Just Playin'

Find something you love and do it for the rest of your life. That's one classic maxim that leads to another: easier said than done. But for the many musicians

Find something you love and do it for the rest of your life. That's one classic maxim that leads to another: easier said than done. But for the many musicians and producers whose favorite break from the studio involves Playstation and Pabst, it couldn't get much better than to make money creating music for video games. So Remix journeyed to the 2008 Game Developer's Conference (Feb. 18-22 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco) with one question in mind: How do you break into composing music or designing sound for games?

Although the full answer to that question is far too multifaceted and nebulous to answer definitively in the space of one event, the GDC was popping with opportunities for audio workers of all disciplines and experience levels to learn, network and even play their music or sound design for some professional feedback. A total of 33 audio tutorials, lectures and panels covered all aspects of game audio, such as game dialog, creating samples, scoring with an orchestra and much more.

After a production-technique lecture, Clark Crawford, audio director of Midway Studios, answered the question of whether you should use Pro Tools to break into game audio. “Most game development audio studios work on Pro Tools,” he says. “It's definitely the industry standard. But in a situation where a composer was just delivering final mixes to a development team, it's probably not that important.”

One of the most popular sessions was the G.A.N.G. Demo Derby for Music, where more than 100 composers turned in demos to get feedback from a panel of experts, including G.A.N.G. (Game Audio Network Guild; www.audiogang.org) President Paul Lipson, who talked to Remix about breaking into the industry. “It's getting very competitive,” he says. “You really need to know how to compose and orchestrate; how to use the technology and have the highest production values. Then you have to network, find out who the players are and start to present and package yourself. A lot of it is your personality. A lot of audio directors get incredible music, but what differentiates people is just who they are as a person. Are they somebody you'd want to work with?”

Lipson said G.A.N.G. was started to give students, beginners and professionals alike a place to form ties and thrive in the game-audio business. “Joining G.A.N.G. makes you a part of the community,” he says. “You can ask other people about how they got started, collaborate with other people and find opportunities that might be pro bono. A lot of mentor/mentee relationships start up.”

If you plan on preparing a music demo for game audio, Lipson advises to remember that games are interactive and adaptive. You're not scoring to a linear story, but to millions of possibilities the player has. “Great composers who do this all the time do dynamic mixing of the same piece with different stems,” he says. “The intensity's raised by just bringing in more drums or bringing in more rhythm, for example. The piece is the same, but parts are added or subtracted to create layers of tension. These techniques create an adaptive feeling.”

At the G.A.N.G. Demo Derby for sound design, the feeling was that the demos should be prepared over a 60-second piece of video, as opposed to music demos, which can be audio only or scored to video. “I wouldn't do trailers; I would do a scene, maybe a fight scene,” says one of the judges, Gene Semel, audio manager of High Moon Studios. “But it probably should be somewhat obscure, because [well-known] things are going to be ingrained in a person's mind. Also, the most difficult sounds are what should come across because those things are going to grab attention.”