In order to inform students who are interested in the professions of video games and music, I went to conduct the investigation at Vibe Avenue, an audio production studio specializing in video games that very kindly opened its doors to me.
Vibe Avenue was founded in 2013 by François-Xavier Dupas and Mathieu Lavoie.
They answered my many, many questions and here is a summary of their answers. When I mention one or the other, François-Xavier Dupas will be abbreviated FX, and Mathieu Lavoie, Mathieu.
Note that our conversation lasted more than 45 minutes, this is a summary of the transcript of the conversation. It is normal that some of the sentences below seem to be spoken, or are not completely fluent when written.
Vibe Avenue now works with about fifteen people. It is therefore an audio production studio specialized in video games, which can not only produce music but also sound effects (foliage, explosion, footsteps, animals …) and voices for characters, songs or even monsters . Most audio production is done in-house, but for some specific needs they hire people externally.
Audio music production for a video game can take place in two distinct ways:
- Dynamic: music adapts to the player’s action in the game
- Linear: The music remains the same regardless of the player’s actions in the game.
Sometimes a video game needs both techniques: dynamic music during gameplay, linear compositions for menus and cutscenes.
Vibe Avenue is a service provider, that is, they perform services, audio production in this case, for multiple studios. So they are constantly working on multiple games at the same time for different companies.
Vibe Avenue tries well on the title from start to finish and consults all the documents in order to identify the needs of the studio that develops the game. Throughout the development of the game, there are many iterations and communications between Vibe Avenue and the game studio.
“The phase of musical composition is similar to that which happens for example on a film or in other media,” says FX.
We start with global pieces to try to capture an atmosphere, “Then once the music is composed and approved that’s when we really cut it into pieces and integrate it so that it reacts dynamically to what’s happening in the game.” continues FX.
I see a lot of instruments in the studio, do you experiment with all this and who knows how to play which instrument?
Fx: “We’re a team, we have a lot of people and everyone is a musician here. And then regardless of people’s main specialty, they are all likely to participate in music at one time or another..”
“Mathieu and I are the main composers of the company. We play a lot of instruments different.
Mathieu plays flutes, guitars so everything that is plucked strings, he also plays the violin, viola cello so everything that is rubbed strings and percussion too so he can play a fairly considerable amount of instruments”
“Me basically I am a pianist, I also play the harmonica of all keyboard instruments, accordion, all synthesizers, but also a little percussion and guitar.”
“And then in the team we have singers, people who play drums more, guitarists who are really better than us, so if we put everything together, we have enough to produce something really good quality just in the studio.”
What types of studios do you work with?
FX: “We actually started with indie games, for sure, because we were really small at the beginning, we were just two people at the beginning of Vibe Avenue, Mathieu and I, 10 years ago. We started by approaching independent studios and then little by little our reputation grew in Montreal.
“Then gradually there are people from other countries who have called us etc. So today we are really international! We still have a large pool of customers in Quebec, that’s for sure, but we also work a lot with the United States, China and Europe.”
“We’re finishing a game in the League of Legends: CONV/RGENCE: A League Of Legends Story universe, we’ve also made big franchises like Star Trek, Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance or Necromunda Underhive Wars and games from independent studios like: Tribes Of Midgard and Ultimate Chicken Horse.
“By the way, we have just been nominated for the Music and Sound awards for our work!”
For Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance we were initially thinking: “well it’s going to be a very epic score like the Lord of the Rings with big orchestras all that!” Then finally the art director made us go in a completely different direction. We were looking for much more ethnic sounds, a lot of voices, which sing in the languages of the Forgotten Realms, we wrote a lot of songs because the game features many monsters and creatures that perform songs and musical rituals in real time.
We even participated as musicians in motion capture sessions!
During the session we played instruments for the development team, who then used these performances to animate the monsters. We have also recorded an entire symphony orchestra here in Montreal, as well as choirs in Bulgaria!
We also released Operation Tango, an asymmetric co-op game where a hacker and an agent must communicate to solve puzzles. The style was closer to Mission Impossible, so very different from what we did on Dark Alliance in terms of style.
How do you adapt to each style?
FX: “We still have a fairly broad background like many people who make music not only for video games but also for movies. These are often disciplines that we arrive at a little later, it’s quite rare that someone leaving CEGEP at 18 says: “Oh, I’m going to go compose video game music!”
That’s what happened with Mathieu and I, we started doing this more in our early thirties. I already had 10 years of experience as a concert pianist in different styles,
I did classics at the Conservatory, I played a lot of jazz, I did musicology at university. I studied the traditional music of different countries etc.
For example, I had studied a lot of Japanese music, I love it so in fact the passion is one of the
Reasons why we find ourselves in this business. One reason why we go to this job is that we can not choose the musical style we prefer!
When I was doing jazz I wondered “but where is the orchestra!”, when I did classical I said: “yes it’s missing a little metal guitar in there!”
There are many stages in video game development: ideation, prototype, vertical slice, production, alpha, beta … When do you intervene?
FX: “It depends but most of the time we arrive very early in development. It’s really rare but it’s already happened to us that we are called saying “Hey, we have a game, it’s coming out in two months and then there’s no sound and we don’t know what to do!”
Most of the time it’s, “OK, we have a game, it’s in the concept or prototype phase and then we’d like to start working with sound people.”
Most often the prototypes will be useful either to seek funding with the Canada Media Fund or to get a publisher or to do a crowdfunding campaign or release a demo on Early access, so for that there must be sound and music.”
Does everyone have to follow a school path to work in the musical field in video games?
FX: “There’s no real answer, you can do it in a lot of ways I think. We can actually do training now. He began to have training in different places including the University of Montreal, UQAM or the University of Sherbrooke.
When we started, there was no training. Now you can also train directly online.
I would say that for music, you have to have a solid training as a musician whatever the instrument and style.
It’s not necessarily classical music, it can also be electronic music, it can be pop but you still have to have some baggage, of course the expected level of quality is really high and then there is a lot of competition on the job market.
You still need a real passion for video games, if you really want to do that, you have to play, you have to know the games and be able to speak the language of the developers.
We are geeks, it must be said! After our days, we play Dungeon and Dragon, or Magic, or games
Video Besides, that’s the basis!”
Do you have sound banks that you use for sound effects or do you make the sounds by making sound effects with plastic and wood as we see in the making-of of movies?
FX: “Both, we have sound banks for things that are quite difficult to do yourself like the … Rocket launcher! But we also do a lot of creation, we record all kinds of material, all kinds of things and then we will go to work with effects or synthesis. We also have microphones that are more specialized in this as microphones that record very high frequencies that the human ear does not pick.
We can then lower the sound in pitch to get these frequencies there, which makes it possible to create voices of monsters or supernatural creatures.
We also do voice recording, so either actors for dialogue, or narration or other types of vocal talents for monsters or alien voices, for example.”
Are there any opportunities?
FX: “There are many professions, it’s still a lot of possibilities for career choices. There is a labour shortage in this sector as in the rest of Quebec.
There’s a bit of a war for talent right now. Despite this, I think it’s not necessarily the easiest branch either, because there is still competition.
There are fewer people in audio than, for example, in visuals in a game, but there are still many things to do!
Everything is relative but in any case at the moment I think that someone who has the expertise will be able to earn a living by practicing this job.
Having a good attitude is paramount. We are still talking about an environment where you will have to rework things often, you have to dialogue with the other people who create the game, so if you are very focused on yourself, on your ego by saying “Yes, MY MUSIC”, it may not be a good path for you.
It is better to be open to collaborations of any kind between audio artists and then also with all the other trades of video games.”
Do we need to speak English? Do I have to be bilingual?
FX: “Vibe Avenue is a French-speaking workplace but a good half of our clients are English-speaking, even here in Montreal.
Video games are done a lot in collaboration between studios from different countries, so yes it’s still very important to know English well.
At the candidate level, we prefer someone who has a real desire to learn to develop, someone with real potential.
We will take the time it takes to train this person while someone who arrives with a lot of skills but in whom we feel that it will not work with the team, we will not hire him.
This is a peculiarity of us because we work a lot as a team and then we are very careful to try to find people who will go well in the group. We want there to be a good working atmosphere, for people to get along well that it is positive, for everyone to help each other because we spend a lot of time together on projects. You see, to give you a specific example, two years ago I think we made an announcement for a music assistant and we had all kinds of profiles that came up, including people who had university master’s degrees and finally we took someone who just had a CEGEP.
It was not the most advanced. He didn’t necessarily have the most baggage but besides that, personality level, we thought it was great. He had worked as a programmer so he brought this experience there in addition to the rest and even though he did not have so much study behind him in music, his portfolio was really impressive, especially on all that was orchestration. So he was the one we chose in the end.
We didn’t regret it, he stayed with us until today!
What advice for young people?
FX: “If I have one piece of advice to give it is: “Train yourself, learn everything you want to learn that, maybe music theory if that’s what tempts you but also everything related to integration into a video game so learn Wwise (tool of the sound industry to integrate sounds into a game), Perfect your music, your songwriting skills, you can also do a little sound design”
It can help you find a first opportunity, in a smaller studio, because they like people who are versatile so they don’t have to hire three people when there is one person who can do all the work.”
What types of salaries can we expect?
FX: “If you’re really junior without any experience, you can start in the $40,000 and then it can still go up relatively quickly to get to salaries of $100,000, 120k, 130k.
If you’re an audio director on a big project there, I think you’re over $100,000 without any problem.
What are the video game professions that are related to music?
Marc: There are many professions in sound, but from what I understand: almost everyone is a sound designer or sound engineer!
It is an appellation that includes many specialties. Here are some of the video game jobs that are related to music:
- Composer (Supervises production, composes, is in charge of the entire piece)
- Sound engineer
- Music Assistant (Organizes recording sessions, edits, mixes)
- Orchestrator (Creates scores for orchestra, is in charge of all the organization for an orchestra)
- Virtual orchestrator
- Mixer (Mixing music (possible inside or outside the studio))
- Mastering (Allows the transfer of recorded sound to another audio source, CD, Vinyl, Concert)
- Studio Technician
- Technical Sound Designer (mostly programming, integrates, creates systems in the game for sound, no creation)
- Sound Designer
- Middleware integrator
- Gear integrator
- Publisher/Rights Manager
- QA Tester Audio (Specializes in detecting audio bugs)
- Audio Director (In charge of the overall artistic direction of the project, ensures with the producers, and the rest of the team that everything is consistent, especially management, little or no creation)
- Artist agent…
How long does it take to create music for video games?
Mathieu Lavoie: “There is no universal answer to this question. The creation time is related to the complexity of the order (genre, stylistics, etc.), the desired level of production (instrumentalists and recording sessions, synthesizers, computer music), the clarity of instructions and creative direction, the number of stakeholders in the track approval process, the constraints and dynamic needs of the music (interactivity, adaptability), the needs of variability of the music (techniques necessary to avoid auditory fatigue), the process of integrating the music into the game and has its own creative capacity.”
Thank you to François-Xavier Dupas, Mathieu Lavoie and the whole team for welcoming me to the studio.
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For more information on the sound professions:
PLAY – The professions of video game creation on france·tv slash – france.tv – S1 E1 : Olivier Derivière, Composer of video game music