How to Find Work Online as a New VG Composer

Contributor: Chris Lines (http://www.gamecomposeradvantage.com/) shares his advice on becoming a successful video game composer. This is a short version of a longer series of articles from Chris’s site to help game composers. You can check out the longer in-depth versions here.

Many composers have either studied music formally for a long time or are self-taught to a pretty good level, and yet they haven’t actually worked on any video games at all, let alone been paid for one.

FGI was in a similar position until a few years ago… I’d always written music since I was fifteen, been in bands, had my own studio set up for years. But apart from a small amount of production music, and the odd student film, I had never really achieved that much. I decided something had to change…

I noticed that there were plenty of game composer websites talking about VSTs and DAWs but none on the actual hard work of freelancing. So I invested thousands of pounds in the best freelancing courses and books I could, and learned about positioning, pitching, selling and running a freelance business in general. What I learned wasn’t specifically tailored for musicians – most of my fellow students in fact were designers, photographers, web developers or other freelancers, but I found universal lessons that could be applied to music too.

What Most Composer Do Wrong

It’s all too common to see posts on game developer forums where composers are offering their services – and often for free. I have never done this. If a composer does get an answer, they’ll generally be asked to write for free, or for ‘exposure’. More likely than not they just won’t get a reply. When they don’t get inundated with offers to write music they then get disappointed.  “Why on earth not?”, I hear them cry, “I’m offering to write for free! What could be better than that, right?”

Most composers don’t see things from a developer’s perspective though. Try it for a moment – why would they trust this person who posted on a forum offering to work for free? Is this the way a professional composer would act?

There Is Another Way

What I quickly learned from my studies is that rather than posting adverts on forums and waiting for the phone to call, I came to appreciate the power of the hustle. By spending time upfront researching the most suitable developers, picking the games I really wanted to work on, and only then contacting the developers directly, things seemed a lot more hopeful.

Now I rather glossed over the part where I mentioned research – but this is essential and is where most of the effort should go. There’s no point pitching just anyone who is making a game. You need to choose carefully – take your time. The best places to look are game developer forums where devs are posting about what they are working on, but there are also sites like Kickstarter. Here’s a link to Quora with some suggestions of game developer sites.

And once you have found a game you like the look of you need to find the developer’s email address. Sure you could contact them via the forum, but I think email is best. You might have to do some digging and Googling to get an e-mail address, but again it’s worth it. Once you have an e-mail address you can then quite honestly tell them who you are, what you do and genuinely offer to help. It’s not magic – just maybe a bit braver than the average composer, and that’s the point. You don’t want to be the same as everyone else.

Get Used to Hustling

It has to be said, 9 times out of 10 a cold pitch doesn’t work. Game devs either already have a composer or they have settled on an alternative approach to the music. Or they just weren’t a good fit in the first place and just don’t reply. Don’t worry! Keep trying and occasionally… just occasionally… it does work.

Now it has to be said that cold pitching (even with the right research) is a numbers game. You’ll send out dozens and dozens of e-mails before you get any interest. And even when you do, you might only get a ‘maybe’. It’s then your job to keep in touch, keep pitching, making contacts and eventually something good will happen.

The point of this article is to show one method of finding work online. There are others, and I
should make the point that real life meet-ups, conferences and networking are just as important – they just aren’t the focus of this article.

What If You Aren’t Ready?

I’ve found a lot of composers are put off getting themselves out into the market because they feel they aren’t ready. This could be for a variety of reasons:

  • they don’t have a good enough website or portfolio,
  • they don’t know enough about games in general or interactive music
  • plus many other reasons.

You should at the very least have some kind of portfolio showing off your music, even if this is just a SoundCloud page. Otherwise how on earth will a developer hear what you can do? More than that is obviously nice, such as a smart, clean website with a dedicated portfolio section and maybe a blog, but it’s not needed in the beginning.

As for having expert knowledge of interactive music and middleware? In reality for your first few gigs as a game composer you aren’t going to need to know much of this stuff, if anything. Don’t wait till you are ready… take action now and learn as you go.

The Soundtrack 8:1-2 Update – Michael Austin’s Paper Nominated for Annual Game Music Award

The Soundtrack 8:1-2 Update (15 June 2016)
agmasWe’re pleased to report here that Michael Austin’s paper, “From Mixtapes to Multiplayers…” was nominated for the recent Outstanding Achievement — Publication, Broadcast, or Documentary category of VGMO’s Annual Game Music Awards. It is really exciting to see academic research being disseminated into and having an impact on the wider gaming community. Congratulations Michael on your excellent article!

New Game Music and Audio Post Graduate Degrees

ThinkSpace Education, a partner of the Ludomusicology research group, have finally revealed their new programmes dedicated to Game Music and Audio! Our colleagues and friends at ThinkSpace were a major sponsor of our recent five-year anniversary conference, held at Southampton University in April, and their participation was a significant part of its success. We are very excited to see their hard work in putting together these new courses come to fruition.

To show how the ThinkSpace approach differs from other current options in the academic world, Matt Lightbound, Course Producer of the Game Music and Audio courses has very kindly taken the time to lay out for our Ludo audience what ThinkSpace is striving to do.

When I joined ThinkSpace it became abundantly clear that everybody at the institution cared about game music. Our staff are built of 100% active practitioners, I myself am a Sound Designer working in video games right now, and everybody else is either working on games or has very recently. It’s a great environment to be in and it’s a great opportunity to pass that experience onto our students. Unlike traditional institutions, everyone our students speak to have current experience in the field they want to be in. From contacting support or even calling our office, students get to speak to their own kind the whole way through their course.

thinkspace-faculty-2016This is because the main objective of all three courses is to get students the most up to date information possible, so they can go and work in the industry to the best of their ability. The courses are focussed on creating the same content you will be expected to make when working at the biggest or the smallest game studios. Again all our tutors work on games right now, some of which are successful Audio Directors on some of the biggest and most exciting games being made today.

It’s also a key factor on why we teamed up with the Ludomusicology Research Group. We are all genuinely interested and passionate about both the professional and academic side of the practice. Dr Tim Summers will be heading up our research modules on the courses and all our students will receive access to selected recordings of the Ludo 2016 conference.

Attending the event this year was a great experience, meeting the many different minds and workflows that build up the academic community in Game Music and Audio. Other presenters such as Blake Troise (PROTODOME), are staff members here at ThinkSpace, and he will be providing students with lessons on Chiptune composition for those looking to master that particular sonic aesthetic.

I have been asked what makes ThinkSpace’s courses different from the small number of GMA qualifications available currently. Apart from the fact it’s taught entirely by working, not past composers and sound designers, it is also online. Created in partnership with the University of Chichester, students from anywhere in the world are able to take part and still receive a fully accredited post graduate qualification.

To add to this, unlike other courses, our degrees are practical project focussed. Students will work on games, using the same technology they need to know in the industry. By the end of the course they would have built up a substantial portfolio of work, showing a variety of styles and approaches, as well as receiving vital information on how to find work, written by the employers and practitioners themselves. The entire purpose is to teach them in a non-isolated environment, to keep students looking at what trends and developments are happening now and in the near future.

If you want to see more about the course, check out the webpages here:

MFA Game Music and Audio

MA Composing for Video Games

MA Sound Design for Video Games

Feel free to get in touch and chat about our courses or about your current situation, we’d love to hear from you!

#Ludo2016 Conference Review

We are proud to publish the following review as part of our contributor articles series. Feel free to leave comments, and do let us know if you would like to send us articles to share with the wider community!

Contributor: Sebastian Urrea

I came into Ludo 2016 as a newcomer, not knowing quite what to expect. I was coming down from an extraordinary experience visiting London and the surrounding area during the week leading up to the conference, and I was excited to see what it would be like. I didn’t know anyone, I wasn’t in academia, hadn’t done research, and I didn’t have any papers to present. I just loved video game music. I had studied music, and enjoyed theory and musicology, and had applied it to video game music on my own. I was thrilled when I learned that there were others who were doing similar things in an academic setting. I had been planning a trip that happened to align perfectly to allow me to be in England at the time of the conference. So on a whim I had registered, hoping to see what I could learn and who I could meet.

What I found exceeded my expectations in many ways. First, the papers. The presentations included discussions and examinations of a very diverse body of music, and everyone had a different way of examining their chosen interest. Papers included discussions of classic JRPGs and Nintendo games through old arcade games, indie games, hip hop, horror games, and new virtual reality games. Some papers looked backward, at history and culture, and some looked forward, to innovations in the field and new possibilities for integrating music and games. I learned about music that I had never really listened to (for instance, arcade music of the 70s and 80s), and I learned about new music that I didn’t even know about (Elise Plans and David Plans’ discussion on new developments in music and biofeedback in games makes me excited to see what the future of video game music holds).

At first I was disappointed that the presentations didn’t include more subjects with which I was familiar. But really, that would have been less interesting. I learned a lot more from the really diverse set of presentations than I would have otherwise. The topics discussed had a great balance across different aspects of video game music, and I am certain that anyone in attendance would have found things both familiar and new.

Amongst such diverse music, everyone focused on something different. Discussions ranged from the analytical (James Tate’s examination of the musical style of Jeremy Soule, or Morgan Hale’s analysis of the music of Undertale), to cultural/ethnomusicological (Hyeonjin Park’s discussion of musical representations of deserts across games, or Keith Hennigan’s critique of Irish music in video games), to technical (Blake Troise’s discussion of compositional techniques with NES hardware), and more. It made me really appreciate how diverse and expansive video game music really is, and how much opportunity there is to delve into different topics and explore and discover new things.

The choices of keynotes were excellent. Having someone like Andrew Barnabas in attendance with such a history of work in the industry was thrilling to everyone. It allowed for a bridge between the theoretical and academic to the practical, and was a good learning opportunity for everyone involved. It also gave rise to some great discussions (did you know he was responsible for adding the snippet of singing in “A Whole New World” in the video game version of Aladdin?). Neil Lerner’s talk of Pac-Man and its sounds was a great reminder of the technical aspects of video game music, and how it can be important to consider how they factor in to composition and production.

Spending time with everyone outside of presentations was equally as fun. Many of the attendees were already friends from previous conferences or from shared work. But most importantly, Ludo 2016 provided a friendly, open atmosphere to everyone involved. After all, we were all there because we were critically interested in a pretty geeky and new area of music, and this conference created a unique opportunity for everyone to explore that interest freely and openly. The fact that any of us could immediately go up to someone and express our interests, by saying something like, “Hey, have you played this game?” or “Did you ever listen to the soundtrack from this other game?” made for a really unique and refreshing experience. When presenting, the whole group was engaged in every talk, giving positive feedback and sharing knowledge from their own areas of specialty. And I think everyone who attended the pub trivia quiz night enjoyed being stumped by the questions that were just as diverse as the presentations that were given.

Looking back at the conference, my biggest takeaway is my impression that the field of video game music is really a lot broader than I had realized. I had my own interests that I had honed in on, but seeing so many people studying such a range of topics was inspiring. I left feeling that there is a lot of potential to be explored in studying music from a range of games larger than I had realized, and in ways that I had never even considered. I have a lot of faith in the people who attended the conference and who are dedicating themselves to studying it, each in their own way and with their own perspectives, and it makes me excited to see what the future of Ludomusicology will be as it continues to grow. I look forward to what future Ludo conferences will bring!

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