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How to start "from zero"? What steps to do to get into game music composing?

Leequalizer

New Member
Hey music-loving people,

I want to become a game music composer, but I have no idea where to start. In my head the only "plan" I have is making music to have some kind of portfolio to send it to small game studios and ask if they need a composer for a game. (How to find small indie companies in the first place?). Maybe I should also publish orchestral music somewhere to get an audience or somehow get recognised?
What other things do you recommend me to do to start a career?
As a sidenote: I also dont know how to handle stuff like PROs, when do I need this and when dont I?

My background: As a child and teen I was in a private music school and learned drums and orchestral percussion playing in multiple bands and orchestras for young people. I also learned the piano and guitar by myself.
After graduating from school (not music school, the normal education in Germany) I didnt really know waht to do with my life, what i wanted to do as my fulltime job, and started studying all kinds of stuff, but nothing gave me the satisfaction I was looking for. Some time ago I found the amazing possibility to have a whole orchestra in my DAW. As a passionate gamer I started to try out making themes for character and landscapes of my favorite games and books. And I really enjoyed that, so much that I want to try to do this as my job.

Here I am now hoping for your advice or links to answers to my questions. I just need a starting point, I am really lost.

Thanks in advance.
 

rnieto

Musical Mongrel
One of the best ways to get into game music is to become a "floater" composer at game jams.

A game jam is basically a bunch of development teams making games over a weekend, without a break. There is usually one sound designer and one composer (or a single sound designer/composer) providing all the music and sound for all of those games, kind of "floating" from one team to the next, working at a crazy fast pace to get everything done as best as possible before time runs out. Most major cities and many smaller cities host game jams regularly (except during covid-19 lockdowns, of course).

I've seen many composers and sound designers continue to work with some of those teams after the game jams and eventually release successful indie games.

At the same time, building a solid reel by rescoring gameplay videos from existing games and learning game audio middleware like Wwise or FMOD to design your own interactive music systems in them will help you in getting your foot in the door with smaller game studios looking for a composer for their project.

Here's your best resource for finding game studios: https://www.gamedevmap.com
 
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Leequalizer

Leequalizer

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One of the best ways to get into game music is to become a "floater" composer at game jams.

A game jam is basically a bunch of development teams making games over a weekend, without a break. There is usually one sound designer and one composer (or a single sound designer/composer) providing all the music and sound for all of those games, kind of "floating" from one team to the next, working at a crazy fast pace to get everything done as best as possible before time runs out. Most major cities and many smaller cities host game jams regularly (except during covid-19 lockdowns, of course).

I've seen many composers and sound designers continue to work with some of those teams after the game jams and eventually release successful indie games.

At the same time, building a solid reel by rescoring gameplay videos from existing games and learning game audio middleware like Wwise or FMOD to design your own interactive music systems in them will help you in getting your foot in the door with smaller game studios looking for a composer for their project.

Here's your best resource for finding game studios: https://www.gamedevmap.com
This was really helpful, much appreciated. Especially the link and the hint to middlewares! :)
 

rnieto

Musical Mongrel
You're welcome!

Videogames is a funny industry—for indie developers, there's really nothing stopping them from having a huge global hit and making a lot of money. Distribution platforms like Valve's Steam have really given small teams and their products a chance to be known worldwide, as long as they have a good idea well-executed. I find it's a much more level playing field for creators than film or TV.
 

shponglefan

Collector of sample libraries
Videogames is a funny industry—for indie developers, there's really nothing stopping them from having a huge global hit and making a lot of money. Distribution platforms like Valve's Steam have really given small teams and their products a chance to be known worldwide, as long as they have a good idea well-executed. I find it's a much more level playing field for creators than film or TV.

The corollary to this is that since the barrier to entry is low, there is far more competition in that field.

For every game that becomes a smash hit, there are thousands that nobody ever hears about. The harsh reality is that the vast majority of games don't make any money.
 

rnieto

Musical Mongrel
For every game that becomes a smash hit, there are thousands that nobody ever hears about. The harsh reality is that the vast majority of games don't make any money.

That's true of life in general—not everyone will succeed, that's just the way it is and it always has been. I don't believe in not doing something because the statistics say that it may not be a success.

My point is that games are much more of a meritocracy than other industries. If you have an amazing idea and a team that is dedicated and disciplined enough to make it into something cool, there's a good chance that it will be seen by many people, and that it will make money. The platforms are there and are available to everyone.
 

shponglefan

Collector of sample libraries
My point is that games are much more of a meritocracy than other industries. If you have an amazing idea and a team that is dedicated and disciplined enough to make it into something cool, there's a good chance that it will be seen by many people, and that it will make money. The platforms are there and are available to everyone.

Visibility still depends heavily on marketing though. The real successful games aren't just good, but have teams that use and abuse everything at their disposal to make themselves known.
 

rnieto

Musical Mongrel
Visibility still depends heavily on marketing though. The real successful games aren't just good, but have teams that use and abuse everything at their disposal to make themselves known.

I'm talking about games done by teams of two or three people, with zero marketing budget, that have gone to generate income in the mid six figures to low seven figures. That to me is a pretty successful indie game. I have met several of those teams personally over the years.

In the case of indie games, YouTube reviewers play a much larger role than Rotten Tomatoes does for films and TV. Self-promotion does help, but those guys do not have the money for a real marketing campaign.
 

marclawsonmusic

Senior Member
One recent game that meets this criteria is Phasmophobia... what a cool game and killer concept! And I think I heard it's just one developer.

Definitely sounds like a good opportunity to get music into early access games. But yes, they have to be well-executed. If they are... they can spread like wildfire.
 

shponglefan

Collector of sample libraries
I'm talking about games done by teams of two or three people, with zero marketing budget, that have gone to generate income in the mid six figures to low seven figures. That to me is a pretty successful indie game. I have met several of those teams personally over the years.

Those are the extremely rare exceptions. If you want an idea of how crowded the indie space is, just take a look at itch.io. There are over three hundred thousand games on there, with more being added continuously. The vast majority of those are not bringing home six to seven figures.

I feel like survivorship bias may cloud the reality of just how challenging creating a successful game really is. If it was easy to make games generating 6 to 7 figure incomes, lots more people would be doing it*.

(* Although by the sheer number of games out there, lots more people are trying to do that, just not achieving that level of success.)

In the case of indie games, YouTube reviewers play a much larger role than Rotten Tomatoes does for films and TV. Self-promotion does help, but those guys do not have the money for a real marketing campaign.

Marketing doesn't need a huge amount of money. Most indie marketing is done in social media spaces including streaming. It is something that needs a degree of effort though, since by themselves games don't attract any attention.
 
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Dominik Raab

Active Member
I’ve done some video game projects as a translator, and while the experience isn’t fully comparable, maybe some of it can help.

The prime way I found game projects to translate was to hop onto Steam, check out new indie releases, check the “available languages” section and e-mail people that didn’t have my target language checked. That’s obviously not going to work for music—but Steam Early Access and comparable platforms might still be a way to find games early in development and looking to recruit talent.

(Indie) developer’s subreddits are a good place, too. People showcase their early-in-development games there, and some might actually be actively looking for freelancers for various jobs. In a similar vein, try finding out if there are some indie dev Facebook groups (do people still use Facebook?). I know that composer-centric Facebook groups sometimes host contests and the like.

And since we’re angling for elusive fish anyway: if you have a favourite game by a larger developer that hosts “fanart” competitions or monthly showcases—most of the entries are visual. You might be able to get onto a developer’s radar by sending in music, which is a comparatively rare sort of entry.
 

Cathbad

Druid
Many good points above, that I agree with.

In general, I've found game devs to be MUCH nicer to deal with than TV and film folks, both business and personal.

Stats on indie games are sobering. Average sales on Steam are around 1500 in the first year, at an average price of $10 (source). But there are indeed indie games made by dedicated devs that go on to do extremely well, and that leads to my next point.

I think the indie game sector can be roughly divided into hobbyists and small businesspeople. The hobbyists are simply making a game for fun. Nothing wrong with that, but... I/you/we will usually be asked, by a stranger, to contribute a large amount of work for - at best - a minority percentage of the figures above. That's just disrespectful, in my opinion. Development of these projects often falls apart or fizzles out before there's a finished game.

The small business people are much more switched on. They approach game making as an entrepreneurial endeavour and actually have a plan to get finance in place. The best example I can think of is Town Of Salem. The first round of crowd funding was targeted at enthusiasts and raised $17k. That allowed further work until a scaled-up second round which raised $114k.
 

calebfaith

Active Member
I've found the easiest way to get work in the games industry is to be their music and SFX person. Ever since I've offered SFX as well it has made it a lot easier to land jobs - if one person can do both areas of audio it makes game devs lives easier - even for projects where they have a 100k+ budget.

It also helps a lot if you know FMOD/WWise as well as having experience in Unity/UE4. I am also a programmer so I can help with the implementation which is another bonus.
 
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Leequalizer

Leequalizer

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All you input to this is super helpful. There are things i would have never thought of. But all this made me even more motivated to get started! So much to do!
 

Haakond

Active Member
I am only a part-time game composer, but my vision has always been to be professional, fast, and hard-working. I find it better to send the developers a polite email, and always reply back even if you don't get the job. There are a lot (I mean, A LOT) of composers out there. Developers get bombed with requests each day from loads of composers. Don't spam "HeY, i CaN mAkE yOur SouNdTrack" on the comment fields. You will just give the impression that you are desperate for work and annoying.

Also, make tons of music. Practice all kinds of stuff. Make short musical ideas and turn them into 1 min songs. VGM Academy's "7DaysOfVGM" is a great way to practice writing music fast. Build a portfolio. Write music every day, and find ways to improve your workflow.

My biggest mistake was that I just was waiting for jobs in the beginning. When I started reaching out to people, that was when I got a lot of jobs. I use Reddit and Twitter mostly (along with websites and email) for finding work. Post your work on social media, but also take time to check out other people's work.

Be prepared to get a lot of "no" or even no answer back when you reach out.

EDIT:
I have to add; Be patient. I mean very patient. Don't expect things to happen in a day or a week. Games take a long time to develop
 
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calebfaith

Active Member
I am only a part-time game composer, but my vision has always been to be professional, fast, and hard-working. I find it better to send the developers a polite email, and always reply back even if you don't get the job. There are a lot (I mean, A LOT) of composers out there. Developers get bombed with requests each day from loads of composers. Don't spam "HeY, i CaN mAkE yOur SouNdTrack" on the comment fields. You will just give the impression that you are desperate for work and annoying.

Also, make tons of music. Practice all kinds of stuff. Make short musical ideas and turn them into 1 min songs. VGM Academy's "7DaysOfVGM" is a great way to practice writing music fast. Build a portfolio. Write music every day, and find ways to improve your workflow.

My biggest mistake was that I just was waiting for jobs in the beginning. When I started reaching out to people, that was when I got a lot of jobs. I use Reddit and Twitter mostly (along with websites and email) for finding work. Post your work on social media, but also take time to check out other people's work.

Be prepared to get a lot of "no" or even no answer back when you reach out.

EDIT:
I have to add; Be patient. I mean very patient. Don't expect things to happen in a day or a week. Games take a long time to develop

This is excellent advice, to add to it you also have to contact devs at the right time. Too early and they won't be even thinking about sound, too late and they already have filled the position. It does depend on the devs process though, for one game I'm working on at the moment I started in 2018 early in development and it is still in progress
 

Haakond

Active Member
This is excellent advice, to add to it you also have to contact devs at the right time. Too early and they won't be even thinking about sound, too late and they already have filled the position. It does depend on the devs process though, for one game I'm working on at the moment I started in 2018 early in development and it is still in progress

I agree! And this is very different for each devs. Some like to focus on the game and add music when it is almost done. And some like to have a composer do make music during the development, even almost from the beginning!
 

antames

New Member
I am only a part-time game composer, but my vision has always been to be professional, fast, and hard-working. I find it better to send the developers a polite email, and always reply back even if you don't get the job. There are a lot (I mean, A LOT) of composers out there. Developers get bombed with requests each day from loads of composers. Don't spam "HeY, i CaN mAkE yOur SouNdTrack" on the comment fields. You will just give the impression that you are desperate for work and annoying.

Also, make tons of music. Practice all kinds of stuff. Make short musical ideas and turn them into 1 min songs. VGM Academy's "7DaysOfVGM" is a great way to practice writing music fast. Build a portfolio. Write music every day, and find ways to improve your workflow.

My biggest mistake was that I just was waiting for jobs in the beginning. When I started reaching out to people, that was when I got a lot of jobs. I use Reddit and Twitter mostly (along with websites and email) for finding work. Post your work on social media, but also take time to check out other people's work.

Be prepared to get a lot of "no" or even no answer back when you reach out.

EDIT:
I have to add; Be patient. I mean very patient. Don't expect things to happen in a day or a week. Games take a long time to develop

That's great advice. How did you/would you go about reaching out to developers and companies without coming across as needy while also trying to outshine the hundreds of other emails they likely get? Would you include a link to your music for them to listen to?
 
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