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Advice for Breaking Into a Career in Composing Music for Videogames

While composing for videogames is a great gig to land, veteran composers Jason Graves, Boris Salchow, and Inon Zur didn’t just walk into their success. Each is a gifted composer who has spent years perfecting his craft, and the opportunities that they’ve been fortunate enough to land didn’t happen by chance; they happened as a result of a lot of hard work.

Interested in a career in composing for videogames? Here are a few tips.

1. Get really good. “First and foremost, you need to learn your craft and be exceptionally good at it,” says Zur. “Take it seriously and learn how to produce it very well. You should study and learn all musical styles and find out who’s doing what and what composers are popular.”

2. Keep an open mind. Even if you have the intended goal of composing for videogames, Graves cautions up and coming composers to not focus solely on music for games. “Broaden your horizons, and do whatever you can to learn as much as you can and in as many different areas of music as you can,” says Graves. “For the two years that I wrote music for political spots, I learned about mic technique and expression, how to help people who were not used to doing [voice-overs], how to mix VOs with background sound, and how to mic guitars. The more you know, the more likely you are to be working in the audio industry in general.”

3. Find your voice. If you want to grab the attention of developers, you’ve got to give your music some sort of special, creative edge that helps it to stand out. “Really, it comes down to figuring out who you are as a composer, finding your voice, and developing your own signature sound,” says Zur.

4. Put yourself out there. Breaking into the industry is harder than ever before, which means that in addition to being a top-notch composer, you also have to be a top-notch marketer. “There’s really no other way around it,”says Zur. “Once you feel you are in a position to take on composing jobs, you’ve got to try as hard as you can to put yourself out there as much as possible.” Zur suggests flooding YouTube with examples of your work, sending demos to decision-makers, and meeting as many people in the business as you can. “I’ve been in the field for 15 years, and yet I still have my publicist spend hours every day on marketing efforts so I can land my next job.”

5. Never forget what you want. As hard as it may be and as many obstacles as you may face along the way, Salchow has one very important piece of advice to keep in mind: “It’s important that you never lose sight of the fact that you want to be a composer. Take all the necessary steps that you need to take: go to school, intern for other composers, assist others, write on your own, concentrate on yourself, develop your own style, keep working until something happens, and never look back.”

For more on composing music for videogames, read the March 2012 PopMark Media’s Confessions of a Small Working Studio: Music and Videogames—A Composer’s Paradise?