A Beginner’s Guide to the Video Game Music Composing and Remixing Community
Over the years, video games have grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. Today’s games involve millions of hours of work and take years to produce. The music contained in these games, as well as in older games, is a work of art just as it is often overlooked. Movie soundtracks have been praised for years, until 2005’s video game music was largely a curiosity outside of Japan. Only recently are concerts consisting solely of video game music, such as To touch! A symphony of video games and Distant Worlds: Final Fantasy Music, they have sold thousands of tickets around the world.
Some games today are even marketed on the strength of the main composers for their soundtracks. For example, the Xbox 360 game from 2008 Lost odyssey announced in their pre-release commercials that their music was composed by legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu. Unfortunately, however, many game music composers and artists remain underrated compared to those involved with movie soundtracks.
With the growing popularity of the Internet in the late 1990s, an online video game music community began to form. One of the first sites, VGMusic, offered and continues to offer strict MIDI sequences, largely from older consoles (NES and SNES). VGMusic contributors sequence songs and then submit them for the world to hear.
In 1998, the community consisted mainly of independent sites offering MIDI files and Impulse Tracker (* .it). Some of these songs, which began to move towards “remixing” as it is known today, were 20 minute mashups of music from the soundtrack of a complete game. Searching for songs was a tedious task, because there were no single sources for such remixes.
In 1999, ReMix overclocked, a site was formed that limited its posts through a strict play. Still popular today, the site has received contributions from hobbyists, aspiring artists, and professional songwriters such as Jeremy soule. A panel of judges evaluates and votes each song submitted, and as of this writing, fewer than 5% of submissions are posted.
Compos, or online contests that challenge entrants to produce the best songs, began popping up around 2000, but were hit when the highly acclaimed Ultima Eternity competition was pulled. Later, live instrument recordings became popular, leading to the creation of Dueling Abode, a competition where at least one live instrument is required in a song. Each month, competitors must perform a piece from a specific game or series, and members of the popular game music forum. The shizz vote for the winners.
Also popular at the beginning of the decade was VGMix, which was perhaps the first site that allowed composers to post music without judgment. VGMix went through three different iterations, but much of its music was lost as a result of security breaches. As of this writing, the site is currently in poor shape, with many of its functions corrupted and the registry disabled.
A major contributor who helped draw great attention to game music was the Mid Atlantic Gamers’ Festival, or MAGFest. While MAGFest also involves thousands of people playing each other at a large LAN party, as well as events geared towards game development and appreciation, game music has taken an increasingly important role at the festival lately. Professional songwriters have attended and the OverClocked ReMix judges have convened a panel to discuss the site and its community.
The online game music remix community has grown so large and has such a long history that participants have written hundreds of songs, moved from high school to graduate school, and landed jobs in the music industry. There is at least one case where two remixers met over the internet and then got married.
As the game music community progresses, various programmers and composers have come together to create a new resource, remixSite, which allows anyone to post video game originals or remixes for comment. Because the songs on remixSite are covered, contributors can track their submissions through the covers and help each other improve their musical skills. This incremental improvement process is expected to lead the game’s music community to even greater popularity and visibility.
As more and more companies use live instruments in their recordings and spend more production resources on game soundtracks, the future looks bright for game music. Anyone with a passing interest in games would be well served to explore what the game music community has to offer.