To celebrate the release of our three suites of Musick for Unknown Armies, composer James Semple wrote three blog posts about commissioning, collaborating on, and creating music for roleplaying games. This is the second post in the series.
One issue that you may have as a games designer when commissioning music is how to tell the composer exactly what you want. Unless you are also a musician, you may find it difficult to definitively describe your vision. So many words mean different things to different people. For some, "epic" means a grandiose piece that tells a story. To others it means really loud drums.
There are many ways to get around this problem. Reference tracks are a useful way of explaining what you like. Also, conversations with the composer can help really narrow down what you like about the reference tracks you've chosen. For Unknown Armies, we started with conversations about the kinds of feelings the music should evoke and from these discussions surfaced a manifesto where we defined terms that we felt applied to the music. While these terms can never be perfect, they did give a baseline theme to keep me on track while writing the music. Each piece of music was of course signed off by the creative team at Atlas Games.
One of the great aspects of this project for me was how much freedom I was given to experiment and explore when writing the music. I could spend time searching for new unusual sounds or work with challenging harmonic ideas without the sense of being limited by existing genre expectations. Unknown Armies is a very original game and that gave me the room to write some of my most original and personal music to date.
If you haven't already, check out the first and third posts in this series, The Sound of the Unknown Part 1: Commissioning Music and The Sound of the Unknown Part 3: Creating the Music.