It seems like we are a million years from when video game soundtracks were MIDI-based music motifs that merely accompanied gameplay. However, the kind of music that players experience these days is of epic scope and talent. Gone are the days when little ‘beeps’ would be your entire soundtrack.
It isn’t unheard of for current game designers to employ the talents of full symphony orchestras, deep choirs, crazy brass, and ominous synthesizers. The main difference between now and 40 years ago is that game soundtracks are more Beethoven than beep.
Games have always had soundtracks in one form or another. As we stated before, the earliest game soundtracks were little more than MIDI beeps and boops. However, you have revolutionary innovators at companies like Nintendo.
One of the pioneers of the video games effects industry, Hirokazu Tanaka, worked tirelessly to create the sound effects for the original Donkey Kong.
His simple soundboard would help video game sounds and soundtracks evolve into creative powerhouses that would leave a lasting mark on the industry.
I think we can all agree that video game soundtracks are essential. Whether you are someone who merely appreciates the music in a game passively, or you are a music enthusiast, the impact that great composers have had on video games has constantly narrowed the fundamental differences between film and game soundtracks.
In our modern era, we have film composers entirely composing game soundtracks. The multimedia world in which we live experiences this beautiful bleeding effect, melding some of our favorite forms of media into a cohesive whole. Their work has further lent credence to the eternal argument of whether video games are art (hint: they totally are).
If you boot up The Last of Us Part II and tell me that the soundtrack isn’t stunning art, I don’t know what to tell you.
Let’s explore game music as a separate genre.
Game Music As A Genre
If you were to look at video game music on Spotify, Apple Music, or YouTube, you would clearly see that it is now a genre all its own. Soundtracks for some of our favorite games have left a lasting impact on gamers. Simple songs, musical motifs, and pieces of theme music have become synonymous with having fun in your favorite game.
Let’s look at some of the titans of the industry who have created some of the most popular game music ever recorded.
There is no shortage of video game music compilations, covers, and more. For Final Fantasy alone, there are hundreds of cover albums, songs, and influences.
Likewise, some of the most famous video game-related albums, mainly from Tommy Tallarico’s Video Games Live, and more. Instances of video games as a standalone genre have become more and more apparent with each passing year.
Need to study and concentrate? Put on Persona 5’s soundtrack.
Want to work out and feel motivated? Crank up Skyrim’s outstanding, booming percussion into your earbuds.
Feel free to go ahead and search the internet for video game genre music. You’ll find some incredible gems.
Top Video Game Composers in the World
Here are just some of the greatest video game composers of all time. Make sure to explore their various discographies to get a better feel of their style, influence, and mastery of music.
- Video Game: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
- Released Date: November 17, 2004
If you have ever played Hideo Kojima’s masterpiece, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, you will know the work of Harry Gregson-Williams right off the bat.
The intense fighting music between Naked Snake and The Boss is an extraordinarily moving piece of video game music. The moving ending, which evokes strong emotions of sorrow, hollow victory, and regret, wouldn’t be at all possible without the talents of Harry-Gregson Williams.
His additions to the hit Konami game were literally instrumental in creating a moving story, relatable characters, and memorable boss fights.
Harry Gregson-Williams also has an awe-inspiring list of movie soundtracks, including the Kingdom of Heaven, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Man On Fire. Whether it is video games or Hollywood, Harry Gregson-Williams can do it all.
When asked by an IGN reporter the difference between composing for someone like Hideo Kojima and Konami vs. film soundtracks, he had this to say:
“…With a movie, I’m constantly working in sync with the picture, and I score every moment very deliberately. In the MGS games that I’ve done, I have had to write all the music without any visual aid but from detailed, written descriptions given to me by Hideo outlining the mood, tempo, and atmosphere of various situations he was trying to create. “
Using the writing, story, and other game elements, Harry Gregson-Williams was forced to evoke emotions within himself and others to create some of his most memorable soundtrack work.
- Video Game: The Final Fantasy Franchise
- Released Date: December 18, 1987 – Present
For decades, Nobuo Uematsu has been a driving force in the creation of Final Fantasy games. He has left his indelible mark on all the games in the series, with memorable songs and tunes.
Think of the small victory fanfare that plays every time you defeat a monster in any Final Fantasy game. Thanks to Nobuo Uematsu, those songs have become well-loved staples in video gaming.
The newest addition to the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy VII Remake, takes all of Uematsu’s famous, moving, and intense songs and modernizes them in such a powerful way.
On perhaps his most famous track, ‘One-Winged Angel,’ Uematsu includes frantic, dark classical music with haunting vocals to transport the player into the final boss battle with Sephiroth.
In Guy Dammann’s piece on Nobuo Uematsu, he marvels at the composer’s place in classical music:
“Uematsu has made the top 10 three years running, with his Final Fantasy music slipping from seven to nine in this year’s chart, now nestling between Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony – appropriately enough as, according to Classic FM, Uematsu is the “Beethoven of video game music.”
Being considered the Beethoven of video game music? Now that’s an impressive accolade.
- Video Game: The Legend of Zelda
- Released Date: February 21, 1986 – Present
Koji Kondo has been Nintendo’s go-to soundtrack composer for The Legend of Zelda series. He has been a pillar of Nintendo’s music in nearly every Zelda title since the mid-1980s.
The moving score that accompanies Link in his adventures to defeat the evil Ganondorf and rescue Zelda has encouraged and motivated players for years.
The most recent Legend of Zelda title, Breath of the Wild, instead uses the talents of Manaka Kataoka, Yasuaki Iwata, and Hajime Wakai. However, they continue Koji Kondo’s excellent work and essence through the memorable soundtrack.
His music transported millions of players into an amazingly rich high fantasy world.
- Video Game: Silent Hill
- Released Date: February 23, 1999 – Present
The talented Akira Yamaoka has worked as the video game composer for the iconic Silent Hill series of psychological horror games. With a mix of dark, ambient, droning mixed with haunting, dirty-sounding guitars, the Akira Yamaoka discography is one you can listen to if you’re in a spooky mood.
A standout track, ‘Laura’s Theme’ from Silent Hill 2, combines a wailing guitar with ethereal, faintly detuned synthesizers to create a fantastically creepy and moving atmosphere in-game.
He made his mark on the original PlayStation’s Silent Hill. Spurred on to find his lost daughter in the clearly haunted town of Silent Hill was accompanied by striking percussion and industrial music to scare the living daylights out of players.
Regarding Silent Hill 4: The Room, music reviewer Simon Smith had this to say about Akira Yamaoka’s work:
“Melancholy Requiem” begins the first real instrumental “song” with arpeggios of piano and some distorted keyboards and string implements. The whole piece has a dirty, edgy, and uncomfortable feel to it – it encapsulates the essence of Silent Hill completely, especially as the song degenerates into discorded ambiance – a trait again carried in many songs.”
Smith’s track by track review is a microcosm of what all of Yamaoka’s brilliant work conveys: horror, discomfort, loss, and loneliness.
- Video Game: Assassin’s Creed II
- Released Date: November 17, 2009
Composer Jesper Kyd has a fantastic resume. Starting with Eidos and IO Interactive’s fantastic Hitman games, Jesper Kyd quickly moved on to projects like the beloved Assassin’s Creed II.
Although we could wax and wane for hours about his contributions to the fantastic soundtrack for the Hitman games, his surprising contribution to Assassin’s Creed is perhaps his musical magnum opus.
His work in the Ubisoft franchise won him the 2009 G.A.N.G. Awards and Hollywood Music in Media Awards. A blend of haunting choral work with amazingly fitting electronica, Kyd actually somehow makes wildly different genres blend together for a unique and memorable game soundtrack.
IGN’s Brian Linder had high praise for Kyd’s Assassin’s Creed II work:
“Kyd, who utilized a 30-piece orchestra and a 13-person choir while recording the score, has created a beautiful, sweeping soundtrack that’s just as epic as anything you’d hear in a contemporary cinematic epic scored by Hans Zimmer of James Newton Howard.”
If you listen to only one Kyd song, make sure it is the central theme from Assassin’s Creed II. Ezio and his brother race to the top of a building in Renaissance-era Florence. Once they reach the top, players are treated to a hair-raising;y beautiful theme, which sets the tempo for the epic, history-changing scope of the game.
- Video Game: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
- Released Date: November 11, 2011
For many gamers who have spent countless hours in the rich world of Skyrim, the wonderful music of Jeremy Soule should strike a chord. Ever since his first foray into Skyrim’s world with the beautiful main theme – including breathtaking barbarian choirs and booming percussion – to the more quiet, ambient pieces that accompany the player through dungeons, mountain passes, and temples.
Although he has worked on various projects like Harry Potter, Icewind Dale, and Guild Wars, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is easily his most recognized and appreciated work.
Although it seems like it, Skyrim doesn’t actually employ the talents of live orchestras. Jeremy Soule is a technical wizard and could recreate the same sounds of string instruments, brass, and more to pull the player into the well-known fantasy epic.
If you somehow haven’t heard the fantastic theme, ‘Dragonborn,’ do yourself a favor and listen. I dare you not to install Skyrim after hearing the booming, motivating choral work.
How to Become a Video Game Music Composer
Now that you know that video game composers are talented, accomplished, and creative powerhouses, how do you become one? Let’s see what it takes to get you started on the right path.
There are a few key things you can do to ensure a smooth transition from music lover to video game audio engineer or composer. Not everyone’s journey is exactly the same.
Some musicians will do better with a school curriculum in music theory. Other musicians will benefit from experimenting independently, using their innate talent to break new barriers in the video game music sphere.
Education & Training
There has never been a better time to consider getting into video game composing. With the aid of computers, nearly anyone with determination can create fantastic musical pieces.
If a four-year college curriculum isn’t exactly your style, you can still benefit from training. Guitar and piano lessons, music theory, and more taught to you by private tutors and trainers can give you an edge in musical know-how.
Experience & Skills
Whether your preferred genre of music is rock, funk, industrial, or new age, you need to bring solid skills and experience to job interviews.
Do you have a degree from a musical program? A certificate in music theory? Who taught you your craft? Who are your influences, and how have they shaped your music-making process?
All of these things can determine whether you find success in the video game music industry.
A consensus on a video game composer’s salary can range anywhere from $30,000 to $75,000+. The salary depends on your education, experience, and job title. It varies greatly and isn’t a linear path like becoming an accountant or doctor.
Where to Look for Composer Jobs
There are a ton of different avenues you can take with this one. Video game composer isn’t a set, concrete position you can find in only a few places, depending on where you live, where the game studio is located, and other factors all determine where you should look for jobs.
A general rule of thumb is to concentrate on looking near cities and metro centers. Moving to a big city or the outskirts of one can offer great networking opportunities, as well as a wealth of different choices for various fields.
Tips on Getting A Big Break As A Video Game Composer
Here are a few helpful hints and tips on how to get a better chance to break into the video game music industry.
Know Your Market
What type of music are you creating? If you are composing music for a game like Viva Pinata, don’t make songs as Akira Yamaoka would. You need to clamp down and familiarize yourself with your target demographic and game genre. To achieve success, you might have to create music that you aren’t used to making.
This is the test of a genuinely great musician: flexibility as an artist.
Networking is perhaps one of the most valuable and viable job strategies in existence. It’s all about who you know. If you rub shoulders with video game executives and designers regularly, you simply have a better chance at scoring gigs as a composer.
Work Well With a Sound Team
It may seem a bit obvious, but you are going to need to work well with others. Since you are creating a cohesive project, you need to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
In addition, you need to have excellent communication skills. It’s your duty to create great music, so don’t squander that great opportunity by being uncooperative.
Although it may seem daunting trying to enter the field of game composing, it is by no means impossible. If you follow our tips, network, and practice, you could easily find yourself scoring game titles.
While it may take a long time to get to the exalted status of composers like Nobuo Uematsu and the talented Akira Yamaoka, there’s more than enough opportunity to make your musical mark on the video game industry.
Regardless of your decision, we can all agree that without these titans of the video game soundtrack industry, our favorite games might lack emotional nuance, impactful plot developments, and ambient dungeon exploration.
Make sure you explore some of these composers’ tracks and use them as motivation and influence.