You’re most likely here because you want to try out this whole “game music” thing. Maybe you’ve been a gamer and musician your whole life and want to try combining your hobbies; maybe you’re a game developer who wants to make their own soundtracks; maybe you want to be the next Koji Kondo (don’t we all?). Whatever your reasoning for wanting to start, you probably had that thought, “Maybe I can do this…but how?” My intention behind this guide is to provide you those first steps toward the how in an accessible (ie. free) way, with the information that I’ve gathered over the past six years of doing it. I want to create the guide that I would’ve loved to find years ago when I just started out. I’m going to try to be as straightforward and nontechnical as possible, providing just what you need to get started. There are multiple online resources that can explain things more in depth, so I encourage you to look around after reading this if you’re interested in the nitty gritty.
What this guide will show you
- Free resources to get you up and running creating your own music
- How to find your first projects
- The basic music technology terms that you’ll need to know
- The value of your personal artistic voice and ethic
What this guide will not show you
- How to compose music
- How to make SFX
- How to transition into a freelance composer
The main source for this guide is my own experience gathered doing game audio. I’ve written music for over a decade, but have specifically been in the game audio space for the last six years or so. I’ve successfully launched a Kickstarted game on Steam as the sole audio developer (I was very sleepy by the end) and have done a myriad of other projects on smaller platforms. My hope is that someone who reads this guide will walk away diving into their first project with everything they need, both externally and internally, to fulfill their desire to make game music. Gone are the days where you’d need to buy a $1000 synth workstation and send cassette tape demos to your local game studio/basement/garage. The democratization of music making caused by the Internet and the work of music lovers everywhere has led to a time in history where anyone can immediately get started creating their own game music. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I first played a game demo with my music in it—there’s nothing quite like the feeling of achieving something you’ve always wanted.
One last disclaimer before we begin
From here on out, I’m going to assume that you already have some knowledge of how to write music in the most essential sense of the word. If you don’t, I highly recommend doing two things, in this order: 1. Learning to play an instrument (preferably something chordal like piano or guitar), and 2. Learning the basics of music theory. Playing an instrument is invaluable, as you get the music into your body and mind through actively creating it, and begin to teach your ear how to hear deeper. Alternatively, you can download a free notation program or DAW and just start clicking in notes. I think learning an instrument will give more structure to your learning, but I know of a few successful folks who have only “played” computers. Regarding music theory, you can find a free, stellar source right here: Open Music Theory. As a personal aside, please don’t fall into the trap of music theory = the rules of music, and proceed to think of every piece of music as an extension of four-part chorale writing or that everything should be analyzed with Roman numerals. Music doesn’t need to explain itself, and theory just provides a terminology for music that’s already been made.
My actual last thought
If you want to get in touch with me to ask any questions regarding this guide, game music, or just to say hello, feel free to do so here.
Table of Contents
- Essential Terminology
- Free Music Software – Overview
- Free Notation Programs
- Free DAWs
- Free Trackers
- Free Sound Resources
- Finding your First Projects
- Miscellaneous Thoughts
- Final Thoughts
Next: Essential Terminology