View Full Version : How did recent composers get where they did?
Feb 19, 2010, 02:00 PM
I'm considering school for music-related subjects because I'm learning to compose music, and I was wondering what kind of experience different VGM composers (especially more recent ones) had in before becoming professionals. Obviously it's going to be different for some people, but I was wondering what the most common paths are. Anyone here able to comment on this topic?
Feb 19, 2010, 03:08 PM
Never heard your music, but I'm happy to give some advice based on what I've been told by numerous sources. I'll be totally honest, though, and I'm sorry if it sounds needlessly pessimistic. As you probably know, it's very difficult to make it big in the games industry, especially in composing roles. While there are plenty of inspiring early success stories, these days it's much harder and often extensive undergraduate and postgraduate training from a major university is required. It generally requires a lot of knowledge and experience in a wide variety of fields, especially sound design, cinematic underscoring, and orchestral and electronic composition.
Beyond the training, video game composition is a challenging environment to work in. It's often very important to give the client exactly what they want, even if that means derivative Zimmer-style compositions; mainstream developers often go for the safest option in game audio these days and there is less room for ingenuity on behalf of the composer. In addition, it's generally necessary to be incredibly efficient and streamlined, to the point of making around one entire large ensemble track a day. What's more, extensive industry promotion is absolutely essential to be noticed and only a few make it to being promoted by eminent artist representation clients.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of very talented composers out there who never get a big break, some through no limitation of their own. This is particularly the case in the West, but Japan is quite closed too. Yet there are numerous popular composers out there who are probably less talented, but they are generally better at promotion and give publishers what they want in less time and for less money. Then there are also simply decent composers who got lucky and became mainstream names. Of course, there are exceptions to these generalisations and both industries definitely seem to be getting a little more artistically minded, but overall it's not really about creativity or talent.
I personally wouldn't recommend video game composition as a career, as it is often creatively unfulfilling and economically challenging. There is good money to be made from major gigs, but the only accessible ones tend to be minor independent games we sometimes hear various doujin arrangers getting. Even those who get the major gigs often then struggle to get their next pay cheque. I'd generally recommend those pursuing video game composition to keep it more as a side project than a career choice, given even the exceptional rarely make it.
That said, those that reject those words probably have the highest likelihood of success, given self-belief and persistence are among the best traits for a potential video game composer... so long as they're talented and level-headed, not deluded as seems to be case for some of the wannabes. I've heard some absolutely amazing composers out there who I'm desperate to see get their big break, though, and hope I can do whatever it takes to get them there. Perhaps their talents are better offered elsewhere.
Feb 20, 2010, 02:12 AM
Thank you for the detailed post!
Right now I'm more interested in learning than making it a career, but I figure I might as well learn the same way the pros did, right? Actually, right now I'm doing a lot of learning on my own, which seems to work very well for me in most subjects, though music is a lot more difficult than anything else I've done. I'm still working on tracks, so I don't really have anything to show off right now.
A music career is something I might strive for, even if I don't get there. I just think making music is a lot of fun, and I want to get up the learning curve so it's not so much of a struggle for me any more. I always have my programming career to fall back on anyway.
Feb 20, 2010, 02:38 AM
I was wondering what kind of experience different VGM composers (especially more recent ones) had in before becoming professionals.
i'd like to hear stories from both japanese and western composers, to see how different the attitudes are in the industry, and how easy/hard it was for them to break in. though i'd also like to know how different things are now to how they were say two decades ago. i get the impression that decades ago, going to university meant that you could get an inhouse composition job to follow it up with? though that could be completely wrong ^^;
Yet there are numerous popular composers out there who are probably less talented, but they are generally better at promotion and give publishers what they want in less time and for less money.
absolutely, and it's the saddest thing really. you can be a brilliant composer, but if you don't have a handle on the business end of things, with regards contacting developers, marketing yourself, essentially sticking your neck out etc. you're not going anywhere. the more aggressive, business-minded people are going to succeed where you fail. it's a common dilemma, because creatively-minded individuals very often do suck at the business matters.
oh yeah, and I guess I should mention that an undergraduate and even a postgraduate certification in a musical field is only as useful as the skills you developed and the connections you made. the paper itself isn't worth much (though still helps somewhat in the job market generally, so it isn't totally useless. just don't expect a client to hire you on the premise that you have a degree :P) some of the freelancers I know didn't even study music at college/high-school level.
I'd generally recommend those pursuing video game composition to keep it more as a side project than a career choice, given even the exceptional rarely make it.
again, I agree, in fact this is what I want to do once I feel confident enough to take on work. though starting is the hardest part, and every completed project is more experience and resume fodder (and over time, the more jobs and experience you've had makes full-time freelancing more feasible.) with regards the Zimmer comment, the handheld market seems more forgiving in this regard, since it's not always possible (or even desirable) to implement fully orchestrated scores (only a minority of DS games use streamed audio for instance, so you cannot hide behind lush sound production.)
Perhaps their talents are better offered elsewhere.
yeah, I wonder this... though what else is there? speaking only for myself, i haven't heard a lot of exciting TV or film music lately. and scoring adverts goes to friends of friends usually. if you're passionate about game music and listen to a lot of it, making it yourself seems really. there was this attitude when i was at university that "if you can compose, you can compose for games", though i don't really agree.
i guess there's always the possibility of straight-up going at it as an artist. but i dunno. it seems you are lucky if you make money from any artistic medium in any capacity.
Feb 21, 2010, 06:07 PM
Chris nailed it on the head for you.
Regarding where game composers got where they are today: Natural talent, practice, studying, Contacts, and Luck/Coincidence.
Seeing that Chris wrote what was on my mind on this topic, I'll just say that if you chose to go into this field, you better bring determination and patience with you. My first composition took about 8 hours total (it was distributed on random days of the week), and it was only about a minute 40 seconds long. It was a solo piano piece in a themes and variations form based off the beginning piano section from Final Fantasy 9's boss battle.
That's another thing, what exactly do you want to learn? Classical? Electronic? Chiptune? Solo Instruments? Jazz? All of it?
I don't want to ask anything further, because it'll end up in a cycle of questions, but it would help a little to know. :)
Note: Forgot to mention this, but yeah I'm finding that music in movies/commercials/games/television shows aren't really that good anymore.
Feb 22, 2010, 10:23 AM
That's another thing, what exactly do you want to learn? Classical? Electronic? Chiptune? Solo Instruments? Jazz? All of it?
In my case, mostly electronic music, but I'd like to branch out to rock and other styles.
Of course, this topic isn't meant to be about me, but rather the composers themselves. I'll make my own choices based partially on this information.
Feb 26, 2010, 07:38 PM
I have to jump in to this conversation as I am a composer currently finishing up an undergraduate degree in music composition and theory. A number of things I would like to comment on:
Yes, it is hard to make it as a composer in the media world but the opportunities are boundless. Sure there are only a few openings for top-notch huge budget projects but have you considered the indie game world? Probably not because there are many options available there. And yes, it does take knowledge but you do not have to command it all in order to be good. You will spend the rest of your life learning more and more about this form of expression. There will never be a point when you can finally say you're good enough...you just do it.
In my experience I find video game scoring very liberating. Often a client will have something in mind but if you can sell your idea through compelling compositions they are often willing to pursue your vision. This also can mean that the career CAN be artistically fulfilling. In fact, a recent interview I had with Garry Schyman revealed just that: He is creatively satisfied with his video game projects that he sees no need to compose in other realms.
The surest way of success in this pursuit is to treat it as a business. Generally those that do not make it do not because they are too narrow-minded about what it takes to be a success. Great compositions help but if you can't market yourself, make contacts, and stand out you will certainly never make it.
Even if your ultimate goal is not a career in composition your best bet is certainly further music education. I can't believe how much I have learned in my time at college. And rest assured that most great musicians have further formal education in that area and those that don't have self-studied like mad.
So to answer your question (!), if you want to learn more about music go do it. And rest assured that it is a fine path to take if you eventually want a future in game composition. And even if you don't it's worth it. I'm probably going to go in to audio engineering but I wouldn't trade the love I've gained of music for anything in the world.
Feb 27, 2010, 07:56 PM
Yeah, it seems from everything I've read, a college education in music can be very beneficial. I'll start looking into that. Thanks for all the detailed information!
Apr 7, 2010, 02:40 PM
I'm very interested in the possibility of composing for video games and films as a career. I'm currently working on a soundtrack for an open source French video game now.
Apr 10, 2010, 08:48 PM
Sorry to revive this conversation, but I find the subject interesting.
I'm a french composer, and i'm living by now the horrors of job search, career issues, etc... :o))
I just wanted to say a few little things, a part of my little experience :
-customers (or members of a team...) unfortunately, will first judge you on your sound, not on your expertise, or your composition. This comes just after. A bad song with a big sound, is more likely than a good song with a rotten sound (of course, the best is to have the big sound with the great music !) - So I had to invest a little money... (new hardware, new softwares..)
-I chose to work for free the first year to gain experience, meet new people ... etc... I think it is necessary to participate in many projects, and this allows to gain some self-confidence, and fulfill your CV
-I have to be patient and a hard worker... keep my eyes and my ears open, and my heart too !
These are my choices, not necessary the Only Truth of course.
(your opinion is welcome)
Wish you the best,
May 20, 2010, 12:11 PM
Thanks for responding to my thread. It is interesting to hear about your experiences with this!
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