Music Composition for Video Games

Man playing video games

Anyone who has muted their TV or computer while playing a video game knows just how vital sound composition is to the overall gameplay experience. Without music or sound effects, video games feel lifeless and dull. That is why competent sound engineers are being hired in droves to augment the acoustics of modern video game titles.

Many video games with AAA budgets feature a robust team of sound engineers. This group focuses solely on the audio generated by every interaction in the game world. In many cases, the music composition is done by a separate individual entirely. The composer can choose to record each instrument themselves or hire a band to produce an orchestral score.

The Ideal Traits of a Video Game Sound Engineer

It takes an acoustically gifted person to engineer realistic sounds for video game titles. As games become larger in scope, the job of a sound engineer only becomes more in-depth. They must be prepared to work hard to ensure modern video game titles are up to AAA standards in the sound department.

A Great Sense of Hearing

Sound engineers must have a very sharp ear. Not only does this help them perceive audio in their environment, but it also allows them to accurately translate that listening experience into the game. Having the ability to notice minute details and shifts in frequency helps immensely as well.

A Desire to Work Hard

As mentioned above, working as a sound engineer in a video game studio can be a demanding position. The sound team dials in at the beginning of production and stays with the project until the very end. It takes several years of focus and persistence to release a major video game title with all of the bells and whistles that contemporary gamers expect.

Intense Passion for the Art Form

Working on the same title for so long requires anyone in the development team to truly love video games. Without this final element, sound engineers will most likely burn out before a project wraps up. When there is a love of video games, sound engineers can overcome their struggles and stroll into work with a smile on their face each and every day.

The Ideal Traits of a Video Game Music Composer

Just as with sound engineers, music composers in the games industry often share a few traits in common. Anyone who can relate to the following points can become a music composer for games if they hone their talents.

The Love of Music

A video game composer can find inspiration from anywhere or anything. Constantly listening to music is a huge part of what determines the difference between a mediocre and excellent composer. Since the game composer is always immersed in tunes, they must love to listen to and create them deeply if they plan on enjoying their work.

An Appreciation of Music History

Many game levels feature music that reflects a specific era or region. A great composer for video games needs to have experience with various styles of music. This makes it easier to pin down the perfect instruments for any given song.

A Deep Knowledge of Video Game Soundtracks

Anyone who loves listening to game soundtracks when not in front of the screen has unknowingly prepared for a career as a video game composer. Absorbing the various compositions found in other titles can greatly enhance the quality of new projects. Since the composer already knows what makes a soundtrack tick, they can recreate that magic in video games they work on.

What Do Sound Engineers Do?

Depending on the video game being worked on, there are two main ways that sound gets added into games. The first is with digital software, while the other uses foley recordings to capture specific sound profiles.

Digital Sound Effects

Digital effects are employed for any sounds that don’t occur naturally in the environment. Things such as the chime when navigating a game menu or when a coin is picked up in Mario titles, fall into this category. Engineering software and stock sound effect libraries are the main sources of this range of acoustics.

Foley Recordings

Foley artists use tons of recording methods to capture sounds that they can easily generate in the world around them. For instance, the footsteps heard in most video games are a recording of someone walking on a similar surface in the real world. The foley team then proceeds to record a unique sound for each type of surface the player can walk on.

What is Music Composition?

Music composition is the act of creating new songs from scratch. While many composers work by themselves, they are also in charge of many bands or orchestras that are hired to make music for the video game. In the context of video games, composers can either create static or dynamic soundtracks depending on what type of game it is.

Static Soundtracks

When most people think of video game music, they are hearing one of their favorite static soundtracks. A static track plays throughout a level or scene on a continuous loop. The song only changes when that level or scene has completed.

Static soundtracks are commonly used in games with a linear story progression. As the player enters a new area, they are greeted with a different song to denote their progress.

Dynamic Soundtracks

Dynamic soundtracks are introduced in modern titles with complex gameplay loops. A dynamic soundtrack reacts and changes to the action on-screen. This is commonly manifested as a rousing score during an intense action scene. Once the action has subsided, the soundtrack returns to a more ambient state.

Dynamic soundtracks are commonly used in open world or rhythm games. Since the scenario can change so quickly in an open world, a game composer needs to create a malleable system that can keep up with everything happening all at once. In rhythm games, the soundtrack will respond to a player’s input timing. If they are doing well, the song will sound immaculate. However, the track loses clarity if the player starts missing a few notes.

How Does Music Influence a Video Game?

Just like in television and movies, a well-done video game soundtrack influences the emotional state of anyone experiencing a scene. Each note of a track is picked up by a player’s subconscious mind and evokes a feeling or sensation. Action scenes are more chaotic, exploration is more interesting, and happy scenes are more impactful when accompanied by the perfect song.

However, it goes further than raw emotion. A music track keeps the game player’s mind focused on the task at hand. Without this constant musical presence, gamers are liable to get distracted or bored. Once a game player gets bored, they may stop playing and never return. Try muting a game’s music to see just how much a song influences the enjoyability factor of a video game title.

How Do Sound Effects Influence Video Games?

The goal of most video games is to create a believable and immersive world to explore and engage in. Since everything in the real world emits a sound when interacted with, objects in the game world must also abide by this principle. Without a realistic sound effect to accompany an interaction, the player’s brain will instantly know the game world is fake.

Sound can also be tightly woven into the mechanics of a video game. For instance, both stealth and horror games rely on sound effects to provide feedback to the player. When sneaking around, the player needs to clearly understand when they are making too much noise. In horror titles, sound effects are used to heighten tension and help players gauge where potential threats are coming from.

Just like with video game soundtracks, one simply needs to mute a game’s sound effects to see just how important they are to the overall experience. Without a world brimming with sound, a game just fails to grab most people’s attention.

Final Thoughts

Both sound engineers and music composers have many opportunities to land a job in the video game industry. Since audio is such a core component of game design, many studios are constantly hiring talent to make their video game titles stand out. It has never been easier to start recording music or sound effects. Modern tech allows anyone with a passion for sound to create a robust portfolio to show potential employers.

Did learning about music composition for video games interest you? The Institute of Production and Recording (IPR) offers a program in sound design for visual media that teaches students about sound engineering for video games.

The Sound Design for Visual Media program is an occupational degree program that immerses the student in the world and industry of sound design for visual media. Students in class learn key skills and concepts necessary to meet the demands of a large-scale audio/visual media project. These skills and concepts include advanced sound design, synchronization, sound effects creation, field and location audio recording, boom operation, ADR recording and editing, Foley recording and editing, the creation and recording of music for visual media programs, and the audible mixing of these elements together. At a higher level, students will also learn how to make the correct aesthetic decisions for the project they are working on, gain important organizational skills that include logging and archiving of media materials, and achieve the skills necessary to advertise and market the final product.

Contact us today to learn more about the audio production and engineering program and starting a rewarding career in the video game industry.