Creative Careers: Video Game Scoring

by Ayanna Jacobs-El

Video games are a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States, projected to generate a revenue of $108.9 billion for the 2017 year. The games that are included in this revenue stream are AAA-releases (games with the highest development budgets and levels of promotion) such as Halo, PC platformer games such as League of Legends, and mobile games such as Candy Crush Saga. Mobile games are estimated to generate 42% of the total Video Game Industry revenue.

I am not a gamer myself, so I never considered the possibility of working as a composer for video games when I first started studying at Berklee. I was introduced to the world of game scoring when I was looking into the Film Scoring Major and saw Berklee’s Minor in Video Game Scoring. I was curious about the courses this minor included, and from there my interest in learning about this area grew.

Writing music for games can be more accessible to new composers than film because of the plethora of indie and mobile games. While these games tend to have lower budgets than AAA releases, the developers will be more open to bringing on a composer with less experience. You will also not have to compete with the A-list composers, who are enlisted to write music for the most popular games, and not so much for indie and mobile games, making your chances of employment much much higher.

Writing for games is exciting because you will have the chance to write music in a wide variety of genres, and your musical direction may need to have multiple outcomes depending on the gameplay situation. Music in games can also be a key element in the gameplay which could be a great opportunity to think like a game developer and become inventive with both your writing and sound design. Unlike films, games require a much larger amount of music and usually, the composer is given a much longer timeframe to create the music and is brought in earlier (during the game development process). In films, the composer starts writing music after the filming is completed as part of post-production.

Game audio composer and Professor Michael Sweet

I am currently wrapping up my second game scoring class with Professor Michael Sweet. Sweet is an accomplished game audio composer who has been the audio director for more than 100 games and is recognized for his continued innovation in music and sound. In his classes, he thoroughly covers the game composition process, technical aspects of game music, career tips and preparation.

The first class of the minor is FS-271: Analysis of Video Game Music Technique. In this course, students do not compose any music but learn about the game composition process, different types of interactive game music, basic game implementation methods, and study accomplished game composers scores and careers. The class I am currently in is FS-371: Interactive Scoring for Video Games. This course is when students begin to compose scores for four different types of games and learn typical game music workflow and approaches. This class provides a strong understanding of the skills and knowledge needed to be successful as a freelance game composer or an entry-level position at a game development company. The third course is FS-471: Advanced Scoring and Implementation for Video Games. This course covers advanced approaches to video game scoring and thoroughly covers audio implementation using middleware such as XACT, Wwise, and Fmod. Guest speakers are frequently brought into classes to offer a glimpse into the current game audio industry and  a part of this course is to collaborate with a student or indie game developer to create music for their game.

Game scoring offers a wide range of job and creative opportunities to composers. If you are interested in writing for TV or film it might be worthwhile to check out writing for games as well, because it will open up your career opportunities and may be something you would really enjoy!

ARE YOU INTERESTED IN COMPOSING FOR VIDEO GAMES? LET US KNOW WHY YOU CHOSE TO STUDY GAME SCORING IN THE COMMENTS!

About the Author

Ayanna Jacobs-El
Ayanna Jacobs-El is a composer, producer, songwriter, singer, alto and baritone saxophonist, and DJ dual majoring in Contemporary Writing and Production and Professional Music with a minor in Writing for TV and New Media. You can learn more about Ayanna and hear her music by visiting www.ayannajacobsel.com.