Resources for Game Audio Professionals
Because every video game hero needs the right tool/sword for the job.
When it comes to finding all the right information and resources for aspiring video game audio engineering, the internet is a mess. A book here and there, a handful of defunct or hard-to-find blogs, and – *sigh* – forums. As much fun as sifting through pages of Google search results and forum threads can be, I thought I’d create a resource page for all of your video game music needs. I’ll add more to it as I learn new things and dive into different topics on the website, and will definitely reference this page often – bookmark it!
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase. Please know that I have personal experience with all of these companies, and I’ll only recommend products/services that I believe to be helpful and useful. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel that they will help you achieve your goals.
Creating a Website and Online Demo/Portfolio
If you want to be legit, you’ll need an online hub for people to find you, connect with you, and listen to your music. I’ll be including reviews of my recommended pick for hosting your demo material soon, but regardless of whether you’re using Bandcamp, Soundcloud, or you’re hosting your own stuff – you should have your own website. Using just one of those services and not having your own website puts you at a big disadvantage, because you have very limited control and insight into what’s going on with your pages. If you’re serious about running yourself as a business, you should really have a website.
Hosting your Domain & Website
Bluehost: For website/blog hosting and purchasing your website domain. I have several websites, and all of them are hosted on Bluehost’s hosting service. Within 5-10 minutes, you can purchase a website domain (web address, such as videogamemusicacademy.com), set up your hosting account, and have WordPress installed (see below). Voila! You now how a beautiful, customizable website. Bluehost has fantastic customer service via phone and chat, and I highly recommend them. Want to see Bluehost in action? Watch this video post I created to show you how to set up your own website with Bluehost in less than 10 minutes.
Building your Website
WordPress: A free, easy “content management system” – which is a fancy phrase for “system that I use to make my website”. Wordpress is famous for it’s 5-minute installation, and if you’re hosting your website or portfolio on Bluehost (or any other major hosting site) there’s a 1-click install process available. I’ve created this video tutorial to show you how to set up your web hosting and install WordPress in less than 10 minutes, if you want to see how it’s done. The best part about using WordPress is the ability to use Themes to customize the look and feel of your website. There are thousands of free and premium themes out there so you can make your website look just the way you want without being a website coder or designer.
Elegant Themes: I did a lot of shopping around for WordPress themes before deciding on using “Divi” by Elegant Themes for this website (and a couple other sites I tinker with). For one flat price, I have an entire portfolio of 87 professional themes to choose from and use how I see fit. I’ve used both free and premium themes and, while you can have a totally respectable website with a free WordPress theme, I haven’t regretted this small investment for 1 second. My friends and family think I’m a talented web designer (I’m not) because I’ve built a few sexy-looking sites from scratch (I used a drag-and-drop builder). If you want to have a totally professional-looking site that’s easy to use without costing you a fortune, I highly recommend Elegant Themes.
Google Analytics: This free service is very robust and very easy to set up, providing you with detailed information about your website’s performance. If you aren’t tracking your website’s effectiveness yet, you need to be. It takes a few minutes to set up, and a few more minutes to learn how to use it after, but it’s critical to track you website’s traffic and lead generation if you’re going to improve it or – if your website isn’t generating any business for you – fix it. Access Google Analytics. Note: Requires a Google/Gmail account.
Hosting Your Demo/Portfolio
I want to reiterate that I highly recommend having your own website which you own and operate independently from the big audio sites like Soundcloud and Bandcamp. Having said that, it’s a great idea to leverage these sites to host your audio materials as they allow easy audio player embedding and analytics tracking.
Soundcloud: The rising star for hosting your audio materials, Soundcloud is a solid choice for hosting your demo reel. Their audio player is a sexy lil’ thing that works very well and provides a great experience to the listener. It is a quick and easy task to embed their player into your website, and people can also use Soundcloud to discover you. The player is somewhat-customizable as well, so you can make it look more appropriate for your website’s design.
Artwork and Images (for Logo, Albums, Website, etc.)
99 Designs: Leave the designing to the designers and focus on the music! My sister and I have both used this website to acquire new logos for our websites. She purchased a pre-made logo from their Ready-Made Logo store, and I paid to run a week-long contest. I wrote a short description of what I wanted for my logo, and had over 100 designers submit entries. Once the entries started coming in I was able to eliminate designers I didn’t like, give feedback to others so they could improve their entries, and my favorite part: choosing finalists to go head-to-head in a battle for my business. When I finally chose a winner, they received the money I paid to run the contest (minus a small fee that went to 99 Designs) and I received the artwork files and copyright to the logo. I’ve used 99 Designs for T-Shirts too, but you can use them for logo designs, business cards, book covers, illustrations, and more. If you need album art, a new business card, or you’re looking to sell some merchandise you should check this site out.
Ultimate Guide to Finding and Using Images on your Blog: If you need images for your website or blog, you can’t just grab any image you find on the internet and use it – you could actually get in trouble for doing that! This free guide by Pat Flynn of SmartPassiveIncome.com goes over what you need to know to keep it legal and where to go to find safe images to use on your site.
Books & Learning
Strategy Guide – How to Meet Game Developers on Twitter: The VGM Academy’s first digital strategy guide gives you step-by-step actions (checklist included) to go from zero-to-hero with your social media networking in as little as 15 minutes-per-day. No hacks or exploits; I’ve taught the strategies and principles in this guide to hundreds of freelancers and companies to help them find the right people and connect with them online. If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels trying to get game developers to talk to you online, this one’s for you.
A Composer’s Guide to Game Music by Winifred Phillips: I think everyone interested in succeeding in the game music industry should have a copy of this book, so if you haven’t yet make sure to pick up your copy ASAP. This book does a great job of broadly covering the different facets of a career in game music composition. It has something for everyone, and is probably the most comprehensive book available right now for the aspiring game music composer. From exploring themes and interactive music to the basics of acting like a business, Winifred shares a lot of valuable knowledge and personal experiences through this book. Note: This book covers a LOT of ground, and while it makes for an interesting read cover-to-cover I recommend getting in there for the chapters you need when you need them to avoid becoming overwhelmed or distracted by all of the great content in this book.
Manual of Practical Instrumentation by Charles-Marie Widor: This book was originally published in 1946, and it’s the best reference for instrumentation I’ve found so far. This book doesn’t talk about instrumentation with a lot of text – it shows you on music staves and it breaks down one instrument at a time. From looking up the most difficult intervals for a trumpet to play to the comfortable ranges in which a clarinet can perform tremolos, all the fundamentals are here and quick to look up when you need them. If you prepare scores for live or recording musicians to play, I would consider this a critical addition to your bookshelf.
The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss: You know that moment when someone explains how a magic trick is done or a puzzle is solved, and you can’t believe how difficult it was for you to see such an obvious solution for yourself? This book does that with your life. While the latter half may not appeal to composers, the first half of the book drops all sorts of fantastic wisdom about changing your mindset to be happier and more successful. The premise of the book is an exploratory look into Tim’s journey from overworked/underpaid office worker to overworked/overpaid/miserable entrepreneur to working 4 hours/week on his business while still growing his profit. If you read this book and have at least one ‘Ah-ha!’ moment, I’d be shocked. This book easily is the most influential thing I’ve read in the past 10 years. If reading isn’t your thing, the unabridged audiobook is a fantastic alternative.
Lynda.com: This membership website contains video tutorials for a LOT of different subjects (Business, Audio, Video, Web, Design, Animation, etc), and I’ve used it to learn how to use DAWs, Google Analytics, Wordpress, and a few specific business courses to fill a couple of gaps in my knowledge. While none of the tutorials are specific to game audio, Lynda.com has lessons on several different DAWs and core audio engineering skills. Want to get the essentials for Ableton Live? No problem. Want to learn how to make beats in Logic Pro X? Lynda.com has you covered. Need a 2-hour course on audio mastering? They have that, too. Read my in-depth review of their membership site based on my personal experience for more details. Bonus Points: the VGM Academy community gets a 7-day free trial to give Lynda.com a test drive.
Marketing & Networking
This is often a huge challenge for artists who are trying to make a living off of their craft. You can be the best composer in the world, but it won’t bring in any money if you have no customers and nobody hears your music. This section will be dedicated to getting your music and services found by the right people so you can win new customers with that awesome demo reel you made!
Hoosuite: Social Media is a tough beast to wrangle, and it’s very easy to spend a lot of time on Social Media without actually accomplishing anything. Happily, Hootsuite can help consolidate what you’re doing so you can spend less time on social media and hopefully see a return. With Hootsuite, you can create feeds to listen to social media more effectively (example: I only want to see Tweets that have the #videogamejobs hashtag) which helps you filter out the noise and interact with the right people at the right time online. You can post to multiple accounts so you don’t have to jump into Facebook and then Twitter and then Google+ to share the same post, and you can pre-schedule posts to go out later if you find something at 3am that you’d really like to share with your followers.
BufferApp.com: This is a fantastic tool for building a social media following online because it takes a lot of the work out of regularly sharing content with your audience. The free version of BufferApp allows you to set predetermined times of day for posts to go out and then easily add posts/content to a queue. I’ll explain this in more detail with a blog post to illustrate how awesome this app is. Works on PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.
AWeber: E-mail marketing can be a fantastic channel for nurturing leads or driving sales through your loyal fans, and AWeber is a low-cost solution to manage the process. With AWeber, you can easily collect e-mail addresses and organize them into lists so you can send newsletters or content to those people later. Game audio beginners can get away with ignoring e-mail marketing, but if you would describe yourself as an “intermediate” game audio professional than I highly recommend starting an e-mail list and learning how to use it to grow your music business.
F.lux: Your computer monitor is constantly blasting your face with blue light because it’s designed to look like a sunny day. When you’re up late working on your music, this takes an unfortunate toll on your eyes and your sleep habits. F.lux is a great little program that runs in the background, constantly adjusting the colors in your monitor to match the room you’re in. When the sun sets, it makes the computer screen mimic indoor lighting. In the morning, it reverts back to the sunny blue-light based glow we all know and love. Use this for one night and I’ll bet you never go back. The best part? F.lux is totally free, and available for Mac, Windows, Linux, and iOS. You’re welcome.
As far as notation software goes, I’ll offer my favorite/recommended option and a free option that people seem to like a lot. Keep in mind that not all composers use notation software these days because so much can be done without live players. If you’re recording live musicians or you’re doing a live performance, you’ll need to prepare a score for the musicians. If you’re simply producing/recording the music yourself, you can probably get by for a long time without having to produce a score.
Sibelius: I’ve tried a few different solutions out there, but if I have to create a score I’m going with Sibelius. It’s been my favorite since Sibelius 2 and it’s gotten better with every new version. It is a bit of an investment, but it’s an excellent and robust program for creating scores or composing with basic MIDI. If you’re working with live musicians a lot, I would recommend picking up a copy of this so you can produce professional scores to hand to the players. There are a few different versions available, so be sure to pick the right edition before purchasing. Sibelius First is a great place to start for easy-to-use score creation and sharing. Sibelius 7.5 is the full-blown version and is considerably more expensive. While I think both are great options, only buy what you need (if anything). Note: Be careful not to buy an ‘Upgrade’ edition unless you own a previous version of Sibelius that you’re upgrading to the current version.
MuseScore: This is a pretty popular free solution for creating, playing, and printing sheet music scores – available for Mac/PC/Linux. While I’m a Sibelius man at home, I use Musescore at work and I’ve been very pleased with it thus far for basic arrangements and notation.
Shake: Currently in beta and available on iOS (Android and Desktop versions coming soon), this free App is a shockingly-simple way to easily create and sign legally-binding contracts. You can use this for freelancing/work-for-hire contracts, confidentiality agreements, buy/sell agreements, and more. After downloading the app, I was able to create a freelance contract for the creation of a game soundtrack in a couple of minutes. If you and your client are physically in the same room, you can both legally sign right on the iOS device and email a copy to both parties. Done deal.
NOTE: The default Freelance template does not include anything about rights, royalties, revenue sharing or licensing. I’ve contacted Shake to get a musician-friendly template made, but in the meantime – be careful! You can send yourself a PDF copy of Shake’s agreement and add a section/line regarding any rights, licensing, royalties, or sale revenues you’re agreeing to.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, so please use your own good judgement and seek the counsel of a lawyer for any and all legal matters. I am describing the Shake app for informational purposes and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.
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