“A Composer’s Guide To Game Music”
by Winifred Phillips
Music/Book Special Review
The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts 2014
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: The MIT Press (February 14, 2014)
Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
I have to admit that this is technically my first book review (that along with the long gestating one for Randall Larson’s brilliant “Musique Fatanstique” which will follow this one. Sorry Randall, I owe you one!) which is quite a departure from the soundtrack and movie reviews as well interviews that I normally do. When I normally do a review for both film and music, I try to get the gist of everything by doing research from the film’s production to the final piece which is the music. It’s not too hard to figure out when a book is good or bad. A book will either grab you from the onset or you’ll completely lose interest if you get a little too technical or use boring banter that you grow wiry of. Winifred Phillips’ book is a nicely put together guide that gives insight into the world of a composer, but also that of the gamers and developers which is very interesting.
While I’ve done my share of interview with composers who have worked in the video game genre that have included Luc St. Pierre, Jack Wall, Jesper Kyd and more recently, David Buckley. Phillips has broken down the process of what a composer has to go through to score a video game which is a much harder genre to tackle than that of a feature length film or even animation. It an arduous process that requires patience as the composer waits for each scene and then applies their personal stamp on it which at times a full length piece could be trauncated into a matter of minutes or even low seconds. What films and games do have alot in common with is themes, which is a vital thing for each that sets the tone for the material and project that requires it. In which the final stages include the sound mixer, the recording engineer and that of the final over dub which is the process that films also go through to get a balance and a blend of all three working together as a single unit for a particular scene or this case, segment or section of the game you’re playing like an RPG game such as “Grand Theft Auto V” for example.
Phillips really has broken this down quite simply in an understandable format that allows the reader (soundtrack afficionado or hard core gamer) to understand the marriage of the two worlds. Most think that it is an easy process to just simply play around with a keyboard and churn out notes without thought or reason as to why this particular music is needed for the game to make it that much better. It is a facinating thing that in 30 years we’ve gone from the customary simplicity of a keyboard to a full blown orchestrial setting which frankly has really trumped alot of major film scores in recent years. The reason is that video games have now become the realm of escapism that movies once were and the best part is that you’re the one in command of it. With film, you’re seeing the extent of great acting and visuals and with video games, you’re seeing a marriage the person in control of this world that you navigate and try to change or control the outcome of using your intelect to figure out what the best solution to win the game is. The music serving as a memorable and unforgettable drive that sparks emotion and drama for every scene you’re in as the lead character.
It is an interesting aspect that she mentions gamers in a fascinating light as well that is very interesting in that is it true since I know a few hard core gamers that have wild hair, wear black nail polish and lots of tattoos which is cool. But gamers can also be just normal regular people looking to escape a long hard days work that totally sucked. Phillips also provides a rather unique perspective on how to obtain work in this field which is clearly not an easy task unless you’re an established composer such as Harry Gregson-Williams, Brian Tyler, David Buckley, Michael Giacchino, Ramin Dajawadi and Gustavo Santoalalla. it really is just as difficult as getting work on a regular film project nowadays and it would frustrate most, but when they do get the job, they do have the freedom that composers once had in writing film scores, “writing themes”!. Nowadays, the music for film is just basically wall paper eventhough this year so far has yielded some surprisingly solid scores in “X-Men Days of Future’s Past”, “Godzilla”, “How To Train Your Dragon 2” and “Maleficent”, the video game world has been the place for composers to go and really let loose despite it’s slow process.
Winifred Phillips’ book is an excellent guide for a musician or composer to get their feet wet and also know what kind of animal they’re dealing with when they tackle video games. Not all experiences on video games are the best, but it is a learning experience that would lead to work in film like Oscar Winner Michael Giacchino had done in the late 90’s and developed into one of the best composers working in the industry today. Her book is full of passion and focuses on some very interesting subjects that many composers have really had to tackle in regards to composition of the genre. It’s grueling and tiring, but most of the time the end result is a hit video game and that is the sacrifice that composers are willing to give to be apart of the best product that gamers will love and talk about for years to come.
This is a very insightful and engaging book and a very solid read especially for aspiring composers looking into break into the industry, but write passionate video game music. Way to go!
Winifred’s book is available to order from Amazon.com in both Hardcover and Kindle editions @
Please head over to Winifred’s official website @ http://www.winifredphillips.com/ for latest updates on her work as well as the book.
Here is Winifred Phillips’ Bio:
“Winifred Phillips is a composer for video games, television, radio and film. She is a winner of the Interactive Achievement Award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, a two-time winner of the Hollywood Music in Media Award, and the winner of several Game Audio Network Guild awards, including Music of the Year.
Phillips is also a published author of a comprehensive resource book about the field of game lmusic, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.
Entitled A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, the book offers a practical guide that leads an aspiring video game composer from acquiring the necessary creative skills to understanding the function of music in games to finding work in the field.
One of Phillips’ latest projects as a video game composer is Assassin’s Creed Liberation, from Ubisoft. Phillips’ composed 100% of the music for this game. Her music for this game won a Global Music Award, a Hollywood Music in Media Award, a Game Audio Network Guild Award and a GameFocus Award. For Assassin’s Creed Liberation, Phillips created a symphonic and choral score, enhanced with classical voice, instrumental soloists, African drum performances and tribal vocals.
Set in 18th Century New Orleans, the game presents a little-known period of American history through the eyes of a woman caught between two worlds – the aristocratic French society of her father, and the African heritage of her mother. This clash of cultures is expressed in the musical score, which sets baroque string orchestra against African percussion and voices.
Phillips was also a composer for the LittleBigPlanet PS Vita and LittleBigPlanet 2 video games. Both games have received enormous critical acclaim. In addition, she composed all the music for LittleBigPlanet 2: Toy Story. This DLC game was released by Media Molecule / Sony Computer Entertainment Europe for LittleBigPlanet 2.
Previously, Winifred composed the music for Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole – The Videogame from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, released in September 2010 alongside the film of the same name, directed by Zack Snyder (300, The Watchmen, Dawn of the Dead) and produced by Animal Logic (Happy Feet, visual FX for 300). Winifred’s music from the Legend of the Guardians videogame won a Hollywood Music in Media Award. The music of the Legend of the Guardians videogame was also an IFMCA Award finalist in the category of “Best Original Score for a Video Game or Interactive Media” from the International Film Music Critics Association.
Winifred’s other videogame credits include the following:
God of War was a smash-hit action-adventure game released by Sony Computer Entertainment America. For her work on this game, Winifred received an Interactive Achievement Award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences (Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition). The music she wrote for “God of War” also received four Game Audio Network Guild Awards, including “Music of the Year”.
The Da Vinci Code™ was a videogame tie-in to the blockbuster movie directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks.
Speed Racer was a tie-in to the film starring Emile Hirsch, Matthew Fox, Christina Ricci, John Goodman and Susan Sarandon. For her work on this project, Winifred was a Hollywood Music Awards finalist.
Shrek the Third was released to coincide with the blockbuster movie premiere. Winifred’s music for this game was nominated for a Game Audio Network Guild award.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was released to coincide with the premiere of the film starring Johnny Depp and directed by Tim Burton (who personally approved all of Winifred’s music for the game).
Spore Hero, from the “Spore” franchise. Winifred Phillips was named an International Film Music Critics Award finalist for her music for this game..
SimAnimals, from the bestselling “Sims™” series.
The Maw, released in January 2009 as the number one bestseller on XBox Live Arcade, winner of the Audience Choice Award (2008 PAX-10 showcase), finalist at the 2009 Independent Games Festival.
Fighter Within, from Ubisoft Entertainment.
Winifred’s film and television credits include the Canadian coverage of the Olympic Games in Beijing, the 15th Annual Critics Choice Awards on VH1, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the feature film “Violent Memories”, and the TV series America’s Most Wanted, among others.
From 1992 to 2003, Winifred was the producer / composer of the award-winning Radio Tales series, for which she wrote the musical scores for over one hundred music drama programs. The series first aired via National Public Radio and then received a ten-year weekly broadcast run on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. For her work as a composer on this music series, Winifred is a four-time winner of the Gracie Award for artistic excellence and outstanding achievement from the Alliance for Women in Media.
In addition, Winifred is a New York Festivals WorldMedalist, and has been honored by the NFCB Golden Reel Awards and the Audio Publishers Association Awards.
For the past five years Winifred has served as a nominating committee panelist for the Best Original Score category of the Interactive Achievement Awards, presented by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences. Service on an Interactive Achievement Awards nominating panel is limited to the most accomplished video game professionals, and is a testament to career achievement in the interactive entertainment industry. Winifred is the owner of Generations Productions LLC, an award-winning music studio and production company.”