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I love video game soundtracks from to 8-bit ones to the very orchestral pieces but it's not clear to me how they can make so many songs for one game. Even if there are motifs which can help make multiple track by variations there are plenty of very different tracks.

For example: Mega Man games.

Each stage has it's own atmosphere and melody, "feeling" and I don't think those tracks are so motif-sharing or just remix the same melody like the ones for example in Undertale, where Megalovania was the "base song" for almost the whole soundtrack.

I was thinking maybe they use every melody they find since a simple melody can express many different emotion and atmosphere depending on the rythm, correct rest placing and of course the instruments and the underlying bass, but still...

Are these composers so talented that they immediately hear the melody which is fitting for the certain level, atmoshpere or there are plenty of trying / experimenting and improvisation until they find a melody which sounds good?

I was trying to find good melodies for some imaginary scene but I just couldn't make my head "hear it". Even with improvisation... I've been learning the past weeks so it can be a reason.

Sometimes I hear ideas in my head, some of them similar to existing songs, some of them not, the same with improvisation which I think I can do better but I'm starting to worry that it's not the very lack of experience or because I don't have instrument but the lack of the talent.

  • I've heard all kinds of stories about the origins of some video game themes. I've read that neither "Heartache" nor "Bonetrousle" were written for Undertale, that ZUN of Touhou fame sometimes writes boss themes and then creates the bosses they are for such that their themes fit them personality-wise, and that several songs in Kirby Air Ride, including "Checker Knights", actually came from the Kirby: Right Back At Ya! anime. And then there's The Behemoth holding a contest to write themes for their game, Castle Crashers. ...They took the rest of that game's songs from Newgrounds. – Dekkadeci Dec 7 '18 at 7:37
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    And then there are the cases where rampant amounts of public domain music (usually classical music) are arranged for video game soundtracks instead of original music. The Parodius series is likely the most egregious example, but Sid & Al's Incredible Toons rips its more-than-fair share of classical and folk music for levels, and even Tetris's use of the Russian folk song "Korobeiniki" can be seen as another example. – Dekkadeci Dec 7 '18 at 7:44
  • @Dekkadeci using classical music isn't considered to be plagiarism? After all it has melody copying in it. So if I would got some idea about a classical piece of folk song about turning and modifying it into a specific music, it's considered to be a normal practice? – atanii Dec 7 '18 at 7:51
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    Most of that stuff is highly derivative. Once you get the hang of a certain style, it's often remarkably easy to crank out numerous melodies in that style. Not terribly original or artistically satisfying, but if it gets the job done, who cares? – Kim Fierens Dec 7 '18 at 11:25
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    This is an odd kinda question... it's a bit like asking why all professional footballers seem to be really good at football. The ones who are good at it get the jobs, the ones who aren't... don't. – Tetsujin Dec 7 '18 at 11:26
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It’s actually not that difficult. Here’s where an education comes in handy:

Music for those types of video games is written to be looped seamlessly. The original portion might only be 2-3 minutes long, which is long enough to repeat without getting too annoying.

By having an understanding of form, how to structure phrases, chord progressions, and how to create certain moods, a composer could pretty quickly come up with a a variety of material without too much hassle.

This is actually true for music beyond games as well. Many people think “wow they must be a genius to write that” or they think that genius is a prerequisite for writing music, or tangentially, creating art in general. In truth, even the most complex pictures start with basic sketches of shapes with detail added along the way. Music is no different when you understand it’s basic ingredients.

Perhaps sometimes it starts with a melody, sometimes it starts with a chord, a sound, a drum rhythm or maybe nothing musical at all. Every composer is different and every piece starts differently. Rarely if ever is the reason because they are just “so talented”.

My advice: get some books on music theory and form and analysis. There is no substitute for doing the good work.

  • Indeed... Some people would argue that video game composers are not "so talented" but "no-talented" :p I listen to a good amount of it (what makes good background music for playing usually makes good background music for working), but annoyingly, if I ever have it on and one of my parents hears, they invariably say "Is this video game music?" It's got its conventions and predictability too. But it certainly has gotten better and more complex over the last 20 years, especially in orchestration. David Wise's Tengami is a nicely finessed one in terms of instrument balance. – Luke Sawczak Dec 7 '18 at 14:01
  • But yes, rare are the really inspired melodies you couldn't come up with before you finish your morning coffee. The main theme of Zelda is one of the worst offenders. By this point I'm more impressed by the courage of the Breath of the Wild scorers who dared to bury the nostalgia under relatively sophisticated variations than by Koji Kondo's original theme (as Kondo himself realizes since he too moved gradually further away from this thing he had doomed himself to use in a million sequels). This last comment reminds me of a final point: much of this answer applies to film scoring too. – Luke Sawczak Dec 7 '18 at 14:03
  • I just disagree that it's not that difficult. Knowing theory can help, but composing is a talent by itself. You are either born with it, or you acquire it through years of practice. – coconochao Dec 7 '18 at 15:04
  • It’s easier to build a house with proper tools, but having those tools do not make the house any less impressive nor diminish its worth. Please don’t conflate my statements. To the other commenter: each person has innate skills. Some are more geared towards music, but that doesn’t immediately make them good musicians, nor is it a prerequisite for being a good musician. Composing is not talent, it is art and can be learned. What one does with composing, that is what truly matters. – jjmusicnotes Dec 7 '18 at 16:32
  • @jjmusicnotes Agreed, and I'm not for the "no-talented side". But there is a difference between building a room from blueprints, building a house from blueprints, and designing a masterpiece of architecture, even though the same highly skilled person might do any of the three at a given moment, and even though they'd all end up being worthy examples of their category. The development I was trying to add to your points is that contrary to the OP's premise, the tracks are mostly ordinary rooms and houses. Hope that's clearer and sounds sensible... – Luke Sawczak Dec 8 '18 at 5:20

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