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Getting/Making Game Music that Fits - World Tour Series - Beach Music

Tips for new audio designers composing video game music out of their comfort zone. Useful for producers as well, looking to put together design directions for their audio designers.

This entry focuses on Beach music.

Harry Mack, Blogger

July 22, 2014

3 Min Read

Lazing in the hot sand, listening to the waves roll in and out, a seagull cries; in the distance, is that a steel drum? Pass the margarita, because life’s a beach!

In this entry, I will be talking about the art and techniques of composing for beach environments and settings for video games.

Iconic Beach Songs

When one thinks of a beach in video games, often a typical image that comes to mind is Mario. Whether on a kart, flipping over crabs and grabbing coins, or washing away pollutants, Mario is comfortable on a beach. The music for each of these games varies, but there are common themes and instruments that help to connote a warm, relaxing sunny day. Depending on your game, you may want a Caribbean calypso style, or more of a grungy “surf’s up!” approach to your score.

Tempo Tips

Depending on the mood, a beach can be both relaxing and invigorating. This is largely determined by the tempo of your song. A slow, steady but syncopated beat is great for soft exploration and cruising – low stress music for a low stress scene. Rarely will a sunny beach call for dramatic music, but there can be action and intensity. Roll up the tempo a bit and play more with offbeats, such as dotted eighth note – sixteenth note patterns. For beach music, important beats in a 4/4 measure are the 2nd and 4th beat.

Instruments that Shine

You’re on your way to making successful beach music! But what really drives home the visuals of sandy shores and crashing waves are the choices in instruments. Steel drums are an obvious choice. You don’t hear those in quite any other setting, so use this to your advantage. Youtube anything with steel drums to get a handle on how they are used (in triads and in quick, alternating succession). Other good choices are the marimba, acoustic guitar/ukulele, xylophone, and for percussion, wood and log drums. For more of a modern surf vibe, go for electric guitars and bass, and a more modern drumkit, To really connote a relaxing and warm scenery, use sustained and rising strings in small sections of the score.

Extra Warmth

Environmental sounds, such as seagulls, rolling waves, and breezy sand can drive home the soundscape of a bright, sunny day at the beach. While I don’t often incorporate sounds directly into a music track, an alternate ambient track with these sounds may be helpful. The ocean waves have a rhythm of their own, which may be conflicting with the music if you’re not paying attention. While composing, it may be helpful to listen to the ambient sound layer playing along once in a while – not just to ensure your rhythms coincide, but for a little inspiration to boot!

Parting thoughts… as you bury your head in the sand

There’s not too many different ways to approach a warm beachy tune. The best advice is to find a large sample base and listen, listen, listen. Hear the commonalities for yourself and keep in a pile the types that may work for your game’s audio design. Remember to be creative and original in your scores, to only draw inspiration from sources. While there’s no right or wrong way of creating a beach tune, hopefully this entry helps as a first-steps guide to brightening your soundtrack!

Harry Mack is an audio designer with more than 10 years industry experience, composing video game music and sound effects for over thirty titles. Examples of his latest work and samples are available at www.harrymack.com.

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