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A comprehensive, practical guide to composing video game music, from acquiring the necessary skills to finding work in the field. Music in video games is often a sophisticated, complex composition that serves to engage the player, set the pace of play, and aid interactivity. Composers of video game music must master an array of specialized skills not taught in the conservat A comprehensive, practical guide to composing video game music, from acquiring the necessary skills to finding work in the field. Music in video games is often a sophisticated, complex composition that serves to engage the player, set the pace of play, and aid interactivity. Composers of video game music must master an array of specialized skills not taught in the conservatory, including the creation of linear loops, music chunks for horizontal resequencing, and compositional fragments for use within a generative framework. In A Composer's Guide to Game Music, Winifred Phillips--herself an award-winning composer of video game music--provides a comprehensive, practical guide that leads an aspiring video game composer from acquiring the necessary creative skills to understanding the function of music in games to finding work in the field. Musicians and composers may be drawn to game music composition because the game industry is a multibillion-dollar, employment-generating economic powerhouse, but, Phillips writes, the most important qualification for a musician who wants to become a game music composer is a love of video games. Phillips offers detailed coverage of essential topics, including musicianship and composition experience; immersion; musical themes; music and game genres; workflow; working with a development team; linear music; interactive music, both rendered and generative; audio technology, from mixers and preamps to software; and running a business. A Composer's Guide to Game Music offers indispensable guidance for musicians and composers who want to deploy their creativity in a dynamic and growing industry, protect their musical identities while working in a highly technical field, and create great music within the constraints of a new medium.


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A comprehensive, practical guide to composing video game music, from acquiring the necessary skills to finding work in the field. Music in video games is often a sophisticated, complex composition that serves to engage the player, set the pace of play, and aid interactivity. Composers of video game music must master an array of specialized skills not taught in the conservat A comprehensive, practical guide to composing video game music, from acquiring the necessary skills to finding work in the field. Music in video games is often a sophisticated, complex composition that serves to engage the player, set the pace of play, and aid interactivity. Composers of video game music must master an array of specialized skills not taught in the conservatory, including the creation of linear loops, music chunks for horizontal resequencing, and compositional fragments for use within a generative framework. In A Composer's Guide to Game Music, Winifred Phillips--herself an award-winning composer of video game music--provides a comprehensive, practical guide that leads an aspiring video game composer from acquiring the necessary creative skills to understanding the function of music in games to finding work in the field. Musicians and composers may be drawn to game music composition because the game industry is a multibillion-dollar, employment-generating economic powerhouse, but, Phillips writes, the most important qualification for a musician who wants to become a game music composer is a love of video games. Phillips offers detailed coverage of essential topics, including musicianship and composition experience; immersion; musical themes; music and game genres; workflow; working with a development team; linear music; interactive music, both rendered and generative; audio technology, from mixers and preamps to software; and running a business. A Composer's Guide to Game Music offers indispensable guidance for musicians and composers who want to deploy their creativity in a dynamic and growing industry, protect their musical identities while working in a highly technical field, and create great music within the constraints of a new medium.

30 review for A Composer's Guide to Game Music

  1. 4 out of 5

    David

    This book offers guidance to composers who are interested in writing music for video games. The author, Winifred Phillips, is a very accomplished game composer. She has many important credits to her name. I recently watched a video of an interview of her at a game music convention. She comes across as a very articulate, authoritative figure. Her book is very interesting, but difficult to read. It's not that is filled with technical jargon--she explains all of the terms very well, without coming a This book offers guidance to composers who are interested in writing music for video games. The author, Winifred Phillips, is a very accomplished game composer. She has many important credits to her name. I recently watched a video of an interview of her at a game music convention. She comes across as a very articulate, authoritative figure. Her book is very interesting, but difficult to read. It's not that is filled with technical jargon--she explains all of the terms very well, without coming across as condescending in any way. But her writing style is rather academic and dry. So, if you are interested in this subject, my recommendation is to read this book, by all means--but do not expect to be entertained. The book is very informative but not really engaging. The book is only 275 pages including references and index; I expected to read it quickly because I am truly interested in the subject--but it took quite a long time to read because of the book's dry style. The book is primarily about the psychological effects of music on game players. It does not delve deeply into the tools of composing. The chapter on workflow is about interactions with the game team, and does not delve into the workflow in the composer's studio. Winifred Phillips has a lot of excellent advice for game composers. For example, in the initial stage of a game, players might be overwhelmed by the game's complexity. Game composers should offer emotional reassurance to the player, and not increase player anxiety. Game music can offer hints to the player. For example, a decrescendo or the absence of music can lead a player to go elsewhere for the next action. Likewise, the introduction of a new musical motif can hint to a player that he is approaching a new area. Game music can identify two different states; combat and exploration. The book includes the results of a lot of psychological research into the effects of music. Music can distort our perception of time. For example, major keys, loud music, and fast tempos cause a listener to perceive time as moving slowly. Music in a minor key, atonal music, and complex music all tend to speed up the perception of time. The mood of music can support or oppose a player's perception of a visual scene. Upbeat, positive-mood music can widen a player's field of vision, while sad music can narrow it. A lighter mood can make a task seem more interesting. Winifred Phillips has many recommendations for game music composers. She suggests going to the MAGFest convention. She has suggestions for preventing repetition fatigue; changes in instrumentation, theme transformations, and theme fragmentation. She suggests perpetual development of themes to avoid the sensation of repetition. The book suggests the use of the Myer-Briggs personality test to study the demographics of game players, and the types of games that are attractive to different personality types; conquerors, managers, wanderers, and participants. She recommends that game composers request a number of documents from game producers; design documents, dialogue script, gameplay capture, concept art, storyboard, cinematics, game builds, and most important, the music asset list. This book is not intended for the average game player, or even for the multitude of lovers of game music. It really is intended for composers. There are not many similar books on this subject; I am not sure if there are any, in fact. I have read a number of books about the psychological research into the effects of music. But none of those books cover the same ground as this book. For this reason, I strongly recommend this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mark Poulsen

    An astonishing contribution to the field of Game Music. It provides a great overview of video games as a medium of expression and play, and how music works with such an interactive platform. It is also highly entertaining, and Phillips personal touch in the book adds to its quality. This book is for anyone interested in video games as an artistic platform of ludology, narratology and game design, and where music fits in that world. No music education is needed, and it is quite friendly for newco An astonishing contribution to the field of Game Music. It provides a great overview of video games as a medium of expression and play, and how music works with such an interactive platform. It is also highly entertaining, and Phillips personal touch in the book adds to its quality. This book is for anyone interested in video games as an artistic platform of ludology, narratology and game design, and where music fits in that world. No music education is needed, and it is quite friendly for newcomers.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jon Budd

    A few of the other lower rated reviews convey my points already, so I won't delve too deeply - but bottom line, I'm just not sure who this book is for. Phillips discusses both music and video games in a way that seems to assume that the reader isn't very familiar with either, and it makes it a difficult read for someone very familiar with both. I was hoping for a deeper dive into her workflow, some insight into her past successes and failures, and some recommendations for audio software and reco A few of the other lower rated reviews convey my points already, so I won't delve too deeply - but bottom line, I'm just not sure who this book is for. Phillips discusses both music and video games in a way that seems to assume that the reader isn't very familiar with either, and it makes it a difficult read for someone very familiar with both. I was hoping for a deeper dive into her workflow, some insight into her past successes and failures, and some recommendations for audio software and recommended listening. As it stands, the book doesn't provide any of that - it mostly gives a very high-level overview of various aspects of games and music, and that just doesn't make sense as a treatment for such a niche topic. On top of that, I just didn't jive with the writing style - there are a lot of bits of flowery writing and unnecessary metaphors, and it just feels like she was trying to pad the book's length. I also think that this subject matter could be better conveyed in an interactive medium online, with audio samples to listen to, perhaps some drafts and finished versions of compositions, etc - but that's just a limitation of the medium of a book, so this isn't a ding on the book so much as an observation.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Matt Buckley

    At once practical and inspiring As someone who grew up with a nearly equal love for both video games and music, I have long desired to marry the two passions with a career in video game music composition. I’m entrenched in the goings-on in the games industry, and I’ve been a practicing composer for the majority of my life, but I’ve never known quite where to start when it comes to actually putting music in a game. A Composer’s Guide to Game Music feels aimed directly at my archetype. It’s a crash At once practical and inspiring As someone who grew up with a nearly equal love for both video games and music, I have long desired to marry the two passions with a career in video game music composition. I’m entrenched in the goings-on in the games industry, and I’ve been a practicing composer for the majority of my life, but I’ve never known quite where to start when it comes to actually putting music in a game. A Composer’s Guide to Game Music feels aimed directly at my archetype. It’s a crash course for composers who feel a deep desire to bring their craft to the gaming medium. It concentrates on passion and dogged determination while also explaining aspects as specific as necessary software and elevator pitches. Upon finishing the book, I came away with ideas, confidence, and direction. I feel a fire has been lit and I may actually know where to go from here. This is a near mandatory read for anyone even considering entering the game music composition field. Start here, folks.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David

    In "A Composer's Guide to Game Music" (MIT Press), Winifred Phillips discusses all aspects of a career in creating music for video games. On the business end, she discusses interacting with development teams, self-promotion, and generating leads. Business is necessary but boring, so that's all I'll say on this. On the technical side, she discusses how to grow your home gear (DAWs, Plug-ins, audio interfaces, etc.) and set up a workflow. Lots of opportunity to dive into techno-religious wars here, In "A Composer's Guide to Game Music" (MIT Press), Winifred Phillips discusses all aspects of a career in creating music for video games. On the business end, she discusses interacting with development teams, self-promotion, and generating leads. Business is necessary but boring, so that's all I'll say on this. On the technical side, she discusses how to grow your home gear (DAWs, Plug-ins, audio interfaces, etc.) and set up a workflow. Lots of opportunity to dive into techno-religious wars here, but she always speaks in positive terms about tradeoffs, and without a hint of bias. She compares (at a high level) Wwise, FMOD, and XACT, the middleware that embeds compositions into game-interactive frameworks (all of which were new to me). But what made the book worth reading was how she communicates her approach to, and her experience of, composing game music. I didn't exactly learn new ways to compose, but it was the first time I'd heard bits of my own internal compositional narrative (if you will) explained back to me. I had thought these private and difficult to express, but she does so effortlessly. She's given me hints at a grammar with which to begin practicing how to explain them to others. Winifred hits on a smattering of composing topics: themes (leitmotif, idee fixe, etc.), "music as audience" (music that comments on the player's actions), diegetic music, generative music, stingers, etc. But with most topics, one of her primary concerns is avoiding potential sources of game music repetition fatigue. Any kind of repeating music needs to be carefully constructed to avoid landmarks "that would alert listeners to the looping nature of the work". This is challenging for short works that have global scope: "our goal as game composers will be to create stingers that feel intimately connected with the rest of the game score, rising out of the general music texture that has characterized the whole game". She explores endowing a loop with "the capacity to include so many different expressions of thematic material, it would subtly overload the listener, causing the sections to blend together in the mind and become less readily recognizable." The most useful compositional insights are found in her chapter covering horizontal re-sequencing and vertical layering -- skill sets nearly unique to video game composers. She writes, "Once the decisions were made regarding what instruments would be featured in which layers, I could begin actual composition. Composing a track for vertical layering requires a peculiar mindset on the part of the video game composer. Instead of composing a single piece of music, we are essentially composing several coexisting musical works. Each layer needs to have its moments to shine, but not at the expense of the others. Ideally, the foreground content of a layer should behave opportunistically, nimbly jumping into the gaps occurring in the foreground content of the other layers." She ties most concepts back to concrete examples within recognizable game titles, often with a few bars of supporting sheet music. Readers can't help but think of their own gaming examples. The vertical layering and stinger discussions had me thinking of 'Peggle 2' (2013), where all the in-game events add point-in-time musical content to the score (matching the key and mode). Or of 'The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword' (2011), where playing the harp produces arpeggios that match the shifting key of the background music. Or in 'Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy' (2003), where sword strikes ring out as orchestral strikes that align with the fight music, and create tonal resolution on the final winning strike. These little nuances create a far more immersive experience, even when not perceived directly by less musically-attuned gamers. It's rare that I have someone to discuss music creation with, so it's nice to find books now and then where authors talks about their creative experiences in an easy conversational style. I'll close out with a few examples of Winifred doing just that: On background research into unfamiliar genres: "We can't write in a musical genre that we hate. Either we turn down the gig or set aside our emotions and listen for some musical element in that genre that tickles our interest. If we listen carefully enough, there will always be some technique or effect that will intrigue us. Because we're composers, music by its every nature is fascinating to us. We can't help but find some kernel of cleverness in any musical genre. In fact, we should look on the whole process as an enjoyable treasure hunt." On constraint-based composing: "Limitations don't have to stand in the way of composing meaningful and artistic music. They may guide us in unanticipated directions, coaxing inspired musical choices from us that might not have otherwise occurred to us." On gear: "My personal philosophy is that if a piece of technology stimulates my musical creativity, I'll be open to buying it. But if it seems more geared toward my inner audio engineer, I'll keep my money in my pocket. I don't want to be spending hours tinkering with a piece of gear. Technology should do its job and stay out of the way. That being said, if I find a piece of software or equipment that is capable of delivering something I desperately want for a project, I'll be willing to spend an inordinate amount of time finessing and fiddling with it. I own one software application that shall remain nameless and that I regularly curse to the skies. It has an unintuitive interface, unpredictable operation, and a tendency to crash. Despite this, I still use it because I love the sound, and there's nothing else on the market like it. This doesn't mean that I'm not keeping a watchful eye for a replacement, though."

  6. 4 out of 5

    100 More!

    This is a high 3 1/2 stars, so I'm rounding up. This is something of a niche book, but it's a great read for the niche it fills. Others have stated that it is filled with some common sense knowledge, but I would argue that it only seems like common sense after it has already been stated, and that much of this information - even if seemingly intuitive - has value in being simply expressed on a page. Click here to hear more: https://soundcloud.com/geo-flores-709... This is a high 3 1/2 stars, so I'm rounding up. This is something of a niche book, but it's a great read for the niche it fills. Others have stated that it is filled with some common sense knowledge, but I would argue that it only seems like common sense after it has already been stated, and that much of this information - even if seemingly intuitive - has value in being simply expressed on a page. Click here to hear more: https://soundcloud.com/geo-flores-709...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    I'm not a music/sound person but I read this for a research paper for a sound design class and really enjoyed it. As a gamer I found the roles and functions of sound design especially interesting.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Wallabdi Snockburst

    a pretty good intro if you're at least intro level. Way better than the porcupine (although exquisitely dehydrated) alternative my course administered; 'On the track'.

  9. 5 out of 5

    BCS

    Writing music for computer games offers a unique set of challenges to composers, and good game music, it seems, can acquire a fan following in its own right. Written by an experienced game music composer, this book is a whistle-stop tour of a variety of topics relating to writing music for games. Although the overall chapter structure tends to wander between topics, the book’s content can be broadly categorised into three key themes: The first theme considers the individual’s role as a game compos Writing music for computer games offers a unique set of challenges to composers, and good game music, it seems, can acquire a fan following in its own right. Written by an experienced game music composer, this book is a whistle-stop tour of a variety of topics relating to writing music for games. Although the overall chapter structure tends to wander between topics, the book’s content can be broadly categorised into three key themes: The first theme considers the individual’s role as a game composer. Beginning with a general description of the motivation and skills required of a game composer, the book gives an orientation to game genres and terminology as well as practical advice on integrating with a (possibly remote) game development team. Based on her own experiences, the author outlines the typical organisation of game development teams and processes, and describes the composer’s involvement with them. There is an overview of the various kinds of musical assets that a game development team may request, along with the materials a composer may require from the development team. The author provides practical advice on establishing and promoting oneself as a game music composer. The second major theme of the book is an exploration of some of the principal relationships that exist between games, their music and their players. Here the author describes some of the important roles and functions of music within game environments. The author explores the use of music in assisting players in becoming immersed in the game as well as the importance of musical themes as aural signposts. There is also a brief review of two key pieces of research, which together attempt to correlate game genres with the musical preferences of typical players. The third theme overviews various technical aspects involved in game music composition. The discussions include practical approaches to common game music challenges as well as brief descriptions of prototypical musical assets, such as loops, stingers and one-shot tracks. There is a good overview of various types of game music systems, including interactive systems, and the impact of these systems on the composer. Finally, the book contains a brief guide to common composition tools and technologies and offers hints on building a studio. While I found this to be an enjoyable read, I thought that the music composition content was rather simplistic and likely to be familiar to the target readership. Since the narrative cites many example game music tracks to which the reader may not have access, I think the book may have benefitted from audio examples perhaps on CD or on the books website. Reviewed by Patrick Hill CEng MBCS CITP

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mark Jones

    I found this book to be a chore to read for a variety of reasons that are not all exactly faults if considered independently, but leave me somewhat confused as to who the author's target audience is, and exactly what she is trying to teach us. I think my major issue with this book is the quality of the writing: her words just roll listlessly past my eyes, paragraph after paragraph of dry, emotionless text. Her passion for the subject is buried within those words, but it feels sterilised and strip I found this book to be a chore to read for a variety of reasons that are not all exactly faults if considered independently, but leave me somewhat confused as to who the author's target audience is, and exactly what she is trying to teach us. I think my major issue with this book is the quality of the writing: her words just roll listlessly past my eyes, paragraph after paragraph of dry, emotionless text. Her passion for the subject is buried within those words, but it feels sterilised and stripped of the energy and magic that could have been there. One could argue that the author is writing in an academic style, but her constant references to her own work makes her writing seems very insular and short-sighted: in academic writing, you seek validation for your assertions and ideas through analysis of other published works - and yet there is the pernicious taint of conceit bleeding into her words, as opposed to the confidence of well-referenced academic writing. I see what she is trying to achieve, but I feel that this book is only really suited to somebody with minimal knowledge of both video games and music, but an interest in pursuing a career in composing for games... If such a person exists, I would have to ask where their desire to compose comes from, and why they are so interested in video games... I just don't think there are many such people, and consequently, I don't think that there are many people who would find this book useful.

  11. 4 out of 5

    João Mascarenhas

    This is a great book for everyone in the videogames industry. Obviously good for composers/musicians, it covers everything we need to know, so I'll skip that part. Not only as a composer but also as a gamer I really feel many indie game developers need to know more about music for games. They need to see the importance that the music and sound has and that they won't go far by using some random sounds/music they find online or that some friend does. It's a job to someone that knows what he's doi This is a great book for everyone in the videogames industry. Obviously good for composers/musicians, it covers everything we need to know, so I'll skip that part. Not only as a composer but also as a gamer I really feel many indie game developers need to know more about music for games. They need to see the importance that the music and sound has and that they won't go far by using some random sounds/music they find online or that some friend does. It's a job to someone that knows what he's doing and that's more than making music. Music for games is very specific, it's something that can make gamers feel the immersion or not. You can't feel it if you are on a FPS horror and the steps sound like heels. You can't feel it if you are on a fast paced shooter and the music does not follow the rhythm. And that's it, I see a lot of mistakes audio related and that's why I wrote this kind of review. Please stop it with midi music that sounds like 1994. So as I said, I recommend this book for everyone in the videogames industry that want to take it further.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Junior

    This book explores a variety of useful topics within the composition of game music. Particularly helpful is an examination of game music's modular possibilities, from strategies on creating seamless loops that don't get dull to ideas on deploying layers within an arrangement to complement the player's experience. There's also a handy rundown of standard staff roles at a game company and some info on how the composer will usually interact with all these folks as the process moves forward. A worth This book explores a variety of useful topics within the composition of game music. Particularly helpful is an examination of game music's modular possibilities, from strategies on creating seamless loops that don't get dull to ideas on deploying layers within an arrangement to complement the player's experience. There's also a handy rundown of standard staff roles at a game company and some info on how the composer will usually interact with all these folks as the process moves forward. A worthwhile read for anyone interested in entering the profession of game music.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ross

    Winifred Phillips's handbook is a straightforward and engaging text, and as a composer who is considering pivoting towards video game music, I found her careful balance of auditory research, industry practices, and advice (both technical and musical) eye-opening and helpful. Most of all, I appreciated her sincere belief in game music's art value, which she uses as a refreshing touchstone throughout her book. Rarely have I read a technical guide with so much gusto!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jon Bash

    I probably would have enjoyed this book a lot more if I had actually finished it when I bought it two years ago. By this point I've heard most of its points from other sources, or it's just common sense, and the writing style doesn't make the rehash very engaging. I imagine it would be extremely helpful for folks getting out of high school or even college (or those who don't have as much familiarity with the inner workings of the industry) and looking for a path to take.

  15. 5 out of 5

    James Mason

    A few interesting tips, but highly redundant -- written like a high school essay almost. The 200 pages could've been reduced by about half, but then that wouldn't be a book... so... filler. Most the boiled down content is just common sense. The most interesting bits were hearing specifics about the author's journey as a new game composer.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Chris P.

    Awesome book! Very informative for those wanting to get into writing music for games.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mindaugas

  18. 5 out of 5

    David Ross

  19. 5 out of 5

    David

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tomás Grau Baena

  21. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Wilhelm

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tam

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ivan Duch

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Stewart

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tom Rees

  26. 4 out of 5

    J.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alvaro

  28. 4 out of 5

    alain

  29. 5 out of 5

    Otto

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

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