Music and SFX are those extra factors that truly add to immersion. Take films for example. They’d be completely barren without those lilting melodies that can reduce you to tears, or those violent screeches that sends your popcorn flying in that horror movie you told your boyfriend you didn’t want to see because it would give you nightmares for a week but he didn’t listen and now you’ve wasted £5 on a snack that some poor minimum wage employee will have to clean up… But I digress.  There is no doubt that music accentuates the power of the visuals you see. Think about how The Lord of the Rings theme spirits you away to Middle Earth and those three distinctive bars make you look for something sinister in the water. Naturally, the same is very true in games as well.

Yes, I can hear you arguing that we make solitaire games, and not the movie style Bioschock Infinite, with its fast and harsh music that gets your blood pumping in the fight scenes, or the lyrical, hymn inspired tracks that make a floating city like Columbia truly awe inspiring.  But even our games would be flat without those carefully chosen tracks and jingles that bring you into the fantastical little world that is Magic Towers, or Mexican Train Dominoes Gold.

Looking for music can actually be a daunting task. Do you license music, or do you try and find something through creative commons? Can you and should you make the music yourself or should you hire someone else to do it for me? It’s a tough call to make. You need to consider the following things:

  • If you aim to make money from the project
  • Do you need a specific sound or track or can it be generic?
  • How big is the project going to be?

I’ve recently delved into the realm of sound myself. Granted, I have instructions to follow, I’m shown places to search through with examples of similar melodies to make my hunt a little easier, but it can still take a long time to find the perfect piece. I’m currently working on a piece of music for a classic version of pyramid solitaire (if you haven’t played our current versions – Ancient Egypt and Mummy’s Curse – you should go do that wink) and it is a determined slog. By the end my brain is permanently playing soft jazz, which is perfectly lovely until you’re lying in bed and that’s all you can hear. Licensing is generally the quickest way of getting music although it has a financial cost and the usage rights always need to be double checked. Let me way up the pros and the cons of searching for music on websites that sell pre-made music.

Pros:-

  • Quicker than hiring a composer
  • Easy
  • Good quality music
  • Flat rate cost

Cons:-

  • No creative control
  • Limited choice
  • You must look at the license so you know where you can use it and if you are even allowed to edit it.
  • Finding good, free music without license restrictions is rare unless you aren’t looking to make money from your game. Expect to pay something

For us at Glowing Eye Games, licensing music is a choice we’ve used a number of times. We’re a small team, and by going choosing pre-made music we free up our team, allowing them to focus their attention on other pressing matters.

Some great places to look at licensing music are:

Just be careful about choosing your licensing plan and make sure it suits you and your project.

The next option is to do the music yourself. I’m going to refer to our head of production, Max, who has that rare combination of producing and music creation skill.

“Licensing music is expensive and generally far outstrips the cost of licensing sound effects. Sometimes it is possible to find a few decent sound snippets in effect libraries that can effectively sequenced to create decent music track. One example is a track I put together for a promo video of Mahjong Seasons, combining a Chinese flute recording with Asian drums and cymbals.

However, it rarely works out like that. I’ve come to the conclusion that with low cost tools such as Apple’s Garage Band a lot can be accomplished with very little, and more effectively than hunting for usable sound effects. A great example is the theme song for Christmas Solitaire Tri-Peaks. It was originally created as an eight-bar track in Garage Band on iPad, with multiple instruments layered on top of each other, which were then copied to create various 8-bar sections with different instruments as a focus.

Then solos for each instrument were added, which in the final mix were alternated with the main loop.”

He puts it much more eloquently then I could, plus he is an able musician. So that’s another interesting option, but you have to have the time (and probably a little bit of talent too…). However, it is a viable and quite a cost effective path to take assuming it’s factored into your schedule!

The final option I’m going to mention is bringing in a composer. This way you’ll have music tailor made for you, to fit that atmosphere you want to exude, plus it’ll be unique to your game. However, a composer can get quite pricey, especially if you need multiple tracks, but it can be the best option if you’ve got something particular in mind and you know the composer is familiar with that genre of music.

But hiring a composer can be tricky! There aren’t that many places that collect all composers available for hire, and generally you have to search them out online and through Twitter, listening through bits of their portfolio unless you already have someone in mind. However once your composer is found and assuming you have an idea of the music you need (particularly what genre), the process can be an enjoyable one. You will need to know how long your track will be to allow the composer to work out a quote, provide musical inspiration and ideally provide near complete visuals of your game. Composers who are familiar with games, can be easier to work with because they can suggest ideas that they feel will fit with the theme of your work which will save some time.

During the process – depending on the musician – you may have to review some slices of music (i.e. the chorus) before creation can proceed. Most musicians will however create a more substantial piece of music for you to review. Feedback often includes changing instruments used or pointing out moments where the flow of the music is jarring. Fresh ears are a necessity especially if music is not your thing! Most importantly if the first version of music you receive doesn’t seem like a good fit in genre, then it does need to be redone. Shoe-horning music that doesn’t work is a fool’s errand. Naturally doing this more than once or twice will decimate your relationship with the composer, and this is why it’s so important to take the time to work out if the composer’s talents fit your needs and that you can give them enough useful information and inspiration.

Pros:-

  • The music can be tailored exactly to your needs in terms of genre and length. This assumes everything went well!
  • It’s a great way to be involved in the creative process.
  • It’s the closest your game will get to obtaining the perfect piece of music!

Cons:-

  • It takes time to create the music and with feedback rounds it’s difficult to get a perfect time estimate.
  • Finding the right composer is tricky!
  • It is the most expensive way to get music, often many times the price of licensing music, unless a royalty deal is worked out.
  • If the creative process goes wrong, then dealing with the situation is problematic on many levels.

Those are the three main options for sourcing music, and I hope these break downs help you understand the options you have.

That’s all for now – get developing!