Monday, September 24, 2012

How do you get into the Video Games Industry as a composer ?

It's about time I wrote this out once and for all so when I get emails like this one

Dear Graeme,

How do you get into the's a link to my portfolio, tell me what you think.

It's a question I get an awful lot. I did the same thing when I was 17. I wrote to Mel Croucher of Automata. It was before I had my Amiga, and didn't have a clue how to record music. I picked Mel, wrote to him, and he very kindly replied back.

Innocent days, but if people take the time to write to me, isn't it rude not to reply ?

Well, sometimes, the emails themselves are rude...but we'll  just skirt over the issue of curtness, cold calling and direct questions or direct requests for my copyrighted material..... Such is life now that we live in the instant gratification age of having Google at our fingertips.

But going back a paragraph.... How do you get into the video games industry ?

Good question, I wish I had an answer for you.

I've been in the industry for 20 years.... the one thing you can be sure that's happened, is that it's changed dramatically since then.

So if I told you to answer an advert in a magazine with a demo tape, you'd just think me as strange.

But, in summary, that's what I did.

Before the days of MCV, Develop etc, we had the Edge in the UK. This magazine was the number one go to for job adverts.

I didn't buy it though because I was on the dole and had no disposable income to speak of.

My flat mates did though, because they were working and had cash to flash.

Late 1993 I saw an advert or was pointed to one for a musician at Rare.

Who were Rare? know from the 8bit Spectrum days.

Oh yeah.

So I sent them my demo tape/DAT.

Not the first company I'd applied to, there had been many others... but this time, I was given an interview.

A snowy day in February, I went armed with 2 pieces of music a minute in length written to their specification for the purposes of the job.

I'd hear in a week if I was successful.

It was 2 months, but who's counting.

So, I had 3 weeks to leave my friends and family behind, move from London to Warwickshire and that was about it.

If I answered that in an email, you probably wouldn't find it very helpful...and that's my point. There are several layers of chaos that make things happen.

One of my colleagues, Grant Kirkhope, used brute force. He would keep sending us demo tapes to Rare with new songs on each time.

We weren't looking for anyone, but then, one day, he sent a tape, we did need another pair of hands and he got the job.

There are no hard and fast rules. There's no magic, it's a bit of hard work, a bit of talent and luck.

There's a few agencies out there, a few mags to look for adverts in, but to be honest video game composer jobs are pretty rare .

I would suggest that getting together a damn good demo cd, half a dozen tracks, no more than a minute each, different styles, orchestral is a safe bet as video games are sounding more like films these days.

Get a website together too.. I'd probably be more inclined to listen to mp3 demos on a website than playing a cd... lazy I know, but it's personal preference really.

Cold calling might be ok if you  want to be freelance.. if I got a really good cd, I'd make a note of their name and bear them in mind if I was looking for freelance composers.
In house jobs though, be prepared for a lot of "thanks but not at the moment" letters, and some won't even bother replying..... not out of rudeness, but if an audio team are working to a harsh deadline... they won't have the time to listen to tunes or audio design and write a reply, especially if they are not looking for more staff at the time.

Some links that might be helpful and contain links to job sites or adverts.

I haven't got any hard and fast tips... remember that I saw an advert in "Edge" magazine, sent off a tape and months later got an interview at Rare
From an employer point of view, if I'm not looking for anyone and cds come in I'm unlikely to give them much time, but it's not something that should be taken personally, and always a risk if cold calling.

just keep writing writing writing, stick to different styles, think about the market that he's aiming for.. i.e. write demo tracks for
racing games, first person shooters, rpgs that kind of thing.


My advice to you regarding getting a job in the games industry would be to go with what you love doing.

Are you an artist, musician, programmer, designer, what excites you ?

Follow that path...

there are no hard and fast rules to getting a job in games, there's no "direct route"

there's luck, a lot of hard work and endless passion.

With regards music, again, I didn't read a book on how to write music for games, It was something I'd always wanted to do since I was your age. It took 10 years of self teaching, playing games, studying them, studying music, seeing how music worked with the games I was playing at the time.

Then finally, after sucky jobs (that paid for music equipment) I got lucky.

I answered an advert in a games magazine and got a job in-house composer at Rare ltd.

They just happened to like my demos, so I got lucky.

With other parts of the games industry, there are many college courses aimed at games programming, designer, modelling.

It's all down to what you love doing, because if you don't, then you won't want to make the games great, it'll just be a job.

hope that helps someway into your decision.

Good luck for the future.

I intend to add to this in the future... as the other top question I get it what equipment I use... not that this really should matter in how you write music. I used to write it at a piano with a pencil and manuscript paper. A lifetime ago... but I still managed to get the notes written down.

These days, it's a lot simpler and a joy to switch on a PC and have all that technology at your fingertips.

Buying a particular synth or vst instrument will not make the music for you... that's got to come from your brain!


  1. Thanks for posting this Graeme! I'm passionate about music, theme tunes in particular, and would love to be a Game Composer. The lack of a 'hard and fast' route into the industry makes it a daunting prospect for someone like me with no idea how to get there, but this post, and talking to others in the industry has helped a lot!

    I await to see what you use because I want to purchase some good equipment of my own and get all these tunes banging around in my head recorded and onto a CD.

    As always I'll take this opportunity to pester for more Timesplitters (of which your work is ingrained in my brain I played it so much), hopefully the important people who make decisions will see sense and revive Timesplitters, at least a HD Trilogy! It's been 7 years of waiting, I can't wait any more!

  2. Good introspective on how you got in to Rare.

    I was hoping to get into the industry as a modeler but after my internship I was essentially burnt out and didn't really have fun with it.

    3d is more of a hobby for me now, I know I don't have the passion I did or the drive to really want to work in the industry at the moment.

    I remember contacting you to see if I could use one of your tunes for my demo reel and you graciously said yes. I think my dream job would have been to work at Free Radical on a TimeSplitters game. I'd just love to play another or a HD TS2 remake would be fantastic with online. I hope we can drum up enough support.

  3. Your Blast Corps music was godly. Thanks for the memories!