When you think of music in video games, you think of the iconic soundtracks of Super Mario Bros, Tetris and Street Fighter II just to name a few. These games have tracks that are often regarded as the greatest in video games’ short but impressive history. However with the rapid advancements in technology accompanying video games, soundtracks have changed dramatically and have become an important part of the storytelling process.
Why is Music Important?
Music is a tool that can control emotion and can establish the tone of story being told. Within film, many fans look at the soundtrack as a foundation to set the scene. This is no different in the video game industry. The nature of video games allows a more immersive experience than film. You are controlling the actions of a character rather than watching it happen. With some games, however, you can play with the sound turned off. So, for a video game developer it is vital that you have a soundtrack that can create an atmosphere to really captivate the player.
In recent years games developers, especially within the Horror genre, have become masters of creating soundtracks that have a terrifying eeriness and an atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Games such as Dead Space already have a scary concept and story. When you add in the soundtrack the tension dial gets turned up all the way to 11! Here the soundtrack of Dead Space is dissected by the composers, giving more information about their approach to sound design within the game.
Taking a Deeper Look Into Music Within Video Games
Atmospheric soundtracks aren’t specific to the Horror genre. Many Action and First Person Shooters have adopted the idea that a driving soundtrack can greatly enhance the players experience of the game. Take the most recent Doom game for example. It was a reboot of this historic franchise that had lost its way and changed what type of game it was. The reboot had gone to its roots, of constant movement and all out chaos whilst hunting down demons and facing boss battles.
Doom was a huge success amongst players. This was a lot to do with the award winning soundtrack that was created by Mick Gordon. It’s easy to see why with track such as “Rip and Tear”. Imagine hearing that whilst running around with hellish demons hunting you down. The way it pulls you in and creates an adrenaline rush is unmatched by many other gaming soundtracks.
Doom is much more than just chaotic heavy metal, though. It also has a lot of intricacies, such as the throwbacks to the original soundtrack of the original Doom game. They are reborn in a new way in this soundtrack. When the violence stops, you are left alone to wander around and a calmer, more atmospheric sound is introduced. The sense of calm the music brings is appreciated by the player and brings a much needed contrast.
Controlling the Airwaves
Grand Theft Auto is often associated as being one of, if not the greatest game franchise ever created. Something that is constantly overlooked however is the soundtrack, and how it’s presented it to the player. Grand Theft Auto have a diverse collection of radio stations for the player to choose and listen to whilst driving along. This is a method for soundtracks to be presented to the player in a more real world scenario.
Many other games have adopted this and taken it a step further. Saints Row 2 for example has the same real world scenario of the radio stations in cars that you can choose from, but they have an added extra of creating your own mixtapes with any of the songs they have within the game. This puts curation in the hands of the player.
Why Sports Games Can Be Beneficial to Artists
Music is inevitably important within video games. Likewise, video games can be influential to a musician’s career. Unlike most other genres in the video game industry, sports games aren’t as reliant as soundtracks as other games. They don’t have a narrative or the need to tell a story. Games such as FIFA and Madden have specially curated playlists whilst the player is at the menus of the game. These playlists include a range of artists from around the world, and have often spawned the next breakout star. Artists such as The Black Keys, Lorde and Avicii have all featured on FIFA at some point.
When FIFA 17 launched and EA brought in a brand new game mode “The Journey”, there was a need for a soundtrack that would enhance the narrative of the story being told. This was the same when Madden released their version of “The Journey” entitled “Longshot”. These two major changes in sports games will no doubt spawn countless other story based sports games.
As video games have become more and more mainstream, the soundtracks have gotten bigger and a lot more impressive. This trend can only continue in the coming years, which is a good sign for both the video game industry and the music industry.
What is Royalty-Free Music for Video Games
When game developers begin searching production libraries for the music that will make their video game soundtracks stand out, they are almost certain to encounter a common, three-word selling point:
There it is… a beacon amidst the noise luring them with its promise of a painless licensing experience.
The attraction is understandable. As a game developer, you want to make sure that once you license a music track, you’re not going to be asked for more money down the line. You simply want the kind of agreement that prevents anyone from showing up at your door demanding more pay should your game become a smashing success.
When music is described as royalty-free, it creates the impression that nobody’s collecting any such earnings from it, but the reality is actually a bit more complicated than that.
See, the term itself is rather a misnomer. As longtime entertainment attorney Ben Laski explains, the words ‘royalty-free music’ – despite appearing practically everywhere in music licensing – are a marketing term rather than a legal term. Almost certainly somebody is paying for the rights.
So when most of the music or free sound effects for gaming on the internet claims it is royalty-free, what does that actually mean? And – more important – what should game developers know as they look to license royalty-free video game music?
Thankfully, the licensing agreements used by most reputable production music libraries cover these rights, so anyone working with them is cleared, whether you’re a developer selecting your next video game soundtrack, a TV producer seeking music for a new series or a corporate brand marketer securing a song for a product’s commercial, to name a few.