How To Produce Music For Video Games

how to produce music for video games - decibel peak academy

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Haven’t you always wanted to learn how to produce music for video games? It seems like many musicians have had the same calling, perhaps it came from the depths of their inner child… If you’re planning to succeed on this journey though, you’ll definitely want to keep reading!

Before learning how to produce music for video games, we first need to understand the differences between video game music and TV/Film music. One of the most significant differences is that the music in video games is usually dynamic/adaptive to the player’s interactions inside the game. We’ll also be considering the additional applications that video game composers have grown accustomed to using. Lastly, we’ll also be looking at the logistics of this particular sector of the music industry and determining if the path of the video game music producer is right for you. Shall we get started?

How do I get into video game music?

The first step might seem counter-intuitive, but you need to play video games. However, you’ll want to refrain from using this as an excuse to “slack off” because your time spent playing video games will also be time spent studying their soundtracks.

Here are some of my personal favourites:

  • Earthbound/Mother 2
  • Chrono Trigger (series)
  • Metroid Prime (series)
  • Horizon Zero Dawn

I remember spending hours studying the structure.

I would pick out my favourite tracks and analyze them note for note. I even learned to reproduce some of the sounds I was hearing using what I had access to. It’s also important to start identifying these sounds and creating some form of “vocabulary” with them.

Just like conventional music, video game music has its genres/niches.

It’s also important to keep in mind that video game producers are often expected to take on the role of sound designer as well. It’s not an essential skill to have, but it would only benefit you in this particular sub-sector of the music industry.

Lastly, I think one of the best ways to understand what video game producers do is to watch interviews/documentaries of them in action!

Here’s one of my favourites…

What software do video game composers use?

The next aspect of video game production we’ll be diving into is the software. We won’t be talking much about DAWs because you most likely already work with one. Rather, we’ll be focusing on the software you’re most likely NOT familiar with.

Luckily, the TWO tools you’ll need to get are FREE to use:

It’s also at this point that we start talking about dynamic/adaptive video game music.

This video from the FMOD Studio website explains the concept. It’s actually one of the best and few videos I’ve seen on the subject, but it’s not as complicated as it sounds. The most difficult part will be learning how to use the software.

However, we all know there are plenty of FREE tutorials out there!

In other words, you should simply start thinking of your creative process differently. Video games require composers to think “vertically”. It’s much different than the “horizontal” approach we’re used to when it comes to music composition/production.

Once you’ve started implementing this “vertical” approach into your workflow, you can start thinking about learning these two softwares. I’d only start with one of them though because they basically have the same functions.

You can start by searching for some lessons on YouTube. I just took care of that for you (you’re welcome)…

How much should I charge for video game music?

If you’re feeling confident about your video game music production skills using the software and techniques we just finished discussing, you may be wondering how much you can charge.

Of the course, the same principals for any freelancing journey still apply.

That means you’ll be charging less before you can charge for more.

We’ll also need to consider that your first projects/contracts will most likely be small. What we’re looking for is “indie” game developers and there are plenty of those. You could start out working for free or charging very little for your first projects.

I usually let my level of confidence dictate how much I charge.

Disclaimer: I’m simply providing my opinion. I’m not authorized to make any financial decisions on your behalf. Always practice your own due diligence when taking the advice of another professional.

The author

In other words, if you feel like you’re charging too much, you probably are.

On the other hand, you could also take your time into consideration. I say that any professional (even if they’re just getting started) should charge minimum 35$ per hour. That could be an effective way of determining your rates at first (assuming you know how long each task will take).

If you’re already freelancing for TV/Film opportunities, you can charge about the same.

Do video game composers get royalties?

The short answer to this question is NO. Maybe it’s different for online games (I can’t confirm), but conventional video game music (like the games you play on your Xbox) isn’t capable of generating royalties.

It should be obvious why, but let me explain just in case!

Royalties are earned through the performance of your music. That doesn’t necessarily mean only concerts though, it also includes any form of broadcasting…

  • TV/Film
  • Radio
  • Streaming

Unless we’re talking about eSports, video games aren’t broadcasted. It’s a consumer product comparable to owning a compact disc (CD) of the music.

Do composers earn royalties each time you play their CD?

NO, they don’t.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t earn your living from the production of video game music. It also doesn’t mean that things won’t change in the future. For example, eSports and online video game competitions could potentially become venues for video game music composers/producers to earn royalties.

For the time being though, you’ll be making money through:

  • Commissions (for original music)
  • Contracts (can involve more than one task)
  • The selling of licenses (renewable/perpetual)

It may not be the best way to earn passive income, but learning how to produce music for video games can easily pay your bills and then some!

Video game music composers/producers can make anywhere from 25,000$ to 75,000$ per year and some of them make even more than that. However, I personally wouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket.

Making music that generates royalties is important in the long run.

What are your biggest concerns about the video game music industry?

I remember thinking that learning how to produce music for video games would be much more difficult than TV/Film opportunities. As it turns out, the two sub-sectors of the music industry are quite similar and quite close.

The only real challenge is learning how to use WWise and/or FMOD Studio.

Other than that, you can simply use your ears to guide you. At the root of it all, the music we hear in video games isn’t any different than the music we hear every day. It’s actually much simpler and repetitive, believe it or not!

So, the best way to get started is to imitate your favourite soundtrack.

Start discovering new sounds and new ways to approach musical composition.

I’m curious though… What are your biggest concerns about the video game music industry? Let us know in the comments so we can work together to tackle any worries you may have.

Thanks for reading, I hope you learned something today!

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