TMS

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Not sure if this is the right board for this, but it's something I've been wondering about for a while.

I would think that when someone requests/commissions a BGM from a composer, they sometimes point the composer toward an existing song that they want the composition to sound like, and I'd like to know how composers feel about that. Is it nice to be given a guideline? Does it make the composing harder when you're trying for similarity (but not too much similarity) instead of composing from the heart? Is being given an example song like that welcome or annoying?
 

Scythuz

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Sometimes clients will give me reference tracks and sometimes they will give me lengthy descriptions.  I prefer it when I get both of course.

Make sure that you actually do want something that sounds like the reference track though, had a few times where it turned out the client wanted something completely different and that's not good for either person.
 

TheBrogrammer

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I haven't composed on commission for games (maybe someday!), but I have been commissioned for film.  Personally, I welcome example tracks, and I do my best to get a similar sound.  The customer (director) is always right, after all.  However, I'd much rather be shown images and footage from your game (or film), because then I have the music fit the atmosphere better.  A bit of background on the scene or character would be good to work with as well.
 

Oddball

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what about when you've got a tune planned out in your head, and you'd like to give the notes to the composer but you don't know what they are called?
 

TheBrogrammer

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If you're a decent hummer, perhaps you could provide the composer with an audio file?
 
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TMS

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Thanks for the answers!

My concern about giving composers examples of songs is that it might just result in watered-down versions of those songs. Obviously the skill of the composer can help prevent that, but a pastiche almost never lives up to what it's imitating. I mean, as an author I'm inspired by things I've read and that usually stimulates my creativity rather than stifling it, but then I always choose what I want to write about and am not trying to satisfy someone else's vision.
 

hian

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What you're thinking of is called "shadow-tracking" and is quite common in production. Most producers start out by breaking down and copying older work, because it's the best way to get a really thorough and intuitive grasp of a genre or style.

Naturally, it won't be that good to begin with, but any experiences producer should be able to work with shadow-tracks and compose their own takes on the style of a preexisting piece. Whether they can make a good product usually boils down to experience.

Based on my general observations though, most beginner/mid-level producers/composers will probably make a better piece with a shadow-track than without because they lack the experience, and skills to create good stand-alone music.

Writing a good and catchy tune is hard in and of itself, and creating a great composition to it, even more so.

At least, by having a track to go by, they can have something to work towards, and won't be as bogged down by the "empty palette/where do I even start?" -syndrome that many artists find themselves facing before a challenging new project.

An important thing to remember in art, is that there is no such thing as completely original art - all today is derivation of a derivation of a derivation.

The idea is to take the rough skeleton of something, and add your own flesh to it.

The idea that a derivation will be inferior to its "predecessor" comes from hind-sight.

If you already know and love a piece, and you know the next piece you're looking at is a derivation, then sure, you're probably prone to think that it's a "poor imitation".

For those who don't have the same commitment, that's most of the time not going to be an issue (after all there are people out there who think Lord of The Rings was a better movie trilogy than book).

The thing is that, if you've already picked a song that you think would be wonderful for a scene in your game, chances are that no song produced for you is going to sound as good in your head, because you've already envisioned the scene in question playing with the song that you want your soundtrack to sound like. That's a handicap on your perception of what the producer is going to make.

For every song you like out there, I can guarantee you that there is an original skeleton out there somewhere, from which it was inspired or based. So, don't worry about it too much.

Rather try to think of how it would sound for someone playing your game for the first time.
 
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Sharm

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I know how you feel TMS, when I give an example song I don't want someone to make a song inspired by it, I want something that can stand on it's own.  I try to avoid that by giving multiple examples, so that the musician can get an idea of what it is about the songs that I like but doesn't get stuck into a mode of "like this song but different" that would make it obviously derivative.  I've only hired a musician once for one song though, so I don't know how well it works.
 

Housekeeping

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I don't take requests, commercial or otherwise, but I feel that I'm a pretty seasoned composer at this point, and if you were to give me an example, I'd feel the need to make something cooler than it.  So, I guess that would be a good strategy if the composer isn't wet behind the ears.  From my perspective, though, I'd want more creative control, because I prefer writing original stuff to derivative stuff.  I'd want to know things like:

What's the mood of the piece?

What's the situation in which it will be playing?

How do you want this piece to be experienced by the players?

Should this piece be conveying something about character, storyline, and/or setting, and if so, what?

What do the rest of the tracks in the game sound like?  I'd need to make sure that my instrumentation and composition style don't fall too far outside of the norm.

So, yeah, I'd basically want to know what you know about the game so I can make something with the same amount of care and thought you could put into it if you knew how to compose.  I think tossing someone another track as inspiration is a nice shortcut, but, even if it's done really artfully, it might not be the best choice for the game.
 

TMS

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Thanks for your opinions. I'm glad that this is something commonly done and that some composers prefer to use it, in case I ever want a song for my game(s) that sounds akin to something else. To Sharm: I'd considered giving multiple examples as well. The question would just be if I could find multiple songs that have a feel similar to what I want. I know that I can in one case, but maybe not in all cases.

And as Housekeeping suggested, I'd definitely give the composer as much information about a song's background as I thought relevant. It would be important if I want the song to fit the situation as perfectly as possible.
 

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I've worked with both and a mix (being sent/linked to just a track and told "I want it to sound like this", being given a description of what they want, and being given a description and sent/linked to a track). Ideally, having both together is best, but if I had to get just one I'd say being sent a track. The reason for this is because I've had one experience in the past when a producer gave me a (very) brief description of what genre he wanted a track in, but in the end it turns out he was thinking of a different genre. If I have a track, at least I know exactly what kind of genre is expected of me. I do prefer working with just a description though, but to avoid incidents like the one I just mentioned, it's safe to have a track to use as a reference! It's common in professional films/games to use reference tracks (in film scoring, these are called "temp tracks", which are used in scenes to give the composer an idea of what the producer wants).
 

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