I remember a period of several months a few years ago when I was wrestling with this very question.
In fact I got kind of obsessed with it for a while…
Because I was entering into the unknown (contacting game developers) I was putting myself in an incredibly vulnerable position. Little did I know that my mind was doing everything it could to protect me from this vulnerability.
This article is about the some of the fears I had as well as the mind shift I took so I eventually did to overcome those fears.
Now I should state straight off the bat, I am not a trained composer. I never went to music college, only ever achieved grade one at piano and my ability to read music is very poor. So you could argue I had more reason than others to doubt my own ability.
Apart from my lack of a formal background, I was obsessed with not being able to write in every conceivable genre. I kept thinking of the most obscure extremes of music genres and asking myself what I would do if I had to write a piece like that?
I then spent days researching those genres and freaking out that I didn’t have the skill or the right VSTs to re-create Progressive Grime Funk or whatever other music genre I’d stumbled across (Progressive Grime Funk doesn’t exist btw … or does it> God, I need to find out! )
Were my fears about my ability were justified? Partially perhaps, but ultimately I have to say NO.
No one cares whether or not whether I went to music college… except possibly other composers. What matters is the quality of the music I produce, my ability to do the job and provide effective solutions to my client’s problems.
And none of this matters at all if I’m not actually trying to get work. More on this later.
It’s also worth pointing out that my lack of a formal musical education is only my particular issue. Some composers may be totally proficient in theory and technique but not be able to mix a track – something I’ve been doing for 30 years and don’t have a problem with. We each have our pain points so I think it’s important to not forget what you are actually rather good at!
Do You Know Your Musical Superpower?
I still doubt my own ability every day. Sometimes I hear a piece of game or film music and think ‘I could never write anything as good as that’ or ‘how on earth did they think of that section?’.
Now whilst it’s true I might not know the technical term for what I just heard musically and that I wouldn’t have been able to have written that section out as a manuscript, what I do know (and trust) is my ears.
When I am writing a piece of music and not knowing which direction to go in, my skill, if I have one (which is obviously subjective) is to latch onto the smallest nugget of a phrase or chord sequence which I accidentally just stumbled upon, realise it has potential and follow that hunch until the piece is fully realised.'Know your musical superpower and trust it.' Click To Tweet
That’s my musical superpower if you will, and we all have one. Reading music isn’t mine, being a multi instrumentalist isn’t mine and having a thorough knowledge of Jazz from 1945-1962 isn’t mine – but maybe it is for you?
Check Out My Hot Beatz (Don’t say this, please)
Now if you are seriously doubting whether you even have a superpower or whether your music can even stand up against your contemporaries then you may have a slight problem.
I would suggest you send your music to other composers just a few steps ahead of you in their career paths and ask for their opinion. Not randomly, and not busy super star composers. But research the composers whose opinion you would value and contact them saying why you would value their opinion. Most may ignore you, but some won’t. You may even have friends you could ask for fit the bill already. Heck if you want to e-mail me for my opinion you can.
I’ve never particularly been fond of asking for people’s opinion on my music, mainly because I know music is so subjective. But also because, like lots of things, it’s the execution that makes all the difference.
A brilliant musical idea, mixed badly, will sound bad when compared to other professional game soundtracks. So sometimes, your music will be being judged based on a super loud kick drum or an annoying sound you forgot to tone down, and you’ll come away with completely inaccurate feedback on your work if someone just says ‘that sound is super annoying man’ on a forum.
What’s Your End Game?
Now whilst it’s true lots of people make music for pleasure and that’s all, the fact that you are even reading this means you have at least some higher commercial goals for your music ie you want your music to be used in a game most likely!
This means the artistic nuances of your opus don’t actually count for much if no one is using or even hearing your music.
This is why I bang on so much about trying to get clients and I would say I spend equal if not more time working on this than I do creating music.
Creating music is a great way to convince yourself you’re progressing with you career. Thing is it’s incredibly safe (you’ve been doing it for years) and doesn’t really shift you forward in your game composing goals.
You could write a new piece of music every day for a year. However, what would you have at the end of that year except an extra 365 tracks on your hard drive? Writing a new track a day for a year and sharing it with the world is slightly different, and there are opportunities that will come your way in doing that perhaps, but you get my point (I hope?).
At the end of the day, just be careful that knowing if you are good enough to be a video game composer isn’t just a protection mechanism for yourself in order to squirrel away in the safety of your studio learning to ‘get better’.'To make progress towards your dreams you have to take big, bold daily action.' Click To Tweet