I’m Winifred Phillips, and I compose music for video games. My credits include Assassin’s Creed, Total War, God of War, LittleBigPlanet, and The Sims. I’m also the author of the book “A Composer’s Guide to Game Music,” which won the Global Music Award for an exceptional book in the field of music. This past April, I gave the very first lecture on game music composition at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, and later this year, selected music from my Assassin’s Creed Liberation score will be performed live by an 80-piece orchestra and choir as part of the Assassin’s Creed Symphony World Tour. I’ve loved video games ever since I was a kid, and I’m thrilled that I get to make music for them!

I’ll be here from 12 – 2 pm EST taking any and all questions – from the creative process and technical skillset of a composer, to breaking into the business, to what it was like working on so many fantastic games. Ask Me Anything!

Proof: https://i.redd.it/ad07coi9v7y21.jpg

Edit: Wow, guys, thank you -so- much for all the support!! I'm going to go grab something to eat and come back a little later to answer more questions. You're all wonderful!

Edit: Hey, it's 5:05pm EST, and I'm back for more questions. Let's do this thing!

Edit: Hello everybody. It's getting close to 10pm and I'm going to have to logoff for now. I'll come back tomorrow morning and continue answering. You all pose such great questions! Thank you so much, everyone! See you tomorrow!

Edit: Good morning, Reddit!! It's May 24th at 6:30am and I'm back to answer more of your excellent questions. Here we go!

Edit: Hey, everyone! Well, it's been tremendous fun over the past couple of days, but I've got to get back to work! Thanks to everyone for all the support, the kindness, and most of all, the outstanding questions! You rock!

Comments: 831 • Responses: 104  • Date: 

Ccstriker771016 karma

I just want to let you know, God of War had some dope game music, and for that you have my respect. Also quick question, is making game music different from making regular music, is there a guideline to follow? What makes game music stand out from the normal ol music?

the_mit_press1052 karma

Hey Ccstriker77! Thanks for the question, and the kind words about my work on the God of War music team! Much appreciated. Regarding making game music -- it couldn't be -more- different than making regular music! Game music is very distinct. The demands on the composer are very different than they would be for a film or television composer, or even for a symphonic composer. Game music has to be interactive. It has to react to the actions of the player. That's actually really inspiring to me. I feel like I'm having a sort of musical conversation with players. They perform actions, and the music responds. Hopefully the music inspires players on their in-game journey. In terms of the technical aspects, game music has to be constructed in bits and pieces, that can be jig-sawed together by the game engine according to what's going on in the game. I go into a lot of detail about this in my book -- it's a fascinating way to think about music creation, and it's really inspired me to stretch and grow as a composer.

catchierlight25 karma

wow that is totally facinating, musicician as well as gamer person here... . ... so do you ever end up with situations where the game itself is resolving chord progressions or making harmonic functional type changes where you compose something that has a series of chords but they end on what is to be a transition to another section that the gameplay or some kind of randomness might chose where the progression goes next? (so for example like the game itself would chose whether you end up with a cadence or go to another chord which might resolve to something else etc? ) Or is this more of "one theme" and then the game action will trade for "another theme..." but the functions are more or less contained? (and if the answer is NO? Wouldnt it be so cool to for a composer to be involved with game developers to design a game that way!? eg the player would be literally working to resolve tension in the music !)

the_mit_press9 karma

Hey, catchierlight! Wonderful question! What you're describing is the technique and core philosophy of interactive/dynamic music construction. It's challenging for a game composer, but also incredibly stimulating and inspiring. Kind of like trying to solve a really good puzzle. Composing interactive music for a game often requires a game composer to construct the harmonic progressions so that they can transition in several different optional directions -- allowing the game engine to pick and choose depending on what's happening in the game. To make this happen, the composer records the music in separate distinct segments, and the game engine picks and chooses the segments according to what's happening during gameplay. It's a complicated subject -- I actually produced a series of four tutorial videos about it in connection with my book, A Composer's Guide to Game Music. Here's the first video: https://youtu.be/plVLJ1OXAiE

Pegthaniel282 karma

When composing, what kind of details are important to ensure it fits the game? Do you play through a scene without music before working on the piece?

the_mit_press429 karma

Hey, Pegthaniel! Cool question! I always love receiving a build of the game while I'm working so that I can play it and get inspired by what the development team is doing. That's not always possible, though. Sometimes the game is just too early in development for me to receive a playable version. In that case, I read all sorts of design documents, look at tons of concept art, have lots of great meetings with the developers to talk about what inspires them and what their vision is for the music of their game. I'll also do a bunch of research before I begin work. The research sometimes focuses on musical style, genre, instrumentation, etc. Sometimes the research also includes topics related to the game narrative and history. I want to understand the world of the game, so that I can create music that's appropriate for it.

jasecom8986 karma

I would consider the music to be a huge part of the feel of any good game; considering what you just said about not having the ability to play a piece of the game before you compose, would you say that you have some creative license to sway the tone and feel of a game? I understand you want to help the game become what it’s supposed to become but sometimes a little creativity can help make the game into something more.

the_mit_press41 karma

Hi, jasecom89! You're right about the creative license that composers sometimes have to define the sound of a game. When we're brought in before the levels are finished, our music might actually have a big impact on the design of those levels. For instance, after I was hired to compose music for LittleBigPlanet 2, my first assignment was to create music for the Victoria's Lab level, and I was given the description of the main character as a sort of mad scientist figure. She likes to build killer robots, and she's a bit nuts. Always a delightful combination! So I composed a track with a lot of dark elements -- gritty guitars, epic orchestral strings, etc. But since it's also a LittleBigPlanet track, I made sure to infuse it with a lot of fun and wacky elements, like calliope, accordion, beat boxing, vocoder, and so on. Later, I found out that after I'd submitted the music, the level designers had gone back to the drawing board and revised the level pretty extensively. When I finally saw the level, Victoria was still a mad scientist, but now she was also a baker. The level was filled with cookies and cakes, and Sackboy could attack the killer robots by hurling giant cupcakes at them. The team at Media Molecule let me know that they'd changed the level because the music had inspired them. I can't express how much that meant to me. The folks at Media Molecule are profoundly gifted and amazing, so I was so touched that my contribution helped to shape their creative process! (Video of Victoria's Lab track: https://youtu.be/dCL2J5ttX_4)

Manofthedown156 karma

I have been wanting to get involved applying my creative and audio production skills in this line of work. My dream is to make a video game soundtrack. How did you get started?

the_mit_press249 karma

Hey, Manofthedown! I was working as a composer for a National Public Radio series called Radio Tales, when the idea of becoming a game composer got stuck in my head. Always been a gamer, always a huge fan of games! Once the idea of writing music for games lodged in my head, I couldn't shake it. So I started doing research into game publishers and developers, reaching out to see if I could find a project and a team that would want to work with me. I happened to contact Sony Interactive Entertainment America at just the right time -- they were putting together a music composition team for God of War. I actually told the whole story at a Society of Composers and Lyricists event in NYC -- there's a video here: https://youtu.be/XPz8nQQgtBk?t=258

im8enjones23 karma

Thanks for the Q&A!! How did you get the Radio Tales gig?

the_mit_press12 karma

Hey im8enjones! For the Radio Tales gig, I connected with Winnie Waldron (yes, our first names are similar. It's a really small world, isn't it?) She was producing the series for National Public Radio, hosting the series and editing the scripts. She hired me to compose the music and do the sound design. It was my first gig as a professional composer, and it was an -incredible- way for me to learn the craft. The series adapted classic stories for the radio. I got to work on titles like Masque of the Red Death, The War of the Worlds, Sleepy Hollow, The Time Machine, and The Fall of the House of Usher, among many many others. The production schedule was intense. There were over a hundred episodes of the series when it finally wrapped. I learned so much from working on that series!

pre-medicated93 karma

What's your preferred DAW?

the_mit_press106 karma

Hey, pre-medicated! I prefer Pro Tools. Been working with it forever. We know each other very well. :)

JComposer846 karma

But do you write midi in Pro Tools? What I've gathered from various interviews with composers is it seems like most people use another DAW for midi composition and sequencing and then do the final mix in PT. Do you use PT for everything or just audio?

the_mit_press6 karma

Hey JComposer84! Yeah, I've also heard that most composers use another software app for MIDI and then move things to Pro Tools for mix and master. I've been using Pro Tools for a long time, and I've discovered that all the MIDI tools I need are actually built into that software -- they're just not as immediately obvious as they are in other MIDI software. Since Pro Tools and I have been bosom buddies for -ever-, I've dug into the software and rooted out all the MIDI tricks and tools, so I don't feel the need to use a second piece of software for the MIDI composition part. What's nice about that is that my workflow remains very smooth and unified, because I don't have to keep jumping back and forth from one app to another.

venvexen35 karma

As a follow-up, do you use any particular middleware?

the_mit_press54 karma

Hey, venvexen. I leave it up to the development team to decide if middleware is going to be used. Most of the time, they're using their own proprietary middleware, or whatever audio tools are built into their game engine. I've worked with the popular middleware (Wwise, FMOD), but for the vast majority of my projects, the implementation happens at the developers end of things, employing whatever tools they're most comfortable using.

Quizzlys89 karma

Wow! I love you. Littlebigplanet is my favorite.

Did you play the game first or did they just give you a concept and a flavor and you went with it?

the_mit_press106 karma

Hey, Quizzlys! Thank you so much! :) So glad you've enjoyed LittleBigPlanet. I love it too. When I was brought into the LittleBigPlanet 2 music team, the game levels weren't created yet. The team at Media Molecule gave me a document brief that described some of the story and characters, including a lady named Victoria who liked to build robots and was a bit off her rocker. Such a great character! I composed the Victoria's Lab music based on that description, and I worked a lot of edgy rock guitar and aggressive orchestral instrumentation into the mix to evoke her mad-scientist vibe. But I also laced a lot of whimsical elements throughout. After I delivered the music, the team at Media Molecule created the level, and I learned later that they made some drastic changes to it after hearing the music I'd composed. Now Victoria was not only an unbalanced robot-builder, but she was also a baker of pastries and cookies. Sackboy could attack the robots by throwing giant cupcakes. And truly, who doesn't want to kill robots with cupcakes? :) I was really excited that the team had been inspired by my music in that way. Here's a vid of that music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCL2J5ttX_4

Quizzlys41 karma

Brilliant job!!! The music on that level was so immersive! I can't believe I'm talking to the person who made it! I'm melting.... Ahhhhhhh! Thank you!

the_mit_press7 karma

Awww! Thank you so much, Quizzlys! Really appreciate that!

DealerCamel83 karma

Hi Winifred! You mentioned in your book that you got your first paying gig by talking to people at E3. Still a viable way for a composer to break into the industry? Anything different you’d do differently if you got magically transported back to 2003?

the_mit_press101 karma

Hey, DealerCamel! Wow, what an intriguing question! If I had a time machine... would I do things differently? Absolutely not! I'm the first to admit, I got really lucky in connecting with Sony at just the right time to be considered for the God of War music composition team. That sort of lightning rarely strikes twice! :) I think going to video game industry conventions and conferences is still a viable way to break into the industry. The annual Game Developers Conference is invaluable. E3 is also very useful, although I think GDC is the best option (if you're going to pick just one event to attend).

FoxyFoxMulder57 karma

What game has awesome music that you love that you haven't personally worked on?

the_mit_press81 karma

Hey, FoxyFoxMulder. I have a lot of deeply sentimental feelings about Nathan McCree's score for the original Tomb Raider. I was listening to that score when it first occurred to me that I could become a game composer. That Tomb Raider score got into my head and convinced me that I needed to pursue a career in game music composition. For that reason alone, I'll always love that score.

ender_wiggin198839 karma

I am really curious to learn what the process of developing music for a game is. I know with film media, musical directors get footage to create along with, how does this process work for games?

the_mit_press62 karma

Hi, ender-wiggin1988! You're right about the process with film media. It's a spotting procedure, wherein the director and composer go through the film and look for good opportunities to place music in positions that will have maximum impact. I think that there's a similar philosophy behind how music is placed in games. The game development team and the composer make decisions about where music is going to be most impactful. The difference is that we can't just watch the game all the way through, the way we might watch a film. Instead, we can look at the design documents, look at the currently built levels at whatever stage of development they're currently in, and make decisions based on that. The dev team usually has strong ideas about the role of music in their project, and how they want the music to interact with their game. Sometimes I'll have more input regarding these choices, and other times the team will be fired up about their vision for the role that music will play, and I'll need to execute that vision.

GPTdavenelson31 karma

Obviously I'm sure it depends on game budget, but do you often get to work with performers to record or do you use a lot of sample libraries? If so what are some go to libraries?

the_mit_press82 karma

Hey GPTdavenelson! Nice question. You're totally right about the game budget. It -entirely- depends on that. When I get to work with performers, it's amazing. So much artistry magically appears in the recordings. The musicians breathe life into the music. But that's a luxury that only comes around now and then. Otherwise, I'm working with lots and -lots- of sample libraries. Been collecting them for years. Every sample library has its own strengths and weaknesses, so I like to combine them. It allows me to take advantage of the best aspects of every library. I work with EastWest, Vienna, LASS, you name it. When I'm not working with live musicians, sometimes I just use myself to inject some live qualities. I'm a classically trained vocalist, so I sometimes sing in my projects. Sometimes that's a solo vocal, like in the Assassin's Creed Liberation main theme (https://soundcloud.com/winifredphillips/liberation-main-theme) or sometimes that's a women's choir, like the music I composed for LittleBigPlanet 2 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCL2J5ttX_4). Sometimes I'll record my voice into a whole symphonic choir (SATB). I'll overdub my voice dozens and dozens of times, like I did for the Dragon Front game (https://soundcloud.com/winifredphillips/dragon-front-winifred-phillips-main-theme). It helps to introduce more life into the recordings, and it's also a lot of fun for me! :)

whattimeoclock28 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA!

As someone who is learning how to make game music (and who is new to music in general), do you have any tips to get over the learning curve?

the_mit_press35 karma

Hi whattimeoclock! When I was first learning about making game music, it seemed really daunting, so I completely understand how you feel. I think that experimentation is really useful. It may be helpful to just dive in and work on a project, even if you don't feel like you know what you're doing yet. A student project, or an indie team, might be willing to give you a shot. Maybe you can get involved in a game jam. You can set aside your trepidation and give it a go. I think that can help in terms of getting over the initial nerves, and experience is a fantastic teacher.

musicmastermsh27 karma

I'm with Washington Metropolitan Gamer Symphony Orchestra (wmgso.org), a non-profit community video game orchestra in the Washington DC area. We're all about playing VGM scores in accessible, orchestral settings. Most of the time, when we want to play a tune, we have to arrange it ourselves.

How can groups like us get a hold of your original orchestral game scores, to perform at our own concerts?

the_mit_press20 karma

Hello musicmastermsh! The Washington Metropolitan Gamer Symphony Orchestra sounds awesome, and a big congrats to you for bringing that to life. The coolness knows no bounds! Regarding getting a hold of the original orchestral game scores -- that's a bit trickier. I'm almost always working on a work-for-hire basis, so the rights to the music are owned and controlled by the game publisher, not by me. You would have to contact the game publishers and ask them if they could arrange for you to receive the materials you need. It might be possible! Game music concerts are a great way to promote the games themselves, and foster the enthusiasm of the gaming community.

Sloth_King823 karma

What's your favourite assassin creeds game?

the_mit_press46 karma

Hey Sloth_King8! That's such an easy question -- Assassin's Creed Liberation! Because I got to create the music for it, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Such a thrill! I loved creating music for Aveline. What an awesome heroine. I loved her story. The 18th century New Orleans setting couldn't have been more inspiring. I got to combine baroque and African influences into the same score. Such a fantastic creative opportunity! Loved working with the team at Ubisoft. They couldn't have been more supportive. My music from Liberation is going to be incorporated into the Assassin's Creed Symphony world tour, kicking off next month in Paris. Incredibly excited about that!

UncrownedKing70321 karma

Your really an unsung hero!

My question is have you ever felt rushed on any of the projects mentioned above and wished you could go back and change a bit of the music? If so which game and why?

the_mit_press59 karma

Hey, UncrownedKing703! That is a -really- good question. It reminds me of that great old story about the security guard in the art museum who is walking his rounds and suddenly discovers that a vandal has hopped the velvet rope and is desecrating one of the paintings! The guard yells, "Stop!" He runs up to the vandal, only to discover that it's the original artist of the painting in question. "Please," the artist mumbles, "I just have to fix this one tiny thing...!" We're always going to be tempted to jump the velvet rope, for any project we're working on. I can't think of a single game I've worked on that hasn't included some track I'd like a second crack at. But deadlines are deadlines. They don't move. And I'll always get a chance to do it better in my next project. If I'm not growing from project to project, then I'm doing it all wrong. :)

Antiganos15 karma

What is your normal first step in creating a composition for a new project? Do you always approach things in a particular order or with a specific method? I'm interested to hear how your process begins for a new piece.

the_mit_press24 karma

Hey, what a fascinating question, Antiaganos! My process for composition is going to depend a lot on the preferences of the development team. Their working method has a lot of influence over mine. They'll tell me which tracks they want me to compose first. They'll give me instruction about style. They'll lay out preferences for the way they want the music to interact with gameplay. All of that has to come into consideration in my composition process. I want to make sure my music is serving their vision. Otherwise, my creative process tends to change with each project, depending on the nature of the music in question. Sometimes I plan things out very meticulously, so that I'll have a very clear idea of what every instrument is doing right from my initial piano sketches. Other times, I just launch right in with instrumental experimentation, like a painter throwing paint on the canvas just to see what happens. It really depends on the nature of the project. :)

KingXello14 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA? What are your advices to solo indie devs/game makers who need to do their own music for games (at least for the prototype), but maybe don't have that skillset?

the_mit_press23 karma

Wow, that's a tough conundrum, KingXello! I understand why an indie dev would really want music in the prototype to sell the excitement and fun of their game. But if the dev isn't a musician, things are going to get hairy real fast. There are so many aspiring composers out there who are looking for opportunities, and I'd suggest that if the indie dev doesn't have any music skills, that it would be better to give a hungry newbie composer a chance to shine! If the indie dev does have some music chops, then I say -- have at it! So cool when the developer and the composer are the same person. The music and gameplay can be so organically meshed that way. It all springs from one mind.

Landminedj13 karma

What was the path that led you to composing video game music?
I'm trying to start a club at my school for anyone to play video game music(that means I have to find/write some of that music), and while I don't think that will be my career path, I have lots of time in my life

the_mit_press17 karma

Hey Landminedj. Thanks for the question! My path to video game music was pretty twisty. I started out working in radio, composing music for a series of dramas on NPR. I had the chance to learn about composing there. Then, when I crossed over into game music, I had a baseline of experience in traditional music composition. I think your club sounds awesome, and if you want to write some game music, that seems like a great way to kick things off. When you're playing games, you can pay attention to what the music is doing, maybe jot down some notes about how the music is reacting to gameplay. That'll give you some insight into how game music works. Then you can try your hand at creating some of your own.

tapedegg11 karma

What software do you use to lay out your music?

the_mit_press20 karma

Hey, tapedegg! I work with Pro Tools as my main Digital Audio Workstation. I use Kontakt for my instruments. I also work with the t.c. electronic System 6000 for all my digital signal processing.

tabi_bito11 karma

Hey Winifred! What project are you proudest of so far?

the_mit_press22 karma

Hey, tabi-bito! That's a tough question -- kind of like asking a parent about a favorite child. I love them all equally! :) But I am really proud of Liberation. Also, working on the LittleBigPlanet games couldn't have been more fun, or more creatively inspiring. The folks at Sony Europe really push the music team on these projects to be as creatively daring as possible. I got to take risks and compose music in ways I'd never imagined before. Loved the whole experience there. Also, I have to mention that I've lately been incredibly excited about creating music for Virtual Reality projects. Something about VR just tickles the kid inside me. I get incredibly jazzed about it. I've composed music for a lot of VR projects over the past few years, and I can't wait to do more. Just had two projects release this past Tuesday as launch games for the Oculus Quest -- Sports Scramble and Ballista.

mathlizard10 karma

What does your workflow look like? I am a programmer with a music background and I've always wanted to compose large scores, but get stuck at the 30-second-2minute mark. Are there tools/references/workflow ideas you would recommend to a wannabe composer like myself?

the_mit_press21 karma

Hey, mathlizard! I know what you mean about hitting the wall. You get to that spot and then you think... I have no idea what should come next here. That's a bad, bad feeling. Sometimes studying the works of other composers can really help. We don't have to mentally dissect them, but listening to music that we love can be really helpful. The composer has a lot of expertise involved in the composition choices that were made, and when we listen we are essentially absorbing those choices on a subconscious level. That can help when we return to our in-progress composition. I find that this kind of listening can propel me forward and help me keep going.

courtneysd10 karma

The LittleBigPlanet game series is my favorite and has incredible music that I still listen to today!

What songs did you compose from the games?

Thank you so much! You are truly talented.

the_mit_press4 karma

Hi, courtneysd! So happy you enjoy the LittleBigPlanet soundtracks! I wrote a -lot- of tracks for the franchise, starting with music for LittleBigPlanet 2, then continuing on to LittleBigPlanet 3, LittleBigPlanet Cross Controller, LittleBigPlanet PS Vita, and LittleBigPlanet Toy Story. An extra cool aspect of composing for LBP -- not only does the music exist as a part of the excellent game levels created by the development teams, but it's also available to players. They can implement it in their own levels. The music is constructed with interactive components, so it can be manipulated in a lot of ways by players. I love seeing how the LBP community uses the music I've composed for the franchise. It's so cool to see my music as a part of their creative expression. Another reason why I love being a part of LBP!

RibbitTheCat6 karma

What was your fave game soundtrack growing up? I love when modern games have little parts of 8bit sounds here and there, too. Terraria is about the newest game I can think of with a modern soundtrack mixed with classic sounds. LittleBigPlanet was great too, btw! Never played the GoW series but I'm sure it's up there.

I feel like it takes something fantastic these days to earn a spot in my head due to all the old game music already in there. Looking at you, Krondor.

the_mit_press11 karma

Hey, RibbitTheCat! I know what you mean about the classic game music. Really, -really- sticks in your head -- and that's fantastic. Everyone knows the Super Mario Bros. theme. It's a cultural icon. I actually got to create an oddball cover version some years back, and I had a great time doing that! I remember the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack really vividly. Of course, everybody remembers One Winged Angel!

itsnotusefulnow5 karma

Hi there!! Your music for LBP was like the soundtrack to my late childhood, my mom and I played that game constantly. I’d love to know how you created different tracks with different cultural music styles, and yet still kept a cohesive feeling to the game music overall?

the_mit_press4 karma

Hello Itsnotusefulnow! Thanks for letting me know that you and your mom played the game together. Warms my heart! In terms of the different cultural music styles, that has a lot to do with the team of composers who worked on those games. I was a part of a stellar team of composers, and we all had our own strengths and unique qualities that we brought to the LittleBigPlanet franchise. The music folks at Sony Europe were fantastic at corralling all this music together and making it feel cohesive.

--cheese--4 karma

What other video game composer(s) do you admire most?

the_mit_press15 karma

Nobuo Uematsu. Final Fantasy all the way. :)

Canana_Man3 karma

I've wanted to compose game music since I was a little child, but I've started to realize over the years that there's an extremely large number of many many many great underrated artists, that are everywhere, and the game music market has totally become oversaturated.
I'm worried sometimes that there's no hope for me to ever stand out or get into that kind of position, especially considering that even though I study hard on books from the library or resources from the internet, I haven't gotten any formal music theory education from a college or some such institution.
But I'm going to keep pressing on because it's what my passion is, and giving up will just lower my chances from slim to none.

Do you have anything you could share that I would need to know if I ever ended up working for any larger scale projects?
Anything from "Stuff to notice in the contracts" to "How to avoid composers block"
So far I've only been working on more amatuer/personal projects (as one does when starting 😂) but hey, music is music :P
Also I absolutely LOVE the pod music, I'm so glad you posted this AMA because now I found your portfolio and can listen to the full thing 😍😍😍

the_mit_press4 karma

Hi Canana_Man! Thanks for the kind words about the Pod music from LittleBigPlanet 3! (https://soundcloud.com/winifredphillips/littlebigplanet-3-winifred-phillips-the-pod) Really appreciate that! It was an honor to be asked to create music for the LittleBigPlanet 3 pod. Regarding if you ever work on any larger-scale projects -- first, remember to enjoy it! You'll be stressed. I know I was. Don't forget to smell the roses. Regarding avoiding composer's block -- don't worry about that. Deadlines will solve that for you, as long as you're taking them seriously. If you're like Douglas Adams, then deadlines might not help. He used to talk about enjoying the breeze when deadlines whooshed by. But I'm very anxious about deadlines, so they can induce Edgar Allan Poe levels of dread. In those circumstances, the deadline itself will become your creative muse.

whidzee3 karma

I'm working on a small indie game at the moment. can you offer any suggestions on how i should approach music assuming i want to spend as little money as possible? good websites for free websites which can be used for games? free programs which I could tweak the music or create music? any other tips would be greatly appreciated

the_mit_press9 karma

Hey, whidzee! I feel your pain. Game music composition is expensive. The tools are pricey. I've been building my studio ever since I was a teenager, and it's taken a long time to get where it is now. I think there are some free DAWs out there, and you can find free sample libraries and samplers too I think. I'll admit that I'm not too familiar with the free options at the moment, but Google can certainly be your friend here. Other than that, I'd suggest that you let your tools inspire you, whatever they may be. When I started, I had a couple of rack-mount sound modules, a keyboard, and a lot of ambitious ideas. When we're working with limited tools, we have to shape our compositions based around the strengths of the instruments at our disposal. Then, as you add to your studio, you can expand your compositions to take into account the new capabilities of your tools.

PyroticMadness3 karma

Hi! I have to say, Little Big Planet was one of my favorite games, and a big part of that was the soundtrack!

What gave you inspiration for how to make the soundtrack have that wondrous, curious vibe?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hello, PyroticMadness! Thanks for the kind words about the LBP soundtrack! Regarding your question -- most of my inspiration comes from the creative teams at the development companies, starting with the wonderful music and audio pros at Sony Europe, and branching out to the brilliant dev teams at Media Molecule, Sumo Digital, Tarsier Studios, Double 11, Supermassive Games, and so on. During music production, I get to have wonderful conversations with these amazing folks, and they send me all sorts of design documents and art to get me inspired. Plus, the whole concept of LittleBigPlanet is intrinsically inspiring. The game is built around the core concept of Play Create Share! It's an incredibly creative philosophy.

BootyFarts223 karma

Do you have any idea how awesome you are?

Also, I find that the further I am from my equipment, the better my ideas are, but when I'm sitting down in front of my piano, I've got nothing. How do I remedy this? :(

the_mit_press4 karma

Hey BootyFarts22! Thank you so much! :D I know what you mean about being away from the equipment. I believe there is a evil muse that delights in sending us the best possible melody for our project when we're encased in soap suds in the shower. Apart from the shower conundrum, I've solved the problem sometimes by singing ideas into the voice memo app on my phone. Nice to have something to start with before sitting down at the keyboard.

HeightsWaves2 karma

Hey Winifred!

Do you have any advice for a composer in college who’s just starting their career? Also, do you have any internships?

Thank you for doing this AMA by the way. I loved your book and it’s been a huge help to me ever since I started writing video game music.

the_mit_press8 karma

Hey, HeightsWaves! Thanks for the question. If you're in a college with a game development program, my advice to you is to make friends with those student developers! Also, you can look into student competitions. There's the Imagine Cup, the Independent Games Festival Student Showcase, and the Dare to be Digital "One to Watch" award from BAFTA. Those student teams are going to need a composer, and why shouldn't that be you? You could connect with a student team at your college, or maybe do some internet networking to find a team at another college that might be in need of your help. I don't take interns, but a lot of other composers do, so that could be a path to pursue. :)

KlaraBee952 karma

What's most fun about your job? What's most annoying?

the_mit_press13 karma

Great question, KlaraBee95! Most fun... there's this moment during music composition. It comes after I've done a bunch of research, worried a lot about what the musical style should be, sweated a lot of details. I'm starting work on a track -- probably one of the first tracks that I'm composing. Maybe it's the very first. I get to a point where the basic structure is in place... and then it just becomes perfectly clear what I'm supposed to do next. Doubt falls away. I'm in the zone. That always happens somewhere along the line, in every project. Sometimes it's early on, sometimes it's later. When it happens, that's when my job is incredibly fun. I'm having a blast. I'm operating on jet fuel. It's the best. My most annoying thing about the job... when I don't know what to do. When I'm stumped. Doesn't happen a lot, but it does happen. Deadlines don't move anywhere, so I've got to power past it. But it isn't fun. Eventually, I figure things out.

oelburk2 karma

How is your typical workflow when writing music for a new scene/part of a game? Like; play the scene once, fiddle around with some melodies, record a quick peice and let it sit for a few days and so on.

the_mit_press4 karma

Hey, oelburk! I like to watch gameplay video or play a game build (if there's one available) before I start work. Every piece of gameplay has its own visual rhythm, and that has a profound influence on the pacing and momentum of the music I'll create for it. Regarding how I schedule my work -- usually I'm operating on some pretty tight deadlines, so I rarely have the luxury to set a piece aside and then come back to it. The music must be finished! The deadline gods will be satisfied! Honestly, there's nothing more inspiring than that terrifying ticking of the clock counting down to a deadline. I amaze myself with how much I can get done. :)

prod0242 karma

Hey! Thanks for doing this!

If it hasn't been asked already, do you listen to certain music for influence? If so, what bands or general genres do you listen to?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey prod024! I actually listen to whatever musical genre or style has been chosen as the reference for the project I'm going to be scoring. This has exposed me to a huge cross-section of influences and styles. I've enjoyed exploring musical genres I might not otherwise have been exposed to. I've definitely learned a lot!

MasterofRevels2 karma

Hi Winifred,

I've been following your blog for a little while now and have been loving the great advice! And I love your work on Assassin's Creed and Little Big Planet.

My question is, what advice would you give for a composer trying to make the transition from composing music for smaller scale, more poorly funded indie games to bigger profile games with more of a budget? I am still a pretty new game composer and I've managed to secure work on a few indie games that are being made by newly formed studios that will need to rely on crowdfunding to have a budget. How do I make the move from this level of project to bigger studios? Do I wait for one of these games to make it big or could I start hitting up the bigger studios right away? And does cold emailing work or should I be networking? Or a mix of the two?

I have found a lot of help online about breaking into composing for games but not a lot on climbing the ladder. Hopefully you can shed some light on this for me!

Thanks, Andrew

the_mit_press3 karma

Hi MasterofRevels! Thanks for following my blog! Really appreciate the support. I think it's possible to move up from small indie games to bigger projects. Some of these indie games are really slick-looking and impressive, so that gives us the chance to create music with an equally triple-A feel to it. Really helpful to have examples of our work that show a large-project level of quality. This can help to open doors. Beyond this, it all comes down to reaching out and building up your contacts, attending conferences and conventions, and making yourself known in the industry. If you've learned something interesting or noteworthy from your work on an indie project, you might consider writing a post-mortem article about it to help out the rest of the industry. Sharing your knowledge is a great way to let others know about you and your work. It's also a feel-good experience that can connect you to the rest of the community. It's really a win-win.

Nixplosion2 karma

Do you have any other video game composers that you sort of idolize? Or would like to meet and collaborate with?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hello, Nixplosion! I haven't really thought about collaborating with other composers, mostly because I'm a real loner when it comes to the music composition process. In terms of video game composers that I idolize... I wouldn't mind meeting Nobuo Uematsu. But with the language barrier, we'd sort of stand there and stare at each other. I'm sure it would be a profound moment, for me anyway. By the way, my book A Composer's Guide to Game Music is actually translated into Japanese, and I have a copy of it (https://amzn.to/2WkhFHX). Can't read it. Love looking at it, though. I can read my name on the cover, which is pretty cool. I imagine Uematsu reading my book. I don't imagine he ever has actually done so, but I have imagined him doing it. :)

hejtyjaaa2 karma

I'm curious - what are your inspirations? Also, do you play video games in your free time?

the_mit_press6 karma

Hey hejtyjaaa! I'm inspired by a lot of things! I love fantasy and sci-fi, all the speculative fiction genres. Lately, I'm really inspired by VR, and that's what I've been playing a lot in my free time (Moss, Beat Saber, Audica, Space Pirate Trainer, Robo Recall, Audioshield, so on).

moejazi2 karma

As a fan of LBP and GOW i salute you sir. I am a 29 year old who literally loves little big planet! Is there ever a time where you would feel like the music wasn't right for the game and you were forced to pick it because of the director or developer?

Also big questions. What song do you hate most?

the_mit_press4 karma

Hey moejazi! Nothing wrong with being 29 and loving LittleBigPlanet! I love it too! Regarding your question -- I've been asked sometimes to deliver music that seems like sort of an eccentric choice for the game in question. But in those moments, I think it's important to remember that the dev team knows their game a lot better than I do. They know their audience. They also know the overall effect they're trying to create with the music of the game. Creative collaboration doesn't work unless everybody trusts everybody else. I just have to metaphorically close my eyes and do a 'trust fall' in those circumstances. The final result is almost always fantastic! Okay now... what song do I hate most? The Hampster Dance. And for those of you with that song in your head because of me... I am very sorry. Blame moejazi.

KaidanTONiO2 karma

Hello! One of your soundtracks that has always stuck with me is The Da Vinci Code game adaptation, and I always wondered how you developed the music for this title.

I recall reading somewhere that you did the voices of the choir using some specific software that can use a singular voice to simulate a multitude, was this true?

the_mit_press5 karma

Hello KaidanTONiO! Thanks for asking about The Da Vinci Code. I'm really proud of that project, and very grateful to have been given the opportunity to create music for it. Regarding the voices in the choir -- it wasn't a piece of software. It was actually a more low-tech solution. It was me, recording my own voice. Over and over and over. And over and over. A lot of times. I can get my own voice to sound like a full choir that way. I've created choirs in this way for a lot of projects, including God of War, the LittleBigPlanet franchise, and Assassin's Creed Liberation. Really enjoy doing it, even though it can be pretty time-consuming. It's fun, though! :)

Dartmiz2 karma

Do you ever use contra clarinets in your compositions? It's my favorite instrument and I feel that it isn't utilized as much as it should be despite it's awesome sound.

the_mit_press11 karma

Hello Dartmiz, and more power to the contra clarinet! Yes, I use that baby a lot in my work. She's warm, fat and fabulous. She beefs up anything to which she's added, and I love her. :)

GreatWhiteToyShark2 karma

Hi Winifred! About 10 years ago I was lucky enough to get some great promotional albums from you due to some freelance music journalism I was doing, just wanted to thank you again for the great music over the years. I still enjoy listening to Spore Hero and SimAnimals from time to time :)

What kind of music and games do you enjoy outside of work?

the_mit_press3 karma

Oh wow, that's awesome, GreatWhiteToyShark! Glad you enjoyed those albums! Spore Hero and SimAnimals are still two of my absolutely favorite projects of all time. I really grew as a composer working on those games, and I tried to be really ambitious with the music. Fun fact: one of the tracks I composed for Spore Hero was used last month in a trailer for the Avengers Endgame movie! So you absolutely never know where your music might end up! (Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMTn2_Vw9Nc). I enjoy a lot of different kinds of music outside of work. My iTunes playlist is just stuffed with all kinds of musical genres. A lot of it consists of reference music I bought when I was researching musical styles for one project or another. It makes for some wacky listening experiences, but it also feels kind of like a photo album full of memories -- snapshots of the past. :)

tDangit2 karma

Hi Winifred! Thanks for the awesome tunes that make our video game memories so vivid. A couple questions for you:

1) How do you get inspired to choose instrumentation for a game? For example, are there certain player actions or moods that move you towards a brassier sound vs strings?

2) When working with electronic sounds, how do you like to pick a specific noise or tone from the multitude available to you?

the_mit_press5 karma

Hey, tDangit! Nice questions! You make a good point about player actions. Brass can do a lot of heroic and/or bombastic things, so if I'm looking for some heft and glory, brass always comes through for me. Strings are great for pathos and anxiety, so if I'm looking for those emotional tone colors, I know where to go. In terms of electronic sounds -- I've been collecting them for many many years -- kind of like paint colors in an art box. I don't know what color I'm going to need until I'm in the midst of a project and casting around for just the right shade of green. Thankfully, the box of paints is so stuffed full now that it's getting ridiculous. Even then, sometimes I can't stop myself from buying more. It's a compulsion. :)

Iohet2 karma

Do you fashion yourself on a trajectory like Michael Giacchino, who started on games with notable scores for the early Medal of Honor games? Or are you happy staying in the video game arena?

Who is your favorite composer? Mine is Craig Safan. The Last Starfighter score is one of my favorite to listen to

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey Iohet! Big shout-out to The Last Starfighter! Yay!! I taught myself the music from that movie on the piano when I was a kid. You have given me a huge wave of warm and fuzzy nostalgia, so thank you very much! :) Regarding my career trajectory -- I wouldn't -object- to having a Michael Giacchino-style film career. Who knows what could happen in the future? I'm ready and willing. :)

Halzbog2 karma

Is composing music your full time job or something you just do part time on the side?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey, Halzbog! Composing music is my full time job. It wouldn't be possible to have a second job, since game music composition is so time consuming and difficult. I'm glad that I can be a full time game music composer.

Aimbot_png2 karma

Hi Winifred! What game that you have composed for gave you the biggest challenge?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey, Aimbot_png! Good question. Spore Hero was a challenging project. Very long development schedule, lots and lots of music to compose, and all sorts of different interactive music requirements. I was pretty stressed out by the time that project wrapped, but I'm also really proud of it. I learned a lot, and I grew a lot as a composer.

rydog022 karma

Do you ever think of yourself like the guys in full house who try and create jingles when you’re stuck on a composition?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey, rydog02! I've got to admit that I've never watched Full House. I will admit though that I've watched Ishtar, and every now and then I'll remember Dustin Hoffman in the desert, trying to formulate song lyrics while crawling on his hands and knees, coming up with just the right line with no way to write it down. Even as he's dying of thirst and heat, he's so happy to finish that song lyric that he yells "We didn't even -need- a pencil!" I can relate. :)

Slinktard2 karma

How did you end up in that gig? What kinds of works were you into before?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey, Slinktard! Thanks for the question! :) Before I became a game composer, I was the composer for a series of radio dramas for National Public Radio called "Radio Tales." The series adapted classic novels, short stories and myths for the radio. I got to create music for The War of the Worlds, Frankenstein, The Tell-Tale Heart, Beowulf, and lots of other great stories. It was an amazing job! The series had over a hundred episodes around the time it was wrapping up. Right after that, I started pursuing a career as a game composer.

pepperoniMaker2 karma

The God of War and Assassin's Creed series are some of my biggest inspirations that made me to start composing so i thank you very much for them. As an amateur composer one of my biggest problems is writers block, I am currently going through one that is much longer than the rest, and have been and really struggling to get over it. If you did go through similar issues what was your method of over coming it?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey pepperoniMaker. My biggest method of overcoming writers block has been fear of starvation. Writers block gets real when it starts getting in the way of your grocery trips. I think the panic is what got me past those sorts of hurdles... so maybe you just need to force yourself to work really fast. Pretend a serial killer is going to come after you unless you get the work done. It's amazing how powerful fear is as a motivating factor.

npnick2 karma

Hi there! I have been collecting video game soundtracks for a while, and I always try to get a physical, tangible CD album if possible (or Vinyl, if I am feeling fancy). They are just really neat trinkets to have on my shelf. What is your take on digital soundtracks and the lack of physical CD releases looming on the horizon? Thank you!

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey npnick! I understand what you mean. I have a tall stack of big wicker crates stuffed with CDs. Not enough space to fit them all. It's darned inconvenient, digging through all of them looking for that one track that I never got around to adding to my iTunes playlist. So... I suppose that's the reason why physical CD releases are going away. But I like holding CDs in my hand. I like liner notes. It all feels special. I'll be sad when CDs are gone, if that happens. But it's kind of ironic how Vinyl is making a resurgence now. Let's get rid of the palm-sized discs in favor of the big black platters with the dust crackles! It's weird, but it's also fun. The covers of Vinyl albums are so big and pretty, and just the right size for framing.

DecriMarco2 karma

Is "distractiveness" an important aspect of your compositions? Fantastic IAmA, thank you!

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey, DecriMarco! You make a good point. Music shouldn't distract the player. There's a careful balance to be maintained. If the music becomes a distraction, that's a problem. However, if we overreact and make the music so bland that nobody would ever notice it or care about it... then that's a problem too. Got to find a solution midway between the two extremes, I think.

ethanicus2 karma

Hi Winifred! I just wanted to let you know that the LBP games have been a huge part of my childhood and definitely launched me into my interest in game dev. The OSTs of those games are amazing, and I had tons of fun using the song mixers to make my own ambiance for my levels.

Thanks a ton for your contribution to those wacky games. I wouldn't be doing something I love if it weren't for them.

I have to ask a question as well so: what song (from any game) did you have the most trouble creating?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hello ethanicus, and thank you so much for those kind words! That's enormously generous, and I really appreciate it. In terms of the song that gave me the most trouble, I'd have to say The Ziggurat, from LittleBigPlanet 3. As a bit of backstory -- when working on the Victoria's Lab music for LittleBigPlanet 2, I relied on a classical structure called an 'Aria et Fugato.' It included a mini-fugue, which is a kind of music composition with a lot of counterpoint. Very complex. After doing that, I got extra ambitious and though, well... heck! I did a mini-fugue. So, now, let's do the whole shebang for LittleBigPlanet 3! I planned the Ziggurat music to be a full fledged 4 and a half minute fugue in the grand tradition of Bach. It was so hard to do! That had to have been one of the most challenging tracks I've ever written. (In case you want to hear it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_g67QYnJ0w) By the way, the Ziggurat track from LittleBigPlanet 3 won a Hollywood Music in Media Award, which was a great culmination to a pretty grueling journey.

TheRichly2 karma

Is there a composer or artist you find inspiration from?

the_mit_press4 karma

Hey TheRichly! Of course, John Williams is an endless source of inspiration, but I also find Shirley Walker to be immensely inspiring. She composed the music for Batman The Animated Series. Some of the best Batman music ever composed. She made her mark, and I have tremendous respect for that.

fa1afel2 karma

Favorite music you’ve made? What’s the most fun to make?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hi fa1afel! Thanks for the question. In terms of the most fun music to make -- I'd say that my whole experience composing the music for the Legend of the Guardians game was really memorable and awesome. At the time I was dying to do an epic fantasy project, and then Legend of the Guardians dropped in my lap. It let me create a sweeping fantasy score with a strong sense of culture and mystery, along with lots of action that conveyed a sense of world-shattering doom. Just what I'd been looking for! Oh, and you got to fly around as a talking owl wearing armor, so how can you beat that. I was incredibly psyched all during music production for that game. For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, here's the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-xU2Q3R8sE

MrStealthMaestro2 karma

Hi Winifred! Thank you so much for doing this AMA. As a band director and game nerd, I always love listening to game scores and wishing so much that they would be composed for band. Have you ever thought about composing for different mediums such as a concert band? If you wanted to compose for bands, how would you do so?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey MrStealthMaestro! I know what you mean regarding game scores for bands. Every time I see a marching band performing a video game tune, I get misty. All bands should play game music!! I am fully expecting there to be lots of inspiring game music performed during the opening ceremonies of the 2020 Olympics in Japan, and if this does not happen I will be peeved! In terms of how to compose for bands... I don't know. I've never done that. You probably know more than me! :) By the way, the closest I've ever come to having my music performed by a marching band was when a middle school flag team in Taiwan performed a routine to some of my music from Assassin's Creed. It's freaking awesome: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6AuFwa2ueM

thebikerdad2 karma

Hello Winifred! Thanks for doing this AMA!

Do you compose only when you have a project to work on or is it a round-the-clock thing?

the_mit_press4 karma

Hi thebikerdad! I'm composing pretty steadily lately, but I usually have a project that I'm working on. In the times that the projects slow down, I usually grab the opportunity to attend to business matters. I recently had a gap in my music production schedule long enough to update my website, which was way overdue. Otherwise, I'm either composing, playing games, or... you know... going outside. There's a sun out there. It's big and bright.

Tarshana2 karma

Do you get your inspiration from playing the games or watching others play? Have you ever had to completely start over because a piece wasn't what you expected or wanted?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hi Tarshana! Good questions! I get inspiration from playing the game myself, but I have to admit that watching other people playing is incredibly inspiring too, and its something I normally don't get to do during music production. The original God of War was an exception, since I got to go to the E3 convention and see people playing the game on the show floor. It was a really quick way to understand how much of a phenomenon God of War was going to be. Regarding completely starting over... that's happened. Not too often, but it happens. It's usually on the first day of music composition for a project. The first crummy day. The first half of the first crummy day. I reach that mid-point and realize that everything I've done up to that point is crud. Time to trash it all and start over. Select it all ... and punch the delete key. Usually angrily. Anger helps.

ArleezyLaFlare2 karma

You are answering the shit out of these questions! Thank you!

My question is, what level of music knowledge would you consider to be "basic" enough to get started in something like this?

the_mit_press3 karma

Thank you very much, ArleezyLaFlare! That's very nice of you! In terms of what level of music knowledge is basic enough to get started... you could conceivable start off knowing absolutely nothing. Everybody has to start somewhere. I think it would probably help to have some level of musicianship first, be able to play an instrument. If it's a keyboard, then even better. So much easier to use music software if you play a keyboard. From there, I think it's entirely possible to get your whole education from listening to music and letting it teach you how to compose. If we can learn how to listen, how to mentally dissect what we're hearing and understand what's going on... that gives us the keys to the kingdom. There's no music recording that won't have something to teach us, if we can listen to it and understand what it is we're hearing.


How do you write your music? I'm curious about your process. Do you write with pencil and paper? Do you write on an instrument first and then transfer? Do you use pattern sequencers?

I write music using pattern sequencers, because I've never found a physical instrument that I feel comfortable with, but writing that way is laborious and takes so much time. I wanted to know how you do it so I can brainstorm ideas for myself.

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey, UUUUGGGGHHHH! :) I don't work with pencil and paper. I compose on a MIDI keyboard connected to a computer that's running a sequencer. The sequencer can detect the keys I'm playing and remember them. If you're talking about working with music trackers, then I salute you, my friend. That's -hard- work. I think you'll find that if you purchase even a modest little keyboard and take some time to become its friend, it will repay your kindness by easing your workload and opening up tons of creative possibilities for you. Plus, since you already know the meaning of hard work, you should find using a keyboard to be pretty liberating.

tashavl2 karma

How do I do what you do?

the_mit_press6 karma

Hey tashavl! Well, you put your right foot in, you put your right foot out, you put your right foot in, then you shake it all about... :)

WhyDidntYouDoMyJob2 karma

Would you say jazz has influenced your work and, if so, who are your favourite jazz musicians?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hello, WhyDidn'tYouDoMyJob! Love your question! I am a big jazz fan. I love jazz. Whenever I get to compose jazz for a project, I get really excited! One of my earlier projects was The Maw video game for Twisted Pixel games, and I got to create a game score that was 100% jazz from start to finish. I was so happy (some gameplay here: https://youtu.be/HfC57h34q1g). More recently I did a jazz score for the Fail Factory VR game for Armature Studio -- also a ton of fun to do! (trailer: https://youtu.be/SQtfWGp2b3Y). In terms of my favorite jazz musicians -- I love so many. Dizzy Gillespie. Glenn Miller. Actually, one of my favorite jazz scores was composed by John Williams -- his 'Catch Me If You Can' soundtrack. The opening sequence is so brilliant. (Watch: https://youtu.be/7nv2S_S9MlU)

grizwald872 karma

I went to high school ten years ago with a guy who had an immense amount of musical talent and was pursuing a career in composition after graduation. I mentioned the burgeoning field of composing for video games and I still remember how contemptuous he was of it. There was some extraordinary stuff even back then (like the Max Payne 2 score), but I feel like game scores have since come into their own even more. What's the attitude of the rest of the composer community to what you do, and have you noticed it change over time?

Congratulations on your many achievements!

the_mit_press3 karma

Hello grizwald87! Thanks for sharing that story -- I know exactly what you mean. It seems like the art of video game music has surged ahead in terms of sophistication and style, but so many people still think it sounds like Pong. Years ago, I was at an awards show, sitting at a table filled with radio producers. I was in an in-between place between the radio career I'd had up to that point, and the video game career that was just beginning for me. Conversation flowed around the table, and eventually somebody asked me what I'd been doing lately. I talked about video games. I didn't talk about them for long though. They seemed thoroughly amused, but not in a good way. So I understand where that sentiment comes from. But I think it's on its way out. We need to give it a bit more time. Video games are permeating culture. Just wait a little while longer, and everybody will understand video games a lot better.

sutree12 karma

Thank you for making yourself available for this! I am a musician thinking about writing for games, in a non-symphonic style (blues based).

How much "actual music" do you end up composing for a game project, and how much of your time does that take? I realize this may be unanswerable as it depends on the game... are you given length targets to meet? Are you assigned extra themes for the producers to choose from?

the_mit_press5 karma

Hey sutree! Ooh, a blues composer... somebody get sutree a sci-fi noir game to score! :) Per your question about how much music gets composed for a game project -- that is kind of like asking how many types of snowflakes fall from the sky. Some game dev teams ask for hours of music. Others want a handful of minutes. It really depends on the budget, and on how the developers feel about the importance of music in their game. In terms of the "extra themes" idea... no, that doesn't usually happen. The developers realize that if they ask me to compose a track, they'll be compensating me for that work, so they tend to want to use the music in the game. Nobody wants to buy something that they end up not using.

BlooooContra2 karma

Hi Winifred!

Do you prefer writing for/recording live instruments, or creating through DAWs/sample libraries/etc? What’s your go-to method if budget and time aren’t an issue?

the_mit_press4 karma

Hello BlooooContra! I enjoy working both ways. It's actually hard to compare the two. Composing for live musicians gives me the ability to rely on the warmth and expressiveness that I know the musician will be bringing to the recording session. Doing everything through samples means that I have to work hard to infuse the samples with the same sense of expressiveness that the live musician would have provided. It's hard work, but sometimes it makes sense to do things that way -- particularly if the composition is going to be very difficult to perform. Maybe it's rhythmically complex, or would require an extremely virtuoso performance. If I'm going to work with live musicians, I have to think about what I'll be putting those musicians through. But if I feel that I can pull it off with orchestral simulation, then I'll just go ahead and do it.

vtvanda2 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA. Congrats on your work and your book!

What are the main differences and challenges between composing for a video game, versus other creative works?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey vtvanda! Really appreciate the support! :) Composing for a game is sort of like 3D chess. Everything else is checkers in comparison. Video game music composition can be very complex. There are all kinds of interactive structural issues that face game composers. Techniques like Horizontal Resequencing and Vertical Layering become a big part of our work (I talk about this at length in my book). Just the simple act of composing a piece of music to loop in a satisfying way can feel like climbing a mountain. Still, we have to remember that we get to compose for -games- which are, admittedly, the coolest forms of entertainment -ever-. That kind of makes up for some of the challenges we face. :)

musicmastermsh2 karma

There seem to be countless thousands of would-be game composers out there these days. What can any of us do to help our music (and ourselves!) stand out from the crowd?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hi musicmastermsh! You're right, there are a lot of aspiring game composers out there. In terms of what you can do to make your music stand out... that's a hard question. There's usually a lot of discussion about being 'unique' and 'true to yourself' and that's all worthwhile. But I think it makes us feel like we have to put ourselves in a stylistic box, like sticking a label on our foreheads. Personally, I tend to resist that. If I enjoy a style of music, I want to be able to compose in that style. So my recommendation is to compose the music you -want- to compose, and make sure that it pleases you. Apart from that, I think the biggest secret to success here is hard-headed stubbornness. Just don't give up. Keep plugging away. Move mountains. That kind of determination is the special sauce that gives successful composers longevity in this industry.

TheGreatCornlord2 karma

What's your general approach to making dramatic/epic music like that in many parts of GoW?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey, TheGreatCornlord! Cool question! I think that dramatic/epic music only has the power to move us by virtue of contrast. As a comparison, if we're listening to loud music for awhile, it ceases to feel loud. But if the music dips down into a hush, and then works its way back to thunderous levels, we're going to really sense the loudness! The same is true for dramatic/epic music. It needs to be set up properly. The musical score should build toward the big moments. Ideally, an epic track should have moments of hush that build back up into big bombastic statements. The contrast is what creates the drama.

DJFluffers1152 karma

LittleBigPlanet was my favorite series growing up. What's your favorite piece you did for them?

the_mit_press2 karma

Hi DJFluffers115! It's actually really hard to choose a favorite piece I got to compose for the LBP franchise -- there were so many! Of course, I have extra warm feelings about my first LittleBigPlanet track, Victoria's Lab (https://youtu.be/dCL2J5ttX_4). It was a real honor creating the music for the LittleBigPlanet 3 Pod (https://soundcloud.com/winifredphillips/littlebigplanet-3-winifred-phillips-the-pod). The music I got to create for LBP Cross Controller was especially wacky and fun to work on (https://soundcloud.com/winifredphillips/littlebigplanet-cross-controller-winifred-phillips-henomorph-encounter). I also really loved creating big band jazz for LBP Toy Story (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=xiBoD7NBrKA). Working for LBP has been -so- much fun!

Mitch21619982 karma

Whats your favourite piece of music (or entire sound track) made by you and whats your favourite made by others? (also the sims music is great!)

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey Mitch2161998! Loved working on the Sims franchise! The SimAnimals game was an awesome project to work on (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tq9DsM_fPmA). While I was working on that game, I was listening to a lot of minimalism and post minimalism as reference works. Definitely developed a love for John Adams and Steve Reich during those times. Music For 18 Musicians is an awe-inspiring composition.

Kahzgul2 karma

Other than your own amazing games, what games have soundtracks that you love?

the_mit_press7 karma

I love a lot of soundtracks, both from video games and from the film and tv worlds. Of course, the Final Fantasy franchise is extra special, and the soundtrack to the original Tomb Raider is meaningful because it convinced me to pursue a career in game music composition.

scarflix2 karma

What’s your favorite piece of analog music equipment?

the_mit_press6 karma

Hey scarflix! I love my keyboard. It's a Kurzweil PC2x. It's big, beautiful, and sexy. It has every slider, button and scroll wheel I need. I'll never stray... unless it dies. Which it never will. Never.

Xx-gang-slayer-90xX2 karma

when you were composing music for LBP, what was your personal favorite?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey Xx-gang-slayer-90xX! While I was composing, my favorites tended to be associated with whatever LBP game I was working on at the time. Loved working on Victoria's Lab in LPB2. Creating The Pod music for LBP3 was really special. Had a fantastic time getting disco funky for the HenOMorph level in LBP Cross Controller. Really enjoyed composing cowboy music for Woody in the LBP Toy Story game. Really, being a LBP composer is like being a kid in a candy store.

Aldeyu2 karma

Im an audio engineer ( mainly music ) . my question is how do you find inspiration when commisoned to do the work ? Do you actuslly play thru the game, or how does it work?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey, Aldeyu! Thanks for asking! Sometimes I get to play through the game, but sometimes not. It depends on how much of the game is in a playable state when I'm brought on to compose the music. If the game isn't ready to play, then I may just be composing with concept art and game design documents for guidance. Sometimes I'll also receive videos of early gameplay capture, in a very rudimentary state. All of these materials are helpful.

BarakudaB2 karma

Hey, thanks for the AMA!

Huge fan of every game you listed and many I’ve played through multiple times. I’m a sucker for good music.

What’s the game you’d like to work on and make music for the most? Franchise? Or title?

the_mit_press6 karma

Hey, BarakudaB! Thanks for the kind words -- greatly appreciated! I haven't done a fantasy RPG yet, and I'm itching to do one. Nice sprawling fantasy RPG... lots of questing... fate of the world in the balance... and me composing lots of music for it. Can't wait to do that. There are a lot of IPs in that genre, and I'd happily embrace them all, they're all awesome. I recently got to do a sci-fi game with RPG elements (Scraper: First Strike for VR), so that was some good fun. Some gameplay here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yf1Gm56uw2w

KlaraBee952 karma

Is it hard as a woman in the industry or do you not face any challenges, maybe even advantages?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hello KlaraBee95! It's a good question. I haven't noticed any advantages or disadvantages, but I'm not sure that I'm in a position to notice. Since I'm an external contractor, I'm mostly working off-site. I don't have the kind of in-person social interactions that can become problematic for other women in the industry, so in a way I've been shielded from those problems. I suppose it's possible that being a woman has impacted whether I'm hired for a project or not... but again, it's hard for me to tell. Hiring decisions don't tend to be explained. There was one time when I did notice that being a woman had put me at a disadvantage, but it wasn't a serious problem -- just a bummer. I got hired for a project, and a team member started sending me e-mails to talk about the music needs of the game. He was calling me 'dude' and 'man.' I think he thought the name Winifred was male. I suppose it's understandable - the name has 'fred' in it. :) Anyway, he kept saying things like, 'yeah, man it's gonna be great. You're killing it, dude!' I'll admit, I was just loving it. Then, suddenly, his emails got all stiff and formal. I realized what had happened. I had been outed. I was no longer his dude. Such disappointment! We had this great bromance going on. Oh well. :)

hesus_criest2 karma

What are some challenges while connecting parts of games to music? Do you ever feel emotionally bonded with any particular game's storyline?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey, hesus_criest! I tend to get -very- emotionally invested with the storyline of the game I'm scoring. It can get pretty intense at times. When I was composing music for Homefront: The Revolution, I had to create some horror-style music for some really vicious moments in the game. (You can see the video of that here, but be warned -- it's pretty graphic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyPBI60tyLo). I got really emotionally involved, and after awhile I had to make sure that I stepped away from it and got some emotional distance every now and then.

ComplexBread2 karma

Hi! How do you find inspiration for particular melodies/musical themes? Do you just fiddle around until there's a lightbulb moment? Also, how much of a role do themes/leitmotifs play in game composition, because they can make or break films when applied incorrectly/inconsistently.

the_mit_press5 karma

Hey, that's a really good point, ComplexBread! I spend a chapter of my book, A Composer's Guide to Game Music, on the importance of musical themes in games. I think that themes can play a pivotal role in helping gamers to fully appreciate a game's narrative. They can also step forward and communicate important information to the player about what gameplay objectives to pursue, and what threats may exist. I try to compose musical themes for all my projects, but the importance of thematic content can hinge on how the development team feels about that idea. They may not be excited about themes, and that's okay. Not every musical score needs to be highly melodic in order to be effective. But themes can be really powerful, so I always try to incorporate them. When I'm composing music for a game, I try to save the big story-driven moments for later in music production. I like to compose exploration and combat music first. These tracks give me lots of opportunity to experiment with themes. Inevitably, some themes will leap out and shine. I'll use those themes in the narrative-driven parts of the game, associating them with characters and situations. This tends to bind the gameplay and the story together really nicely.

Purple_Waffle2 karma

Hey! I actually read your book as part of my freshman MUS150 course! What advice could you give someone who is studying to go into video game music and sound design?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hi, Purple_Waffle! Thanks for letting me know about my book being used in that freshman course. Blows my mind whenever I hear that my book is being used in universities. Still hard for me to imagine! Regarding advice -- I think it really helps to compose as much as you can (in-between studying). It really helps when you have some depth in your portfolio, beyond the kind of assignments that your professors might be giving you. Working with student dev teams can be an awesome opportunity, so be sure to make friends with all the budding game devs at your school! Also, maybe you can connect with student teams at other schools by networking online. Your university days can be an important chance for you to forge relationships that can turn into great professional opportunities.

zuckerzeit2 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA! Your responses have been illuminating. A couple of unrelated questions:

I couldn't help but notice that you use a Kurzweil PC2 as your main controller (at least in what photos I've seen of you in your studio). What do you like about this particular piece of gear? I imagine there must be more powerful/flexible controllers out there, but I could be wrong--I know Kurzweil boards are pretty diesel under the hood.

To what extent do you have to work with sound designers as you develop the score for a game or film?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hi zuckerzeit! So glad you're enjoying the AMA. :) Regarding my PC2x... I've been a Kurzweil fan for a long time. The PC2x isn't my first Kurzweil keyboard, so there's a bit of brand loyalty going on. I like that this keyboard is balanced right in the middle between being a dedicated keyboard workstation and a pure controller. The keyboard has some great pre-loaded sounds that I come back to again and again. The keys have the weighted action I like. But the keyboard also has a nice assortment of knobs, buttons, sliders, wheels, and everything is thoroughly assignable. This makes it really useful for my work. Regarding working with sound designers -- sometimes I'll have no contact with the sound designers. Other times, a sound designer serves as my primary supervisor. Depends on how big the audio team is, and the philosophy of the team in regards to music and sound needs for the project.

jasecom891 karma

Hello Winifred, all of my favorite games have good musical scores, but among my top loved games are games made by From Software (dark souls, bloodborne, etc); these games are notorious for using silence to emphasize the musical scores that are sparsely and strategically spaced throughout the games.

How often do you use or get to use silence as a tool? And, do you think silence is utilized properly in games nowadays?

the_mit_press2 karma

You make a really good point, jasecom89. Silence is tremendously powerful. As composers, we have to remember that music is only potent when it contrasts against meaningful silences. I've incorporated silence as a dramatic tool in my work for a lot of my projects. I actually wrote an article about that for Gamasutra: (https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/WinifredPhillips/20170516/298114/Composing_video_game_music_to_build_suspense_part_5_semi_silence.php)

nubbins011 karma

Who are your games music idols? People that you've drawn inspiration from? (please say Myst :P)

the_mit_press5 karma

Yes, I will say Myst. :D There was a great trailer for Myst Exile that I would play over and over again. Loved the music from that trailer! So awesome.

ServeeHostee1 karma

What sort of schooling did you go through to get where you are today? Did you go to college, teach yourself, etc?

It's been my dream forever to become a composer for video games and I've never known where to start. I'm currently a junior in high school and I would greatly appreciate some sort of advice as to where to go next or some sort of plan or path I could follow!

the_mit_press3 karma

Hi ServeeHostee! Thanks for the question! I did go to college for music, but I also got a lot of education through private instruction and by pursuing educational resources on my own. When I first decided to pursue game music composition as a career, there really weren't any resources available for learning the techniques and disciplines that I'd need. Now, there are degrees in game music composition available! It's really exciting. I think that your path towards a career as a game composer is going to be influenced by the kind of music you want to make and the kind of games you want to be a part of. I always sought out the information and educational resources I needed, for whatever I happened to be doing at the time. If there's a gap in my knowledge, I've got to fill that gap somehow. BTW, I wrote a Gamasutra article that has a bunch of educational resources for aspiring game composers -- maybe that might be helpful. https://ubm.io/2Qh1gP8

TaciturnKilgore1 karma

Are there any specific series you wish you could work on? Also, what are you currently playing?

the_mit_press2 karma

Hey, TaciturnKilgore! There aren't any specific series I'd want to be working on. There are genres I'd like to try -- particularly fantasy RPG. Also, I wouldn't mind working on a horror game. That would be cool. I'm currently playing a lot of VR games.

angelcakes31 karma

Winifred, God of War has the best soundtrack of any game ever made in my opinion. What would you say distinguished it from others; instrument selection/ composition/ intergration to the gameplay?

the_mit_press3 karma

Thanks, angelcakes3! I was very proud to be a part of the music composition team for God of War. I think all the qualities you cited are important. The music supervision team at Sony Interactive Entertainment did a fantastic job of keeping the composition team on track. There were lots of historical influences that needed to be reflected in the music. Also, the emotional arc of Kratos' story had to be mirrored in the musical score. It was a careful balancing act, and because a team of composers were working on the project, the music supervisors had to make sure that everything was working together perfectly. Huge props to the folks at Sony Interactive!

Robo00002221 karma

Who or what do you draw your inspiration from?

the_mit_press5 karma

Hey Robo0000222! I'm really inspired by research. Love to read, love to listen to historical reference recordings. When I was working on The Da Vinci Code game for 2K Games, I read a lot of material about Da Vinci. I listened to a lot of liturgical music. Then when I started composing, I worked with a Latin translator and created a libretto for all the choral compositions I'd be creating. The text was focused on aspects of the story, as well as the nature of certain in-game puzzles. Like Latin Easter Eggs. :) I'm sure none of the players realized that the lyrics were apropos of the story and puzzles, but I didn't care. It really appealed to me, like a little mysterious secret I was weaving into the fabric of a mysterious game.

McJock1 karma

I’ve loved video games ever since I was a kid, and I’m thrilled that I get to make music for them!

Which video game music from your childhood is/was your favourite?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey, McJock! I'm split between the Final Fantasy scores and the music of the original Tomb Raider. Loved both.

SithLord131 karma

What is your favorite piece of video game music you haven’t composed? What’s your favorite that you have composed?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey, SithLord13! I mentioned before that I have incredibly sentimental feelings about the original Tomb Raider soundtrack by Nathan McCree, so I'll go further and mention the main theme from that game. From the first pensive oboe notes, my imagination is captured. It's such a great mood-setter! Regarding my favorite that I have composed... that's a harder question to answer. They're all my babies. How can I choose? :)

Braundolas1 karma

Hey Thank you for the Ama, What would you consider your favorite Video game music and why?

the_mit_press2 karma

As I mentioned before, I've loved the music of the Final Fantasy franchise. Also, the music of the original Tomb Raider has a special place in my heart (because I decided to be a game composer while I was listening to it).

dilydaly1231 karma

I have experienced some amazingly atmospheric sound design that has than been ruined by someones decision to insert tone-deaf "bangers" into a scenario, (comma here or else question gets auto removed)

In projects where the sound design team and music team are not really coordinating wth each other, how do you ensure the music produced and evaluated stays on brand for a project?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey dillydaly123! I know what you mean. Really, the sound design team and music team ought to be coordinating with each other! At the very least, there should be some kind of supervisor in the team that's keeping an eye on those things and making sure that the music and sound design work together. In most projects I've worked on, that's the case. However, I also like to ask the team to send me videos of gameplay that include the sound design. That way, I can drop the video with its sound design into my Pro Tools session and hear the sounds of the game while I'm creating the music. This helps me create music that isn't going to clash with the other aural elements in the game.

topcheesehead1 karma

I need advice on music making programs.

Im making my own retro pixel game.

I know you work with real instraments and can actually read music. I cant read music well but I can read tab and play many instraments.

Is there a music program out there thats basically made to produce that old retro sound. Is it like 64 bit or something? I really am struggling with the music part of my game. I got programming and art down. No music tho.

Im looking for a program thats got that retro sound?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hi topcheesehead. I understand your struggle. It's hard when you're searching for a really specific retro sound that you're trying to emulate. The technology of the time could have pulled it off easily. But the tools we have now just don't seem to sound the same. It can be a long haul, looking for the right tools for the job. You may want to explore the world of loop-based libraries, particularly if you haven't composed a lot of music before. There are libraries that are specifically designed to evoke those retro sounds you're looking for. Sites like ProducerLoops could be a place to start.

jerry_fuentes1 karma

whats your favorite music production software and what album are you listening to lately?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey, jerry_fuentes! Pro Tools is my spirit animal. My album of choice lately is the Beat Saber soundtrack, but of course I'm playing the game while I'm listening to that. $100 Bills is my fav track right now. :)

Tapan6811 karma

Of all the games you have played, what's your favourite one ? And what's your favourite soundtrack/theme from the video games?

Thank you for doing this

the_mit_press6 karma

Hey, Tapan681! Wow, that question is -hard-! I remember the games from my youth with a lot of fondness (the Civilization games, the Final Fantasy games). Lately, I'm an avid VR gamer. Beat Saber is my jam. Loving Audica, Audioshield. Fun story: I had gotten so obsessed with Audioshield that I just reached out to the creator Dylan Fitterer and said, "I'm a huge fan! Need some music?!" And he said yes! I got to compose a big choral anthem for the new Audioshield Fitness release. That's the first time I've ever fanned-out on a game and then gotten to create music for it. Can't tell you how much I -loved- doing that!

8th_sense1 karma

Hi! What tools cover 80% of your workflow? Sybelius and the likes or rather a DAW that you can "play with" to find proper moods, such as kontakt libearies etc?

the_mit_press4 karma

Hey, 8th_sense! I'm mostly working in Pro Tools, with Kontakt handling my instrument needs. I work with six computers in my studio. One is for the DAW. One hosts all my digital signal processing via the t.c. electronic System 6000. The other four are hosting Kontakt in standalone mode, so that I can have as many instruments loaded as possible.

twasjustbantar1 karma

Hi Winifred! The LBP game music are one of my faves, just so happy, and for me ES: Oblivion has to be my number one game music. Do you have a favourite game soundtrack and why that one?

the_mit_press2 karma

Hey, twasjustbantar! Thanks for the kind words about my LBP game music. It's a lot of fun to work on such a happy project! I was in a great mood all throughout music production on those games. I know what you mean about ES: Oblivion. For me, the One Winged Angel track stands out as a childhood obsession that has stuck with me. There was something incredibly powerful about that choir singing "Sephiroth!" at the end of the game. Apart from that, of course, the Tomb Raider soundtrack is important to me as an inspiration that led me to my current career.

vault-of-secrets1 karma

Are you planning on writing any more books? Maybe something for non-musicians who want to learn more about video game music?

the_mit_press3 karma

Hey vault-of-secrets! Thanks for the question! I've thought about returning to writing, but my work as a composer has been really demanding lately. I've been involved in back-to-back projects for a number of years now, and it doesn't seem to be slowing down. Your idea about a book for non-musicians is really intriguing. :)

Spiwolf71 karma

Winifred, I love your work! AC has been such a part of my life and the music is incredible. If you could rewrite the score of any game you weren't actually involved in what would you like to re-write?

the_mit_press5 karma

Hey, Spiwolf7! Thanks for the kind words about aC! That means a lot to me. I love your question about rewriting the score of any game. I'd love to create a score for Missile Command. It had no music, and it would have been fantastic to create a score for that. The heroic struggle. The encroaching doom. Can the cities be saved? The onslaught of projectiles!! The terror of annihilation!! That would be so cool. Come to think of it, it would be mind-blowing to see a modern version of Missile Command. Why does this game not exist?

venvexen1 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA! Winifred, I’m a Music Technology major in college looking to get some experience in making music for video games or doing sound design for them. What should I be doing while I’m still in college?

You had a good entry into the business with God of War, but what steps do you think people should take if they want to find jobs in music or sound for video games?

the_mit_press2 karma

Hello, venvexen! It's awesome that you're thinking of a game music composition career while you're still in college. If you're at an institution with a game development program, then make friends with those game dev students! Get chummy with the student teams! Austin Wintory owes his career to connections he made with student developers, so it's definitely a way for a new composer to break into the industry. Regarding breaking into the industry, I'll first point to the Gamasutra article I wrote about that (https://ubm.io/2Tv1r9f). It's great to try and find ways to be composing music for things while you're in college. Anything that will help you begin building a portfolio. Having music to show prospective clients is incredibly important.

captainamericacups1 karma

Did you speak with, or reference, any of Gerard Marino's work from the 3 original God of War games or was this all from scratch?

the_mit_press2 karma

Hey, captainamericacups! I actually got to work in the same music composition team as Gerard Marino, so we were all receiving the same music guidance from the folks at Sony Interactive. You may be thinking of the newest God of War... which really should be called God of War IV. How do we tell these games apart if they don't have numbers anymore? :)