Also known as:
Video Game Composer
What does a Composer for Video Games do?
The primary role is to compose music for video games. The composer will often be expected to produce and record their music and deliver a final product. They will often have to implement their own music into the game. They will need to deal with the business side such as negotiating the contract, fees, rights, hiring musicians, preparing the music for recording (also known as music preparation / copying, so the musicians have the necessary sheet music to play from). Testing the game and fixing any bugs in the delivery of your files. They will need to be in regular contact with the client, attend meetings, react to feedback, work under tight deadlines and pressure, and it is accepted that they will be a highly proficient composer and musician.
Watch and read (links to videos /cases studies):
Tools of the trade:
In your studio you should be able to compose in a DAW such as Logic, Cubase, Digital Performer, Nuendo etc etc. Anything that combines MIDI with digital audio should suffice. If you are recording live instruments, then a basic knowledge of notation software such as Sibelius / Dorico / Finale would be an advantage. Learning Pro Tools would be a major advantage since all the major recording studios record in Pro Tools. Hardware synthesizers and sound modules are a bonus although not strictly necessary. A good selection of basic microphones would be of help, so you can record a single instrument or a collection of musicians, within a limited budget. A selection of effects (either software or hardware or both) would be desirable, especially reverbs, delays, multiband compressors / limiters, de-essers, and surround mixing tools.
In terms of your sound library you should have as much as you can afford. Realistic orchestral sounds, a good selection of synths (hardware or software). Drums, guitars (or use the real thing preferably), pianos, drum machines etc. A good basic set of sounds would be required for the music you plan to create in that genre.
What is a Composer of Video Games good at?
You must be a master of your craft first and foremost (MUSIC!). You must be an excellent communicator and be able to react to constantly changing briefs both for the music and within the game design. Things change on a daily business for a game composer so you must be able to react in a cool-headed manner whilst always delivering the music on time and on budget. Understanding games is crucial. You could write the most beautiful piece of music known to the world, but if it’s simply an ‘accompaniment’ rather than an integral part of the experience, then you should focus on a career in film or TV. Games are an interactive medium, not a passive experience, so learn how games are put together so you can make the experience more immersive for the player.
Who does a Composer of Video Games work with?
On a larger project the composer would work with an Audio Director, who is responsible for the entire audio content for a game (Music, Sound Design, Dialogue, Mix). On a smaller project you might be working directly with the game designer, studio head, or a small indie team of just a few people. These people may not be musical so you will need to interpret their musical vision (and terminology) in your own way.
How do I become a Composer of Video Games?
First and foremost, learn how to compose music. Play one or two (or more) instruments. Reach a good standard on those instruments. Learn music theory. Learn harmony, composition, music history. Basically – LEARN MUSIC! Then you can specialise in any field.
In terms of game specific requirements, play games, learn how to compose interactive / adaptive/ procedural music. Learn middleware tools that are used in the games industry.
Network your ass off. This is a very competitive industry, so you need to meet people. Don’t text me on Christmas Day because I will never hire you as an assistant. (this has happened more than once). Be a problem solver. Be hungry, never stop learning or give up the will / ability to learn. Keep a cool head.
These days most opportunities are freelance based, with the exception of a very few companies that still have in-house composers. Therefore you need to have your own musical voice and find where you would fit in to a specific project or company.
The best way to start is doing to game jams, indie games, casual games etc whilst you gain experience. It would be beneficial if you could also handle sound FX and dialogue when starting out, even to a basic level, since smaller developers would be looking for an ‘all in’ audio solution.
Is the role a skills shortage?
Yes and No. There are no shortage of Video Game Composers, or those wishing to become so. In fact, there are now more composers wishing to work in Games than in Film. In all forms of composing for Media there is no shortage of composers, in fact the supply hugely outweighs the demand. A colleague of mine who lectures at UCLA begins the first semester of new intake of composers by saying “Welcome to LA, we don’t need you”. This is so true, but there are opportunities and skills shortages within the industry.
There is a huge shortage of Orchestrators and Copyists (Music Prep) coming through because everyone simply wants to be a Composer. Whilst this is completely understandable, there is a big demand for the above skill sets, since once the older generation pass on, who is going to do this work? There is good money to be made, and great projects to collaborate on. In the games industry especially there are many opportunities for music implementors and audio programmers, in a more technical role that is a vital role in bringing the experience to the player.
For more inspiring ideas on careers in the Creative Industries check out: https://discovercreative.careers/#/