should ensure that the music seamlessly adapts to the evolving narrative so that the dynamic audio experience remains cohesive. Well-executed transitions can heighten tension, elicit emotions, and enhance player immersion in the game.

Assist Playability

Video game music holds an important role in enhancing gameplay. It guides players through gameplay mechanics by providing valuable audio cues and feedback. This includes highlighting threats or rewards, as well as reinforcing actions or achievements.

Strategically implementing music into gameplay can, in turn, enhance the player’s understanding of the game’s objectives. This, in turn, improves the overall gaming experience and increases player satisfaction.

Step-by-step Into Game Music Composition

Making music for games is a creative process that may vary from one composer to another. However, the process generally involves the following steps:

  1. Get Ideas

The first step in making music for games is to gather ideas and inspiration. You’ll hardly figure out what kind of music you want to create for your game unless you’ve gathered enough ideas and inspiration.

Listening to existing game soundtracks, particularly those with a similar theme to your game, can help you gather ideas and inspiration. From there, you can express your creativity by modifying some parts to create the signature sounds of your game.

  1. Use Music Software

The use of music software, also known as a digital audio workstation (DAW), is essential for in-game music composition. A DAW can provide you with an array of virtual instruments, effects, and editing tools. All of these tools will assist you in unleashing your creativity and creating captivating game music.

There are plenty of digital audio workstations that you can choose from, including Logic Pro, FL Studio, or Ableton Live. You are free to use any DAW for your game music composition. None are better than the others, and the most important factor is your ability to use the software.

  1. Start With The Bassline

After selecting a DAW to work with your game music, now is the time to create the bassline. The bassline serves as the foundation of the composition, providing the rhythmic and harmonic backbone.

  1. Compose The Melody

Once the bassline is established, you can move on to crafting the melody. The melody is the primary musical theme that defines the game’s identity and evokes emotions in the players.

It should be memorable, catchy, and suited to the game’s narrative and gameplay moments. You may experiment with different melodic motifs, variations, and instrumental textures to create an engaging and dynamic melody.

  1. Build The Chords

After the melody is composed, the next thing to do is build the chords. Chords serve to harmonise the music by providing depth, harmony, and emotional richness to the composition.

You may use chord progression to enhance the desired mood and create harmonic interest. Well-designed chords, in turn, can add complexity and nuance to the music, immersing players in the game’s world.

  1. Create The Beats

Game music often relies on rhythmic elements to drive energy and pace, typically achieved through beats. These beats can be created using various percussion instruments, including drums and electronic sounds.

It’s essential to ensure that these rhythmic patterns align with the tempo, intensity, and mood of the gameplay. By doing so, you can create a cohesive and engaging musical experience for the players.

Start Linking The Sounds To The Game

Making music for games is incomplete unless the soundtracks are linked to the game itself. Understanding how to integrate your music composition into the game becomes an important part of the process at this point.

We’ll explain how you can integrate your game soundtracks into the game itself below:

Use Audio Middleware

To link your music composition into a game, you can use audio middleware. An audio middleware is a software tool or engine that facilitates the integration and management of audio assets within a game.

Audio middleware acts as a link between your audio tracks and the game’s audio engine, allowing for efficient and dynamic sound playback control. You can use tools like Wwise and FMOD, which offer a variety of features to help you integrate music into the game.

How Does Audio Middleware Work?

Audio middleware provides a framework for organising and controlling various audio elements in a game. It allows composers and sound designers to implement complex audio systems and behaviours without requiring extensive programming knowledge.

Through the middleware’s interface, you can assign music tracks to specific game events, adjust volume levels dynamically, and trigger sound effects based on in-game actions.

Making Music For Games: The Career Prospects

Making music for games can be a fun way to express your creative musical ideas, as well as a way to land in prospective careers. What career paths can you pursue with your ability to compose video game music? We’ll list them below:

Game Developer

Becoming a music composer for a game developer makes a corporate career you can choose. As an in-house music composer for a remarkable game developer, you’ll be a part of exciting game creation projects that will be played by a large number of people.

If the game which you compose successfully hits a high number of purchases, you too will feel proud. As a game enthusiast yourself, your passion to keep making music for games will grow and work will feel like a paid hobby. 

This is especially true for a game developer work environment with people sharing the same interest as you. Being in contact with them every day will give you meaningful insights to continue honing your skills in making music for video games.

Freelance

Freelancing is another career option if you prefer to work on your timeline. It gives you opportunities to unleash your creativity in making music for games while holding authority over whom you work.

If you wish to be a successful freelancer, an attractive portfolio is where it all starts. You can then offer your services to freelance platforms like SoundBetter, Melody Nest, AirGigs, or Fiverr at a rate you agree on with your clients.

Despite giving you more authority in the work timeline, freelancing poses its challenges. You’ll need to continuously do self-promotion for people to trust in your skills. Aside from a compelling portfolio, you may also need to use social media to market your capabilities.

Read here to learn more about social media marketing for musicians.

How Much Do Game Music Composers Make?

Game music composers make roughly $4000 – $5000 per month, according to My Careers Future. To receive this amount of income, however, some employers require 1 – 2 years of experience, while others may require 3 – 5 years of experience in music production.

Therefore, you must first work through your experience to receive a well-off income from making music for games. You can accumulate years of experience either through internships, apprenticeships, or self-initiated projects related to music composition.

This is why it’s important to focus on fostering your musical skills first before thinking about how much you earn as a video game composer. Income will adjust along the way as you become more skilful.

Where To Start Learning Making Music For Games?

Learning game music composition is an interesting process, knowing that it can land you in lucrative video game soundtrack creations. There are mainly two methods that can help in fostering your skills in making music for games, including:

  1. Self Learning

Self-learning is a way to learn by making music for games that allow you to explore yourself. Currently, many game composers share learning via YouTube and you can apply it on your own.

Although self-learning provides more freedom, it has drawbacks. Self-learning limits your insights as you may not be aware of the deficiencies you have. You also need more time to master the techniques to compose music for games.

  1. Enrolling on a Course

Enrolling on a course specialised in game music composition is the right choice to complement your self-learning effort. A short course in Music Design for Games equips you to master techniques in making music for games effectively.

Not only will you learn the techniques of in-game music creation, but you’ll also gain insights that can improve your taste for game soundtracks. As a result, you can produce music that is of a higher quality and fits a wider variety of game genres.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, video game music holds a significant place in the heart of gamers worldwide. It serves as a powerful element to enhance the immersive experience and evoke emotions, and it is often to be the most memorable part of the game.

If you’ve been captivated by the enchanting melodies and energetic beats of video game soundtracks, you may feel inspired to start making music for games yourself.

Starting a career in video game music composition is indeed perfect for an aspiring music composer and game enthusiast like you. It unlocks a world of creativity and innovation, allowing you to express your ideas through memorable tunes in the realm of gameplay.

So embrace your love of video games and music, and let your imagination run free as you embark on the exciting journey of creating game music!

Embark Your Journey of Becoming a Professional Game Composer With Orita Sinclair!

Are you an aspiring music composer with a strong interest in game development and a desire to become a professional game composer? Look no further than Orita Sinclair, the leading art and music school in Singapore.

Orita Sinclair has you covered with a short course in Music Design for Games, designed to help you understand what game music composition entails. Guided by field practitioners, you’ll receive hands-on learning experience in making music for games in this course.

By enrolling in the short course, you will also learn together with other students of the same interest as yours. As a result, embarking on your journey to become a professional game composer will be more inspiring and enjoyable.

For further information regarding the short course in Music Design for Games, kindly contact us and we’ll get back to you shortly.

FAQs

What should I use to make music for my game?

To start making music for games, you should use a digital audio workstation (DAW). The DAW is where you’ll mix all of the game tracks, including the underscore, diegetic, and adaptive sounds. You can later incorporate the music into the game by using audio middleware.

What do you call someone who makes music for games?

Someone who makes music for games is referred to as a video game composer. However,  in some cases, they may also be called a game music designer.

How do games get their music?

Games get their music through composing processes carried out by a video game composer. Their skills, creativity and passion for music are what make the final sounds emotionally hook players.

Is it hard to make video game music?

Making music for video games can be challenging if you’re just starting. It does, however, become more manageable as your skills and experience advance.

About Orita Sinclair

Founded in 2002, Orita Sinclair is one of the oldest music and design schools in Singapore. We are committed to fostering a love of design and music in our students by encouraging them to be bold and imaginative in their endeavours.

Here at Orita Sinclair, we believe that theoretical and practical foundations are equally important with the music and graphic design courses that we offer. For that reason, we have put in place a forward-looking curriculum that grounds students in key principles before being guided by field practitioners in applying theory and technical craft in authentic, industry-oriented projects. One of our best programme is Diploma in Interaction Design.

Our supportive learning environment prepares students for the demands and challenges of the music and design industries. At the end of their graphic design courses or music courses, our students are ready to step out into successful careers or pursue degrees at renowned universities.

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