Bringing together the audio assets for a modern video game is a daunting and complicated task. There are artistic goals to reach, technical challenges, logistical issues and generally managing a team that will evolve over the project timeline.
Over the years, I’ve found that working in audio is much more about engineering a successful team than it is keeping a strict service provider/client relationship, and with that in mind, I’ve created nine tips to help you get better results.
Games are an incredibly versatile medium and will stand brave decisions. Making broad artistic statements is within the remit of your audio. Don’t be afraid to step outside of the norm and do something different. There are trends in game audio, as there are trends in pop music, This doesn’t mean that because ‘X’ does one particular kind of score doesn’t mean to say you have to. This is your art. Make statements and, especially at the project beginnings, don’t be afraid to get it wrong in the pursuit of something right.
Keeping clear communication paths between the creative and implementation teams is crucial. The early discussions outlining the goals of the game production and assets are the fun parts. Write everything down and do everything to make sure all of the decision makers are satisfied with where things are going throughout.
3. SPREAD THE LOVE
If somebody is doing something great, tell them. You get a lot out of anybody through support and endorsing all those great things people do, but creative types respond and appreciate it even more. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But when we’re down in the trenches trying to get stuff finished there seems to be a bias towards a ‘this is not working’ mentality.
4. YOU BUY CHEAP, YOU BUY TWICE
Whether its buying speakers for a studio, implementing acoustic treatment, hiring composers, recording gunshots, mixing product or slaving on audio post production, keeping an eye on the pennies is sensible. However making decisions based on the cheapest option is flawed. There is always someone prepared to undercut but that’s absolutely useless if the end result just isn’t up to par.
5. STRIVE FOR EXCELLENCE
If ‘who will notice?’ was ever justifiable in making key decisions then we’d all be listening to Katy Perry – all of the time – in mono. Within your product boundaries, whether your are a composer, script writer, game producer or audio coder, strive for the best.
Sometimes we have to wear many hats, especially in tight budget situations. Wherever possible it’s a good idea to get key individuals to manage each facet of your production. For example, composing isn’t sound mixing as much as script writing isn’t acting. The best in any field are those who’ve spent a career lifetime sculpting their professional performance. It would be a broad polymath indeed that could cover every area in sound production to an expert standard.
7. INVEST IN YOURSELF, INVEST IN OTHERS
As a composer or audio producer you need the tools to do the job. Those tools can be instruments, software and appropriate hardware. If you’re mixing audio you should have a set of tools and an environment capable of meeting the exacting requirements the role demands; a great room, great monitors and your own great abilities.
Equally, it’s of great long-term benefit to use other people to fill in skill gaps. For example, when it comes to audio it’s useful to use the services of a professional mastering engineer to finalize productions. Those independent ears are extremely useful and we owe it to the project to bring that level of care.
8. BE CAUTIOUS ON THE QUICK PATH
In music production I’m a firm believer that grabbing loops of Loops CDs and adding a funky MIDI piano is, frankly, a bit lame. Be bothered to go the extra mile in looking for new sounds or textures. Unless the particular music track is supposed to have a ‘programmed drum’ feel then get a drummer in. Book time in a studio and record real drums, guitars with amps, pianos, strings etcetera. Do whatever you can to make your recordings/productions/compositions stand out from the crowd.
9. THE MUSIC SUPERVISOR MAGIC
This special breed of audio folk really can make the difference to your production when it comes to selecting existing music and negotiating exciting collaborations with known artists. They are on the frontline on a daily basis dealing with labels, publishers and managers and can secure great exclusives and culturally relevant soundtracks to your game.