Themes are coming to Designing Music NOW! Each month, we will be introducing new themes that will form the basis of the articles for that month. Themes are meant only to be a guideline to get the creative juices flowing, and articles about any relevant topic are always welcome! Our first theme, “Cultivating a Career as a Video Game Composer” will kick us off.
Our chosen profession is full of uncertainty and competition. It requires, skill, talent, technique and a great deal of resilience to stay in the game. As Penka Kouneva points out below, It is a marathon not a sprint. As marathon runners know, it requires a lot of training to be able to go the distance. To help us get started , we asked our Designing Music NOW team members to share their collective wisdom. What we got was a variety of great answers, some of which are surprising, but all of which are important to consider. There is no one answer, and no one path to success in this industry.
One thing that is certain is that you have to make your own way. No one is going to hand it to you. Shota Nakama created the Video Game Orchestra, which now plays concerts around the world; Penka Kouneva crowdfunded the highly acclaimed full orchestral album, The Woman Astronaut; Karen Collins created and crowdfunded Beep, a full length feature film which is premiering at GDC this year; and Felipe Tellez recently created an ongoing Indiegogo campaign to help fund his debut orchestral album which will be scored in Budapest.
We already have some fantastic articles planned for you that go into this fascinating topic in great detail. On Monday, we will launch the first of composer Penka Kouneva’s Masterclass Series. This will be an ongoing series, already in six parts, that addresses this very subject in great detail and from several angles. We also have a series of articles from Jeremy Borum, including video interviews that he has done with some of the top composers in the industry, that contain up to the minute advice on how to survive as a composer in today’s market.
As always, we are looking for articles from our community of composers, and we would love to hear from you! Just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with an outline of your idea and we will get back to you right away!
Here is the question I put to our Designing Music NOW team members:
Since everyone generously sent in quotes gleaned from years of experience, I thought it would only be fair for me to include a few of my own thoughts about this important and oft asked question. We know there is tremendous demand for music based on the simple fact that there are tens of thousands of video games being made each year, thanks in no small part to iOS and Android, but also due to the rise of Steam, VR and Indie games in general.
Therefore, some solid advice that I have gathered over the years is listed here:
- Develop Resilience – Fortitude will help you to get through the doubt and tough times.
- Cultivate Patience – there are few over night successes in the creative arts, and those that seem like overnight successes rarely are (or they crash and burn out quickly.)
- Be Humble – Remove ego from the equation and be willing to compromise – we are usually creating art for others, not ourselves, so we need to listen and be flexible.
- Be an Entrepreneur – most modern composers need to develop multiple streams of income to survive. Whether that is waiting tables, teaching music, doing sound design, you need to be able to keep a roof over your head. Keep music composition as the top priority in your life, but be realistic in that it may not pay the bills for a while as you get yourself established.
- Be a Game Audio Geek – study everything you can about game audio and adaptive music – that is why this website exists, to be a portal to an ongoing learning experience. Read, listen to our podcasts, other game audio podcasts, make use of the Resources on this site, and study the work of other successful composers – not just their music but also their lives.
- Know the game audio specific Tools – Elias, WWISE, FMOD. This is critical.
- As Michael Sweet points out below – be willing to Give Back! This industry is a very friendly one, and the more you can do to give back the better. Write articles, do tutorials, help others out…this is also the mission of our site and we would love to hear from you about your own experiences, struggles, and successes!
- Believe in yourself. When no one else does, and in the face of criticism and doubt, you are the only one who can lift yourself up.
Finally, be sure to check out our Finding Work resources on Designing Music NOW, there are tons of great links there to help kickstart your career, and be sure to sign up to our mailing list at the bottom of the page so that you don’t miss any articles. Our site is FREE…we are all doing this as a way to give back.
Quotes on Cultivating a Career in Video Game Music
Below are quotes from our team here at Designing Music NOW. If you would like to find out more about each of the composers, just click on their names and it will take you to their bio’s here on the site.
- Embrace the medium of video games! And by that I mean the dynamic nature of game design and nonlinear narrative.
- Currently a only small percentage of free-lance game composers are involved with a games’ ‘music design’ or ’spotting sessions’ as well as the music integration itself, so there’s a big opening for young composers.
- Team up with established game composers, or in-house audio teams, to assist them with adaptive music arranging and game-DAW integration (Wwise, FMOD, Fabric, Elias, etc.).
- Innovate: the craft of scoring dynamic gameplay is developing and evolving, and compositionally pushing those boundaries is certainly an area of opportunity, but only when coupled with excellent sounding music and themes.
- Composing scores for indie games, student created games, or with start-up game companies is also a great way to cut your teeth and stretch your creative wings.
- Of course compose great sounding music, and as you go develop a unique compositional voice.
- Most important though; have fun doing it!
- Get on a student project! This is the best way to not only learn what it means to create music for games, but you will also be exposed to game development team culture and everything that entails. Plus, you will have a project(s) on your CV to demonstrate that you can do this kind of work — non-linear, dynamic music creation. This also helps to solve that chicken and egg problem where you need to demonstrate to a game company that you can do this kind of work, but actually need a project to work on in order to demonstrate your skills. Plus, some student projects go on to become published games, so you might end up having the opportunity to become a part of that!
- Just get your foot in the door! Do something because it will lead to the next opportunity and then to the next opportunity and so forth. You know, my career path wasn’t planned. I could have never planned this out. I just did stuff and it led to various other amazing opportunities.
- The people that will push game audio are ones that are well versed in a number of subjects. Games and game audio are only going to get better and break boundaries when people have a fresh, multi-disciplinary approach.
Cultivating a career as a media composer (including a video game composer) is a marathon that takes passion, tenacity, commitment and great talent that is continually expanded. Over the years I’ve observed that the successful composers have a combination of four skills sets. These skill sets are: composing mastery & unique voice; collaborative skills; fluency and fearlessness in technology, and entrepreneurial skills to propel themselves forward. Media scoring career is the nexus where our artistry, passion, people skills, command of technology, and business acumen intersect. Also, you are a storyteller and must write evocatively and dramatically. Game music is imprinted in our memory and is forever “married” to our gameplay experiences. To the people just starting out I would say, think of this career as a small business – develop your skills, composing chops, portfolio, build a community of supporters, network. “Luck” is important but I believe luck is preparation-meets-opportunity.
“I would say having some kind of talent is a pre-requisite to survive in the industry because everyone is so talented at composing too. You also have to be talented in networking and making a constant effort to be better. Luck is definitely important, but you have to be always working hard to prepare yourself for the time when opportunities come in by luck.”
Never become too good at something that you don’t want to become your career. Over time we will all become known for the things that we do the best or the most often. Imagine your ideal career 10 years from now, and whatever it is do that thing every day. If you are sidetracked by a day job or a plan B, even if they are related somehow, you’re much less likely to achieve your goals. You must be laser-focused on what you want, and the way you spend your time must reflect that.
Here are two videos Jeremy recommends that he developed as companions for his book Guerrilla Film Scoring:
Video on Finding Work:
- ABC: Always Be Composing
- Take breaks
- Read books
- Learn effective time management, productivity, and personal-development strategies
- Meet people and be yourself; don’t worry about “networking”; just make friends and be genuine.
- Always act professionally; turn stuff in on time, don’t be a jerk, etc.
- Don’t be afraid of the dreaded “day job”; if you find a decent, well-paying job that’s not in games and you’re not currently getting any high-paid gigs, stick with it! Lots of people have been unsuccessful until much later in their lives. Hell, Colonel Sanders didn’t find success with KFC until he was 62!
- Help out with events, give presentations, write articles about our craft, review products related to game audio, write tutorials, help develop standards that help our industry, organize and moderate a panel, introduce high school students to our industry, critique a game score from your own perspective, share an interesting composing technique, etc.
- You don’t need to be an expert, just share your experience and what you believe. I read many interesting articles from beginners in our industry that have insightful perspective on the future.
- I think contributing back to the industry as a whole helps you understand the industry, and helps our industry as a whole be more knowledgeable. In addition, when people look you up on the internet – they’ll be impressed with all the knowledge you’ve shared.
- Make yourself ready. Hone your craft, learn the tools… until that big break comes, just make yourself ready.
- Study games. Don’t just play them passively, actively study them (this is often easier if you let someone else play so you can just watch and listen).
- Have big ears. Don’t just listen to game music. Expand your ears.
- Talk little and listen a LOT. (another variation of this: let someone else to all the talking and they’ll think you’re fascinating)
- Be positive and enthusiastic. People want to work with people they like.
- It’s not enough to just know music. If you can have a little understanding about what your colleagues in other disciplines are doing, that helps tremendously with communication.
- You can never have too many friends.
- There’s enough work for everybody. Don’t be jealous when your friends get their break, be thankful – that’s one more influential person you already know!
- Be kind. The more kind you are to others on the way up, the more kind others will be to you when you’re on your way down.
Be true to yourself. Make sure that music for hire is something you really want to do, or at least enjoy doing enough while you pursue your “other goals” whatever they may be. Don’t let yourself get caught playing a role that you are not comfortable with. Bottom line: You need to make music that means something to you!
Everyone and their brother will offer to tell you and sell you the exact formula for how to be someone in the music business, but I’d say its all bull. Truth is, just open your ears, educate yourself, work hard, and have fun.
And I am always busy with my own projects too, whether finishing off my first orchestra piece (Mix Re/Mix), or performing with my group The Code International—you gotta keep making new stuff.
You should enjoy working in teams. Sometimes, you need to listen to and synthesize many voices. This can all be very different from sitting alone and answering only to yourself.
Be flexible and by that I mean, Zen attitude. Stay open to any and all chance circumstances that present themselves along the way.
(These are quoted from a longer article on the same subject on NewMusicBox.org.)
Try to build meaningful relationships people when the opportunity presents itself. Walking away from a conference or social event having made one new meaningful connection is almost always more beneficial than leaving with the cards of 50 people but never really getting to know any of them.