How to Land Your First Indie Video Game Soundtrack

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By Glen Parry

So, you’re interested in breaking into the indie game scene? It could not be a better time to do so, with stats coming out in 2017 valuing PC gaming as a $32 billion industry, and with a predicted rate of growth at nearly 5% annually through 2020.

If you’re a music producer looking for more opportunities to showcase your work, well, this could potentially be a very lucrative proposition for you — that is, if you’re willing to put in some hard hours. No one said it would be easy, but more than ever, opportunities are beginning to emerge for independent artists as the music industry evolves and shifts its focus.

Here are some tools at your disposal to get you closer to landing your first indie gaming soundtrack!

Build Your Portfolio

This one is truly essential and will dictate the types of projects you can get involved with. Start building up a body of work. Build as much content as you can. Of course, quality over quantity — but regardless, be prolific in your output. One of the most important features of any good portfolio is diversity — and it’s one of the most valuable features of a composer in the game industry.

Yeah, sure, you can write some basic ambient background music for when a player is just exploring their environment, but can you meet the challenge to write something of a higher emotive intensity when a player is mid-battle?

Your best bet is to start exploring the diversity of musical needs within games, and challenge yourself to meet them. The more you practice this, the easier it will get.

Get Involved in the Community

This is probably one of the most neglected aspects of breaking into the scene. This one will really give you the push you need to get your foot in the door, so don’t overlook it.

Composers want to do what composers do best: write music. While that’s understandable, it’s really only one facet in the complex web of requirements of success in the modern music industry. Immerse yourself in the gaming community in every way possible. The internet is an ever-expanding space of opportunity not to be squandered. Join as many groups online as you can — on Reddit, social media, forums, everywhere.

There are plenty of meet-ups and conventions coordinated by game developers and enthusiasts dedicated to discussing ideas, future projects, and simply being surrounded by fellow gamers. See what’s going on in your local area, and get involved. If you’re not confident networking in person, get a friend to come along with you!

Find Projects to Which You’re Actually Interested in Contributing

Your chances of being awarded an entire soundtrack to compose for will greatly increase if you are genuinely passionate about the project. The developers (no matter how socially awkward they may seem) will be able to sense your enthusiasm.

So, if you want to cultivate some real excitement about a project, the best thing to do is find one that actually excites you personally! Perhaps it’s a stunning artistic aesthetic, a unique storyline, or some amazing gameplay mechanics. Whatever it is that piques your interest, find projects in development that truly captivate you. If you can find this and communicate it to the developer, they’ll appreciate your sincere interest and be more likely to give you a go.

Trust me on this: Building rapport is absolutely essential and will guide your success. It will also ensure that you will never be short of ideas for the game, and it will act as inspiration by itself!

Play a Lot of Games!

This one is a no-brainer. A love for gaming is a big plus and will give you many advantages over other composers. And let’s face it — like all industries, it’s competitive. Knowing the vernacular, the intricacies of different game genres — heck, if you can even learn how to implement your music into a game — this will get you many steps ahead of the competition and make you stand out to any developer.

Playing games will also give you immeasurable insight into how the music (and sound design) functions. Where is it appropriate for the music to sit in the background so the player can immerse oneself, or solve a puzzle? Where does the music increase in energy and intensity? What about the intro music and credits music? What common themes can you find in game-trailer tracks?

Focusing your attention deeper into the functionality of music in games will really upgrade your knowledge and understanding of game music. As long as you limit your time gaming (it does tend to get out of control sometimes) and dedicate ample time to building your portfolio, you’ll be hitting all the right notes!

Create a Persuasive Pitch

This ties in to an earlier point. If you’re genuinely passionate about the project, this is going to shine through in your pitch. What’s unique about you as a composer? What do you believe you can bring to the table that sets you apart from other interested applicants?

It might be tempting to batch-send proposals to companies and developers to save time. While it certainly might save you some time in the short term, in the long run, it will slow you down and you will get a much lower response rate.

You’ll probably find that creating a template works best. Outline a description of yourself, talk about what got you interested in game soundtracks, discuss your portfolio and relevant experience. But leave some space throughout the proposal to create something personalized — something that the recipient will know was custom created for them. They will appreciate it, and it will definitely grab their attention!

There are many more things you can do to propel yourself further as a composer in the game industry, but for a beginner looking to tap into it for the first time, these are some of the essentials. The main takeaway is to simply immerse yourself in the world of gaming and game music. If you do this, you will be well on your way to landing yourself more gigs and becoming the next big soundtrack composer!

No matter where your music ends up — whether in films, video games, or podcasts — electronically produced music can often fall into the trap of sounding less human than instrumental music. Writing music for picture requires a keen understanding of spatial mixing and sound design, composing for emotional changes, and timing.

Have you checked out Soundfly’s courses yet?

Continue your learning with hundreds of lessons by boundary-pushing, independent artists like Kimbra, Ryan Lott & Ian Chang (of Son Lux), Jlin, Elijah FoxKiefer, Com Truise, The Pocket Queen, and RJD2. And don’t forget to try out our intro course on Scoring for Film & TV.

Glen Parry has been a musician for over 15 years. He’s done everything the hard way so you don’t have to. You can find more musical advice and audio gear buying guides over at Audio Mastered.

RJD2: From Samples to Songs

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