Film & Game Composition insights – Advice from professional composers

I have often been advised against working in two or more industries. In my case that is composition for films and games. The argument was that it is too much in terms of work stress. I also got the argument that it is possible that you will not be good enough, because you work too broadly. In other words, you have no specialty. Unlike if you focus on one industry. This is because the industries (assumed) differ in terms of work stress, networking, acquisition, and finance (mainly).

In addition, I observed a lot of the people in my MediaMusic study with the main subject ‘Composition for films and games’. A number of classmates, students from year 2 and 1 have difficulty choosing between the film and game industry. How do you make a choice? Why can’t you work in both industries at the same time? Are the arguments I’ve been getting from certain professionals right? I would like to test this and challenge myself to find an answer to these questions. And hopefully thereby also reduce the choice of stress for new composers, including myself.

To find my answers, I spoke to 11 professional film/game/media composers

Working pressure

The workload differs enormously per composer and completely depends on which projects are in progress. It can certainly be summarized that every composer is extremely busy. This has to do with the amount of projects, the size of the project and what side projects/jobs they have to get by.

One works 7 days, the other also keeps his evenings off, another works continuously and yet another composer keeps one day off a week. It seems that most composers work a lot and experience quite a lot of work pressure. However, they do their best to keep this workload healthy. They all indicate that it is important to at least take a short moment every day to do something different and to have rest days every now and then.

Although they love to work, they do think about their health. Some composers indicated that they worked continuously in their ‘younger’/early 20s, sometimes working through nights. They no longer do this as they experienced it as unhealthy and actually deteriorated in functional work.

Communication between creator and composer

When it comes to differences and similarities, I can summarize that this has a 50/50 perspective. It seems that most composers experience the same differences. However, many also indicate that communication really differs from person to person.

There is talk of stereo types in which game developers are more technically oriented and focus less on the importance of the music. A film director (stereotypically speaking) is much more focused on music and often has a vision ready.

This image certainly seems to come up a few times given the experiences of Chris, Rebecca, Joris, Matties and Sonic Picnic. Yet they also indicate that their experience can certainly be very different from someone else’s and that this does not have to say much. Omri, Tobias, Kazuma, Hamdija and Tom clearly indicate that they have experienced almost none of this stereotypical experience and indicate more clearly that it is the person.

Acquisition by networks

Some composers no longer need to make acquisitions because customers come to them. Chris, Rebecca, Omri, Kazuma, Hamdija, Joris and Sonic Picnic indicate that in a few years time they will no longer have to look for assignments. All assignments they currently receive come from their network or people who visit them and come into contact with people in their network.

Manglemoose invests in getting to the top of Google Searches about music for media. As a result, people who search for composers or audio engineers in the Netherlands on Google quickly come to Manglemoose. Many have sent out many emails to potential customers in the past.

It seems that in the music industry, making acquisitions equals networking. To make acquisitions you are obliged to network

Importance of Networks

All participants made an enormous effort to network in order to build their career. Some have networked so much that they no longer have to look for projects themselves and some are still active in building networks.

For example, Rebecca and Tobias are both active on social media. They involve people in their posts related to them and give attention to their projects online. They also post videos or photos that may interest potential developers or directors.


The composers who have been in the business a little longer have indicated that they went to many game or film conferences in their younger years. All composers have also sent emails to potential customers, but indicated that they are not a fan of this.

They indicate that it is best to indicate that you are interested in that person. Instead of showing interest in a possible collaboration. This attracts more attention and makes you more interested in building a relationship rather than finding a project.

Workflow in film & game composition

In general, the composers talk about the same differences. However, there is a slight difference in the approach to the music. Chris, Omri, Tobias, Kazuma and Tom indicate that they start the same way with movies as they do with games. They receive and request all information. Then they get to work and the way, in the beginning, is no different than with movies and games.

Rebecca, Kazuma, Hamdija, Joris, Matties (Manglemoose) and Sonic Picnic indicate that because of the differences they also compose differently. In films, for example, they first play the piano along with the scene to make a sketch. While with games they may first make a demo track that may lay down the atmosphere of the game.

The differences everyone mentions comes down to the non-linear and technical aspect of games and the linear aspect of movies.

Some see these differences as an opportunity to perform other ways of composing music. The other digests information the same way and can compose music in the same way.

Conclusion

This research and its results have shown that beginning composers need to focus on building a network in order to start their career. It is important to focus on building good relationships and not business relationships. In addition, it is extremely important to focus on ‘doing what you like’. Take on projects that interest you and keep making music.

‘’You must work out what you really want, do you really want to do both? Is it just the music? Or the style of music you like? Or the fact that you love the process of working on both. If someone out there is just starting and they just love doing both, reach out and do as much independent
stuff as you possibly can, until you reach a point where you really must decide. Do I want to become an assistant, or do I want to go out on my own and just do films and games and ‘hustle’ and do it that way? In terms of being a composer, you can certainly do both.’’

– Chris Hurn

‘’Do not wait for permission to be a composer.’’

– Omri Lahav

”You already spend enough time thinking about how you should do something right. Do whatever makes you happy.’’

– Tobias Weiss

‘’Understand that anything that you work on is going to take time and give yourself a break occasionally for sure. Especially when it comes to freelancing, which I think most audio work is these days, understand that your free time is not spare time in an evening. You should be sitting
down, having a rest, take a break and chill out.’’

– Rebecca Corfield

”Keep your work available for everyone to see. Especially for video games and films.’’

– Kazuma Jinnouchi

‘’Do it all, do not put yourself in a situation that you have to choose one or the other. Look at yourself as a composer and open your mind to different approaches, different projects, and media. That is really what is going to bring the best out of you. ‘’

– Hamdija Ajanovic

“If you write good music, it doesn’t matter if you only write film music or game music or both, because you can just do that.”

-Joris Daniel Hoogsteder

“All you can do is listen to yourself and keep doing your best. Seek help when you need it.”

-Tom Hoesstee

“You can excel in various areas and still be a specialist, but still be able to offer many things.”

-Matties Grooten

“You can do several things if that’s your thing. It’s also totally okay if you don’t know what your thing is yet. There is also simply a need and work for people who are very versatile.”

-Tuur Hendrix

‘’It is not bad to not do one thing and being good at one thing at all. There are very good composers in the world who only do that and who make their living of that. There are very good Maori integrators, there are very good sound designers and then there’s people who need to connect those trades. People who are not extremely good at anything of them but have a certain level on all of them. And those people are, strangely, very much needed in this industry, at least in the game industry.’’

-Nico Dilz