Ever wondered what it’s like to be a sound designer for a game? In this Freelancer Profile I had the chance to talk to Filippo Vicarelli, a sound designer and composer for flash games.

Sound Designer

In this short interview, we cover the design process of creating audio for games as well as some tips for flash developing looking to get their feet wet in the world of audio design.

1. Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do?

I’m Filippo and I currently work as freelance music composer for online games and my music loops library called PlayOnLoop.com. I’m trying to make music my full-time activity so I spend quite a lot of time writing new music and looking for opportunities as a composer in the game industry.

Videogame music has fascinated me since childhood and I often spend hours of my spare time just listening to music from retro consoles and arcade systems and playing games that catch my eye.

2. How did you get started developing music?

My first steps in trying to write my own music began around 1999 with just a Sound Blaster 16 and a Midi sequencer, inspired by videogame music. Over the next years, I made lots of Midi music mostly for amateurs PC games, worked for some video documentaries and released a couple of CDs, until I finally started to work as freelance sound designer on some games developed by Neutronized.

3. Could you tell me a little bit about the music development process?

Every musician has his personal approach to composition. When writing a song for a game, I usually have a pretty clear idea of what I want it to sound like after the first play, or I know at least one other game I could use as reference. Sometimes developers help me with this by providing me with samples of what they like.

Most of the time I start writing the main melody of the song first. Then, when I come up with something nice in my head, I keep experimenting along the way until I have the “rough draft” of the whole track. It may happen that the song turns into something different from what I wanted, so I’ll go back and re-write some parts or start a completely new idea if necessary. Getting original and appropriate music for the game is my first goal. I believe every title should be recognizable for its own music, or at least have music that can really strengthen up the identity and atmosphere of the game, becoming something more than just background music.

As soon as I have the song recorded, I start with the arrangement. I love to add rich orchestration to my music, picking instruments from a wide palette of sounds that will provide a unique mood and keep the song from being stuck into any single music genre, as it should be. Videogame music is a genre itself. Mixing and arranging is one seamless process until I find the right balance and emotional charge for the song; then it’s ready to be put straight into the game.

4. What tools do you use to develop music?

KeyboardI mainly play keyboards so when writing music for games I love to use my collection of japanese tone generators, such as those from Yamaha, Roland, and Korg, as they provide lots of “signature” sounds, as I like to call them, that were used on thousands of popular console games of the nineties. I also of course own many sample libraries for doing stuff like orchestral music or ethnic sounds. And when some rock is needed I embrace the guitar and bass guitar; I’m not that skilled of a performer but enough to be able to use them creatively.

Apart from live instruments and hardware synths, my music studio is very software oriented, allowing me to do all the recording, editing and mixing stuff inside my digital audio workstation: Cubase.

5. What advice would you give to a developer who wants to make music for games?

Basicly you have to consider two important things. The first is to just practice and experiment a lot with your music. You will most likely be asked to manage the entire production for the soundtrack (including sound effects) of a game, and eventually work on something you have never done before on tight deadlines. Lots of people speak about talent, but creativity and experience are more important than that. Put your skills in action as much as you can.

The second important thing is being organized: from your work space (studio) and equipment (sample libraries, instruments, software, etc) to your time. The business side of organization is important too – you should contact as many people as possible and always have your best materials ready. Set up a personal website with both music for games you have done (references are an important part) and music that showcases your best skills. The goal is to get the chance to work with someone. Contacts are vital to the freelance game composer and the game industry is a very people oriented industry.

6. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to thank you Ryan, for setting up a great and helpful resource like this, and I invite all theĀ independentĀ game designers and developers looking for a composer/sound designer for their future projects to hear quick examples of my music at http://www.filippovicarelli.com/showreel/. I’m also on Twitter (@theMidiTamer). Feel free to say Hi!

Image credits: Vancouver Film School and David Jones.

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