The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Feb 25, 2013

Video game composing conference planned for April in St. Paul

Posted by Valerie Nahmad

By Bonnie Marshall, American Composers Forum

Video game scoring has grown in breadth and complexity in the last decade. Long gone are the chompy synthesizers of Pac Man. Today’s gaming music involves highly creative composers, full orchestral pieces and sophisticated compositions that interact with the player’s actions and situation.

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To bring this burgeoning world to life for interested composers, the American Composers Forum, in partnership with McNally Smith College of Music and Minnesota Public Radio, is offering an introduction to video game scoring called Game On! An Insider’s Guide to Video Game Scoring on April 13-14 at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“Our main motivation is making sure we're responding effectively to the dramatic changes in the new music field, and are providing our members with the tools they need to have successful careers--regardless of the genre or style of music they're writing,” says Craig Carnahan, Vice President of Programs at the American Composers Forum. “Video game scoring represents a vital opportunity for composers, and there's a lot of interest among our members in knowing more about it.”

The conference will feature award-winning video game composers Lennie Moore (Star Wars: The Old Republic, Kinect Disneyland Adventures, The Walking Dead Motion Comic) and Jason Graves (Tomb Raider, Dungeon Siege, Dead Space, City of Heroes Going Rogue) and the workshop will be coordinated by film and video game composer Sean McMahon. Over the course of the weekend, participants will get a unique glimpse into video game composition, from conception through realization. The sessions will provide the technical – as well as practical – information needed to launch and sustain a career in the industry. A special feature will include a live performance by  Alpine String Quartet of video game scores composed by Lennie Moore and Jason Graves.

Video games are where complex compositional techniques meet storytelling. The art of video game scoring involves the nonlinear and interactive. Whereas film and television scoring is linear, video game scoring must interact with the controls of the person playing the game. “As you approach the closet with the boogey man, the music has to reflect that action and enhance the overall experience of the game. It must influence the players emotions in the way music only can. With interactive music, it’s different every time,” explains Game On! presenter Sean McMahon. The composer works with an audio director to organize the layers of sound. McMahon says, “the various layers have to work on top of each other and certain movements trigger certain layers.”

McMahon believes there is a benefit to composers that video gaming is a young industry. “My gut feeling is that right now could be the golden age of video games, much like the 30s and 40s were for Hollywood films, before television.  Currently, we have Hollywood actors doing voiceovers for gaming and top film composers are writing scores. There is a window of opportunity for composers.”

Game On! An Insider’s Guide to Video Game Scoring is sponsored by the American Composers Forum, McNally Smith College of Music and Minnesota Public Radio. For more information or to register, visit:

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