Getting your music in games!!!. The beginners' guide
Updated: Apr 4
While waiting for a breakthrough in TV shows or movies is every musician’s dream, the video game industry is becoming a far bigger deal than that. This is evident from the fact that it is much more difficult landing a song in a video game than in a film. There are a number of industries that make use of music to supplement their product, but the video game industry is by far the quickest to grow. Moreover, the combined growth of online video games, PC, console, and portable games has also grown significantly over the last decade.
As the industry keeps getting saturated, many musicians face growing competition when it comes to landing a placement. Therefore, if you are a composer looking to work your way into it, this article will help you optimize your chances to get placed.
Work Your Network
Networking does not refer to sending emails every now and then, but rather going to actual events and meeting real people. Game jams, conferences, and meet up groups should be on your “go-to” list at all times. These events are sure to pave your way in the gaming world, given that you attend them often. Networking skills are vital for you to launch a career in the video game industry, and since video game developers are so widespread, you can easily land your first gig even in your local area.
However, networking is not a magical road to landing your music into a game. The real deal is how often you follow up with the ones you network with. People always keep shifting jobs or projects, so checking in with them and finding out what they are up to would only help you figure out what they want. The opportunities will only knock at your door if you have successfully planted a seed in their mind. Even though there is no way know when that could happen, chances are, they will happen if not within weeks, then within months or years as opposed to not happening at all.
Do Your Research on the Game
The best part about the gaming industry is that your popularity as a musician is not proportionate to the kind of video games you will land in. Even if it is a huge game, many developers recruit anywhere between an independent musician with average popularity to huge bands with record-breaking statistics.
However, that does not mean you should aim for anything as someone who has just started out. Composing for a small independent game would give you a better chance of reflecting on your songwriting skills and on the dos and don’ts for the future. Featuring in a game as huge as Call of Duty, for example, would require you to be exceptional.
What a game needs mostly depends on its genre and style. Several games like Guitar Hero, for example, focus on licensed music while many contain a mix of original as well as licensed music. Therefore once you do your research on what the other party is looking for, you will save not only your time but also theirs.
Find Renowned Gaming Platforms/Channels
The best way to find streaming channels that use a certain type of music is to start out with smaller ones first. The right gaming channels can be found by their total views, total subscribers, and keywords. Going for the bigger fish is a better idea once you have at least something under your belt.
Evaluate the Music They Use
Channels relevant to video games come in various different capacities. Some focus on gaming tips while others on unboxing new games. Then there are also some that focus on the live gameplay for the latest games in the market. Since the channels are so diverse in their content and approach, they also have a different vibe.
Once you have a decent set of channels to analyze, look into the music they choose for their content and identify how it suits the vibe. Notice how much of a song they use, or whether they use complete songs or instrumentals. Figure out the genre of the song. Once you have analyzed the given factors, it would be much easier to decide if your music fits there. Remember, time is money, and it definitely isn’t worth wasting on channels that do not use the music of your genre.
How to Create a Successful Pitch
Pitching requires you to be sure about everything a channel of your choice could need. If you have a channel you are interested in, it is quite easy to find out their contact details through online search engines. However, a pitch should generally include an artist’s brief bio, contact details, and a portfolio of their work.
A portfolio is usually inclusive of links to access your best tracks, relevant songs, and prior placements in gaming or sync, etc. Even if they do not accept your work, it would surely foster a healthy relationship with anyone you pitch to and would also enhance your chances of getting pitched with someone else they might know. Rejection does not mean there is no chance of them reaching out to you in the future. This, too, depends on how well a relationship has been established.
As a musician, you must understand that the role of your work or your music, to be specific, is not to win a trophy or take center stage. Instead, it is to make a gamer’s experience better as they play a game. The more you are interested in enhancing the overall vision of the entire project and not just on getting your placement, the better it would be for you. More and more supervisors would take the hint of your professionalism and would want to incorporate your work into their project.
Having your music placed or used in a video game is just a single part of your plan as a musician. If you land a large-scale project, it can surely lead to great returns; however, ultimately, it’s better if it is a part of the marketing strategy instead of your primary source of income. The more research you do, the better rapport you develop, which will eventually lead to more meetings behind the scenes, ultimately landing you your placement.
Don’t Make the Job Harder
As licensors and supervisors are already flooded with thousands of submissions every day, they can only go through enough of them, given that there are limited hours in a day. The only way to have them take a look at your submission as early as possible is to make it easier for them to listen to and access your music. Instead of sending demos, send them your best quality work that you feel is all set for licensing. Supervisors are also more likely to listen to your songs if your website seems clear to them. Also, ensure that the paperwork is in place and make sure to distinguish who has what ownership before track submission.
Follow up, but Not Too Much
Following up a normal amount is always encouraged; however, you must always avoid spamming their inbox because chances are you will not hear back again. Always be open to suggestions relevant to editing or improving your songs to fit their channel.
Being flexible is also a trait valued in this occupation and could prove to be your golden ticket for placement. Moreover, your professionalism would keep your name in their minds for any future reference. All in all, over 15 percent of YouTube content is concerned with video games. In fact, some gaming-related channels have the highest number of subscribers worldwide, which is enough for you to hold on to the world of possibilities lying ahead for you.
Don’t Be Afraid to Take Inspiration
Sometimes, a lot of “lightbulb” moments can help you learn a great deal about the industry. A lightbulb moment is anything that you catch up or learn in an instant by paying attention and being influenced by relevant people around you.
More often than not, what you learn as a musician is often an inspiration that you subconsciously or consciously get from someone else. It can be through legends of the past like “The Beatles,” for example, or anyone you take your inspiration from in the present.
Even the big names in the industry today had taken inspiration from someone before them. For the better or, the worse, somehow or the other musicians end up becoming combinations of their influences.
The more you analyze and transcribe a song, you keep assimilating the vocabulary of that composer into your work. Transcription helps greatly in gathering musical vocabulary. It is easy to identify clichés that are genre-specific through transcription. There is always enough to learn with regular transcription, even if you have composed hundreds of songs.
Learn the Basics
As a composer, you would need material to go online such as a plugin to create a song, chord progressions, algorithms for generating melody, etc. Even though they would help stimulate your imagination, they wouldn’t take you far unless you have a solid mastery of the basics.
Therefore, before the plugins and theory techniques distract you, learn the fundamentals of melody, harmony, arrangement, and production. Once you have enough grasp of the composition part, focus on the fundamentals of game development and go on to build a volume of work. Once you have perfected your workflow, it is time to be involved in game jams.
How Are Composers Chosen?
From the point of view of various insiders, there is a certain approach for choosing composers in the gaming industry. It all starts internally when developers speak to their studio and find out what the game would need or want. Following that, the budget is evaluated. Based on that, people are shortlisted, and their work is shared with the studio as well as internal producers. The list is further narrowed down, after which their availability is checked. If the budget works well with the composer and if their work goes well with the game, that is when the matter proceeds.
What Musical Styles Are Preferred for Video Games?
Most people prefer instrumentals; therefore, most music is sent out as an instrumental and full album. Video games tend to have music ranging from genres that are aggressive and hard to hip hop and electronic.
Can You Get Placement Without a Track Record?
Musicians can get their way into video games even if they do not have a track record. They can simply put a reel together by pulling some images off YouTube. For example, a small clip of a game can be taken and muted for the musician to add their own score to it. On the other hand, if a musician feels that their skill set would suit a certain project, they should definitely approach companies that are doing something similar.
Search and find out what the annual titles of publishers are to give you an idea of their activities for the following year. It is also possible to find out which publisher was involved in a particular game by simply googling it. The industry may be competitive, but it is still small enough to find out about relevant people.
What Skills and Personal Qualities Does a Video Game Composer Need?
The best and the only skill a composer for video games needs is to write music, which is worth investing in. An additional skill that is not mandatory but would greatly help is to be a video gamer yourself and to be aware of the video game culture.
Someone who has a tad bit of experience with the gaming world would be able to understand the variety that exists and would also be able to use their scoring skills well. For example, if a composer has a background with orchestral work, they can make use of it in a game with a cinematic quality.
In terms of the personal qualities of a video game composer, there is no set of defined qualities; however, it has always worked well for people who are able to socialize, as opposed to being introvert. Moreover, one needs to be hardworking, creative, confident, and self-motivated.
Being a little insane is also something that adds a spark to your work because composing is often defined as a lonely art that requires you to live in your head often. All in all, if you have confidence and are able to make creative choices, you are in luck.
When it comes to training and education, a video game composer does not exactly require a formal degree to put in their resume. However, they must have a solid concept and understanding of scoring techniques relevant to traditional music, such as composition and orchestration. Moreover, having a good grip on recording software is a bonus.
Therefore, a video game composer may not need formal degrees but learning their craft is the key. However, a fact that is often ignored but still remains apparent is how it is so easy to create music using technology that composers do not put in much effort. To go ahead in any field, it is a must to enhance your skills regardless of technological advances and learn something new every day.
How Can a Catalog Be Used?
Full back catalogs are mostly left unheard as there isn’t any clarity on where to start unless there is a focus tracks list. It is a good idea to provide solid links, such as links to SoundCloud, for example. It is easy to skip the songs, and they can also be downloaded if necessary.
Musicians should be able to prove that they own the song, they wrote it, and they should also mention the names of any co-writers involved in the process. If all the puzzle pieces fit right, paperwork can be done without any trouble.
Licensing Songs For Video Games
Licensing is a process that allows or gives permission to a developer or a company to use your work. Once the composition part is done, it is a good idea to start as it clears your head on what you would like to achieve. However, keep your expectations flexible at the start.
Licensing can be done through a third party or even by yourself. However, make sure to take advice if you are completely on your own. If one day, a video game starts soaring in popularity and you have already given all the rights to a party for an amount close to peanuts, you are going to regret it.
It is also equally important to be very rational in the initial stages of your career. Doing a bit of research online would give you a quick idea on matters pertaining to credits, term limits, royalties, or any other method of payment.
The benefit of having a third party do it for you is that it would take care of the legal aspect on your behalf. They may also help you get your music to a bigger audience. However, like any other service, you will also be required to pay a certain amount for it.
Finding Video Game Developers
There is no lack of composers or developers in the world of video games, which makes it more challenging to find the right match. However, you can assist in the entire process by working on the genre of games your music goes well with and then looking for companies that make this video genre.
You can contact the developer or company directly and offer your music in a way that would enhance their product. Make sure to keep your communication precise and clear and send a sample that can be downloaded easily.
If you choose to get your product licensed by a third party, there may be many more options to choose from. Developers will also find you easily that way. The third way is to submit your music to a library. This may be a way to get your music out there, but you will have to give up any composition rights over it.
How to Submit Your Music
If you are already availing services of a third party, then as soon as the contract is made, they will assist the entire process. However, if you manage to find the client on your own and if you both agree on the given terms, communicate further about the technical side.
Do keep in mind that professionals are not always available and would prefer spending time with you only if you are able to get your composition to them accurately. They wouldn’t appreciate waiting until you get it right.
What’s the Range for Compensation?
The range of compensation depends on the size and the overall expectation from the game. Some games do not require a huge composer’s name attached to them, while some do. Due to so many different levels, the per-minute rate can go anywhere between 500 to many thousand dollars. When it comes to the license, depending on whether a game is rhythm or music based, musicians may get a penny-rate royalty. A song license, however, is subjective, and depending on who the artist is and what scene they have in the game, they can be paid anywhere between low four to high five figures.
Go With the Flow
In the end, whether you would like it or not, there is a big caveat that you cannot control certain factors in this career. Often times, one opportunity leads to another and then another. But that does not mean you should not have goals. Being clear about what you want from your career will help you pick out the right opportunities and let go of the rest.
All in all, due to many factors beyond our control, it is impossible to know where one can land in one career. This is because the industry is too scrappy and young to be predictable, so it is okay to go along with the ride.