The games industry consists of many unique jobs that gamers rarely consider when playing their favorite game. For example, a developer has to design room after room and you might […]
The games industry consists of many unique jobs that gamers rarely consider when playing their favorite game. For example, a developer has to design room after room and you might not even enter them. A tester has to playtest a level hundreds of times. Hell, someone at Rockstar Games had to animate and program horse testicle physics! But there’s one job that may be the most underrated of all: video game music producer. So we interviewed game music producer and composer Tobi Weiss about the ins and outs of his unique craft.
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How to become a video game music producer
20 years in the making
Being a video game music producer is as easy and as hard as being any type of musician. Tobi Weiss, working out of Wilhelmshaven, Germany, started preparing for his unique job at a young age, though he didn’t know it then.
“I was raised in a family that greatly valued music. So I picked up the keyboard at an early age.” Soon, the cello and guitar followed for what was then a teenager’s dream of being a rockstar one day. But Weiss realized early on that he didn’t like the stage, preferring the creation of music over performing it. And like many aspiring artists, an uncertain future is part of the potential job. So Weiss decided to secure a degree in Music Production & Engineering.
After college, like many adolescents, he plunged into adulthood and was confronted with the question: Now what? “So one day I just decided to combine music with my other passion, retro video games.” Just how much does he like retro games? You needn’t look further than his first console: “As a kid I wasn’t allowed a console. Finally, around the time the PlayStation 2 came out, I got my first console: a Super Nintendo!”
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The antique console, older than Weiss himself, founded his love for retro games and serves as inspiration for his music. “Fundamentally I wanted to make epic orchestral stuff combined with lots of other stuff. That can be applied to movies too. But game music is way more exciting than film music. I prefer the impact original soundtracks have while one plays a game. Take Breath of Fire 2 for example. The soundtrack made me cry multiple times because it made me think about my childhood. And so the music production business soon followed.”
‘Fighting a crowd of producers’
Yet to our surprise, Weiss wasn’t the only one taking a shot at the unique job of music producer for games. In fact, far from it. “There are so many people out there that want to be a composer and reach out to (indie) developers. People actually overwhelm indie developers on Facebook with their show reels, often containing hundreds of songs. You always have to fight against a big crowd of producers. And so, for the first 5 years I didn’t earn anything.”
Today, Weiss doesn’t have to spam his portfolio anymore. “I used to send hundreds of e-mails a week trying to get work. For all the e-mails I sent, maybe a handful of devs responded. And of that handful, I would be lucky to get one job. Now I usually get recommended by developers, referring their colleagues to me.”
The intricacies of video game music
Not as much gaming as you’d expect
But just how does a video game music producer produce? Surely, there’s a lot of video gaming involved, right? Well, no, actually! “Most of the times all I get is a few assets or some artwork, along with a general outline of the story. Sometimes, I have to work with a minimal amount of written information and I have to ask for more. It’s very rare I get anything playable.”
It is however very clear professionals like Weiss are part of a larger team. “There is a lot of communication between me and the developers. They could ask for music for their action RPG. I start out with the piano, maybe come up with the outline of a main theme. I record it and send in to them. Then we talk about it. I add to the theme, they respond, and that dialogue ultimately creates the final song, step by step.”
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Tricks of a music producer
The constant dialogue between a music producer and the development team serves two distinct purposes. Firstly, it ensures that he music is as good as it can be. With the devs constantly chiming in, the producer and programmer make sure the music fits the game perfectly.
Additionally, it helps guys like Weiss to actually integrate their music in a game. We might not think about it, but a lot of thought and programming goes into making music ‘interactive’. “There are a lot of factors that come into play when producing video game music. For example, I’m working on a sci-fi racing game by Chris Green (Hangar 13). Obviously, the soundtrack shouldn’t be a flute. You want to match the ‘color’ of a track with the game. Also, when racing, you want the soundtrack to stay dynamic.”
One of the tricks Weiss uses, is speeding up the soundtrack slightly after each lap. This way, the music adds to the tension of the gameplay. “But you don’t want to interrupt the main flow of a track. If opponents come closer, I add an ominous instrument to the track, without diluting the main theme.”
This isn’t even my final form
And that requires a lot of programming and careful coordination between developer and producer. Just think about the last big boss fight you had in game. Weiss explains that the music probably intensified when you or the boss were at low health. Or maybe the music was building up to the second stage of said fight. “These little details require a lot of planning and work. It’s like putting a giant puzzle together. You want the audio and visual layers to be ‘friends’. And when that happens, you’ve got the perfect video gaming soundtrack.”
Just like with many boss fights, Weiss and his profession are ever evolving. But the gamer has to evolve with them, he would argue. “Game music is definitely underrated. A soundtrack of, say, Elder Scrolls, embeds itself in your brain. You might listen to it, even if you haven’t played the game. But I get it; developers put all their budget in the graphics or they make a great trailer. That sells the game, not the music. Nobody writes a review and dedicates 3 paragraphs to the game music. But music is so important, it really takes the gaming experience to the next level. I hope that people learn to appreciate that even more.”
Do you want more content like this? Let us know in the comments below. In the meantime you can check out our interview with Twitch streamer Bushpusherr and his $25,000 streaming setup.