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Interview With Award-Winning Composer Winifred Phillips
Winifred Phillips is a name you may have come across in the gaming industry. A composer of video game music for over ten years, her diverse list of credits include God of War, Speed Racer, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, and Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. Most recently, she authored the book A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, geared toward aiding fledgling video game composers in both composing music and finding work in the gaming industry. She has won several awards for her work on video games, including two Hollywood Music in Media awards and five Game Audio Network Guild Awards.
We were recently awarded the pleasure of having a chat with Winifred Phillips regarding her process, considerations when composing, and greatest feelings of accomplishments.
Leviathyn: Being such an eclectic composer, how do you approach new projects? Is there a period of heavy research or preparation before you start work on a game, and if so, what does this research entail?
Winifred Phillips: For most projects, I do a lot of research and preparation. I talk about this a lot in my new book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music. Research can be very important, particularly for projects that have a historical setting or a deep fictional universe that the music may need to support and authenticate. Music has the power to set a tone and atmosphere that can make a fictional setting feel genuine, and research can help the composer to identify musical choices and instruments that will be most effective in conveying this atmosphere. In my book I go through the types of research that we may need to do, and how this preparation can inspire us and make our music better.
As someone who started out composing for radio and transitioned to video games, what was the most difficult thing to learn or adapt to in composing for games?
WP: Being a composer for any other form of entertainment offers almost no preparation for the challenges of game music composition, and that’s a big reason why I wanted to write A Composer’s Guide to Game Music. There is a steep learning curve when transitioning into the field of game music, and I addressed these issues in my book. The technical requirements are usually the first and most difficult challenge, as we grapple with the ideas of non-linear composition and dynamic music constructs. Once we get past that, the challenge starts to get deeper and more subtle, as we work hard to instill our compositions with strong musical ideas and techniques, while still accommodating the technical requirements of the medium.
I noticed you discussed a poll about gamers’ preferred methods of listening to game audio on your personal blog. In composing and mixing tracks, is this something you’ve always considered?
WP: Absolutely. I’ve been a game composer for over ten years now, and early in my career I remember that a lot of game audio professionals were concerned about how the music and sound design would be conveyed by the limited range of television speakers. Now, our audience tends to augment their listening environment with headsets or external speakers in stereo or surround configurations, so I tend to consider those variables when I’m mixing my music.
People often cite the music as an integral aspect of the video game as a whole. However, on the flip side, many fans listen to video game themes outside of playing the games. What merit do you feel video game compositions have apart from the game and do you ever consider that facet while composing?
WP: I think that game music should have merit apart from the game it was designed to support, and I strive for this in my own work. Music is a language, with its own vocabulary and syntax, and it communicates on an emotional and kinetic level. If the music has something to say, then that will carry over into a separate soundtrack release, I think. I always try to tell the story of the game in the language of music, so that the listener can experience the world of the game by listening to the soundtrack.
What makes you feel most accomplished or proud of your work?
WP: I’m always happiest when the development team is excited and inspired by what I’ve contributed. In the end, the game is a culmination of their vision, and my music is meant to serve as a support and enhancement. I try to write music that will reflect their highest ambitions for the “spirit” of their game, and I’m always tremendously gratified when the team lets me know that my music inspired them or gave them ideas that they applied to the development of their game. That’s truly meaningful to me.
You can purchase Winifred Phillips’ book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, on Amazon.
Check back soon for our full review of A Composer’s Guide to Game Music!