Music is essential to mood and atmosphere. How many times have you heard a tune or melody that sparked an emotion, raised a memory, made you feel happy, sad or nostalgic?
Research has proven time and time again that music is an essential medium to communicate emotion. Jay Schulkin and Greta B. Raglan state in their academic research paper, “The evolution of music and human social capability“ that
Music is a fundamental part of our evolution; we probably sang before we spoke in syntactically guided sentences.
This is incredible when you think about it. Music is at our core and in our soul, whether you are a music lover or not.
In our busy lives today, music plays a critical role in our mass media and communications. As a music composer, one of the most exciting areas of music composition for me at present is composing music for video games.
What is video game music?
Video game music refers to the musical soundtrack of a game.
When you consider video games, unlike a movie where there is a set storyline that you follow, the game is non-linear and dynamic.
Will there be a happy ending or a sad one? Will you win the battle or die? Will the dragon kill all the villagers or will you slay it? I could go on and on as the combinations are endless and I think you get the idea.
Video games are very much “create your own storey”. You as a game player are the director, producer and master of your own destiny.
But have you ever wondered how the music score keeps up with your story and the ever-changing timeline of events? It takes a lot of skill by both composer and sound designer to layer music and to programme it to adjust seamlessly to the gameplay.
What’s the difference between music for film and music for video games?
When scoring music for film, which I have done for years, I am typically sent the final film edit. This is how the film will be. The storey is set, the action is already decided and I have to compose music to what I see to enhance the visuals and help tell the pre-existing storey,
But with music for video games, I have nothing. There is no predefined “set” storey. The storey will change and evolve in line with game player decisions.
This is the key difference between music for film and music for video games: music for film is written to pre-decided visuals that won’t change and music for video games is written in chunks or blocks as there is no linear storey or timeline set.
I know that the video game developer will need intros, outros, quiet parts, loud parts, action parts etc and so I provide music blocks in the same style so this music can be layered and moved around at the discretion of the video game developer.
Why is writing music for video games so exciting?
What I find most exciting about video game music is the unknown.
When writing music for video games, often, I just have a theme and some basic background information. For example “this is a fantasy game, with a medieval feel”.
In my experience, I have never received artwork that indicates what the gameplay looks like so I am really writing to a blank canvas. I think this would terrify most people, but just like the gamers who don’t know the destiny of their hero until the end, sometimes not knowing the ending is fun.
For me, when scoring to film you already know what will happen and when. This puts constraints on the creative process as for example, if an action scene builds to an explosion, I have to ensure the music rises to match that explosion. That is a constraint. Before I compose an original music score I know I have to do certain things.
With music for video games, I know I need to match a feeling but there is no defined story that I have to sync too. The hero might turn into a villain if you, the gamer chooses to play this way.
What are some examples of amazing video game music?
There are hundreds of amazing video game soundtracks out there which really stared hitting the mainstream in the early 1970s with a video game called “Pong”.
What I love about Super Mario Bros is the simple but catchy melody. If ever there was a theme tune that can be classified as an “earworm”, this is it.
There is a soft analogue sound to the main theme and I have spent hours searching for the actual original synths that this was performed on, so if you know what was used in the original Super Mario Bros soundtrack, please tell me!
You can tell how great a video game soundtrack is by how well it translates to other instruments. Here is one of my favourite versions of the Super Mario Bros theme as played by @banjoguyollie
If you were a teenager in the 1990s this tune may sound familiar as it went to be the best selling videogame of the era.
Perky and fun, it always brings a smile to my face. It is a great theme tune as again, it is simple, but conveys so much energy and excitement.
Secondly, given the 2D world, this was still a really immersive game and I believe we have to credit a lot of the appeal of these 2D games to the soundtracks.
I adore Skyrim with its sweeping and orchestral soundtrack. The theme music with the strong powerful choirs and rising horn sections give me goosebumps every time!
This is also an example of a very complex soundtrack that theme music and orchestration that is as complex and involved as any Hollywood blockbuster movie.
As an Irish musician and composer of Celtic music, I am really drawn to the medieval style fantasy games as this genre of music is perfect for this video game theme.
Although orchestral with sweeping strings, there is a great use of celtic and traditional irish instruments in this gameplay.
Where to find music for video games?
You can use any track featured at LouiseByrneMusic.com in your video games for free.
I ask that you ensure to add a music credit to me as per the following:
Music by: https://louisebyrnemusic.com/
Or if my music is just one of many songs:
“Song Title” by https://louisebyrnemusic.com/
Currently, I am working on adapting my music to make it more video game developer-friendly. This means that the music will already be sliced up into blocks that you can layer in your game. This should be live by the end of 2020, but follow me on Twitter to get a notification of when this is ready.
Final “fantasy” thoughts…
Video game music is a big industry featuring some of the world’s best composers. At present, the market for video game music is twice the size of the film music industry and its growing.
Music in video games is so important as it is essential to create atmosphere, mood and help tell the story. It can help build tension or rise gameplay excitement like no other form of media.
The great thing about video game music is that it can be any genre, it really depends on what theme and feeling the video game developer is hoping to capture.
As a composer of video game music, I am really excited about this industry and really looking forward to working with more video game developers.
Are you a video game developer? If so, what do you need from your video game music supplier?
Disclaimer: This blog is intended as a guide only for educational and informational purposes. It is not legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters.