Here’s the scenario: You've reviewed dozens of portfolios. You've listened to countless demo reels. And finally, after many hours of careful deliberation, you've decided on a composer to work with on your game's soundtrack. Congratulations! This is an exciting and inspiring moment in the game development process.
So now that you’ve found your rockstar composer, how do you utilize their full potential for your project? Well, here are five tips I’ve picked up over the years - all of which are actionable items that you can start taking now to improve the way you work with your composer.
1. Get your composer involved as early as possible.
A composer excels at their job when they are well-educated about your game's world, lore, characters, and themes. This is especially true for games that are highly narrative-focused. Start keeping your composer in the loop as early as you can!
You don't need to start assigning work to your composer immediately at the start of a project, but keeping them informed early on will provide them with the insight needed to craft a powerful and effective score. This is what makes custom-tailored music more engaging than stock music - every bar of music is developed specifically around the subtle charms your game has to offer.
Additionally, you can begin hashing out important logistics like scheduling, milestones, and track list early on, which will lessen the chance of long revision rounds and the dreaded crunch.
✓ Pro Tip: Give your composer access to your game design documents, story documents, marketing plan, calendar, and anything else that will help them get immersed into your game world.
2. Know what you want, but be open-minded.
Chances are you have a general idea of how you want your soundtrack to sound - after all, you chose your composer specifically because you trust in their ability to deliver and execute your vision.
Be prepared to communicate what you're looking for to your composer in detail, but also be open to their input - an experienced composer knows how to draw out the right emotions from your target audience using proven scoring techniques (more on this later).
✓ Pro Tip: Have a list of reference tracks ready, but be willing to listen to your composer's ideas as well; collaborate!
3. Provide context and communicate in “emotion”.
Write up a short but informative brief for each track you need done, summarizing the direction and purpose of the track, as well as noting your own ideas. If you followed step 1, your composer has a pretty good understanding of your game’s characters, story, and themes - so you can trust that they will be able to understand any story complexities that you may need to throw their way.
Try to use “emotion” as the focal point of each track; one of my most successful clients mainly communicated what kind of “feelings” or “vibes” a track should have - and through this method, we were able to produce an hour and a half of music in a relatively short time. It’s okay if you have a specific tempo/key/genre/etc. in mind, but in my experience, asking your composer to capture a specific “feeling” proves more effective.
✓ Pro Tip: When writing a track brief, include how and when the track will be used - feel free to include script excerpts or even screenshots/videos of where the track will play, if they’re available.
4. Identify your target audience together.
Knowing who your game is intended for can elevate your game’s soundtrack to otherworldly levels. As I said earlier, an experienced composer knows how to utilize certain musical conventions to evoke certain feelings from certain audiences. Use this to your advantage! The awesome part is that your composer most likely already has the knowledge and resources needed to make this happen - you just need to communicate and establish the direction together.
✓ Pro Tip: At the beginning of your project, create a “player persona” and talk to your composer about ways to make music that resonates with this audience.
5. Sync up regularly.
“Syncing up” basically means to meet in real-time to make sure both parties are working towards the same goal. It's a chance to communicate logistics, exchange ideas, brainstorm ways to improve upon pain points, and reevaluate goals as the project grows. Setting aside just 15 minutes a week to communicate with your composer can do wonders for a project.
✓ Pro Tip: Schedule a regularly occurring Google Hangout to sync up with your composer.
Hiring a composer can be an extremely rewarding experience if you know how to work with their strengths. Whether you’ve already begun working with a composer, or are still deciding on one, these are actionable tips that can improve the way you work with your composer.
What are some ways you and your composer bring out the best in each other’s work? Let me know in the comments!
About The Author
Darrell “Dibur” Reconose is a professional composer and sound designer with a fascination for storytelling. He has composed music for award-winning indie games, and is passionate about sharing his love and knowledge of both audio and storytelling with the game development community. Feel free to get in touch for work inquiries or general game audio questions!