I must admit that, while playing video-games, I usually pay little to no attention to the soundtrack. Not because I mute it, but because I’ve always considered it to be a minor component in the whole experience. Many other gamers might agree that composers don’t immediately come to mind when they think of their favorite titles.
Yet, plenty of talented artists are working alongside developers, creating masterpiece after masterpiece! In an eye-opening interview, we got to ask Neon Insect what it’s like to write music for the entertainment industry. His latest work, Abatron, accompanies the homonymous game and was released only a few days ago.
The album’s also available on Bandcamp, if you want to listen to it! Actually, you know what? Stop reading for a second and hit play; you won’t regret it!
How Does One Become a Video-Games Composer?
Neon Insect – a “30 years old audiojunkie from Germany” – always had a passion for music technology and sound synthesis. The man describes himself as self-taught artist: even attending high school was hard for his creative mind. He eventually tried to earn an art-oriented degree, but quit when he discovered that such a future didn’t appeal to him.
According to the composer, most of his knowledge comes from persistence and practice. “I’ve spent too much time in my basement to make noise!” he answered when we asked him about his academic career. He only went back to college and studied sound engineering a few years ago!
Despite this, learning from the experts is always a great idea. Some ability with a musical instrument is obviously required, but knowing how to navigate the environments around you remains what will get you through the day.
Composing a video-games soundtrack also greatly differs from more traditional songwriting. “ you portrait your own feelings still, but those feelings are related to the situation the game is in right now”.
It’s not only about being expressive either. “You have to look at what the client wants. What genre, what styles, etc. It’s not about yourself in the first place“. If you already are someone who loves to play music and can come to terms with specific requests, this career might be something to consider!
The Actual Creative Process
We then asked our guest to tell us about how the Abatron soundtrack came to life. For video-games music, teamwork can actually provide all the tools a composer needs to conjure the next masterpiece. Cooperation is essential, especially in smaller groups.
As Neon Insect confirms “the creative freedom and trust I had within this team was just amazing. Nobody ever said I think that wouldn’t fit, because I think we had the same vision artistically.” Eventually, the results appeased the entire group. Alessandro and I also liked the album a lot!
Sometimes, a stroke of genius is all a composer needs to get to work. “I had something in mind for it right from the beginning. The idea of the sound was already there, before I even started to do anything at all. The hard hitting drums, the heavy guitar, the noise, the ambient. I already heard it, when I saw it”.
As far as the instruments are concerned, each composer has their personal preference. Our new German friend picked guitar, bass, and drums. The violin also appears to be an extremely versatile tool and a favorite of his. Adding to those, the artist said to have recorded “atmospheres from outside, metal plates and all the stuff I could find. Many things are just overly processed raw recordings. There are also synthesizer in there, some which I self programmed in Reaktor 6”.
This mix, which can seem a bit odd to some, actually resulted in an harmonious and well-balanced composition. It reminded me of industrial rock from the first tracks. “There’s a touch of Mick Gordon in there somewhere”, said Alessandro when we first went through the lot. I’m sure Neon Insect won’t mind that comment!
Advice for Aspiring Video-Game Composers?
Since we always aim to leave our readers with something, our last question to Neon Insect was if he had advice for musicians who wanted to follow his path. Surprisingly, the man had plenty of it and was more than eager to share a few! Here’s how that conversation went.
A basic knowledge of the most important engines – Unity and Unreal above all else -is more than required. This doesn’t really surprise anybody. You’re about to start working with these tools, it’s only natural that you get up close and personal with them.
Most importantly, though, he also advised not to complicate things. Start taking small steps and never stop studying. “Especially know how gameaudio works. Read books about it, watch YouTube videos about it; if you can, study it, because it’s a very deep and interesting field”.
Finally, we were told a secret that applies to just about any job: “You don’t need to be an expert at any these things, but know something”. Being able to work independently both on music and games also puts you at an advance. “it qualifies you over 60% of the competitors out there. Many are just musicians who think they know enough to write for games”.
The Indie Toaster would like to thank Neon Insect and W3 Studios for the opportunity to have a chat. The next time I’ll game, I’ll think twice about soundtracks!