Tips for a novice composer

    The article was originally published on DTF.RU, but over time it went to the archive and became inaccessible to most users, in the meantime I received thank-you letters more than once asking me to send the material.

    I. Exposition

    The article is in sonata form, so do not look for secret intent in the section titles. The idea to write an article did not come about by chance - recently, beginning musicians have often come to me for advice. As a rule, the same questions are asked: how do you like my music, can I work as a composer in the gaming industry and what do I need for this?

    In turn, I want to say that three years ago one person really helped me with good advice, and therefore now I feel some responsibility, and I want to share my thoughts with beginners. And in order not to answer each individually, spending precious working time, I am writing this article. All my observations are based only on the basis of personal experience, so if something is wrong and I’m mistaken somewhere, do not be shy - speak out and supplement.

    First, I’ll talk a little about myself and how I got into game dev. I am a professional musician. Since 2006 I have been working in the gaming industry as a composer. The ideological leader and performer (in one person) of the Martamusic studio .
    After graduation, I worked as accompanist at a music school. And once, an Omsk development team (Studio DVA) turned to my friend-programmer, who were looking for a person who was ready to write the soundtrack for their first game project, ChePay, for free. A friend, accordingly, suggested trying this.
    And so it all began. I accepted the offer, since I always loved to improvise on the piano, and then my music will sound in the game, and the developers promise fame! True, there was one hitch: at that time I did not imagine the whole complexity of working with computer music programs necessary to create the final product. But she decided that with work as in a fight: the main thing is to get involved, and there it will be visible. The project was long-term, and I began to slowly master this science. After some time, the music was written in the built-in sequencer of my synthesizer. Of course, the promised fame to me after the release of the project did not happen, but the reviews about the music in a number of specialized media, such as Igromania,, were positive, which prompted me to further actions.
    So, you are a beginner composer (or consider yourself one), write music, you and your friends certainly like it very much, and you decide that the world must hear it. And even better if it will sound in the game!

    Thus, you go in search of a project. On my own, I want to note: you should not immediately swipe at large projects, it is almost impossible for a beginner to get an order for a large commercial product. So try your luck with novice developers.
    In the modeling business, there is such a concept of time for print, when novice specialists unite and organize the shooting, and instead of payment, each participant receives a calculation with photos. This has its own common sense. I myself worked with several young teams, tracks for which were written for a symbolic amount or completely free. I gained experience, and the non-profit project was “happy” with my music. There were cases when, after some time, the same team contacted me with a more favorable commercial offer.

    If you are interested in having a good reputation, quality work, which you will not be ashamed to show later, then do not spare either time or energy during this period. Nevertheless, in such a situation, I would not advise you to give up your old business, which brings you income, and plunge into the world of music with your head. In my opinion, everything should happen gradually, and over time, more important things will be supplanted by secondary ones that interfere with the complete dedication of your favorite business.
    But back to the job search. Suppose you find an ad to find a musician and decide to send your resume. Some tips on how to do this:

    1. Do not send a universal letter to several companies at once when you send out letters with a proposal for cooperation. Refer specifically to everyone.
    2.Write honestly about yourself. Trust is hard to gain, but very easy to lose. In my opinion, you should not write descriptions of all those programs whose names you have ever heard in your life. Limit yourself to the main thing that directly relates to your activity, that is, music.
    3. If the game developer asks for a specific subject line, do not ignore his wish. It may happen that your recipient has a filter on incoming mail, which automatically deletes messages that do not meet the specified parameters.
    4.Do not send your tracks in the attachment of the letter. It is better to leave links in the body of the letter that lead to examples of your work - if you are interested, you will definitely look. If you do not have the opportunity to create your own web page, then you can use special resources - MySpace, RealMusic and the like.
    5. Show your interest in the project.
    6.Choose examples of your work thoughtfully. For example, you know that at the moment the company is working on a shooter, and no matter how magnificent your slow lyrical composition may be, it may not be appreciated in this case. If there is no suitable track in your arsenal yet, I would advise you to alternate the works on your page in contrast. So that the customer, after listening to the first two or three compositions of the same mood, with the same samples, does not make hasty conclusions that all your music is monotonous. Remember, your page should represent you in the most advantageous way.

    If all your attempts to find a job were unsuccessful - do not be discouraged, try to figure out what is the matter and what is wrong?

    II. Development

    (or debriefing)

    There may be several reasons:
    1. Your music does not meet the needs of the industry.
    You like to write, say, sensual plays, songs for the soul or brisk dance music. But, having studied the market, you will need to understand that the music here is more of an applied nature, that is, it is intended to enhance the image, emphasize what is happening on the screen, and evoke certain feelings in the player. Think and honestly answer yourself - can you create in this case?

    2. Your music in comparison with hits of game music sounds faded, unprofessional.
    With the development of computer technology and the Internet, it seems that everyone can write tracks - you don’t need to know the notes, you can’t be able to play, even hearing is optional. But what is the result?
    Beginners prefer to see the root of their problems not so much in themselves, not in their musical ignorance, but in external factors - not that equipment, not those samples, not that sequencer, etc. So begins the endless pursuit of new technologies, for “proprietary” sound, as a result, time is spent not on developing yourself as a musician, but on things, which, in turn, are also very important, but not paramount. Try not to dwell on this.

    What is necessary for self-development and achieving the goal? Here is a fragment of a letter from Tchaikovsky to his sister:
    “... I am afraid only for spinelessness, perhaps laziness will take its toll, and I can’t stand it; if on the contrary, then I promise you to become something. You know that I have strengths and abilities, but I am sick with that disease called Oblomovism, and if I do not triumph over it, then, of course, I can easily die. Fortunately, the time has not yet completely gone ... ”
    Fortunately, Tchaikovsky found the strength and entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and in several years of hard work he became a comprehensively educated musician, and later a great composer.

    So here is what you need.
    1. A strong desire to learn.

    2. Critical attitude to his work. As soon as you decide that everything is ok, this is the end of your growth.

    3.You need to listen, listen and again listen to a lot of good and different music. Expand your musical horizons.

    4. Learn harmony, orchestration, instrumentation. And it does not have to be reading thick textbooks. Be creative and find your way in a way that interests you.

    For those who lack basic knowledge of harmony, I would recommend a good resource on the Internet - the music college “7 notes” . In the harmony section, the material is presented by the author in a very accessible form, with humor and allegories, and, importantly, contains musical examples in MIDI.
    If you write orchestral music, then check out instrumental studies. It is impossible to properly write a part for violin or winds without knowing the nature of the sound production of these instruments, their touches, and timbral possibilities. Because of ignorance, such common errors arise as a lifeless wind instrument for 20 measures, when a real performer would have suffocated from a lack of air in his lungs for a long time, or using the instruments of a symphony orchestra is not in his registers, and so on.
    In my school, this subject was conducted by the conductor of the musical theater. He could have stated the material dryly, but chose a more interesting and effective way, namely: every time he invited one of his orchestra students to a lecture. They talked about the technique of performance, demonstrated their game and even gave everyone a try to play. By the way, then I realized why there are rarely girls playing the double bass, horn, trombone and tuba.
    Try to act in the same way, find friends, acquaintances who will not mind holding a master class, take a couple of lessons from them. A selection of videos on YouTube can also serve as an illustration of the tutorial .

    5. Analyze the music.

    I would like to mention another resource that I really like. This is the rmm forum, and in particular the Orchestral Music section. In this topic, the author gives a selection of classical works that you should definitely familiarize yourself with (the scores are arranged on a “from simple to complex” basis). It also gives recommendations on how to study.
    For those people who do not own musical notation, I would recommend downloading MIDI compositions to the sequencer, and, at the same time as audio recording, study them in a drunken roll. Here are some sites where you can download classical works (and not only): , , WWW.MIDI.RU .
    Also, for educational purposes, you can use the Band-in-a-Box program, which contains "building material" for different genres of music. It allows you to see from which bricks the musical “fabric” is built in one or another case.

    6. Do not be afraid to imitate.

    Here I do not mean direct plagiarism, but only an indirect shift in methods. If we analyze the music of the classics, no matter how bright and original the talent of one or another genius may seem to us, all of them in the early period of their work copied their predecessors. And only when a decent foundation was laid, did the formation of one's vision, style, and style go on.
    I would like to dwell in more detail on such a point as the transfer of experience from successful gaming products, and also note the importance of references.
    When I start working with a customer, the first thing I ask him is to express his wishes about the style, give examples of musical compositions that, in his opinion, would be a good fit for the project. Usually I get very vague answers or something like "we fully trust your taste." Then I myself begin to ask leading questions, bring music from games, movies, classics, etc. In the discussion process, as a rule, the direction in which you need to move is clarified. If you are offered only screenshots for inspiration, you can ask the developer about the prototypes of his product. If the future game is not very original, by playing prototypes, you will most likely know what is expected of you. All that remains is to bring in your “creative vision” so that the future game in terms of music is even better and more interesting.

    If this is not done, then it may turn out that your further work will be like "wandering in the dark." Your sketches will be “undeservedly” rejected, and they won’t even be able to explain why. And given that the time to create a soundtrack can be very limited, then, in the final analysis, misunderstanding and stress can undesirably affect the music itself.
    It happens, and vice versa, when the developer himself gives a reference and asks to do something similar. For example, one team asked me to compose music similar to the theme from "Harry Potter", but, of course, so that it was not plagiarized, but only created the right mood. After listening and analyzing the melody, I revealed a number of distinctive features in harmony and instrumentation, and applying the same techniques I composed my own.
    As a result, the customer was satisfied. And it didn’t take me a lot of time to search creatively. This approach greatly facilitates the task of the musician, since both sides know exactly what they want.

    7. If you do not own any musical instrument - learn.

    Many people for some reason believe that mastering the instrument is possible only in early childhood. Of course, this is a true statement when it comes to the education of a professional performer. But there are examples in the history of composition that prove that it is never too late for a composer.
    Read the biography of Aram Khachaturian. They said that at the age of 19, after moving to Moscow, he saw a cello standing in a corner and said that he wanted to learn how to play “this big violin”. Despite the lack of basic training, but with good hearing and a great desire, Khachaturian was accepted into the Gnesinka.
    I often hear: “Why do I need this, I will perfectly draw or stick a part with a pencil in the sequencer with a pencil!” It may be so, but knowing how to play, you write a musical phrase much faster, while it will be much more natural. I'm not talking about the art of improvisation. Bach, Mozart, Liszt, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and others - all of them were outstanding performers. I’m afraid if they didn’t possess the technique of the game, their work would be much poorer.

    8. Learn the basics of sound engineering.

    There are more than enough educational materials, articles on mixing and mastering on the Internet. Communicate with people, “spy” their recipes, experiment with sound. After all, ultimately, the whole process of creating music rests on your shoulders. You have to combine the positions of composer, performer, sound engineer. And sound engineering will not occupy the last place.
    Finally, remember: a theory alone, not supported by practice, will not give you any results.

    III. Reprise

    (or back to where we started)

    So, since you are not limited by any time frames, try to make your demo tracks as close to ideal as possible and aimed at your audience. Firstly, if the tracks are interesting, it will attract the attention of the first customers to your work. Secondly, all the demos I wrote ever found their projects sooner or later.
    Try to replenish the page from time to time with new works, even if it seems to you that there are enough tracks on it, do not be afraid to increase their number. Every time the customer is looking for something new. And having come to your page again after some time and having found all the same couple of releases, it will close it right there.
    Of course, the scope of one article does not allow revealing all the problems, but I think that everything written above will serve as an impetus for you or at least make you think.

    IV. Code

    Those who have tried their hand at writing music know how hard this is. Yes, sometimes the music itself comes to the composer, but then, as a rule, the idea is polished for hours of painstaking work. So the expression “genius is 99% of the work and only 1% of talent” is very relevant in the musical field.
    Finally, the most important thing: you need to believe in yourself, and if you really love your job, then you will undoubtedly succeed!

    PS Martamusic
    Studio is open for cooperation!
    If your project needs music or sound design, write to me at

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