Meet the video gaming composing rising social media star Tobi Weiss, founder of filmandgamemusic.com
Tobi's fascination with music started at a young age when he received a toy piano at the age of 6. His love and passion for music continued throughout his life, eventually receiving a First-Class BA in music production from SAE-Institute in Cologne, Germany. His journey after graduation is very interesting, his love for video games pushed him to pursue a career in composing music for video games.
The problem, is that there's no clear roadmap on how to become a "video game composer". He was left with talking to hundreds of indie developers only to be turned down, because he didn't have a portfolio, but no one would give him a shot. He's now a rising social media composing star, despite 2020 being a crazy year, he's had his best year yet, and he looks forward to sharing his journey with others pursuing a similar career path, and making incredible music nonstop.
Can you walk us through how you realized that composing music was for you?
Tobi: I try to keep it short. Because you can say a lot of words about that. But as you already said good preparation. At the age of six, I was blessed to get a tiny keyboard, as a Christmas present. And yeah, and then I began playing around and one or two years later, I was able to learn playing the shuttle and elementary school. And I did that for like five or six years and then that that story happened that I was like, ooh, it's way cooler to play the electric guitar and sing around. And I absolutely have to become a rock star. But I was way too shy for the stage. So I was just like standing around. And they know what they're actually doing. And I noticed for the first time that I have way more fun creating the instrumentals and the music. more than actually performing the stuff. And I think that was around the age of 16.
So like 12 years ago, when I began playing around with I guess it was like magic Samplitude magics or something very small arm daw on the program where you compose music with a very basic summary. And in so we began and I think, yeah, then there was that, that day when school ended. So I was sitting down in my room, and it was like, okay, I have to do something. And at first, I was actually struggling because I was like, it's my biggest passion. I don't want my passion to become a job, and I think that's something a lot of artists have to struggle with. But I am pretty sure that if there is even a very tiny chance that you could be able to earn money with your biggest passion, you should absolutely go for that. And that was my plan too. So I began studying it wasn't the brightest decision to study music production, I guess I am pretty sure that I would have been able to achieve on the knowledge and autodidactic way but what's then I decided to that I would try to become a composer and why your composer for games. It's not on my own in business, but my biggest pleasure to do music for games and that's because I love games and so it was pretty obvious that I wanted to aim for that part of the music industry to become a part of it.
You're one of the first people that I've actually gotten the chance to interview that has demonstrable experience in the video game industry from a composition standpoint. How does somebody get into video game composition?
Tobi: Oh, actually, there is no secret I don't have some secret information that I like, Yeah. It was a total struggle or so for example, the first four or five years I made, like, way less than $1,000. With the music I compose, and I still created music every day. Because when you win that day, and you decide you want to become a game composer, you can go out there to gain students. And yeah, you like training or something, you are pretty much alone. So what I did in the beginning, multiple things.
For example, I wrote like thousands of emails I went through on the Steam Store, you can look at a list of all the developers that are on Steam, and I googled each of the names and found out the email address and I wrote them, and then you write 1000 emails and get like 10 answers, and 10 of them are no because you have nothing to show, you can say, yeah, I'm really good. And he has machinery with like 100 tracks. And I will be a great composer for your game, but you can't prove it. That's the struggle at the beginning that you somehow have to prove that you are good, but you don't get the chance that you are good. But I don't know what exactly makes things change, I just kept trying, I used all the platforms available, for example, Facebook grew an Instagram channel and stuff, and always try to present what I'm doing. And maybe the most successful thing I began doing is I just acted like, I was creating music for games. But I actually didn't. But for example, I created a video that explained why I created a track or a few tracks that way for a game that didn't exist. By that way. I could explain my thoughts and the possibilities you have when you create with music. And I think I was lying, obviously. But it's still why doing that I was able to actually reach, reach out to some people and make them notice me and the ideas and the possibilities and the chances for the impact of the whole game and the whole thing come with game music.
I also love this idea, though, of well, wear the suit for the job you want, right? Pretty much. I'm going to showcase my thought process in developing this and I'm going to show you how I do it. I'd say it was more, educational, right?
Tobi: It's pretty much like most of the developers, especially when they're starting, and I really enjoy working in the indie fields, because there are a lot of people that have dreams and visions, but they also, from time to time don't know much about the games industry, and what games can do, and especially what game music can do. So they have these offers in like sound libraries and go for yeah, I can have 30 minutes of music for $50. And of course, the first few years, they worked for free a lot, but in the end, as you have to pay for something, so it's, I always try to adapt my rates to the given budget, but still, it's more than $50 for 30 minutes of music. And the problem is that these ready to go, the music you can get from the libraries, it works. Of course, it works, you can put on a simple loop under an action scene, and it will work. It's like Marvel the music, nobody remembers the music, but it still works. But the possibilities you have, if you make the audience remember the music, and if, for example, if we work with light motives, so melodies connected to specific characters, or whatever you want, are enormous. So the best case is if somebody walks around and humming this melody, and he remembers the melody, and you realize, oh, yeah, that was this or that situation in the game. That was awesome. And then he talks to somebody else. And they were talking about the game. So it's not only about increasing the impact, or the experience of the games also valuable. Regarding the potential sale of a game. And it's hard to pitch that without showing that. So it's always kind of a problem to talk about music, and way harder to talk about the impact of music.
What are some of the video games compositions that really stood out for you?
Tobi: They're like this big example. It's like, of course, the Elder Scrolls game has awesome music, but I think there are some better examples for great use of music. For example Celeste, I don't know did you play this super hard platformer that also comes with a great story.
And the first thing is, you have a game where you die, like, hundreds of times on one screen, you have to listen to that music really, really long. And so it has to work it has to make you feel like okay, I'm still going, I'm still going to have to do that. And I will do that. But that's not everything. They they have one main thing connected to the character. And I don't want to spoil anything because I think everybody should play this game because it's not only a hot platform, but it's really amazing. Regarding the story and stuff this may have been connected to the main character, I don't remember the name, but that doesn't matter now and this theme is introduced in the title theme or in the first stage and throughout the game, the character changes and the theme changes to it's like, the mindset changes and also yeah pretty deep changes. And the theme has the same changes but in the music and you don't really notice that you are now in the game you are like, whoa, that's a great track. This is super epic or something. But after that, if you think about the game, you may notice that everything was working hand in hand in the most perfect way. It was like the auditive and the visual layer were dancing with each other and creating this super intense experience.
The same goes for if you put away Celeste, for example, on octopath traveler, the game, it is not the best game, especially the last 10 or 30 hours. But the music is so amazing. I can't stop listening to that survey when I listen to it the first time I was blown away because he sat and studied literally all the RPG classics, and he created leitmotifs. So again, if you connect a theme in that case to a character, and you can make that theme reappear, for example, you have a melody that is based on five different tones. And you make that reappear when the character appears, later on, the player will notice that character, if he only listens to the music, and if you make slight changes to the melody, for example, it's played a bit slower with other instruments or change one tone from major tone to a minor chord, you will notice oh, something's happening. Maybe he said, you can control a lot of things with these leitmotifs. And he put it to the next level. So, anybody who didn't listen to the octopath traveler soundtrack yet should totally do that, don't play the game. It's too long. And it looks so beautiful. I think these two games are the go-to examples. If I think about that.
There are obviously different styles of video games what does your process look like? Are there genres that you try to stick to when it comes to video games that are up your alley as far as composition goes? Or are you pretty all over the place?
Tobi: So you have to cover everything. And I love to cover everything. But of course, you have preferences. I always love to connect different genres and styles, for example, retro songs with modern orchestral stuff, if the game allows that, for example, but let's start from the beginning. For example, somebody just asked me and he has a game, you almost never get like a playable vertical slice or something. Most of the cases of this, if you're lucky, they're outwards or something. But most of the time, I have to talk to the developer. And then I try to get as much information as possible about the word he's creating. And then I try to transform that information into music. And I don't begin with the instrumentation in most of the cases, I try to sit down at the piano with a classic piano sound and just play around and try to get something that could work as the basement only one melody. We don't have to use that later. But it should somehow represent the whole thing than present that melody and then I'm like, okay, I'm trying to create the main sound color of the game, and then I'm going to, I'm taking that melody and I try different instruments try to transform them at other elements and stuff.
And I still don't do specific tracks for examples like, yeah, I'll begin with the boss better theme, that would be pretty weird. But in the first few days or weeks, depending on how much time we have, we only try to find the sound of the game. And so every evening, after the workday, I sent the current state and we talk about the process. So I really enjoy talking a lot with the developer. And I'd like yeah, you get the final product in like two weeks because that would work. Of course, I could deliver something. But I'm, in a lot of cases, it's very good input that on the developer gets because like, yeah, but maybe you could add something that sounds, swirly or something that very often weird attitudes. But that helps. . And then, after a few days, we find the sound of the game. And then we can begin creating a concept. What do we want with the music be dynamic, because that's one of the most interesting things of gaming is that it's not like in movie that on the ship will hit the iceberg at minutes 67 or something you don't know what the player will do? It could be like, yeah, I'm going to stay in that forest here for 12 hours. And you have no idea. So and that's super exciting, to work with these dynamic layers. And there are so many possibilities of that, that you can do with dynamic and music that reacts to the player it's amazing.
So when you're working with these developers is everything completely new or do you ask them based on their inspiration and other video game music that they really enjoy just to give you some sort of perspective, or direction?
Tobi: I enjoy beginning with a pitch, I create that based on nothing only on what I have in mind after listening to their words or watching artworks and stuff. I always ask for that. So yeah, would it be okay, if I create something without? Because yeah, you're totally right. In most of the cases, they sent, like, example tricks. It's like Trent music in the film industry. And then games sound the same now because they get so used to this type of music and it's pretty hard to get away from that. But in a lot of cases, we find something that's in the middle of both so because it's not like these tantric very often makes sense because there is the stuff that almost always works, but you still have to somehow, find them. In addition, that makes things unique, and it gets harder and harder every day because you won't be able to write a melody that hasn't been written yet. So the way to get unique is in creating a unique sound for somehow and that's something I tried to tell all my clients or partners during the progress that we don't want to copy something because it works but we want to create something that really supports like the soul or whatever of the game to make it shine.
When you're thinking about the different sequences and all of these diverse layers, how long does a project usually take, or is it all over the place?
Tobi: It depends. But for example, the last big project I did was for visual, another genre, I don't enjoy playing. But still, it's fun to create music for that word. And I think, Lisa from Steenberg Studio, hire me for 40 minutes of music, I guess, And we work like two months until the final music was done. Yeah, it was kind of a bonus one for polishing because yeah, it was like I was delivering the final tracks. Now. I was like, I actually have time right now. And I got to spend some extra time on that because I really enjoyed working on that project. And I was, if I feel like I can improve the outcome, I have to improve it, because it's everything I have is my work.
But two months for 40 minutes, I think that you can be way faster and a lot of the time you don't have that much time. I think a track like if you go for two or three minutes track that you create as an example track takes like, from 20 to 50 hours until it gets presentable. But then it's presented the state but it can go to infinity when it comes to how many things I can improve.
Have you worked at all in the VR AR space with either spatial audio or 360 audio?
Tobi: There was one opportunity, the echo of Kratos of the latest God of War actually reached out to me, since he did an elevator pitch for Epic Games. I didn't hear anything until now. So it seems like it didn't work. But that was a VR experience. And that was pretty crazy. I think the sound designers have much more work to do, since only if the music comes, for example. Other specific areas of them you have to care about that, that the code knows what's happening. But in most of the cases for me, it's only like, okay, I still do a stereo mix, because I'm we are doesn't mean that anybody has like, super high tech. Yeah, surround headphones but you still do a surround mix. In addition, you always have that in mind. And in general, if you create something on the stereo, you always have to keep an eye on the depth of the field. So that you that's nothing new, I guess. Via pre delays and stuff, you can decide how far away or close something sounds or and we equalizing and so on, but I'm not sure if it's worth spending a lot of effort right now to improve my skills regarding VR if there would be a project I’d totally be part of that. But I think it takes a few more years and to do that are really able to be something that's in everybody's household.
Where do you guys and ladies congregate?
Tobi: I'm not the best one for answering such questions because I really enjoy being alone, to be honest. I totally enjoy sitting in my room and making music for 24 hours. And that's it. And the same goes for communicating with other composers. I am not good at that. I do research and I study other composer’s work. I'm super lucky that I'm able to reach out to potential clients and staff and talk with them over the internet. And so if I had to call everybody or go, wizard, somebody, I won't sit here in the studio today, I wouldn't be able to do that. I don't know, I'm very introverted, and I enjoy having my private space. So I have no idea where these competitors need that internet.
What would you recommend to somebody that wanted to get into film and video game composition? What are some lessons you've learned thus far, that you would recommend either to do differently, or things that worked really well for you?
Tobi: Yeah, I think a few things. The first one is the most obvious do music. Every hour you spend on doing music, if it's fun, you do that anyway, we'll make you grow, study other professionals, music, try to recreate that, that's something can totally recommend, because you understand what you did what they did. And then you won't copy them later. But you learn things. And the other thing is, I already mentioned that I studied, and it was a private university, and I paid a lot of money. And I think that that's not worth it. I'm not sure host that in other countries and stuff. But until now, none of my clients asked if I have a bachelor’s degree or something.
And, of course, I learn stuff over there. But yeah, the price was like, I think a good draw. They're like 20,000 euros. And that's not worth it. Especially today, you can learn almost everything in awesome tutorials and stuff. And just by doing things learning by doing, and that might not be the case for everybody. Maybe some people need such a place as a university where they have to do stuff. But in that case, maybe they are not the right person to become a composer. Because if you have to be at a place to actually care about your, your skills and the whole thing. I think there has to be this natural field or the need to do that thing on something else that can have a bit more.
So can you walk us through your gear setup really quickly? What does that look like?
Tobi: Actually, it's this table with this keyboard laying around and a good interface. Monitor, but that's something I got, after a few years to make everything more comfortable. In the end, I really enjoy working in the box and that's, the place where you can really spend a lot of money you actually work with what the people have never heard about that virtual instrument. So with that keyword, you play all of those instruments. Very simple as that, and then you take care of that. It sounds like it was played by a human being. And also, for some people that, start things, they are really, like libraries that have, it's like a roundhouse kick of the different instruments that are available. And I think with a laptop and tiny MIDI keyboards, too. So you can sit down and create everything in the box today. You got your daw you go for whatever you want. I work with Cubase today, but you don't have to begin with a program like that. That's pretty expensive, to be honest. And it's not like, because it looks like a minimalistic place. It's, it's still not, a beginner-friendly business, to be honest, because, of course, you can, there are great things to start out. But the good instruments, for example, if you go for a good string library, you pay, like, at least $500 and up and then if the next one, the better one comes out, you can sell that previous one, since it's bound to your ID and stuff. And you want a lot of instruments because you have a lot of ideas in mind. And so can really spend a lot of money on that. And, I was just like, okay, I would love to have a giant rack of synthesizers on my wall. But that's, not worth investors right now. Because I could use the money I am with music to buy more. You have a variable. For example, if you go for East-West sound they offer it was my starting point. They offer the composer cloud, you pay I think it starts at for students even less but I think 20 or $25 per month, and it goes to 50 I guess if or the mic position and that you get their whole library and they have its top-notch stuff in there. They don't have everything and for example, you have Spitfire and stuff enjoy more. But as a starting point, that's intense. And you don't lose like the rights of the things you created. If you be like, okay, I can't pay for that this month, you can't use it then obviously, but you still have added everything. And that's like $25 per month for any instrument of the word you can imagine in high-quality stuff. Really, the intent there quite a bit is amazing. They are going to release a new string library this fall. And they have awesome synthesizers, drums, real drums, the stone drums, they created solo vocals. So for $25 per month, it's intense. And so you have your laptop, you go for that composer cloud, you have some everybody has earphones is you probably own $1,000 smartphone. And you can literally begin at the very first weeks, I guess I didn't have it didn't even have this immediate keyboard I just played with. Yeah, the keys on my laptop, you can this software, a keyboard, I guess. But it still did something because I wanted to do something. And so that's not a reason to not start doing.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Tobi: There's so many good answers. But I think in the end, I would take a very boring one. It just would be something like if allowed me and the people I like, if not allowed only me. Would I get it or something that sounds super boring? But let me explain if I would go for something like I could let things fly and some awesome psychic powers of flying and stuff. I would, I would two years from now I would be in an American prison or something. And they would study me because I wouldn't be able to not present it to people that I know me. And, and I thought around and I maybe I could print money or something. But anything of that would cause problems in the end. And so we think, okay, I don't want to get it. And that's it. It won't cause problems.
How do people get ahold of you if they need your services to make incredible compositions for their projects?
Tobi: Reach out to me actually, it's not a big thing. Most people contact me via Instagram today. A few years, I was like, Nah, I don't want to use Instagram. I'm too old for that. But actually, it totally works. And I think that's the go-to way. And then they write me a mail and are like, yo, developing this game right now. And I want your music. And it's just so weird for me that people because I began like, the last two years or something I was able to afford my living with making music and people began reaching out to me and other composers were like, yo, I want to become like you and I'm always sitting in my room. And it's still very, very weird that people reach out to me, especially bigger people that already worked in the triple A industry is something I want, especially needs it.
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