Video Games Are Reshaping The Music Industry: Here’s How

Posted: Apr 13 2018, 3:46am CDT | by , in News

Video Games Are Reshaping the Music Industry: Here’s How

Video games have long attracted attention for the quality of their graphics, and recently, there’s been a growing wave of appreciation for their storytelling abilities. But video games are also making astounding advancements in sound and music—and they might have the power to influence the mainstream music industry because of those innovations.

How Music Is Used in Modern Video Games

Music has the unprecedented ability to be used in combination with other art forms, or to stand on its own—but these applications rarely intertwine. A number-one hit on the pop charts, for example, probably wouldn’t work well for film or TV, and almost certainly wouldn’t work for video games.

That’s because video games use music for a handful of specific goals:

  • Immersion. Most video game music is primarily intended to add a factor of immersion. For example, when you hear bouncy, colorful sounds, the cartoonish visuals of a fun-loving Nintendo game become that much more pronounced. When you hear dark, ominous music with creepy noises in the background, the ambience of a horror game can completely captivate your attention. Think of it as a secondary way to describe the world you’re exploring.
  • Prediction. Video game music can also help alert the player to what’s going on in their surroundings, as a kind of sensory cue to help them play the game. Almost anyone who’s played video games regularly can tell when a boss battle is coming, based on the pace and rhythm of the music.
  • Style. Music also adds a layer of style to a game, giving it a signature personality that distinguishes it from its contemporaries. It’s one reason why so many video game developers are shifting their attention to more dynamic sound and music elements in their games.

So how could video game music have an effect on the music industry at large?


For decades, video games have been a breeding ground for experimentation. Why? In part due to the inherent limitations of the technology. Back in 1985, the classic Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) only had so much room for music files. Composer Koji Kondo was forced to compress an entire symphony of sound into four basic channels, with a small selection of tones to choose from. Despite sprawling soundscapes and music that still stands strong in the memories of multiple generations, all the music for Super Mario Bros. clocks in at under 3 minutes.

In some ways, this opened doors for experimentation with minimalism, and an obsession with 8-bit and electronic sounds that persists in some popular music genres today.

Procedurally Generated Music

Perhaps an even bigger influencer may someday be procedurally generated music. This is music that relies on machine learning algorithms and an enormous network of different sounds to spontaneously create new music as a player navigates their video game world. It’s perfect for games like No Man’s Sky, which are based on the notion of nearly-infinite possible worlds, and games with multiple possibilities based on player inputs.

As procedurally generated music grows more advanced, capable of producing intuitive and ever-changing music with fewer inputs or for a wider range of applications, we may see it start to crop up in more applications. For example, movies may use procedural generation to create a narrative feel to their music, or facilitate a more organic flow to their background scores, or popular musicians may come to rely on it as a new frontier—and a new way to create music from scratch.

The next time you here an impressive new EDM song, or hear something peculiar in a movie score, think about the long history of music evolution—through multiple mediums, including video games—might have affected its development. In the meantime, pay a little extra attention to the score and musical cues in your latest video game obsession—you might be surprised at what you’ve missed.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/68" rel="author">Larry Alton</a>
Larry is an independent business consultant specializing in tech, social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.




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