Music is a critical aspect of game design and can help set the mood and tone of your game. But how do you get music for video games?
As a video game developer, you know that music is critical for the success of your game. Music is a fundamental storytelling tool for bringing a gamer on an emotional journey, through highs and lows.
As a general rule, you can download free background music for games from multiple sites. However, ensure you get a written music licence agreement that proves you can use the music. In addition, if you are looping the music for game development, avoid MP3s, as they do not loop well.
In this article, I will talk you through how to get music for video games, including free downloads. I will also include some music knowledge about the background of video game music from my experience, covering:
- What is video game music?
- Is video game music a genre?
- What is the importance of music in video games?
- How do I get music for video games?
- Where can I download free game background music?
- How to use music in games to improve immersion
What Is Video Game Music?
Video game music refers to the musical soundtrack of a game.
When you consider video games, unlike a movie where there is a set storyline that you follow, the game is often non-linear and dynamic.
With video games, you create your own story. You, as a game player, are the director, producer, and master of your own destiny.
Have you ever wondered how the music score keeps up with your story and the ever-changing timeline of events when you play a game?
It takes a lot of skill for composers and sound designers to layer music, and program it to adjust seamlessly to the gameplay.
Music for video games is written in chunks or blocks, as there is no linear story or timeline.
A video game developer will need intros, outros, quiet parts, loud parts, action parts, main theme music etc for their new game. Typically, video game composers will supply music in blocks or chunks, all in the same style, so this music can be layered and moved around at the discretion of the video game developer.
Is Video Game Music A Genre?
Video game music is fast becoming our newest listed music genre. However, it does not fit into the traditional definition of what a music genre is.
Modern video game music is not a genre according to the standard definition of a musical genre.
However, video game musicians from the 90s and before created music using video game computer chips (called Programmable Sound Generators) and we can classify this as a musical genre.
We call this type of music 8-Bit or chiptune music.
Typically, we define a music genre as a grouping or classification of musical sounds that are similar or share common characteristics, such as similar instruments or similar styles.
Musical experts will argue that modern video game music is not a musical genre, as the characteristics of music used in video games vary so radically.
Music used in modern video games could be a variety of styles, for example, Pop, Celtic, Rock, Blues or any other type of music depending on the game. Therefore, we cannot list video game music as a music genre of its own as it is too broad. Video game music is a category, not a genre.
Unless the video game music is from the 90s or earlier, it is not technically a distinct musical genre.
What Is The Importance Of Music In Video Games?
Music is essential to mood and atmosphere. How many times have you heard a tune or melody that sparked an emotion, raised a memory, or made you feel happy, sad or nostalgic?
According to research, humans probably sang before we spoke sentences. [source]
Music is an integral part of the video game experience. It helps to set the tone and atmosphere of a game and can be used to create tension and excitement or draw out emotions from the player.
Music is also incredibly important for setting up a connection between a game’s characters and its world as it can make an environment feel more alive and vibrant.
Additionally, music can help to enhance gameplay by providing cues for players when performing certain tasks or triggering special events.
Ultimately, the importance of music in video games is one that should never be overlooked – it can truly make or break the overall gaming experience.
How Do I Get Music For Video Games?
Background music for games, or gaming music (also known as BGM (Background Game Music) or VGM (Video Game Music) is music that can be used as background music in video games.
When looking for music for video games, there are typically three good options, depending on budget and time.
1. Royalty Free Music Libraries
A great place to start looking for music for video games is online royalty-free music libraries.
You will want a royalty-free music library that offers high-quality tracks that fit the style of your game. Preferably .WAV or .OGG files if you can.
Many libraries offer samples or previews on their website so you can get an idea of what they have available before making any purchases.
Additionally, make sure to read the license agreement carefully before committing to buy any tracks from any library. This will help ensure that you are legally allowed to use the track in your game. You need to check their license terms and ensure that their licence covers the use of video games, and for the entire life of the game.
2. Create Your Own Music
Another option is creating your own music from scratch or using existing tracks as templates.
If you have experience with playing instruments or composing, then this may be a viable option for you.
If not, there are several online tools that can help generate soundtracks for your game without having to learn an instrument or composition software.
These tools allow you to customise sounds according to your needs and provide guidance on how best to use them in your game’s soundtrack.
Although creating your own music is a great option as you should own all the copyright of the music you create, however you need to be careful if sampling music or using music loops to build your songs.
Often, music production loops will have copyright protection on them, therefore you need to ensure that you have the copyright over any sounds you used in your compositions to be 100% copyright safe and OK to use the music in your games.
3. Hire A Composer
Hiring a composer may only be an option for those with a large budget. However, there are lots of student composers or even experienced composers looking for video game music experience that could create a custom soundtrack at a good price.
Again, you need to have a good relationship with your composer and all the necessary music copyright agreements are in place before using any of their music in your game.
Where Can I Download Free Game Background Music?
Creating a soundtrack for a video game can be one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of game development. Finding sound and music that fits with the tone, style, and atmosphere of your game is essential in making it stand out from the rest.
Unfortunately, finding quality free music to use as background music or in-game score can be difficult.
You need to choose a library of trustworthy music that has a music licence that allows you to use the music safely in your content, long term.
Personally, I recommend Coya Music as it supports gamers and game developers and offers music for free. The only catch is that the music download is high-quality MP3 only as WAV or OGG files are not currently available.
Tips For Licencing Free Game Music
When using free music for your games, try to find music that comes with a written music licence so you can prove to anyone who may ask that you have permission to use the music.
A written music licence is the most reliable as you can download it and store it safely. Plus, it won’t just disappear if the music library collapses or is sold on to new owners in the future.
Just think about how you can protect yourself when using any music – free or paid for. You need to be able to prove you received the proper permissions from the music owner.
How To Use Music In Games To Improve Immersion
Music is fundamental to enhancing game immersion. When we reach full game immersion, we reach a state of “flow” where we forget all worries and the passage of time goes unnoticed.
It is reaching this full state of immersion that makes playing and designing video games such an incredible experience, in my opinion.
Much research has been completed into the field of game immersion, but for me, one of the most notable papers was published in 2004 by Dr Paul Cairns and Emily Brown titled, “A Grounded Investigation of Game Immersion”.
The paper concludes that there are three levels of immersion.
- Total Immersion
These three levels of immersion are very important for game designers and video game music composers to understand in order to lead the game player on a path to total game immersion.
Engagement is the first step in a video game where the gamer overcomes the initial work involved in starting a game.
It takes a lot of time and learning when starting a new game, and if these early stages of a game or not engaging and fun, the gamer will not continue.
In most games, the early stages include picking your character, learning the controls, and training.
Typically, we want calming and reassuring music at these early stages. We want to say to the gamer, “hey, come on in, this is a world you wanna be part of”.
Music for Navigation and Player Engagement
After the initial steps of a game, we use music in fundamental ways to maintain gamer engagement.
A classic example in which we use music in a subtle yet very effective way is to help the player navigate the game.
For example, no background music will subconsciously tell the gamer that this is a boring area not of interest and a place you should move away from.
Music Hinting & Video Game Engagement
We use musical hinting extensively to progress the story of a video game.
Musical hinting in video games is the art of using musical cues to inform the player of certain game aspects, for example, as the player draws close to a certain area, the music score could rise and play a familiar or distinctive tune, letting the player know that this is a special place in the game that they should check out.
Another classic example of music hinting in video games is using music as a warning as an enemy approaches. You may suddenly get dramatic fight music, which will raise the player’s heart rate and increase game engagement.
Engrossment is the level of game immersion where the gamer is already immersed and about to invest a lot of time and emotion into this game.
This is where the mood of the music becomes very important.
Game designers will use strong visuals and artwork, a great storyline and compelling tasks to keep the gamer engrossed.
The background game music also plays a fundamental role in keeping the game player in the game world and ignoring the passing of time.
This is where the world of music for video game composition and traditional music for films can overlap.
Common background music approaches you can use to keep a player engrossed are:
- Assign musical themes or musical instruments to characters.
This will create a connection between the music and the characters and reinforce our bond with them.
- Use music genres associated with the game world.
For example, sci-fi games could have a futuristic musical score or fantasy games could have traditional medieval music playing to build an atmosphere.
- Use the right mood music to match the on-screen storytelling.
Using the right mood music will evoke the right emotions in the game player and keep them engrossed in the storytelling or gameplay.
3. Total Immersion
Total immersion is the holy grail for video game developers.
Total immersion is the stage at which the player has invested time and emotions into the game. Plus, they have obviously stuck around long enough to prove that this is a good game, and the designers did a good job.
To get to this stage, we have already built a lot of the work up from steps 1 and 2. However, now we need to give the game player a reason to be totally immersed and stick around.
According to Carins and Brown, we reach the Total Immersion Stage when we meet the two following prerequisites:
1. Music & Game Attention
Game player attention at this stage goes beyond playing the game for long periods of time. Instead, it is a more profound level of attention and focus that captivates the player, who may even experience the state of “flow”, where they are not aware of the passing of time and are 100% in the game.
Music and auditory cues are essential to building this state to keep the deep attention and focus of the gamer.
2. Music & Game Empathy
Empathy at the total immersion stage of gameplay is where the gamer completely empathises with the game characters. They feel for them and want them to complete an action.
Again, the importance of video game background music is essential to build emotion in the game and allow the game player to connect emotionally with the story and characters.
Music is a critical aspect of game design and can help set the mood and tone of your game.
You can download free background music for games from multiple sites. However, ensure you get a written music licence agreement that proves you can use the music.
Royalty-free music sites such as Coya Music are a great place to start when looking for free and safe-to-use background music for video games as the music is royalty-free and already made so you can listen and know instantly if it is the right music to download to tell your gaming story.