When and how to (not) use music in a game?

mephet

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Game designing newbie here: one thing I've noticed myself get stuck on is the adding of music to my game, so I thought I'd ask for some help/thoughts from the community.

I'm primarily aiming to use premade royalty free music, since my own musical abilities are very limited and this forum and other sites have great composers who have made tracks available for this purpose. But even if I don't have to compose any music myself, the "music design" of my game still falls on me, and that's where I've been struggling. I realise music is a big part of the feel and mood of a game, and I've found a number of great musical themes for specific moments in my game. However, the majority of my dialogue- and exploration-heavy game is still without background music. At this stage I find myself asking:

* Is it possible for music to distract from the reading of dialogue? Is it a question of volume, or are there specific things to look out for in the music itself?
* Should background music be present all the time or are there moments when it's better not to use music? What kind of moments have you left without music (if any)? (Instead of music, I'm thinking of either silence or ambient background sounds (e.g. forest sounds in a forest scene).)
* What are some ways (if any) to make the "musical world" of the game feel cohesive when using premade tracks, which are sometimes from different composers?
* Much of the premade music I've found is quite melodic/epic -- have you found packs specifically for quiet, non-intrusive music e.g. for casual dialogue scenes?

In general, I'd love to hear other people's approaches and practices when choosing and implementing music in their game, especially the more quiet/mundane moments, which somehow feel like the most difficult for me :D' Also if you have any tutorials you can recommend I'd love to take a look - I've found some nice tutorials for the basics of composing original music, but haven't yet found ones on game music design more generally / working with pre-existing music.
 

alice_gristle

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Is it possible for music to distract from the reading of dialogue? Is it a question of volume, or are there specific things to look out for in the music itself?

I'm not an expert on the topic, but I kinda feel like it'd depend on what the dialogue's about? I mean, if my dudes are discussing an assault on the dark lord's citadel, I'd like the music to be different from when they're talking about their pecs in the pub. :biggrin: What I mean is, the music can underline, enhance, or jus' give a different vibe to dialogue... and yeah, if the music is super annoying, it sure would distract me from readin' the lines! :biggrin:

Also hey, how 'bout checking out these threads? This one, this one, aaand this one!
 

Froggo32

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* Is it possible for music to distract from the reading of dialogue? Is it a question of volume, or are there specific things to look out for in the music itself?
Honestly I've never been distracted by music, unless its like funny or I recognize it...like someone played Sasageyo or any FMA op I would be distracted lol. But I havent seen people being distracted by music.
* Should background music be present all the time or are there moments when it's better not to use music? What kind of moments have you left without music (if any)? (Instead of music, I'm thinking of either silence or ambient background sounds (e.g. forest sounds in a forest scene).)
I dont use music when theres a disturbing scene, or a scene with undertone that suggest that somethings wrong...like you talk with a character and suddenly they stray onto a very strange topic and the music fades out. After they end talking, theyre like "oh, i mustve scared you ^^" i didnt mean haha" and they walk away smiling. Not giving music to horrors is nice too [tho i wouldnt recommend making horrors, theyre scary and...well, scary lololo]
* What are some ways (if any) to make the "musical world" of the game feel cohesive when using premade tracks, which are sometimes from different composers?
I dont think that music wont be cohesive when its from different composers? I mean I use RPG Maker music, bensound music, and Aaron Kroghs music. They all are cohesive, at least imo (idk since i use 8/16 bit music alongside with the normal one).
* Much of the premade music I've found is quite melodic/epic -- have you found packs specifically for quiet, non-intrusive music e.g. for casual dialogue scenes?
Bensound has a small library of free to use tracks, also Aaron Krogh's (now his library is HUGE). The 1st one actually has more peaceful tracks than these action-themed, and im sure you will find something in 2nd.
 

Milennin

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* Is it possible for music to distract from the reading of dialogue? Is it a question of volume, or are there specific things to look out for in the music itself?
I've no experience with this. I could see this only happening if your music choice is off by a lot, or the volume is way too low or too high.

* Should background music be present all the time or are there moments when it's better not to use music? What kind of moments have you left without music (if any)? (Instead of music, I'm thinking of either silence or ambient background sounds (e.g. forest sounds in a forest scene).)
Either way should be fine. I use music for most scenes, but one I didn't was for the campfire scenes at the end of dungeons for my RM2K3 game, which only had the campfire ambient noise. That worked out pretty well to set the mood, granting a moment of peace after a gauntlet of battles.

* What are some ways (if any) to make the "musical world" of the game feel cohesive when using premade tracks, which are sometimes from different composers?
This is difficult, if you're not using just the RTP or get the music from one source. I always prioritise finding music that fits the scene best first. I think if you can achieve that, players are willing to accept potential audio inconsistencies, at least if your game is non-commercial.

* Much of the premade music I've found is quite melodic/epic -- have you found packs specifically for quiet, non-intrusive music e.g. for casual dialogue scenes?
The RTP has plenty of softer sounding tracks. But since I own pretty much all the engines, I also go back to older RTP libraries. Another trick is using pitch down on a track, which slows it down and can make it sound calmer. One of my favourite peaceful tracks from MZ is Town3 on 80% pitch.
I did buy a few music packs from the store too. The Classic Fantasy Music pack and Fantasy Historica Music Pack are both pretty awesome.
 

Riazey

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* Rather than straight out distract, I guess more like I've heard some scenes overpowered by the music. One example was a death scene where the music was ramping up, it left kind of an out of place feeling that filtered to the front of my mind and became distracting in a way! :kaoswt2: Also for games, the idea of music is to enhance/encourage certain feelings but not overpower the gameplay/scene. It should be noticable but most of the time it's there to break up the monotony of normal gameplay imo!

* Not using music but still including nature sounds/etc is a great way to induce a feeling of calm in people, so if that's the feeling you're going for then cutting the music and playing some borbs or a crackling campfire will go a long way to making the scene feel relaxed. :kaoluv: On the other hand, we tend to feel nervous or tense when there are no sounds whatsoever, so you can use no sounds to this advantage as well, this is a common tactic when facing the final boss!

* This is really really difficult, mostly just finding the right, non-overpowering tracks that fit into your game's themes and scenes. This goes for both your last two questions. Personally I want to dip my toes into the music pool with some free software like Cakewalk and some youtube music theory tutorials, so I can truly appreciate the work and what goes into making music, that way I can have a better idea of what to look for/ask for/commission!
 

mephet

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Also hey, how 'bout checking out these threads? This one, this one, aaand this one!

Thank you! :kaoluv: These are just the sort of threads I thought must exist, but was struggling to find.

You all have great points, I'll have to keep them in mind! The role of silence/ambient sound is something I'll have to pay attention to - I have one scary/ominous scene that I have added music to but which might work better just with sound effects. I'll have to try it out! Same for silence as a calming thing, @Milennin and @Riazey your examples sound wonderful! :)

I dont use music when theres a disturbing scene, or a scene with undertone that suggest that somethings wrong...like you talk with a character and suddenly they stray onto a very strange topic and the music fades out. After they end talking, theyre like "oh, i mustve scared you ^^" i didnt mean haha" and they walk away smiling.

Haha, that sounds really effective!

Bensound has a small library of free to use tracks, also Aaron Krogh's (now his library is HUGE). The 1st one actually has more peaceful tracks than these action-themed, and im sure you will find something in 2nd.

Thank you, I will give them a listen!

I originally didn't anticipate just how much thought and time choosing the music would take! :D But it's a good learning process!
 

Finnuval

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Not an expert by any means but always been interested in soundscaping (of which BGM is only a part) and of a mind that audio is much more important in gaming then ppl give it credit for :

* Is it possible for music to distract from the reading of dialogue? Is it a question of volume, or are there specific things to look out for in the music itself?
Yes it is. Two ways come to mind.
1) when the volume and/or design of the music it too overwhelming for the specific scene/situation pulling you out of it. Example : a funeral scene and the deathmarch is blasting at 100 or playing a song that just doesnt fit if not done intentioally (to be comedic for instance) can kill the scene in a second.

Should background music be present all the time or are there moments when it's better not to use music? What kind of moments have you left without music (if any)? (Instead of music, I'm thinking of either silence or ambient background sounds (e.g. forest sounds in a forest scene).)
No there are scenes better of without music. Total silence however is very 'dangerous' as it is artifical in nature so should only ever be done with a certain intent (like in horror scenes, etc) often times having ambient sounds and being playful with those can be more fun and interesting then a standard bgm tho

What are some ways (if any) to make the "musical world" of the game feel cohesive when using premade tracks, which are sometimes from different composers?
That highly depends on the game's atmosphere, use of music and sound in general etc. That said using different composers doesnt need to be a problem at all, nor does using different genres of music... it is all about implementation in this case.

uch of the premade music I've found is quite melodic/epic -- have you found packs specifically for quiet, non-intrusive music e.g. for casual dialogue scenes?
They are out there but hard to find. even harder to find those that fit your game as a result.
I tend to look at having these commisioned - and that comes with a bonus since they tend to be much more 'simple' and thus cheaper xD

Anyway, that's my two cents - hope they help xD
 

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