Music and video games are one of the ultimate duos in life, right up there with peanut butter and jelly. When utilized to its fullest potential, music can become iconic for a game. Think about the theme songs for Super Mario Brothers or Zelda–as soon as they start playing, we’re transported to all those happy memories of playing in our youth. That positive emotion-evoking relationship can be, and often is, capitalized upon by the gaming industry. However, Ben Sumner, a music professional in the video games and media world, has shared seven tips for how gaming companies can elevate the way they use music in their games.
“The music becomes a key part of any game’s identity, shaping the environment, and often driving high levels of long-term recognition.”–Ben Sumnar
According to Ben, a managing director of Feel For Music, it isn’t enough to throw some music into the development process last minute and hope for success. He suggests considering the music at the beginning of the process rather than the end. While the music choice can be dynamic in the creation process, having an idea of what emotions the company wants to evoke and what brand it wants to be associated with the game from the beginning drastically increases the likelihood of a successful pairing.
However, he warns that it isn’t a good idea to let personal music preference get in the way of picking the right sound. For the best results, the company should remain objective in its creative choices. This sounds like the opposite of what you should do, but it makes sense. (Imagine if the creators of GTA weren’t rap fans.) Objectivity is also useful when trying to find common ground between fans of the music and fans of the game. The two should elevate each other and fit naturally together.
Testing is a great way to gauge audience reception of the music and game pairing, but only if it is done right. Tests should be conducted early enough in the development process to actually matter. If it is too late to make changes based on the results, then it is too late to run a test. Also, there have to be viable options given.
The music budget is another aspect that should be considered early on. Running out of money before music is even considered does not serve the project. Consider hiring a professional music consultant as well. It may mean shelling out extra money, but it is one of the best ways to maintain objectivity and quality in music choice.
Finally, consider how the music can move beyond the sheet music. Creating original soundtracks to sell separately, adding well-known artists as characters in the game, and live performances are all great ways to enhance the fandom for a game using music. The Grand Theft Auto franchise is a prime example of this in the gaming industry.