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How to get great music for your game

So, you’re almost finished with your game project and you just realized you need music for it! Or maybe you’re starting development now and you’re looking ahead, trying to find right now who can provide the tunes you’ve been imagining for your game.

Whatever the case, we’ve listed a few ways in which you can find the best music to fit your masterpiece.

1. Free music websites

Very simple project? You’ve just started making games? There is a ton of free music on the internet. The problem, as with any free stuff, is that you’re going to dig around a lot before you find something you can actually use. And when you find it, it’s not going to be exclusive for your game: it is free, so anyone can use it for any kind of stuff, from games to corporate videos.

If you choose this path, there are a few things you should look out for:

  1. Is it Public Domain or Creative Commons? If a sound file is on public domain, you can use it however you like; if it has a Creative Commons license (CC), there is a variety of ways in which the author permits its usage - some might not include commercial purposes, for example. Always pay attention to the rights of the music you wish to use in your project.

  2. Does the music loop? In the vast majority of games, you can’t predict how much time the player is going to spend on each screen or stage of your game. That is why game music usually loops - so that the music keeps playing endlessly, even if the player spends an hour trying to finish your level!

  3. Is the loop gapless? Ever tried to loop an .mp3 file? Depending on the engine you’re using, the odds are you’ve heard a “click” or “pop” when the music goes back to the start. MP3 files have an information header just before the sound data, so there is a millisecond of silence every time it loops (on mobile, MP3 does loop perfectly on iOS, but not on Android). Look for .ogg or .wav files, and make sure the music you chose doesn’t end fading out…

  4. Is it distracting? Some pieces of music can be really annoying to listen on repeat. Make sure you’re choosing one that helps with player immersion, not one that drives him/her to mute the device because the music is distracting them from their in-game goals.

Some websites where you can find free music are Free Music Archive, Freesound.org and the Creative Commons website.

2. Royalty free music

The difference between “free” and “royalty free” is that, while the first requires absolutely no money from you, the latter can be priced - you usually pay an upfront fee and then you’re good to go.

While also requiring lots of digging around, it can be easier to find better sounding tunes when searching a paid royalty free music library. They won’t be exclusive for your project as well, but you have a lower chance of choosing something that thousands of other games use. It is a low cost alternative that can be good for simple commercial games, as well as vlogs, corporate and tutorial videos.

Be on the lookout for the same aspects pointed out for free music.

You can find royalty free music at online music libraries like AudioJungle and Premium Beat, as well as the Unity Asset Store and the Unreal Marketplace.

3. Hire a freelance composer/sound designer

Small to medium projects (and sometimes even bigger ones) with commercial aspirations can surely benefit from music created uniquely for them. This is, most probably, the case with the majority of the games you play.

A specialized composer can provide you with music that fits each need of your game. You can negotiate to have the music reviewed in case the first delivery isn’t what you were expecting, so you don’t have to face any unpleasant surprises.

Sound designers are also very important in any game project, as they can provide original sound effects that go hand in hand with the custom music you’re getting from the composer. It is certainly better than relying on stock sounds that everyone has heard a hundred times before.

In the indie game community, it is common for the composer to also provide sound design, and vice versa.

Make sure to provide your sound guys with music and sound references, so that you’re all on the same page. Asking someone to “please create some desert music” is probably going to go wrong: what is your definition of desert music? What is theirs? Is it orchestral, electronic, ethnic, chiptune...? Gather a few pieces of music and send them to your composer, so he/she will create music similar to what is in your head. Same for sound designers with sound effects.

You can find freelance composers… well, almost anywhere, with varying degrees of quality. Try forums such as TIG and NewGrounds; freelance websites like Fiverr and Upwork; or look for someone in your community. Wherever you choose to search, make sure the person you’re talking to has a nice sounding portfolio and is familiar with game music techniques, such as looping and dynamic music (which we’ll discuss in a further post).

4. Hire a specialized sound studio

Medium to large project? You probably want to guarantee the sound in your game is up to par with your whole masterpiece. The best option in this scenario is to hire a studio, such as Papprika, to take care of all your audio-related needs.

A specialized studio often employs experienced composers, sound designers, voice acting directors and, sometimes, even an audio integration specialist to deliver the best sound quality possible. They will work with references, briefings, Skype calls and a close interface with your team to make sure the game uses the sounds provided in the way they were meant to be. They’re usually able to work with the most diverse deadlines and deliver high quality assets in any style, and work proactively to ensure you won’t have any headaches.

To reach a sound studio, you will usually find a contact e-mail or form on their website, or speak to a representative at an event such as GDC, Game Connection or BIG Festival.

Didn’t get something? Have other suggestions for the topics we’ve talked about? Feel free to drop a comment below. For a quote on your game project, give us a shout.

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