How to Make Good Soundtracks and Use Music Effectively in Games

Introduction
Hi, I’m 6oi. I am a music composer who has worked on many soundtracks for games, including Omega Tower Defense Simulator (13.8 million plays). I’m a jazz musician who has played in both big bands and garage bands, self-taught in music theory and released 5 albums and multiple soundtracks for games. I have recently taken a break from making music for peoples games, but that does not mean I am going to shy away from helping others make the best games and the best music possible.

In this post, I will be covering color, layout, musical techniques, mixing, and adaption. All 5 are extremely important to being successful in making a good soundtrack. I’ve given advice to other composers and non-composers attempting to make good music for games. It’s hard to give an entire lesson in a random forum reply, so I feel it is probably better I make this it’s own thread. I have not seen this posted before, and I think it’ll be helpful; Not only to composers, but to developers looking for the perfect sound.

Color
Color, otherwise referred to as timbre, is extremely important for making video game music. It is probably the most important thing to understand in this musical field. Which sounds you use, how you use them and how high they are in the mix are extremely important. Some musical instruments do not work well together; Water is wet, we already know that. You don’t see a duet of somebody playing the bass guitar and the other an upright bass. Layering multiple instruments that will play in the same octave and will have similar/same timbre as each other is not a good idea.

Let’s say I’m making a boss theme, I first want to find a good melody. This is what I came up with:

I mean that’s good and all, but that doesn’t sound menacing or extreme like a boss theme. The tempo and the rhythm are there, but why does it sound so odd? It’s because I am not using a good sound to get the idea through to the player/listener. If I change the sound to an 8-bit guitar, then it is there.

Now it sounds better. It sounds menacing and metallic. I can add some heavy drums to that and a good bass, now it sounds like a good boss theme. All together it sounds like this:

Timbre is very important when trying to fit the theme or tone of the map. Imagine using this boss track at a high school roleplay game. It’d be cool I guess, but it doesn’t really fit the game. It adds nothing and your job would be useless.

Layout
This one is more geared towards the composer than the developer. Layout is key to making a song that sounds right. Not just a song that sounds good, but right. Having two different sounds in the same octave can sound good when mixed correctly. Other times though, it will sound groggy and awkward.

We’re going to do an exercise to show you what I mean, below are two different versions of the same track. The first one is the chords and the melody in the same octave as each other. The second one is when the melody is moved one octave up.

Do you hear how the second version sounds more alive and easier to listen to? Using more of your keyboard or guitar neck creates a better sound. All top tier producers and musicians know this trick, so for you people new to music composition, it’s very handy to know about layout.

Layout doesn’t mean you have to put the melody higher every single time though, sometimes people like to have their melody be their bassline. Paul McCartney is known for his amazing bass playing and ability to write amazing basslines. He uses a melodical style of writing very similar to how a guitar player would write riffs. Even recently, Vansire is a good band that uses the bass as their melody. Experimentation is expected, but always keep in mind that layout is important to the listenability of a song for the player.

Musical Techniques
If you’re already well versed in music composition and theory, skipping this one would not hurt you too much. There are many musical techniques you can use to make your songs sound how the game feels. In 2021, I made a game called The Vents (16k plays) in which you’re trapped in a maze of vents and the goal is to make your way to the top. It’s dark, plain and long. For most of the game, all you see is grey vents while you try to get out. What kind of music would we put here? This is the song I made for the game:

It’s not in a certain key, it’s melody is senseless and the mixing and color makes it sound somber and eerie. But that is why it works. I used an irregular key to make you feel irregular. I used dissonance to make you feel off. Using melodic techniques such as dissonance, minor chords, unusual chord progressions, and takes a toll on the player/listener.

Take a listen to these two tracks, think about what’s different between them.

How are they so similar yet so different? John Williams is one of the best film composers to ever do it, he uses this two note riff and makes it sound menacing and fearful. This is a well known theme song for the classic movie Jaws. He paints the picture perfectly for the film. Then, there is Antonin Dvorak’s famous New World Symphony Movement 4. They start with the same idea, and go two different places built off of that idea. Williams makes his idea sound like there’s something in the water, Dvorak makes his idea sound like we’re going to war.

I point this out because I feel it is important to show new composers and developers that musical techniques are important in not just how effectively the music works within the game, but how far you can go with only a two note riff idea.

Mixing
Mixing is very important to not just video game music, but music in general. Yes, putting a lot of different noises together is fun, but you need to figure out which ones carry the melody and which ones are just quirks or add flavor. This is the before and after of mixing our track from earlier.
Before:

After:

While I was mixing the song, my goal was to bring out the melody as well as make the bass sound smoother. I also lowered the kick and hi-hat more. The little things count, cause even if you think nobody can hear it, they will. And this is before adding any effects, reverb, ect.

Here is our finished product after adding effects:

It all ties in with timbre and musical techniques. Mixing can change the timbre and how the techniques come through.

Adaption
We must know learn how to adapt these songs to ROBLOX Games now. First and foremost, know the limits on uploading music. You can only upload MP3 and OGG files, no Wav files. The limit is 19.5 MB, which Wav would be higher than anyways. I personally recommend MP3 because they’re easier to export from music software’s and sound better. There is also a 7 minute time limit on the audio’s you upload, if you ever ran into (or ever run into) this problem, I salute you.

Make sure your songs loop too! Don’t want the music to fade out or just leave in the middle of a bossfight. It’s very easy to loop songs, just make sure there is no tail at the end of the track (the part were the reverbed instruments fade out).

Other Recommendations

  • Know your worth! If you’re getting paid 1,000 robux while people at your skill level are being paid 10,000, then you have a problem on the monetary side. If you’re getting paid 10,000 for work you are making in 20 minutes and only come out as “ok” then you have a problem on the confidence side. Do your job correctly and great the first time, it’ll help you get forward and work on even better things.
  • Always ask for a reference track. I’ve had to make songs using references from Nightcore, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, even the Disney show “Fish Hooks.” Reference tracks make finding your timbre and musical techniques way easier, it also helps in finding new ideas.
  • Have fun. We’re all here to have fun, make some robux here and there and just do what we love. No reason you shouldn’t be having fun.
  • DO NOT LIE ABOUT WHAT YOU MAKE! If the songs you “make” aren’t actually yours, then you should get out of the job. It will not look good for you once you need to make something specific, and will expose you.

Conclusion
Music has so many layers to it that I don’t even cover in this post. Do not rely on everything I say or do in this tutorial, as music is meant to be fun and experimental. Making rules is anti-music. But, to make quality video game music, using at least 1 of the 5 techniques I’ve gone over will push you farther than you’d ever think possible. I hope this has helped a lot of you in your musical or developmental journey! I can’t wait to hear great soundtracks! :smiley:

33 Likes

Undertale reference

Good tutorial!, helped me alot

Char

W, I’ll definitely use this strategy for my game!

What music making app did you use? Very helpful. If only I had a good music app… :wink:

Hello! I’ve been really wanting to get into making music and I really hope this will help. I do have one question. What music software would you recommend for a beginner? (Also preferably free)

Thanks!

iv been wanting to make music for a long time now, wonderful tutorial
is there any music (free)software that is good for beginners or is bandlab good?