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I Can’t Sing, I Can’t Compose, So I Made a GTA-Inspired Radio Soundtrack with Original Songs and Quirky Ads – Here’s How!

My game’s (Lilith Odyssey) soundtrack is an in-game radio with original songs, ads and DJ segments, inspired by the radios in the GTA series. I made it without a background in sound design/music composition. I outline my journey and road map my process.

TLDR: My game’s (Lilith Odyssey) soundtrack is an in-game radio with original songs, ads and DJ segments, inspired by the radios in the GTA series. I made it without a background in sound design/music composition. Below is the sample – I’ve time-stamped the different radio segments both here and in the video description. I outline my journey and hope to give a road map of my process – I’m sure y’all can do a better job. Cheers!

Here’s the sample of the radio:


The time stamps of each segment are as follows:

DJ Segment: Airhorns Banned Forever
(:09 – 2:12)

Commercial: Vuvond Trailways
(2:12 – 2:42)

Commercial: LowVo (the Voice Deepening Supplement)
(2:42 – 3:49)

Commercial: Quick Suck™ Surgeries
(3:50 – 4:44)

Song: Space Ship Cowboy
(4:45 – 8:16)

Song: StarMall Concierge
(8:17 – 11:09)

Song: What’s Real
(11:10 – 15:36)


I began with ZERO skills in sound design/composition and was able to make an in-game radio soundtrack with original music, ads, and DJ segments in about one year, costing approximately $800. I want to share my process and some samples of my close-to-final work to show that YOU TOO can make soundtracks in this way.

When I, a complete sound design newbie, started brainstorming 4 years ago about the soundtrack for Lilith Odyssey – an open world galactic migration/survival simulator – I kept coming back to the idea of flying through space and listening to a radio. I recalled that some of the most fun I ever had listening to a game soundtrack was in the Grand Theft Auto series, where I would save the game before good music blocks/DJ segments and then load in to simply drive around and groove. I wanted to capture that same feeling of immersion as best as I could!

This entire music project took about 1 year to make (working when I had down time outside of my 9-5), and about 3 months of learning very basic sound design concepts/tricks.

I am by no means near expert levels in the area of sound design, and I would bet my paltry life savings that more experienced sound designers can do a better job of what I made. But I think this is a decent way to make songs for an audience of developers that may not have certain musical capacities. That said, please take the quality of my work with a grain of salt and an open mind.


My Sound Design Skills/Music Composition Background = None

I began by downloading Audacity (a free audio editor) and started to familiarize myself with the basic elements of sound by recording my voice and messing around with bass, treble, tempo, vocoder, pitch, levelers, reverb, noise reduction, etc. I felt like my lack of skills couldn’t justify my buying some kind of fancy sound editing software, so I stuck with good ole Audacity (for the whole thing). My form of practice with the software was using my own voice to make dumb little skits, which will never fall upon any ears, ever. But, casually messing around for about 3 months -- maybe after work or during weekend afternoons -- helped me familiarize myself with basics. To all sound design newbies, don’t put the pressure of having to create something “final” from the get go. Be weird. Shoot for fun. Your skills will grow naturally the more you can bring yourself to engage with audio editing.

Eventually I became confident enough to stitch sounds together and manipulate them to achieve fun effects that could do enough to immerse a potential listener. Then on my drives about town, I took some time to listen to the kinds of radio stations that had the tone I was shooting for, which in my case was a “pop hit mix” station. So I simply tuned in to my local station (I see you, Mix 95.7) and listened to what DJ’s talked about, how corny the ads were, the themes for music blocks, and even the little sound effects that tied everything together. Trust your ears, see what stands out!

Once I got a handle of the “voice” of my station, it was time to start creating the content.


IGG Radio: A “Pop Hit Mix” Station Approved by the Intragalactic Galactic Government (IGG)

The concept of the radio is that all the content – music, ads, DJ parts – are approved for listening by the galactic government (so there’s some propaganda in there, like the government’s galactic anthem). I had to give myself these parameters so that all the content would be at least SOMEWHAT related to each other, and the game itself.

There’s about 1 hour and 18 minutes of original content that includes:

  • 13 “government-approved” hit songs from various genres (rock, country, rap, indie, punk, experimental); each one explores a feeling or an element of alien life in the galaxy (like being raised in an orphan colony, buying fancy things at the star mall, or a trippy song about the mythical “Comet Dad”).
     
  • 16 ads for alien products, services that exist in the game and public announcements – everything from “Don’t Drink and Warp” to “keeping trim and fit with quickie liposuction”.
     
  • 4 DJ segments that feature the smooth-talking host Chiego Pames and his stuffy co-host Galactic Senator Bort Fumpler, who discusses topics like “fun,” dating and self-defense.

Songs – How to Make

I can’t compose music. I can’t sing. I don’t have time to learn either.

But if I get other people to make those elements with my help, I CAN glue everything together and add my own flair/effects/balance – which is exactly what I did.

  • Find some solid royalty-free music that sounds “pop-y” and interesting (aka pleasant to listen to and easy to write lyrics for). Listen to pop hits of any genre and you can get a feel for the musical pattern (verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus worked in a lot of cases).
     
  • For about $250 at the time, I got a year-long membership to a royalty-free music/sound website (storyblocks) that gave me unlimited downloads of everything they had. Music, sound effects, beats, call-outs – you name it. Totally worth it for the libraries of audio I could choose from. BE SURE YOU DON’T JUST RE-USE THE MUSIC/SOUNDS WITHOUT MODIFYING THEM; MODIFY THESE TEMPLATED SOUNDS INTO YOUR OWN CREATIVE WORK OTHERWISE IT’S ASSET FLIPPING.
     
  • Find the music you like, and try to have the lyrics mimic the elements of its genre. For example, in my country bop “Spaceship Cowboy,” I wrote my lyrics about the relatively generic themes of what it’s like to have a tough life but, at the end of the day, being grateful for having a sweet ride (a space ship). Basically, I found country songs about trucks/vehicles pretty amusing, so I tried to capture that tone, but for space!
     
  • Sing your lyrics as best as you can over the music you found (I used a $30 mic – nothing fancy), and add layers where you can (backing vocals). Listen to the genre you’re working in to hear where backing vocals are usually used. If you’re like me, your recorded takes will likely sound awful and cringe at this stage, but it’s important to capture the feel of your song!
     
  • Find an artist either here on reddit (r/recordthis) or through freelance service like Fiverr to sing over your music. Staying with the example of “Spaceship Cowboy,” I found an awesome country singer on Fiverr who agreed to do the main vocals for my song for $50 and a redditor provided backing in exchange for credits. The final product was totally worth it!
     
  • Mix it all together in Audacity (or an audio editing program) – layer the vocals, balance the sound, modify bass/treble levels so that the music and lyrics are close the sound you want to achieve. Add effects to make it even more your own. In addition to writing lyrics and to “Spaceship Cowboy,” I added rocket blasts, claps, tambourine, a beer can popping open, etc.

I know this process may sound tedious, but if you enjoy making music and can’t compose for crap, I think you’ll actually have some fun!  

Skip to “Spaceship Cowboy“ at 4:45 in the above video or listen to the standalone version here:


Commercials – How to Make

Begin by listening to radio ads and deconstruct their elements – what background music do they use, how do they achieve immersion through sound effects, how do they play with tones like serious, aggressive and humorous? Then copy it. Listen to GTA ads too, for context around world-building and how to echo elements of your game in your soundtrack content.   

  • Peruse 15-40 second clips of royalty-free music, anything from elevator jazz to harder rock, and imagine what kind of commercial would pair with that kind of sound. For example, in my ad for the galactic bus service “Vuvond Trailways,” I found this hokey little tune that sounded (to me) like an old-timey jingle. So I went with it.
     
  • Write the ad and, if possible, line up elements of the music with things that can happen in the script. In the example below, I felt like the lead-in bass line invited an intro jingle, which then meant I wanted an outro jingle and something kind of goofy in general. In the ad, I am the voice of the butt pillows guy.
     
  • Delineate how many “characters” (i.e. different voices) there are in your ad and record each part. Getting script timing right in such a small clip of audio is important, so you want to make sure that when you record with your own voice it’s as close to the ideal timing as possible.
     
  • Find redditors or freelancers to record the various parts. NOTE: IN POSTS ASKING FOR VOICE ARTISTS, YOU WILL GET HIGHER QUALITY REPLIES IF YOU OFFER RATES (EVEN IF THEY ARE ON THE LOWER END). So yeah, offer rates – depending on the person and their level of industry experience, I paid in the range of 10-30 cents per word.
     
  • Mix it all together in Audacity – jingles, dialogue, sound effects. Do your best to capture the sound of your commercial’s genre.

An ad for the galactic bus service “Vuvond Trailways” happens at 2:12 in the above video, or listen to the standalone here:


DJ Parts – How to Make

This is much less about finding music, and much more about the right sound effects. The goal here is to write some kind of (hopefully) engaging scripted segment – ideally dialogue that is relevant to the game’s world – and fill it with sounds/effects that make the conversation “seeable” in your mind. Put another way, animating the conversation with sound to make it easy to imagine.  

  • Imagine a single host or a duo, and flesh out their character (cool, nerdy, fancy, etc.). I chose a duo because it allows me to be more jokey, and personality-wise I went with a suave character juxtaposed to a dorky one, so they can directly play off of each other.
     
  • Script out 2-5 minutes of dialogue, selecting a topic that aligns with world-building elements for your game. In my example segment below, I write a convo about a dumb galactic law that bans airhorns, which is meant to show how needlessly oppressive the galactic government is (and why aliens in the game generally hate it).
     
  • As for converstations/dialogue, record yourself as closely as you can to your imagined intention. Hit inflections, reactions, and deliveries as best as you can. Look for voice artists that would record it, and pay appropriates rates. (I should mention that both hosts in my DJ segments are voiced by me, which saved me money. I changed voices via pitch manipulation. (Please don’t judge it too harshly lol.)
     
  • Radio DJs love to use stingers (little sound clips that serve as intros/outtros to segments). You can record your own and try to make one yourself, but I paid a guy on Fiverr $15 for three stingers and it was easily some of the best money I’ve spent.
     

A sample of my DJ segment with a stinger for the radio station begins the video linked above.


Connecting the Pieces – What It All Sounds Like

The video above is what the radio sounds like with all the sections tied together. The trick here is to make the connections seem intentional to the listener. That means making sure that the proper details are included – the DJ introduces songs/commercial breaks, stingers bring the radio “brand” back after a commercial break, and everything is timed so that one element seamlessly flows into the next – as it would in actual radio.

Have fun with it. You play the role of producer/lyricist moreso than composer or sound designer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with new ways to connect various sounds.

And just as general note – offer to pay freelance creatives (even if it’s not much). They will do AMAZING work for you if you show them that you value their time/effort. I think my content would be a lot more lame if I didn’t back the enthusiasm of the artists.

Hope you enjoy and maybe some of you will be inspired to give this method of soundtrack creation a try! 

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