Q: How do I find game audio gigs?

Folks have asked me this question many many times, and I think with good reason. It can seem rather daunting to find a game project to score. The reality is there’s no guaranteed path to success. My journey has been winding, but fortunate. My first gig was fortuitous. I cold emailed an indie developer for my second. I went to GDC on college loan money to find my third. My fourth and fifth projects were internships. My sixth was a result of a reference from my fifth. My most important (FEZ) happened in part because I played a show in Montreal.
Being a freelancer is a bit like rolling a snowball. Sometimes you gain a lot of ground in a short time, and other times it’s a grind. I had part-time jobs for awhile, until I lucked out and worked on a very successful game. It’s easy to admit that a lot of the projects I have worked on since FEZ have been the result of exposure I gained from it.

Work Philosophy

Like anything, finding projects to work on is about who you know. The most important thing you can do is be visible. Have a strong web presence, and attend lots of events where there are game developers. Share your music. It’s okay to let people know that you are looking for projects to work on, but don’t be too aggressive about it. Developers are well aware that there are a lot of composers who are looking for work.
Don’t put the cart before the horse. Game developers are human beings, many of them lovely. The best way to develop a working relationship with someone is to get to know them in person.

Where Do I Go?

There are many wonderful events that happen every year, where creative people of all kinds congregate in the name of games.

  • Conferences
  • GDC
  • IndieCade
  • Fantastic Fest
  • PAX
  • etc…

Game Jams This format is one of the easiest ways to work on a game. You will meet lots of cool people if you make an effort. I find writing music at game jams to be difficult, but it’s not impossible and I think it can be worth it regardless. My friend Bill Kiley wrote music for a dozen games at MolyJam a few years ago. That’s a lot of future potential right there!

Here are some sites that maintain a calendar of game jams happening around the world:

http://www.indiegamejams.com

https://itch.io/jams

There are game jams happening all the time. It doesn’t take much to get involved when the stakes are so low. People go to have fun, and so can you!

Online Communities
Do you prefer the shadows of your abode to the dangers of the real world? There are plenty of websites where game developers and creative types gather. I’m a bit out of the loop, but I spent a lot of time on TIGSource, which is still alive and kicking. Also, this may go without saying, but don’t forget: Google is the most essential resource of our time.

What Do I Do?

Release Music
Getting your music out there can’t hurt. It also gives others a better understanding of your identity as a musician. I use Bandcamp to sell music on my website, and CDBaby to push my music to the most popular channels.

Build a Portfolio
Part of being visible is giving people an easy way to learn more about what you do. A portfolio also allows you to communicate the direction you are looking to move in with your work. If you don’t have any gigs to showcase, you can always make demo material.

Live Performance
A great excuse to travel, meet new people, and showcase your music. Traveling is in part how I ended up working on FEZ.

Business Cards
Here are some great reasons not to buy business cards:

If You’re Fortunate…

It’s easy to say yes to an opportunity when there are no others. That said, as soon as you feel like you can, try to be discriminating about the projects you undertake. I believe that we all benefit when we choose to focus on the projects that resonate with us.

More Links

Composer Chance Thomas gives some great advice about developing a long-term strategy for finding work:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFPpCorN56w

Some inspiration:
https://medium.com/@noahbradley/how-i-became-an-artist-4390c6b6656c

Presentation: Chipmusic. Past, Present, Future

^ I spoke in San Francisco about the trajectory of chipmusic and some of the techniques that make it a unique sandbox.

Presentation: Permanent Music

I gave a five minute micro-talk as part of the 'Indie Soapbox Rant', at the GDC 2013 Independent Games Summit.

Transcript

For most of human history, our experience of music has mirrored the fleeting nature of life. Each performance was unique and unpredictable, heard once, and then gone forever. This impermanence, which you can still hear if you go to a live show, has great potential to create meaning. If you're lucky, the events you are witnessing might even feel important.

The invention of recording technology has done a lot to change our relationship to music, and to introduce the possibility of repeating music in an effectively identical way. Many of us have become accustomed to listening to recordings, and in games we have become accustomed to listening to loops. Video game music is generally made up of permanent elements (ie. assets). How can we bring the sum of those elements together to mimic the impermanence of live music?

Imagine a really great game that takes maybe fifteen minutes to play. Every time you play, the interactions feel fresh, and you could play it over and over and not grow tired of it. Now imagine that same game also has a one minute piece of music that loops. If you play the game 100 times, the gameplay may be varied enough to keep your interest, but you're hearing the same one minute piece of music 1500 times...

...

Why would you do this to your player? Why would you even bother having music at all if you're going to invite them to hear something so much that it's rendered meaningless? And yet, repeated music has some strengths. It can do a strong job of communicating an idea to a player. When you hear the underground music in Mario, you know you're underground and have to look out for a different set of obstacles. Also, repeatable music has the benefit of allowing creators to finely tailor the intended listening experience. The musical outcome is known - it's predictable, which can be good sometimes. So how can we embrace the strengths of repeatable music while softening its ugly edges in a way that pays tribute to our long tradition of live performed music?

Here are some examples that I think are doing this successfully:

Kentucky Route Zero uses ambience first and foremost, triggering music sparsely and tastefully to underline important moments. In the first scene of the first act, after the protagonist returns from the basement of a gas station, an ambient piece of music communicates progression in the story. You only hear this piece once, and instead of looping it withers away. This approach gives the sense of passing time, and is present throughout the game.

As you move around the audiovisual environment of Proteus, the music reacts in a way that simultaneously feels rational and yet unpredictable, and in this way has a strong similarity to live music. You rarely feel like you are hearing the exactness of prerecorded music.

Instead of using structured, linear recordings of music, January is made up of small assets representing single musical notes. They are continually rearranged in musical sequences that never sound quite the same. The intended effect is to be similar to the act of a musician improvising, in terms of which notes to play, how and when.

...

Silence can give the player room to breathe, or evoke a particular emotion such as the eeriness of the film No Country for Old Men.

Quotes

"Music is the space between the notes" - Claude Debussy

"Don't play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music is just imagined. What you don't play can be more important than what you do." - Thelonious Monk

The fact that we all pass away gives meaning to our lives. If we can honor the tradition of letting music pass too, and other things in games, then maybe we can create more meaningful experiences.