One Audio Direction: Game Music Connect Talks To Video Game Audio Directors

Game Music Connect gets to grips with just what an Audio Director does.

As well as bringing together well known video game music composers, the Game Music Connect symposium in London also brought together several Audio Directors (AD) who work on some of the industry's biggest games. Namely:

  • Adele Cutting of SoundCuts
  • Alastair Lindsay of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
  • Paul Lipson of Microsoft Studios
  • Steve Lord of Jagex
  • Martin O'Donnell of Bungie

The panel was a chance for composers looking to get into video game music, and fans of genre, to get an insight into what an AD does, and the challenges they face.

N-Synchronicity

With video game composers stating the importance of games needing an AD to give structure to the music and to make professional decisions about the score, hearing what AD's have to say about their roles was incredibly interesting. They don't just deal with music, but with the sound of the entire game, including effects and voice actors.

Flyer for Adele Cutting's company, SoundCutsCutting, in particular, champions the combination of control over sound and music. During her early career working on films coordinating music, she would often be frustrated that, after much time and effort into getting the score right, sound effects would suddenly take precedence or simply work against the music. As an AD in video games, she has the opportunity to make sure that sound all works together.

As well as ensuring a concord between all audio elements, being an AD also means getting involved with aspects of a video game that have nothing to do with sound. Lipson states that part of his job is also to influence Creative Directors on how best to incorporate sound and score into the game to work harmoniously with gameplay. Lindsay supports this by saying that this early involvement between music and creative direction is vital.

Traditionally, audio was the last aspect of a game to be sorted out. But, with the role of AD becoming more pronounced, music and sound are now some of the first things to be developed to ensure synchronicity across all elements of a game. Some of the panel members say that they start to plan and implement music and sound up to two years in advance of a game's release: the very early stages of game development.

Featurette about Audio Director Steve Lord, composer James Hannigan, and the music of Runescape 3.

Tips for Composers

As these are the people who commission composers to work on their games, it was a prime opportunity to get some pointers on how to get a gig.

One of the main points that all ADs got across was that video game music composers need to play video games. Surprisingly, in a quick survey across the audience, the majority of attendees admitted to not playing video games regularly. Lord states that it is vital that video game music composers play video games, and the first piece of advice he'd give for composers is to go out, buy, and play some games. This is because it's really important to actually understand the mechanics behind gameplay and engagement for which they'll need to score to, specifically because with the absence of pre-cognition that you get in film, they'll have to understand how to overcome the issue of composing to interaction.

It is vital that video game music composers play video games. The first piece of advice for composers is to go out, buy, and play some games.

Cutting also mentions that it really helps if the composer is willing to be very involved in the game itself. Instead of sitting in their studios solely scoring away completely independently, actually taking the time to engage directly with an AD and the game itself goes a long way to not only creating a score that is right for a game, but one that's truly excellent.

As for the type of music composers write, Lipson mentions that rather than trying to be a Jack of all trades, focusing on a particular platform or style will serve composers looking to get into video games better. For him, music, just like the games themselves, is all about ground-breaking intellectual property, and being able to come up with something unique and appropriate for a title is something that gets a composer noticed by him and Microsoft.

All in all, this was an incredibly eye-opening look at the mechanics behind the music, giving patrons a profound appreciation of what goes into video game music beyond a great score and sound.

Header Picture: Paul Lipson at work. Photograph: Courtesy of www.paullipson.com

Published Sep. 13th 2013
  • Milosz Jeziorski
    Great article Destrolyn! As a composer, I've always found the dynamic between scoring games and scoring films interesting. A lot of similarity, but a number of key differences. To get gigs in film, I often speak directly with directors, but in games it seems Audio Directors play a huge role in hiring composers. Thanks for shining light on this unique topic!
  • Destrolyn.Bechgeddig
    Featured Columnist
    Glad you found the article interesting. If Game Music Connect happens again (and it seems pretty likely that it will), then I'd certainly recommend trying to make it. The event was incredibly fascinating and really enlightening, even from a video games music enthusiast like myself.

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