What makes game music memorable? Is it the genre, the instruments used, the moment it appears in the game? Although each of these aspects may enhance the memorability of a song, the most important aspect is melody. Every single game that was featured on The Musical Box, and probably your favorite game soundtrack as well, has strong melodies. But, what the heck is a melody?
A melody is a succession of notes that are highlighted in a composition. They stand out in the context of the whole song, even though they are still related to all other musical elements, such as harmony, rhythm and even production values. The melody is the hummable part of the music and some composers consider it the most important element of a composition.
A well-crafted melody is instantly recognized by the human brain. If done correctly, it can also become an integral part of gameplay. There's a huge difference between music that takes advantage of strong melodies and music that doesn't. Melody-driven music does not stay in the background; it pops out just like vibrant colors. Obviously, nobody wants the music to stand out all the time, and this is when the composer must use his sensibility to use melodies with wisdom.
Balance is the key
Overusing melody may indeed be a problem, especially due to the repetitive nature of videogame music, but the other side of the spectrum is also not recommended. Using solely background music with little or no melodies at all neglects the immense power that melodies may have on peoples' minds. In a competitive industry like ours, every developer is trying to conquer mindshare, and music with strong melodies is an incredibly powerful tool to achieve that.
Finding a good balance between songs with strong melodies and songs that blend with the background may be the solution, depending on the genre of the game.
See below for some examples of music that have strong, memorable melodies.
If music has an impact in your life, then you should give 90% of the merit to the melodies. When crafted with wisdom, melodies may captivate your target audience brain for years to come. Just look at the numerous versions of "Overworld" from Super Mario Bros. that you can find on YouTube. Obviously, there are other factors that may be considered when we talk about Super Mario Bros., such as historical relevance and pioneering, but you may rest assured that the melody played a huge role in the popularity of the franchise. Well-crafted melodies are much better than viral marketing, they are mental viruses that last for generations.
Special thanks: Gilliard Lopes, Rafael Kuhnen, Fernando Secco, and Sandro Tomasetti.