CHICHESTER, UK—Beginning in September, online music school Think-Space Education, in partnership with the University of Chichester in England, will begin the first online master’s degree programs to focus on the field of game music and sound design. The school, which specializes in composing for film, video games and television, is adding three game-related master’s degree programs—Composing for Video Games (Master of Arts), Sound Design for Video Games (MA) and Game Music and Audio (Master of Fine Arts)—to its courses.
ThinkSpace is the brainchild of Guy Michelmore, who started the school in 1995. “I’ve been writing film and television music for 20-something years. I’ve been teaching people in one form or another for 20 years,” he says. In the early 1980s, Michelmore followed his father, Cliff, a familiar figure at the BBC who hosted coverage of events such as the assassination of President Kennedy and the Apollo moon landings, into broadcasting. In the 1990s, he started to make the transition into music composition with the national broadcaster, then launched his own company, Deepwater Blue.
In the early nineties, before there were specialized courses, he recalls, “People would come out of university as composers or whatever and want to know how to bridge the gap. They used to phone up and say, ‘How do I get to do what you do?’ So after my tenth half-hour conversation with somebody on the phone, I thought, I just need to say this once properly as some sort of distance learning course.”
ThinkSpace currently offers various post-graduate degree courses, such as MFA Professional Composition and Orchestration, MA Professional Media Composition and MA Orchestration for Film, Games and Television. Premium courses include Music for the Media, Cinematic Orchestration, Harmony One, Composer Blueprints Training, Orchestral Mixing and Kontakt 101.
Uniquely, the courses are taught by professional composers and musicians. “We have about 25 tutors on our existing courses, and we’ve got another 10 or 12 joining us on the games side,” reports Michelmore. “Everybody who works on this does it for a living. It’s complicated logistically sometimes, because someone will say, ‘I’m going to be out of touch for a few months while I do a big gig.’ But we’ve got a big pool of people and somebody can move in when somebody else moves off.”
A full-time, 12-month course requires a student to commit about 30 hours a week, he says, or they can work part-time at their own pace. “It can take some people a month to write three minutes of music and some people a morning. But those that take a month are not going to earn a living; you’ve got to work faster. It’s about productivity, and we help them get up to speed,” he says.
The school presents two or three webinars a week with various tutors and guests, and also offers one-on-one sessions with students. “We pride ourselves on brutal honesty. They will have people brushing them off later in life without giving them a good reason. If people aren’t hitting the nail on the head, then they need to know why.
“It’s a tough world; even games, which is growing faster than most. It’s very competitive and you need to be super good,” he says.
It has become increasingly apparent that game music and audio is becoming technically and creatively separate and different in many ways from other media, comments Michelmore, hence these new courses. “It’s the only non-linear creative medium. It offers so much potential creatively and technically. But I don’t think people can really do it justice just by writing linear film music and applying it to a game.”
The new courses are all based on the Unity game engine. “We’ve licensed quite a lot of games, so that people, whether they are composers or sound designers, are working on commercial releases as well as test projects. Unity is the best format to do that, because we can integrate that with FMOD or Wwise [middleware] and it works really well. We’re really keen to get people fully implementing their music in the game.”
The big advantage to students is that courses are online, Michelmore points out. “They can combine this with earning a living. They can study at home and stay at work, and save a lot of money. When they finish the course, they’re used to dealing with all the distractions of home—a skill that makes you productive and employable.”
The film and TV music business is notorious for expecting newcomers to initially work for no reward. That also applies to game music and sound, though to a lesser degree, he says. “It means that people need to be better prepared so that they can present real commercial-level, hirable skills, so that they get through that work-for-free bit as quickly as possible and start making a living.”
That said, “For the most part, you get paid for what you are doing in games. That’s a much more sustainable economic model in the long run. Royalties are collapsing in television; it’s getting worse and worse paid. That means you have to work more productively. If I was starting from scratch, games are probably where I would pitch my tent.”