Warning: Audio Stock Music May Not Be The Best Answer For Your Game

By Chris Lines

If you just look at the price, there’s little reason not to use audio stock music for your indie game.

The price is cheap, the service is quick and the web sites are easy to find.

If you are on a tight budget they are an excellent option for game developers.

However, there are several compelling reasons why stock music may not always be the best choice when choosing music for your game, and here I’ll explain what the main reasons are.

Stock Audio — Too Good To Be True? Sometimes…

I briefly went into this subject in a previous article about where to find quality reasonably priced music, but here I’d like to go into the possible problems with stock music sites in a bit more depth.

Lack of customisation for your needs

What you see (hear) is what you get. You are buying the finished music when you buy stock audio — changes aren't possible.

You can’t alter the length (easily), or change instruments, alter the mood for a specific section of the game (eg make it sound darker or change it half way through to a lighter tone). What you buy is what you get. If this suits you, go ahead and fill your boots.

Why would you want to alter any of these things anyway?

Well, very often, as in a film score, using variations on a theme throughout a game helps to build up a cohesive score which enhances the quality, story and emotional effect of your game. Jumping from one random stock audio track to another just doesn’t cut it — unless that’s exactly the effect you are after.

Off the shelf music doesn't always integrate or loop well

If you buy audio from stock sites and want the music to loop in your game, you might be tempted to just use an MP3 from the site or convert an existing wav into an MP3 and loop it.

Thing is, MP3s are notoriously difficult to loop as they add a small amount of silence at the start of the file. This is very often why you might hear music in apps not looping well or clicking. That or the composer didn’t check the file looped properly before delivering it.

To get round this problem with MP3s you have a few options:

  • use a wav, ogg Vorbis, AAC or another uncompressed format.
  • use a cross fade set up in your game engine so the loop points aren't detectable.
  • the composer creatively ‘ends’ the MP3 in a musical way so it does loop well.*

*I’ve created a way of doing this for previous clients so they were able to use MP3s, but it’s not simple. I had to allow for the gap the MP3 placed in the file (or ‘padding’ as it’s known) when composing the piece.

Some thanks is due here: I was confused why my MP3s weren’t looping correctly when I started and will be forever grateful to those more experienced composers such as Sean Beeson and Stefan Persson who pointed me in the right direction with regard to MP3s on my first project.

The rights licensed may not suit your project

Although dull, do make sure you take out the right type of licence from audio stock sites and always read your T&Cs to make sure you are covered.

For example, if you look at Sounddogs’ licence, it is ok for games, but under Limitations of the Licence it does state:

It’s slightly ambiguous what they mean — I imagine this means the players cannot control when or how the music is played back, but does this include turning the sound on or off within a game?

As another example, Audiojungle (Evanto) gives you a choice of licences, so you need to make sure you know what you are getting into:

Similarly for Revostock, you need to make sure you take out the right licence:

My point is this — sometimes the rights you are purchasing aren’t immediately obvious, so you need to double check what you are buying.

If in any doubt, contact the provider! You really don’t want trouble further on down the line.

Anyone else can use the same music for their game

People might not immediately think about this. But if you are trying to create a unique & memorable game, it’s probably not a good idea to use music anyone else could be using in their game.

If you think about the games of your childhood, that music you can hear in your head when you think about the game is synonymous with that game — it wasn’t used on another game, tv programme or radio advert.

If I think about the games I grew up with on the ZX Spectrum, the music for Jet Set Willy wasn't also used for Manic Miner.

It’s true this was mainly because the music had to be coded into the games back then, not stuck on top as an audio file, but this technical requirement actually inadvertently meant that each game had to have unique music. This helped stamp a game’s unique identity into your brain.

So that’s it — that’s my take on why stock audio sites may not always be the best answer. There may well be other reasons I haven’t thought of — if you can think of any, please add them below. Similarly if you disagree, let me know.

At the end of the day stock or library music may well be perfect for you and your project, just don’t overlook some of the pitfalls.

As a final thought to leave you with, have you ever wondered why almost all of the best games out there have custom created music? Think about why that is for a moment…

This article originally appeared on my e-mail list and web site.

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