A recent “sponsored feature” on Gamasutra focused on a new online music and sound library for games. An online sound effect library seems like a good thing. I’ve used a couple of those myself for personal projects where I didn’t want to spend the time making my own sounds. But a music library? No, this is not wise for games.
Music libraries certainly have their place. If you need something for a short corporate or personal video, something for your customers to listen to while on hold, or something for various other background type uses you can go grab something that you like and plug it into your project.
But a game is a different beast. How could you possibly hope to capture the character and essence of your unique game with a piece of music created only to fill some abstract “mood”? You built your game from the ground up with a certain style in mind. You hired artists to singlemindedly follow that style. Then you’re going to ruin all that stylistic cohesion by plugging in a random piece of music? Nahhh, you’ve got to bite the bullet and bring an honest-to goodness composer on board to complete your style. Sonically and visually, you’ve got to keep it all going in the same direction.
So the overall visual and audio coherence of your game is crucial. But coherence among all the pieces of music is also just as important. Grabbing random pieces of music to plug into different levels just creates a mismatched mess of an audio experience. Like I said in my GravRally post-mortem post from last month, using different pieces of music from a library within one game is like having anime, line-drawings, and Cubism as your art styles from level to level. Yes, that could be the point of your game but it most likely is not.
You can of course have different styles of music within your game. But wouldn’t it be nice to have bits of melody wander from piece to piece? Players may recognize that orchestral violin solo melody as it is being played by the muted trumpet later on in the jazz combo level. Or they might not but, ahh, they will feel the game pull together into a tight, cohesive, and satisfying experience!
You’re not going to get that from a music library. You will only get disjointed pieces that only tangentially resemble the style of your game and have little to no chance of resembling the other library pieces you cobble together. This isn’t just coming from me as a composer, but as a fan of games. I have not seen one game successfully use music from a music library.
And anyway, wouldn’t it suck to hear your game’s theme tune used in some online ad for Viagra?