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History of Music Written for Video Games
by Alex Cosper (12/23/12, revised 3/20/14)




Music made for video began in the mid 1970s using sound effects that simulated their acoustic world equivalents. Electronic bands emerged such as Yellow Magic Orchestra, who had an influence on early video game music. By the end of the decade many video games used more than sound effects to add to the visual action. The effects gradually became more melodic with the help of synthesizers and samples. Many of these early themes had a techno pop sound, with a heavy emphasis on showing off effects.

Eventually, video game designers opened up to multiple genres and became an important part of the product. Some of the early video game music composers include Toshio Kai who wrote music for Pac-Man and Tomohiro Hishikado, who wrote the music for Space Invaders. In 1980 Rally-X became the first video game with background music throughout the entire game. Other video games that paved the way for video game songwriters were Frogger, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and countless sports games. Trent Reznor has musical success with Nine Inch Nails before writing music for video games.

Sometimes artists become popular first then their songs end up in video games. That was the case with The Bravery, who released a successful self-titled album in 2005, which comprised tracks that ended up in PlayStation 2 video games. "Swollen Summer" ended up in the game Gran Turismo 4, "Unconditional" was featured in Tony Hawk's American Wasteland and "An Honest Mistake" was used in both the PlayStation 2 game True Crime: New York City and the Electronic Arts game MVP Baseball 2005.

In 2012, the Grammys started giving awards for video game music. Other awards shows have also begun honoring composers of video game music. Leading composers of the genre in 2012 include Kohei Tanaka for Gravity Rush, Jasper Byrne for Hotline Miami and Rich Vreeland for Fez. One way to meet people in the industry is to attend conferences such as the Game Developer's Conference (GDC), which started in the Silicon Valley area in the late eigthties. These days video game soundtracks are just as important as movie soundtracks.

A video game musician who started having success at a young age has been Josh Whelchel, who has created music for video games such as Scrolls, Castle Story and Oblitus. He began writing music for video games freeware games such as Klik & Play and The Games Factory in 2005, after years of studying classical music and instruments such as cello and bass. At the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati he learned about music composition and computer science, but inevitably left school to pursue his career ambitions. He developed a taste for electronic orchestral music, which can be heard in his video game music. He eventually became one of the forces behind San Francisco-based Loudr.fm, a platform for indie musicians that handles the business side of things.

Louder.fm is an interesting platform open to not just game composers, but cover artists as well. It's a platform designed to make licensing and royalty calculations simple for independent musicians. One of its goals is to empower indie musicians to take control of their own careers. As Whelchel stated in an interview with RPG Fan, it is technically illegal for artists to upload cover songs to the internet without permission and proper licensing, even for free or if publishers do not complain. Loud.fm's goal is to allow artists to do what they want within the bounds of copyright law. Some of the video game music (VGM) artists they promote include Grant Kirkhope, Family Jules, Taylor Davis, Disasterpeace and Erutan.





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