The Hollywood Music in Media Awards were recently announced, and we spoke to Winifred Phillips, who was the winner for Best Song for a Video Game (LittleBigPlanet 3).
This is Winifred’s third Hollywood Music in Media Award; she also took out the award in 2010 for Legend of the Guardians, and again in 2012 for Assassin’s Creed Liberation. You can listen to Winifred’s winning song for LittleBigPlanet 3 on YouTube.
We had a lot of questions for Winifred, and she had some great answers for us – have a read.
Q. What degree of a brief do you get prior to composing music for a theme or scene?
A. The extent of the brief depends on the developer or publisher that prepared it. Sometimes I’ll be presented with a very detailed list of musical assets that have been requisitioned for a video game project – anticipated tracks that will be needed for specific parts of the game. These asset lists will usually indicate the length of each requested track, and they may also suggest musical style possibilities and instrumentation preferences. For other projects, the development team or publisher may not have a detailed music plan for the whole game and may only requisition a few tracks at a time. It all depends on the working methods of the company. Regardless, I always ask for the kinds of planning materials that development teams will typically generate as a part of their creative process – design documents, concept art, sometimes storyboards and dialogue scripts.
Q. Do you have opportunities to have the game adjusted to suit your music, or is it usually vice versa?
A. Usually the game development team will ask me to adjust my music to suit their design. My role on the team is in service to their vision, so I always do my best to meet their needs and adjust my compositions to support the gameplay and artistic aesthetic they’ve created.
Q. Which composers (living or dead) do you draw inspiration from for your work?
A. I’ve been inspired by so many wonderful composers and songwriters. In the world of symphonic music my tastes range from Debussy to Steve Reich. In popular music I enjoy a wide range of artists in genres that span from EDM to Folk with everything in-between. Of course, I also admire the great early game composers such as Koji Kondo, who blazed a trail for the rest of us to follow.
Q. Who would you most love to work with?
A. I’d love to work with whatever development team has been struck by the lightning of inspiration – it’s always important to be surrounded by people who are excited about what they’re creating. I’d be happy working with any team that was fired up by the love of game creation and the joy of designing a great gameplay experience.
Q. What got you on the path to working in the video game scene?
A. My first project was God of War for Sony Computer Entertainment America, so that was an excellent way to begin my career as a game composer!
Q. What’s your favourite game or genre of game?
A. When I was a kid I played loads of RPGs – lots of them from the Final Fantasy and Might and Magic franchises. Now my interests are more diverse, and I enjoy everything from shooters to old-school side-scrollers. I’ll always have a special zest for a big RPG, though.
Q. What inspired you to write the song for Little Big Planet 3?
A. I wrote many tracks for Little Big Planet 3, and most of the inspiration for them came from the development team at Sumo Digital and the music supervisors at Sony Computer Entertainment America. They provided me with lots of inspiration through their design documents, concept art, and long conversations about the creative ambitions of the project and the role that music would play within it.
Q. What do you use to compose your pieces? Is it all recorded live in a studio or do you use an array of VSTs (Virtual Studio Technologies)?
A. Some of my projects have included full orchestra, or lots of live instrumental soloists. Others have been recorded completely in my studio using my own abilities as a live musician and the instrument simulation technologies I’ve amassed over the years.
Q. If you record digitally, what’s your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) of choice?
A. I prefer Pro Tools. It’s a great DAW.
Q. Do you have any advice for someone looking into composing scores for video games or any other media in general? For example, are there any services set up where musicians and composers can apply to briefs?
A. That’s a big question! I write a lot about this in my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music (The MIT Press), which was published in March of this year. In the book I talk about how competitive the field of game composition is, and the steps that aspiring composers need to take in order to advance their careers. Most job openings are not announced publicly. Since there are always loads of composers vying for every gig, employers prefer to collect information about promising composers and then reach out to those people when a project requires music. An aspiring composer needs to arrest the attention of the audio team at a game developer or publisher by crafting an excellent music portfolio and then making a respectful and brief introduction when the timing is right. Keeping abreast of news in the development scene can alert an aspiring composer to possible opportunities in the form of new development teams or newly announced game projects. It’s a complex subject, and I go into much more detail about this in my book.
Winifred’s book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, is available on Amazon.
Find out more about Winifred Phillips by following her social media links: