VMDO - Networking Breakfast #9 Recap
Meeting: VMDO Networking Breakfasts - October 2019 ‘VMDO Games’
Date: Tuesday 8 October 2019
Location: White Sky Hub, Collingwood
Mason Lieberman – Tencent | Senior Game Audio Coordinator
Sebastian Wolff – Materia Collective | CEO/Founder
Jules Bain – The Mushroom Group | Head of Sync
These monthly events aim to bring together the emerging through to the established of the Victorian music business community to share ideas, catch up and collaborate. Hosting a variety of special guests from the state, country and international music community.
This October VMDO Networking Breakfasts was thrilled to host two special international guests, Mason Lieberman (Senior Game Audio Coordinator, Tencent) and Sebastian Wolff (CEO/founder, Materia Collective) as well as our very own Jules Bain (Mushroom Publishing).
Lieberman is a Los Angeles-based composer, cellist, vocalist and guitarist. He is best known for his work on Rooster Teeth web series RWBY, anime series Beyblade, amongst many other credits, including Nintendo’s Super Smash Brothers, Riot Games’ League of Legends, AMC’s The Walking Dead, and Gordon Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen.
Wolff is a Seattle-based composer, orchestrator, and classically-trained pianist. His passion for soundtracks and video games have seen him involved in the video game music industry for over a decade, fighting for and managing artists’ rights and royalty collection, and assessing music publishing opportunities for game developers, publishers, and composers. He co-founded US mechanical rights company, Loudr, which was acquired by Spotify in 2018.
Gaming: the biggest entertainment industry in the world
Starting a career in the gaming industry
How does a music industry professional fit into this?
Gaming: the biggest entertainment industry in the world
a. No, really, it’s the biggest.
At the time of this panel, the most valuable media title release of all time is Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption 2. The Wild West era adventure game stole the title from the previous most profitable release of all time, open-world game Grand Theft Auto 5, also from Rockstar Games.
Video games make up a 138 billion dollar industry in the USA alone. In the United States, 90 percent of young people play more than ten hours of video games a week, indicative of the significant role that the industry plays in mainstream entertainment. Coming generations of young people will be exposed to games as their primary form of media consumption.
Music synchronisation, simply known as ‘sync’ is the process of connecting music with a moving picture. Traditionally, this has been done in movies, television shows, and advertisements. In order for a song to be used in sync, a Sync Licence must be obtained through the artist or publisher.
Currently, syncing within the video gaming industry is fairly limited. Gaming as an industry is still relatively young. And it is especially infantile compared to film and television that have operated in a commercial manner for a century, and had the time to shape how business is done alongside the music industry.
But the video gaming is tremendously viable for music professionals. There are so many avenues for opportunity.
Bain recounts her history in music publishing, and her experience with music syncing. In these early days of her career, the syncing of music in movies and television was a booming industry. But 20 years later, these same opportunities are not as prevalent or lucrative. Increasingly, it seems that the logical next move for the same kind of syncing opportunities is towards the ‘behemoth that is the gaming industry’.
Music industry involvement with the video gaming industry is not limited to soundtracks. In terms of traditional music opportunities, there are many gaming adjacent fields that are massively popular and lucrative. For example, esports.
Many esports teams are owned by major US sports teams, who are licencing music on a daily basis.
The reach of esports is staggering. In 2018, the League of Legends World Championship tournament took place in various locations across South Korea. The tournament has become the most watched esports event of all time, reaching a peak of over 200 million concurrent viewers. The viewership surpasses that of any NFL Super Bowl. And League of Legends is not even the leading esports game, generally speaking. That crown belongs to Battle Royale game Fortnite.
Beyond this massive live viewership, esports audiences continue to grow long after the event airs, through replays. Songs that feature in these events, whether through syncing, live performances at the events, or soundtracks, can therefore theoretically be streamed millions of times.
2. Starting a career in the gaming industry
a. The value of networking
If you want to work with game developers, you have to meet them. And video game developers are typically some of the easiest people to network with.
Video gaming as an industry is vastly different to working in industries such as advertising and traditional marketing, where the panel suggests that networking is ‘drier and stodgier’. The gaming industry is inherently creative. The networking opportunities and the professionals within the industry, are indicative of this. You can walk into a room and be a zany, quirky person, and that will in all likelihood, connect with someone. Lieberman admits with a hint of pride that he ‘trolls the ever loving heck out of people’, and it is clear that this has not deterred his gaming career, if anything it’s aided him.
The best route into the video gaming industry is to meet developers, and aim to make genuine connections and friendships. The people who you are most likely to work with long term in the gaming industry, are the people who become your friends. Build relationships with people and the work will follow organically.
Video games are, at their core, super fun, and from that established culture, there’s an approachability to the industry. It’s not plagued with egos, it's very authentic. Members are there because they love games. And that extends to all aspects of the industry, including audio. It’s very much a community. It has a very different vibe than if you work in television and film. Game audio fields feel like a home, Lieberman says. Everyone is there to lift each other up.
b. Where to find them: conferences and online networking
In an increasingly connected world, online relationships are real relationships, and this is particularly relevant within the games industry. There is no longer an expectation that every professional relationship will involve meeting in person. For gaming professionals, and those looking to join the gaming industry, the physical location of Australia has never been less of a hinderance.
It’s a global marketplace. That being said, the value of conferences and networking events worldwide cannot be discredited, and if one has the ability, financial and otherwise, to attend gaming events, by all means they should go. It’s an important part of making an impression. You can fly around the world and every week there will be a relevant event. But social media plays a big part in networking.
Groups hosted on Slack and Discord - a communication application originally designed for, and to this day primarily used by, the gaming community - offer networking opportunities from the comfort of your own home. Twitter hashtag activity, can be used to forge relationships and make friends.
Living in Australia won't stop you from working with multinational companies. The only thing that’s stopping you is whether you can build personal relationships with these people, it is easier to meet them in person, but it’s not to say it’s the only way it can be done.
Lieberman is quick to admit that he was hired for his current position, through the connections he made at an event, not unlike the VMDO Networking Breakfast, at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco.
The video gaming industry is one of the least divisive industries in the world. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone cares about your growth. The sooner you join the community, the sooner you realise you’re not alone, the panel says.
3. How does a music industry professional fit into this?
a. What makes a great video game composer?
The professional bar expected of sound designers, voice actors, and other audio professionals, working in the gaming industry is extraordinarily high. But once someone has reached that point, almost all of what makes for a successful career, is being a good friend, being professional, delivering on time, and passion beyond the music.
A great piece of music in the gaming industry will fit the creative vision for the game it has been composed for. Therefore, what makes a great video game composer, and what makes a composer a great fit for a game, is the ability to collaborate. People who know how to work on a team.
The overwhelming takeaway is a great video game composer is a composer who is great at a lot of video games. If you have authentic interest, you will connect with games, and create great music for them.
b. Composing for games
From a purely composition perspective, gaming is a wonderful place to work, the panel says. Video game composers are mostly given the ability to enjoy the work they’re doing over a long period of time, compared to other formats such as television.
Gaming is a very modular field. Composers are hired very early in the development of the game, potentially two-three months in. Music is typically composed alongside the development of the game, rather than after the game is developed. That being said, this is not always the case. Mere hours before the popular mobile game Farmville, was launched, developers realised the game was without a soundtrack. They’d forgotten about the music. Therefore, the main theme for one of the biggest social media games of all time was composed in less than 12 hours. Being able to work quickly under pressure is therefore also necessary.
Though the value of music has been well established, on a creative level, music for video games does not have to be commercially viable beyond the scope of the game.
Video game composition encourages creativity in a way that film and television cannot. There is room to be weirdly specific. Video game composers can specialise in whatever they desire, there is no need to be a generalist. The most consistent thing you’re going to see in video games as a whole is music that can loop. Unlike traditional media, gaming is not a linear format. Player agency cannot be predicted, but it can be accounted for. The trick to truly immersive gaming music is creating interactive music systems, various looping tracks that can play back to back without the player realising that it’s restarted, or that a certain part of the game has triggered a new loop.
Some composers at the top end can make around $4-5k USD per minute of music. The number of revisions expected by composers varies, but the average is two-three. Most composers will build in a stipulation in their contract for additional payment after a certain threshold of work has been completed. On that note, always sign a contract before beginning work.
c. Publishers, agents, managers and more
There are currently ill-defined systems in place for music marketing within the gaming industry, so the experience of music managers and publishers is extremely valuable. There's room for almost everyone from a music industry background in this space.
Although syncing has been discussed at length, music industry professionals have a place in working with original game music. In many cases, the team behind a game will not think to monetise or market the game’s soundtrack, and composers are not educated on royalty rights, copyright, or marketing their work.
There is a true need for music industry professionals to educate video game composers on many aspects of their work.
The gaming industry shares similarities with the film and television industry, though where they differ is that typically developers and composers find opportunities, and agents handle the practical negotiations. This ensures that the artist doesn’t have to muddy the waters with money talk and sacrifice the genuine relationships they build.
Video gaming is the biggest and most influential form of entertainment in the world. As traditional media opportunities for syncing music decline, the opportunities within the gaming industry are becoming more and more prevalent.
Not only is there room for music industry professionals within the gaming sector, these professionals are a valuable asset to a space that is relatively new, and rapidly growing.
The most important factor of a career in the video game industry is networking and building relationships. Becoming personally involved in the industry is essential to career success.
A plethora of events within the gaming sector exist to encourage diversity and connectedness within the industry, but the online space offers a similar experience. Whatever it is that you do, there is a place for you to do it within the games industry.