What’s your all-time favourite game? Whether that question takes you back decades to an 8-bit masterclass, obscure indie gem or a 2020s GOTY, the answer is probably as much about what you heard as what you saw. Learning how to make music for video games is a decision as influential as those you make for design, art, character or genre for your project.
Truly memorable games can create powerful emotions through video game music, making the best of us well up with nostalgia, pride, or even frustration.
Why is learning how to make music for video games important?
The secret to enchanting players with your game’s immersive world is incredible video game music. Bind them to your world with sweeping soundtracks, perfectly honed subtle soundscapes or jarring horror motifs that cut through tension with a knife. Create that emotional connection across a series of games. Or for genres with musical standards we’ve come to expect, you can set or subvert the mood.
So get in your game a memorable and distinct soundtrack that elevates the experience. You don’t need a whole orchestra or big budgets, you only need a few pointers to know how to make music for video games.
But if you’re bold, and people that make games tend to dream big, then aspire to reach the levels of iconic video game music. You know the ones:
- The five-hour ‘64 deep cuts of Super Mario Bros soundtracks keep me going all day
- The epic leitmotifs in Legend of Zelda that take me back to childhood with floods of tears
- Or even Uematsu’s various scores from Final Fantasy that define each memorable scene they play in
While it’s great to research trends and examples of video game music, you’re bound to find many divisive opinions on it. So don’t get too bogged down in negative Reddit threads or troll-worthy criticism. Strike a balance between the music you love making and what the audiences are keen to hear.
What are the fundamentals of video game music?
One of the first choices you’ll need to make is how you’re going to get your music. The largest studios will have sound designers and musicians on their staff. A step down from that, you’re likely to want to hire your own composer to create original music. Freelancing platforms and music production companies are among other options available depending on your budget.
If you’re starting out, or music isn’t in the pipeline yet, then royalty-free or Creative Commons music might be sufficient until you need to step it up a stave. Planning a DIY job? That’s brave of you! To go all-in you’ll need to invest in the right equipment as well as the right mentor with more musical mettle than you.
Whoever crafts your video game music, they must consider the technical fundamentals carefully. There’s a wealth of information and training out there for the aspiring musicians on sound theory, harmony, arrangement and so much more.
Effective communication between the virtuoso and the rest of your studio is everything. From the start, you’ll need to make sure the music fits the overall vision for the game. It must link seamlessly with the sound effects used in the game. Especially in volume, tone, instrumentation and in the interests of generally avoiding a jarring cacophony.
How to make music for video games in a way that fits your game?
The best examples of video game music fit their brief like a glove. You can achieve perfect harmony in three main ways:
#1: It should match the mood of the game
Does your game sweep across nature like Wildmender? Then it may need a full orchestral score to breathe life into every corner. Simulation games need to summon the mood of their subject. Giving players choice leans well into sandbox games; think of the radio stations in Grand Theft Auto, for example.
Even once you’ve set the tone and learnt how to make music for video games, you have to go a stage deeper: adaptability.
#2: It adapts to the key beats of the game
There’ll be peaks and troughs of tension, bosses that need a distinct score and times you’ll need to dial up the emotion or drama. Learning how to make music for video games is as much about finding the right balance as much as striking up a memorable tune.
Why is game music a perfect listen while you study or work? Because as well as enhancing the mood and atmosphere of the game, it also sits comfortably in the background so the player can focus.
#3: Video game music integrate with the game mechanics
Although not necessary, there’s a long history of music-based games that redefined the player’s gameplay expectations. From mobile games like Looper, to fan favourite franchises like Guitar Hero, and hybrid genre games that pair music, such as the rhythm shooter Robobeat.
Even if you’re not making a music game, you can learn how to make music for video games in a clever way. Use it for storytelling, wayfinding or puzzles to help it fit seamlessly into your action. Playing games and analysing how music connects with story, art and character is a must for every studio in the games industry.
Now go and make the perfect play beats!
You’ve got the primer on composing music for video games. Now it’s time for you to create the music for your game.
Think about your game, audience and resources and decide who’s best to create your perfect soundtrack. Practice makes perfect, of course.
So when you’ve got a work in progress or finished composition, show it off to anyone with a good taste in game music, and take note of their reactions.
As an award-winning game publisher, we know what it takes to develop and launch a successful game in this challenging industry. Submit your indie PC and Console games to our team, or sign up to our official Publishing Portal to test your mobile games. All you need are a few minutes and a couple of gameplay videos or a playable prototype of your game. Follow us on social media (TikTok | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook) to get the latest gamedev news and trends.