Getting into game music: The experts speak

Musicians offer advice on starting out
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Aspiring composers must promote themselves to ensure they get work in the game industry, a panel of expert musicians said at Game Music Connect on Wednesday.

Thomas Was Alone composer David Housden said the only way to do the job was by striking out by yourself, as there were very few entry-level jobs at studios for aspiring musicians.

He noted that after graduating from university, he sent out 200 tailored emails to companies across the industry for a job, and only received three replies. Two of these were rejections, and the other was an interview opportunity, though he ultimately failed to land that position.

Eventually however, he began working on a project with an indie developer on a game “not many people knew of at the time”. The developer of the title was Mike Bithell, and his work on Thomas Was Alone ended up earning him a BAFTA nomination. He’s also now continued work with Bithell on his follow-up game, Volume.

The Chinese Room director Jessica Curry, who scored Dear Esther, said young composers need to network with the industry to pick up projects and recommended going to local indie game developer pub nights.

She said quite often developers already knew who they wanted to compose their titles, so it was important to network and build relationships to increase the chance of getting called upon for a project in future.

Curry also advised young musicians that trade bodies were worth joining, as they could help people in the industry get to conferences.

She later added that the game sector was a small industry, and a person’s reputation would precede them, advising young musicians to be personable, punctual and polite, otherwise they would struggle to get hired.

In reference to taking on small indie projects, Tomb Raider and Dead Space series composer Jason Graves said: “It's a matter of getting to know the right people in the right place. It's not the most financially lucrative, but that's not the point,” adding it was the chance to be creative and build a reputation that mattered.

Another piece of advice to come out the panel was that musicians needed to accrue knowledge about the game development process. As Olivier Deriviere, the man who scored Remember Me, said, developers often don’t know anything about music, but would respond to composers who spoke their language – programming and development.

He added this doesn’t mean musicians need to learn how to code, but a basic knowledge of the process would prove invaluable.

BioShock Infinite composer Garry Schyman meanwhile said the key to success was passion, as it could take many years before big projects come in.

“What you need is real passion to do this. There's going to be a lot of nos before you get to yes,” he said.

“You really have to want to do this very badly, and really want to put in maybe a decade worth of effort building your career before you can start making a living out of it.”

Cool Music Group CEO Darrell Alexander concurred, stating young musicians don’t realise how much work they have to do outside of composing, and they need the passion to get their work out there and act as their own agent early on.

“The way to get in on this business is through passion,” said Alexander. “You have to go to everything, and send your music to everything.

“Just because you think you know how to compose, you haven’t started yet. Getting work is one of the most difficult things in the business.”

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