In the past two decades, video game composers and sound designers have become major players in the entertainment industry.

Music has always been an integral part of the gaming experience, but it hasn’t always been a viable or common career path for music creators. These days, composers are creating sweeping scores for elaborate worlds and have become a fundamental part of the creative process in game design. So, how do you break into this booming industry?

RAC grad Dimitri Marshall recently spoke with veteran composer Maxime Goulet for some advice. Maxime has decades of video game industry experience, having scored more than thirty high-profile games, including The Amazing Spider-Man, Shrek Forever After, and Warhammer 40,000

Dimitri: What’s the video game industry like for somebody who’s just getting started?

Maxime: The video game industry can be a hard nut to crack. Even for someone like me who has done over 30 soundtracks, it’s always challenging to find opportunities. More and more composers are moving towards this industry, making opportunities increasingly rare and difficult to obtain. But if you are passionate about video games and are ready to devote yourself fully to them, it is possible to succeed.

What are employers looking for from job applicants?

A typical music demo isn’t enough to show your skills to a video game developer. Video game music is very different from film music: it is interactive and non-linear. You have to show a potential client that you have mastered the techniques of interactive music. If you don’t know a lot about it, I highly recommend Winifred Phillips’ book A Composer’s Guide to Game Music

What kind of specialty software is used in this industry?

Game music, or interactive music, requires a special approach to composition unique to the video game industry. Wwise is a very popular audio engine and also a great way to learn about interactive music. You can download it for free and follow the tutorials online.

How do you start building a portfolio?

The first projects are the hardest to find, so I encourage composers to approach schools that teach video game design. You could offer to create the music for a game made by a student. Since students don’t generally have a budget to hire a composer, there is less competition to get this kind of project. It would give you a video game credit, content for your demo reel, and help you build your network.

How do you get the attention of video game companies?

Independent video game producers often look for people who can handle every aspect of audio production, from music composition and sound effects, to integrating all the audio in the game. If you can offer companies the complete package, your chances of working on one of their games are greater.

What are some similar jobs an aspiring video game composer could pursue?

Making sound effects for video games is something to consider. Another good option is becoming an audio tester. Both these jobs are an excellent way to get your foot in the door of the video game industry. And, unlike composers (who act as freelancers most of the time), video game studios usually hire sound designers and testers as employees.

Networking is so important in this industry, so pursuing all related jobs is a great networking strategy.

What are some other networking strategies?

Game jams (like Jam Nation) are a good place to start networking. It’s a place where people meet and quickly develop small games during the weekend. So, rather than just meeting video game people, you’ll have the chance to work on a team and compose music for a real game that’s developed during the game jam. It’s a perfect opportunity to show people your ability to work quickly and under pressure.

If you’re just starting to consider a career in the video game industry, where should you begin?

  • If you’re not an avid gamer already, become one. Study the effect of music on the gaming experience.
  • Download and start learning Wwise, and start composing your own game music.
  • Network with your local video game community.

If you’re ready to get started in the game industry, what resources should you check out?

  • Wwise. Download it now.
  • Gama Sutra lists all open positions in the gaming industry and is updated daily.
  • Audio Gang allows you to contact people working in the video game industry, and you can leverage these contacts by offering your services as an assistant or as a subcontractor.
  • Gamedevmap is a site listing a ton of video game studios around the world.
  • Once a year, there is the Montreal Video Game Summit. It’s a great place to make contacts. You can even attend all the music conferences for free if you volunteer and work at the entrance!
  • The IGDA is another place where you can meet people from the game industry.

Maxime Goulet is a professional video game composer and professor at Université de Sherbrooke.