How can I be the next Koji Kondo?
December 7, 2011 6:03 PM   Subscribe

I want to compose scores for video games as a career. I have no idea how to get there. I'm looking for advice from composers, game designers, and people generally working at the intersection of music and video games.

I recently dropped out of college for the second time and am trying to figure out what I want to do in life. I've had a passion for making music since I was a toddler and I've played more video games than is probably healthy. I finally put the two together a few days ago and I'm just beginning to look into this as a viable career choice.

My musical experience includes: almost enough credits to qualify for a minor in Music with a concentration in Jazz Guitar, 3 years of being in a small-time college band touring the San Francisco Bay Area, and making beats on my computer and iPhone. I have never taken a composition course.

My only experience in the gaming industry involved testing an FPS for three days in 2008. I have no acquaintances, friends, or family members who could steer me towards a knowledgeable coworker or friend.

If you are a composer who has written scores for games/are a designer who has hired a composer/have been involved in this aspect of the development of a game, what advice do you have for a person aspiring to do this as a living? What training would I need? What were your experiences and what would you have done differently?
posted by bumpjump to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Set up a site with as many demo reels and tracks as you can. Han out on and all the other indie dev forums to collab on projects and pick up some business. And, do a lot of in-person networking even if it's at ordinary tech meetups.

I don't have anything immediate but I'd be happy to have your contact information.
posted by michaelh at 6:48 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might read up on Laura Shigihara's blog - she composed the music for Plants vs. Zombies and other games.
posted by mark7570 at 7:03 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

michaelh's advice is spot-on.

I'd also like to add a voice of reality. IMHO as a game developer, simply making music for video games is too narrow of a goal to be a viable career choice. Very, very few people make full-time money doing this specific thing.

I'd suggest you think broader - like sound design, effects, music, audio production for games, movies, tv, commercials, websites, interactive museum displays - whatever sort of media opportunities you can get.
posted by gnutron at 7:22 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, think broader!

I've worked with three composers. Only one of them had a full-time on-site position (and there are very few of these). The other two were contracted composers who did work in other media - commercials, TV, film, other game companies - who were only brought on when needed. Both of those, though, had long, good-working relationships with their studios, so networking really is key. Most of the time, a company does not need a full time composer on staff, so you can expect to bounce between projects and make music for different media, even if you want to focus on games.

There's not going to be too much difference between composing for film and TV, and composing for games. Really, you should look at all the advice anyone gives out for composing for film/TV, because that's where the game industry gets its composers too, and there's probably more written on that topic.

I'd also like to second building a demo reel and working with people on The best thing anyone can do for for themselves when trying to break into the game industry is to work on games, even if they are indie projects or mods.

I also recommend heading to Moby Games and looking up the types of games you'd like to work on. Find the names of the composers for those games and google them. Lots of them will have portfolios online for you to compare yourself to, and a history of the kind of work they've done. Some of them will even have email addresses and will respond if you ask them polite, informed questions about their roles.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 8:01 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Do you know about OverClocked ReMix? It's a community of video game music enthusiasts. You might be able to get some targeted advice over there.
posted by dragonplayer at 8:22 PM on December 7, 2011


Here are a couple of examples of people working in this space:

John Presley Music

Adam DiTroia
posted by alms at 5:41 AM on December 8, 2011

Best answer: I have some advice from the perspective of a musician who may well be performing the music you write: learn as much as you can about all the instruments you may wish to write for. Especially the voice, as it is the most idiosyncratic of all instruments.

I've performed a number of scores for various projects, from the full score to "Fellowship of the Ring" to "One Winged Angel" from FF7. It is especially obvious to musicians when a composer does not actually have any personal experience with an instrument. As a singer, it is painfully (often literally) obvious when your part was written to be performed by a computer rather than a human being.

Instead of just thinking of instruments as different timbres, learn what things instruments excel at - and which things they have a hard time with. 32nd note runs on the flute? Great idea! 32nd note runs on the trombone. Umm. Yeah...

Obviously, if you've never taken a composition class you will want to do that. You mention enough credits for a music minor, but don't mention if that includes any music theory. Even if you're not planning on pursuing a degree in it, then I'd suggest taking as many theory classes as you can.

To build on what other folks have suggested about broadening your intended field of work - don't limit yourself to only composing scores, tracks, sound effects, etc. If you wish to be a composer, go ahead and compose all sorts of music for various instrumentation, for various purposes and with various aims. Write an artsong. Write an octet for double reed instruments. Write a jingle for a commercial. Write a pop song. Write new scores to accompany silent films. (The local classical radio station in Houston hosts regular "silent film concerts" where they invite a musician or a group to come and perform a newly composed score while the film is being projected!) Composing anything will help you develop.
posted by jph at 7:06 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

The maker of the indie game Gunpoint is currently looking for someone to make music for his game. If you've got a jazzy background, it could be a good fit.
posted by dudekiller at 9:30 AM on December 8, 2011

Learn an audio editing software, like Pro Tools.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:31 AM on December 8, 2011

Oh, and also, for the love of god, if you're ever going to try to write lyrics: only write them in a language that you actually know or do settings of previously written works, with careful attention to things like copyright! (There's a really sad story of an amazing commission of Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" that had to be completely re-written because the Frost estate didn't approve Eric Whitacre's use of the text. It is now called "Sleep" and it is nice, but somehow diminished.)

A handful of compositions come to mind that are excellent examples of this - Christopher Rouse's "Karolju" is a collection of "carols" from "around the world." Only, he didn't speak all the languages he was writing in. So instead, he just wrote word-salad text to accompany the pieces. It has the effect of sounding like the chorus is singing in German, but ultimately the text has no real meaning beyond being a mixture of random thematically-appropriate words. (ie Christmas tree snowman happy light baby joy!)

Video game music is NOTORIOUS for this, particularly where "ratin" is concerned. A lot of the Final Fantasy music is written in "ratin." Which is, as you might suspect, what happens when Engrish takes a trip back several thousand years. Becoming familiar with these things assures that you will bring something fresh and professional to the corpus of work and wont just continue to make these same mistakes.
posted by jph at 8:05 AM on December 9, 2011

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