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Knowing the Score

Accentuating today’s video games

By Mark R. Smith

Heroes and Villains from Killer Tracks. The disc offers epic orchestral and orchestral hybrid tracks that are perfect for gaming. The track “Saving Humanity” was recently used in the Star Trek Online Game launch trailer.
Heroes and Villains from Killer Tracks. The disc offers epic orchestral and orchestral hybrid tracks that are perfect for gaming. The track “Saving Humanity” was recently used in the Star Trek Online Game launch trailer.

The next time you see a video game on the shelf at a retailer near you or on a PC or gaming console, it might be time to stop and consider the growing enormity of these projects.

It’s a huge market, an industry that is expected to record 9 percent annual growth through 2013, with sales expected to exceed $76 billion, according to Business Insights, a market analysis firm. The mobile and online formats are expected to fuel the market, with gamers ready to take advantage of improved Internet access – though it is predicted that console gaming, the market’s current segment leader, will see somewhat of a slowdown in sales.

The Heroes and Villains orchestra recorded live in Prague for Killer Tracks. The disc was executive produced by Ryan Perez-Daple.
The Heroes and Villains orchestra recorded live in Prague for Killer Tracks. The disc was executive produced by Ryan Perez-Daple.

Given the popularity of, the cost to produce, and the expense of buying video games, it only stands to reason that it’s a well-liked market for those who create musical scores for the genre, considering the complexity of the swings in the action and their expanse, in general. And let’s not forget the pressure involved. These days, being part of a popular video game can do nothing but boost a career, just as scoring a popular movie or TV program can.

Just creating a winning score for a video game shines a bright light on a composer or a music production company, and it also means the owners of music libraries are seeing the money that’s being made and they want to be a part of this burgeoning marketplace.

Joel Corelitz (left) is a composer at Waveplant Studios in Chicago, which recently completed the score for The Unfinished Swan game on the PlayStation Network.
Joel Corelitz (left) is a composer at Waveplant Studios in Chicago, which recently completed the score for The Unfinished Swan game on the PlayStation Network. 

Expanding Horizons

Joel Corelitz already has benefited from the upward shift in the industry. Corelitz, a composer at Waveplant Studios in Chicago (www.waveplantstudios.com), is most experienced in ad work, but recently created the company’s first score for The Unfinished Swan, which is available exclusively as a download. It hit the market last October 23 and subsequently became the No. 1 seller on PlayStation Network.

Corelitz was quick to discuss the creative advantages of scoring a video game. “One of the coolest things about the score is that it’s dynamic, in that there are multiple layers that are accessible to the player at once,” he said, calling the game’s music “a neoclassical hybrid of electronic texturized sounds, with some modern baroque-inspired pieces.”

The score for The Unfinished Swan has five elements that are “always changing in balance,” Composer Joel Corelitz says. “Essentially, you’ll never hear the same loop the same way twice.”
The score for The Unfinished Swan has five elements that are “always changing in balance,” Composer Joel Corelitz says. “Essentially, you’ll never hear the same loop the same way twice.”

Geared toward one of the game’s characters, the King, the score has five elements that are “always changing in balance,” he says. “Essentially, you’ll never hear the same loop the same way twice.”

That’s an extreme expansion from the technical opportunities afforded by older video games. “They couldn’t do that,” says Corelitz. “There were just static loops of music and the players simply forged ahead with the competition. That’s not the case for The Unfinished Swan.

“I’m a composer and a sound designer, so every single sound you hear (aside from the live strings), I made from scratch in the studio,” he continued. “There are no preset sounds. Everything is sculpted for the game.”

Getting Technical

The score for The Unfinished Swan was created using Apple Logic and Kyma.
The score for The Unfinished Swan was created using
Apple Logic and Kyma.

To create the soundtrack for The Unfinished Swan, Corelitz employed an all Mac-based setup featuring Apple Logic, with a sound design system that’s used often in Hollywood, Symbolic Sound’s Kyma.

Kyma is a big deal in scoring circles because “it’s essentially a computer that devotes 100 percent of its processing power to sound,” he said, noting that while “a regular computer is always multi-tasking,” that’s not the case here. “Kyma is focused on creating richly-textured, drawn-out soundscapes.”

The system also allows the user to rebuild sound using sine waves via aggregate synthesis, “which gives the user an incredible amount of control over the length and pitch of the sound, for instance,” Corelitz said. “That’s not possible with normal time-stretching algorithms.”

In addition, Corelitz employed – guess what? – an analog modular synthesizer. “What I love about using analog, as opposed to using a plug-in all the time, is that it gives the user greater control,” he said, “and once you dial in a sound that you like, you have to record it then and there, because there’s no patch memory. You lose forever if you don’t record it then or change the knobs.

“Therefore,” Corelitz continued, “we work fast and it’s more spontaneous. And it’s impossible to repeat yourself.”

A-List Interest

Takeshi Furukawa (www.takeshifurukawa.com) is an L.A.-based composer who has primarily been working in TV scoring for about 10 years, with his prime gig the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series. Like Corelitz, he discussed the maturity of the video game market and the benefit of the progress with respect to scoring.

“The entire domain of scoring films, television and video games is converging into one big world of composing,” said Furukawa. “Ten years ago, working on video games would have been considered to be at the barrel’s bottom artistically; however, the industry has grown to where ‘A’-list film composers are actively seeking opportunities to score video games.”

And in some cases, the games are so big, he says, that high-profile composers will attach their names to a project, but will also have a team of up to five composers assisting them on the project.

He also picked up on Corelitz’s observations about how what’s possible technically has changed the approach of the composers.
“I think the video game world is fantastic, not as much as a growth industry since it’s very developed, but because game creators can do so much more, given the advancement of technology,” Furukawa said. “From the creative side, it’s a fantastic medium that allows composers to spread out creatively. For instance, film is a very linear type of entertainment, with a start and an end; but scoring video games allows the composers to create many pieces of music that can stand alone within certain parts of the game.”

On that note, another variable with video games is the quantity of music required. “That’s true of movies, too; but again, movies are created in a linear manner and you have an idea of how much music you will need for, let’s say, a 90-minute production,” Furukawa said. “While some games don’t require as much music as others, certain projects can run from 10 to 30 hours, so the music that can be required runs from as little as 30 minutes up to several hours.”

Red Storm Sound and Music Designer Francis Dyer at work in his studio.
Red Storm Sound and Music Designer Francis Dyer at work in his studio.

All in the Game

At Cary, N.C.-based Red Storm Entertainment (http://redstorm.com, from under the Ubisoft Red Storm umbrella), a recent wrap is the new game Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (or GRFS). Justin Durst, who served as audio director on the project after having worked as a sound designer on multiple Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six titles, also pointed out how some of the bigger projects are scored by committee; for GRFS, all of the music was handled by Red Storm’s music director at Ubisoft Paris, as the game was a split production between multiple Ubisoft studios, including Red Storm.

“For GRFS, we utilized two composers, Tom Salta and a group, Hybrid,” said Durst. “Together, the composers worked closely with the audio teams to conceptualize and produce all of the in-game music,” which was created specifically for the title and based directly on the details of the story, level design and creative style of the game.

Red Storm Entertainment’s Justin Durst served as audio director on Ghost Recon: Future Soldier after having worked as a sound designer on multiple Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six titles.
Red Storm Entertainment’s Justin Durst served as audio director on
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier after having worked as a sound designer
on multiple Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six titles.

Part of the team approach also can include subbing out part of the project. Red Storm, for instance, has worked on games with Richmond, Va.-based In Your Ear Music to take advantage of music compositional skills of President Carlos Chafin and other staff composers, as well as recording and mixing.

“To work closely with a development studio, [an outside company like In Your Ear] needs to build a great relationship with the audio team and make sure to stay up-to-date on game-related changes and updates,” said Durst. “Unlike typical post-production audio processes, where picture lock leads to final audio production, game audio production pipelines work in parallel” – meaning the audio (including music) is “being created and implemented along with the rest of the development production. This, however, is what makes game audio production a unique and challenging experience.”

Durst sees the demand for custom-composed game music growing even more than it already has over the years, as opposed to game developers more often opting to use music libraries (see sidebar) or music they already have on file.

“Working directly with a composer is critical, as you need to design a dynamic system that evolves from playback and player input, while not becoming stagnant or predictable,” he said, adding, “Having the ability to work directly with a composer, in-house or externally, can really enhance the experience and quality of the music within the game.”

Checking Out the Libraries

Obviously, scoring video games has become of much greater importance, as well as easier in the world of video games. But where in the mix does that leave the music libraries?

Executives at the libraries, while acknowledging some of the inherent limitations, still feel that there’s a place at the table for them in this universe, too.

True? “Absolutely,” says David Gurule, vice president, of Killer Tracks (www.killertracks.com) in Santa Monica, Calif. “We’ve been focusing on the video game market for several years now. We have many clients who operate in that space, from the large publishers to the casual online games creators. It is a significant and growing part of our business each year.”

The music for Killer Tracks' Heroes and Villains disc was recorded live in Prague.
The music for Killer Tracks’ Heroes and Villains disc was recorded live in Prague.

The Interstitials

Game work at Killer Tracks ranges from in-game placement to marketing. “Game trailers can be a good opportunity, for instance,” Gurule says, “so there’s also a market there for the ads, various vignettes and bonus content of different kinds.”

He added that the house produces music that is targeted specifically for the game market and even offers multiple discs targeted to games clients within its libraries. One example is within its Heroes and Villains disc and features an orchestra and a choir, as well as hybrid orchestral compositions. It’s broken into four sections: heroic tracks, villain tracks, good vs. evil, and aliens and sci-fi.

“It’s a great disc to pitch to our clients for gaming trailers,” Gurule said, also noting the convergence of music libraries into another world that encompasses gaming – the app market.

Killer Tracks does not offer an entire library for video games, but does offer themed playlists on its website that are collections of “our best video game music and that includes about 100 songs,” Gurule said.

Gurule does acknowledge, however, that the bigger games are interested in custom music. “That’s our perception,” he said. “In the end, working on video games is, in many ways, like working on any of our other projects; some clients want something customized, others look into our libraries.”

‘So Many Minutes …’

Mitchel Greenspan, president of the American Music Co. (www.americanmusicco.com) in Oceanside, N.Y., echoes Gurule’s observation that big game manufacturers “have huge budgets and lots of money, and they almost always want to go with custom music for their productions,” but pointed to another part of the gaming market that is boosting his business.

“What we do find is that we have a solid market for Internet games, which are not as graphic intensive or as highly produced. That market has grown in recent years,” Greenspan says. “What we would like to see is the big game manufacturers enter the library market, especially with those libraries that are able to offer high-end gaming music. I think it’s perfectly viable to use a combination of custom and library music for many high-end video game applications.”

And there are some music libraries that are plugged in to the custom music scene, such as Warner Chappell Music (www.warnerchappell.com), also of Santa Monica, which operates recording studios.

“We create custom music for any type of production, including video games,” says Micki Peel, the house’s director of West Coast broadcast, who called video games “huge, awesome, intricate projects” and estimated “that 90 percent of the games on the market” are scored.

To use a company like Warner Chappell for its composing services can get pricey “for a video game because there are so many minutes of music to produce,” she says. “For instance, we have composers who record music for video games at L.A. East, our state-of-the-art studios in Salt Lake City [as well as 615 Music Studios in Nashville], so we know the scoring end.” The latest custom scores recorded at L.A. East Studios were Lord Of The Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online.

Getting [More] Involved

Noting that another trend – incorporating the music of up-and-coming bands and popular songs in the game’s soundtrack – Peel cited the crux of the matter, while echoing Gurule’s observations about the versatility libraries can provide to the video game market.

“Like many other music libraries, we do original work for all sorts of projects, but they tend to be shorter form,” she said. “In the case of video games, you may see our work in the marketing side of the projects, like trailers, just like a film would have, and other forms of advertising.

“And that is very big business,” Peel continued. “[Video games] are a big focus for us in the music library industry and we are looking for ways to become more involved in that part of the industry.”


March 3, 2013