As video games have grown more complex and immersive, so too have the soundtracks that accompany them. Once a collection of bloops and beeps, many contemporary video game scores are as dynamic and sophisticated as a movie soundtrack. Like their counterparts in film and television, video game composers write dozens of individual pieces of music, called cues, that create a mood; cultivate a sense of time, place, and emotion; and enhance the action playing out on screen. But that's where the similarities end. While films and television shows are passive viewing experiences, video games are interactive journeys that require composers to twist their thought process to embrace variables unique to game design.
To get a foot in the door, aspiring composers will need a show reel to send to prospective employers, which means devoting themselves to the study of video game music and then recording a short collection of scores on their own time.
Scores must respond seamlessly to different modes of game play (e.g., exploration, combat, and problem solving) and instantly to a player's on-screen maneuvers—swelling in victory the moment a battle is won, for example, and quieting ominously the instant a player shifts into stealth mode. Writing music for an interactive framework requires that composers master specialized skills such as creating individual themes for characters, rich linear loops, music chunks suitable for resequencing, and compositional fragments for use within a generative system (such as in the life-simulation game Spore). Composers who write for top-tier games typically record their scores with full orchestras, and the industry has experienced such explosive growth that even independent developers and smaller titles have the budgets to supplement electronic scores with live instruments. Iconic soundtracks enjoy life long after the video games they were composed for have been replaced in popular culture, turning some composers into gaming world rock stars.
Composer (Video Games) at a Glance
An industry in serious growth mode, video gaming is overflowing with opportunity and competition. To get a foot in the door, aspiring composers will need a show reel to send to prospective employers, which means devoting themselves to the study of video game music and then recording a short collection of scores on their own time. Networking with game developers in your community also is a good idea. Because work often begins in piecemeal fashion, video game composers need an outside source of income early in their careers. Advancement comes in the form of more prestigious, bigger-budget games or a salaried, in-house job at a game company.
Composition, orchestration, arranging, computers, music software, DAWs, video game design
Video game composers should have a real passion for video games and the quirky culture and community surrounding them, as well as the tenacity and salesmanship to thrive as an independent contractor in this fast-growing and wildly competitive field. While composing is a solitary art, it is critical to be a skilled networker to create opportunities.