The ever growing number of video games on all platforms create new opportunities for composers – but how do you break into this market? How do you cross over from composing for Music, TV and Film and land a job in game sound production?
We found someone who can tell you: Brian Schmidt, a 28 year veteran of the game audio industry and recipient of the Game Audio Network Guild “Lifetime Achievement” award in 2008. He has created music for over 140 games including Madden, Game of Thrones, NARC as well as the boot sound for Xbox. Brian’s company SoundCon puts on GameSoundCon, the annual conference for professional game sound composers and audio producers who want to break into the games industry.
Whether you are looking to get hired as a freelancer for game sound projects or find employment with a large game company, Brian has some great, practical tips:
- Learn the difference.
“Learn about the industry and its quirks. One thing that trips up many composers and sound designers who want to get into games is just how very different creating sound for games is from creating sound for more traditional media like music, film or TV,” says Brian. “There are technical and creative challenges very unique to games. Learning those is as important as knowing your way around your DAW. This is one of the reasons why we offer Introduction to Game Audio: How Games are Different from Anything You’ve Worked on Before as part of our Game Audio Essentials Track at GameSoundCon.”
- Get technical.
Composing music for games and game sound design can be quite complex. Schmidt points out: “Parametersize sound effects, ‘reverb zones’, Run-time parameter controls, are all things that are second nature to seasoned game audio professionals. Knowing how games and game technology work, will give you a huge leg up over a composer or sound designer who only knows ProTools.”
- Use the tools.
The two most widely used game audio design tools are WWise from Audiokinetic (www.Audiokinetic.com) and FMOD studio (www.fmod.com) from Firelight technologies. “These tools are completely free to download,” says Brian. If you haven’t yet, check them out now.
- Be versatile and be yourself.
Game music comes in all styles: from hip hop to epic orchestra to cutesy pet music to horror. “You need to be able to say ‘Yes, I can do that,’ regardless of what style you’re asked to do,” explains Brian. “But establish your own voice and style. I’ve heard dozens - or hundreds - of demos which would best be entitled ‘Hans Zimmer clone #26’,” he continues. “Yes, big, epic orchestral needs to be in your tool bag, but to make you and your demo stand out, present something unique that really shows who you are as a composer.”
- Play the games.
“I’m not saying you have to spend 40 hours a week wearing out your thumbs. But you should be aware of what games are out there for mobile, PC and console. Not only will you get a much better idea about what your competition is doing, but having a general knowledge of what games are out there will be incredibly helpful when you find yourself making small talk with a game developer. That is well worth a few $0.99 iPhone game downloads or playing some PC games. You don’t want to sit open-mouthed when a potential employer asks you ‘So, what do you think is one of the better sounding games out there right now?’”
- Create a quality demo reel.
“Put your very best work front and center. Your reel needs to be available online, easy to find and show your abilities. If you want to create a demo that will really create an impression, create a ‘MOD’ for a game. A MOD is a game where some component has been altered or changed. Taking a portion of a game and swapping in your own music or sound design is a great demo. The audio tools above also come with demo game content. By creating an interactive demo (instead of just a bunch of mp3 files) you will stand out over 95 out of 100 other composers or sound designers.”
- Attend conferences.
“Conferences are an excellent place to both learn and network. Each winter is GDC the Game Developers Conference (www.gdconf.com) in San Francisco. We’re putting on GameSoundCon (www.GameSoundCon.com) in Los Angeles each fall. The next one is on Nov 3-4, 2015 and we provide sessions for both composers and sound designers who want to get started in games as well as experienced game audio professionals.”
- Check out game jams.
“A game jam is a weekend where some programmers, artists and game designers get together for a caffeine filled weekend and, after 48 or 72 hours, have a game. Music and Sound Design is often underrepresented at these events, which are filled with people who love to make games. Globalgamejam.org is a great site for tracking game jams, or google a jam in your area.”
- Be visible - in person…
“Volunteer to speak at conferences, schools or other venues. Even if you just give a Intro to ProTools-talk, you are starting to make yourself known as an expert.”
- …and online.
“Join relevant Facebook groups: Game Audio Network Guild, Game Audio Denizens, Game Audio, For Film Composers Only with Deniz Hughes – those are all active communities. Becoming part of an online community can be as valuable (or more so sometimes) than physical ones! Online sites like GameDev.net are also great communities for game developers.
- Contribute, don’t pollute.
“The last thing people want to see is ‘Hey, check out my new track’ posts. Your primary objective in online communities is to establish yourself as an expert. Answer questions with real facts. Post provocative questions about your craft. Ask honest (even if naive) questions. Give, don’t take and you will become a respected member of that community.”
- Network, network, network.
“Talent, skills, and hard work are important, but - like in music business - getting a job as a game music composer can be just as much about who you know. We have recently conducted a survey of close to 600 game audio professionals, and more than 50% of freelancers reported getting their last project through someone they knew or met. So don’t spend all day in your studio composing. Get out there and meet people.” Check out the results of the 2015 Game Audio Survey at GameSoundCon.com
- But network correctly.
“The online etiquette I mentioned earlier also applies in the real world: Networking isn’t walking up to a stranger and saying ‘Here’s my demo, please hire me for your game’. Networking is about cultivating long-term connections with people over years. One game I’m currently working on was literally a call out of the blue from some people I had worked with 2 decades ago.”