Composing Just Enough Music for a Game Jam
Published 4 months ago
How I prepared myself for my most successful game jam yet.
I felt compelled to write this post because I think this LD was my most successful in terms of delivering music that gets the job done, with a good amount of cohesion and polish, with little to no stress that took away from my other projects. Not to say it's the best music for a jam I've ever made, but I made good (to my standards) music for a good game, and I didn't fuss with it for too long.

How I did this (and maybe how you could try if you want):

I learned from my previous mistakes and reviewed mental notes that I've taken during previous jams and allowed those notes to dictate how I managed this project.
Click play on this for EPIC BACKGROUND MUSIC for this blog post.

Here is a list of those mental notes, made less mental:

1) Game Art and Gameplay Style is what directs me most when making music for a jam.

Taking note of this, I logged onto the Slack channel of my team (Troll Games) and asked them what the setting was for their idea and what style of game-play it would have. They told me it would be a "3D Asteroids" and that the game-play will be divided between waves of flying and shooting, and a shop menu for trading between waves. I made note of it and went about my regular day like I wasn't even participating in a jam because of my next point. :v:

2) I shouldn't start making music until I see game art.

I always want my music to compliment the visual aesthetic of the game, but I also usually get super inspired by good art direction. Often, especially with Troll Games because they rock at game art, I see the art and the music just comes out. So, early in day 2 of the jam, I logged back on to the team Slack and saw that they were posting art for the game. Then, I dedicated an hour to making music.

3) Share early and often.

Once I finished my first hour of composing ideas, I sent them to the group saying "Hey. This is what I'm making. I'm doing epic string arrangements but degrading it so that it sounds like old Sega Genesis space game music. What do you think?"
Example of that first idea.
I quickly got back a few, "yes this is great" comments, but then I got another that was very helpful and confirmed one of my critiques on it. One of the game artists said, "It sounds great, but the degradation of the music sounds just kinda like it was recorded bad instead of it sounding like it is an old game." I said, yes I 100% agree. So, I quickly decided that instead of using my nice, expensive string library, I'll find a free one that is already unnatural sounding. From there, I'll bit crush it a tad and hopefully sell the idea better.
Example of that new try at it.
I made that change, sent it back and they said, "Yes, perfect. I dig it!"

4) Once I know I'm on the right track, I just make the music that needs to be made.

So I have my confirmation that the team digs what I'm doing and thinks it fits the game. Now I just make the music to my own standards and share less/worry less about getting feedback. Here I just trust my instincts and self-critiques. The team is usually super busy getting the game put together at this point as well, so my little messages bothering them about music is likely to be more annoying than anything.

5) Don't make too much music! I make one minute of music for each game-loop/game-scene that the team has outlined, and wait until I can play-test the game with that music.

My first Train Jam, I made... this is embarrassing... around 20 minutes of music for one single jam-game. The embarrassing part is that the game needed 3 minutes, tops, if I had done the job right. If you make a minute of music for each game loop and wait to play-test with that music in the game, most likely you will find that you barely need to stretch the music for it to fit the game's intended run-time. For this game, I decided to make about 3 minutes of music for the main game-loop because we didn't have time to make the music adaptive enough for a minute loop to stay interesting. This saved me time so that when the team said, "HEY WE ADDED A BOSS BATTLE! BOSS MUSIC PLZZZZ," I had enough free time to say, "SWEEET! CAAAN DO!"

Side Note) I always record sketches of ideas, no matter where I am or how stupid I'll look or sound when doing so.

Honestly, once I heard what the game was about and where it was set, I started coming with ideas while going about my regular work day. I recorded these ideas by whistling into my phone's voice recorder so that I could reference them for later use.
Example of embarrassing audio sketch recorded on my phone...
( I love how you can hear my level of embarrassment by how quiet and thing my whistle gets towards the end. )
Anyway, thanks for reading and I hope you can get some ideas for your future endeavors. If you can think of any other helpful tips, comment and let me and others know!
Play our Ludum Dare 44 game here:
Kurt Roembke
Developer / Music & Sound - Manager