What to Prioritize in Commissioning Music…?

Welcome to the first blog post of 2023! Time flies and the clock is ticking ever closer to our game’s release date. We have commissioned a lot of music up to date. One day, I just had this shower thought of what would have happened… if we have the same priorities in commissioning music as we do now.

This post serves as a slight post mortem, so I believe this post would be better made after the game has released. We have done this enough times that I think it’s okay to tell you right now. To be fair, this approach has been ideal… for us, but maybe not for you.

Things to talk about include the story connections in the songs, and a bit about the financial concerns in commissioning them. The latter is often not talked about, but it plays so much role here that we can’t ignore it.

Vocal Songs or Instrumentals First?

In a previous blog post, I wrote about vocal songs being more expensive and more time-consuming to make. The composers have to write the lyrics and invite the singers (if they can’t sing themselves). And obviously, they will also have to do everything they already do for instrumental songs.

I can give you a rough idea of how much time things take. Our requests for original songs are 120-150 seconds in length. These generally take 2 months in case of instrumentals. Vocal songs are usually given a deadline double of that.

So, while time (and money) is on your side… I would recommend getting the vocal songs first. The application of a vocal song can be wider-reaching than instrumentals. For example, Light to Heed is the theme song of our game. Most theme songs are, in general, vocal songs. Beyond that, they can also help to enhance stories of characters who are singers. We are making a rhythm game, so characters who like singing definitely fits the game’s story more than most archetypes do.

At this point, we are already well into discussing the game’s story, so let’s talk into how we make them connected to the story.

Connecting the Songs to the Story

We have a base script for the stories we’d want to make, but the things that happen in the middle… we’d let the songs fill it out. As it has been happening for a while, the more original songs are done, the clearer the story becomes in my mind. Some people’s styles become fitting to the story after other songs are complete, and thus our targets may change halfway.

You may make your story based on the music you get, OR the other way around. These two approaches are as valid as each other. I would even recommend applying both approaches in order to have the best flexibility. 

To fit their songs to the story, the composer may ask for these things:

  • What sort of story would you like to make?
  • Which character(s) would you like to feature in the song?

If they ask for these, I’m more than happy to answer these questions. If not, then I think it remains okay for both sides, as it’ll be down to me to find their songs’ place in the story. At times, I do have more specific requests in which I do have to tell the story, though.

I admit that many of the initial music commissions were done without taking the story into account. At that point we were still in the process of conceptualizing the game’s characters. I do know the main characters should meet each other, but the where, when, how, etc… are still murky for me. Oh well, it’s a learning curve that we have learned from.

Filling in the Blanks with Non-Originals

Once we have the originals ready (or couldn’t get enough ready for various reasons), it’s time to look at the non-original songs.

Most of the time, I am finding for non-original songs that are rarely featured in other games, so far. Automatically, this rules out a few very notable songs in the rhythm game community. The point is to have “non-originals that feel like originals” as you haven’t heard them somewhere else before.

Again, how these songs fit into the game’s story and vision are also important considerations to take note. Some songs really fit the game and story like gloves already, so why not get them? Also, there’s one important thing I would like to highlight in regards to time – the songs are already completed. With original songs, we have to wait – especially with the vocal ones. Meanwhile, with non-originals you just have to wait for the composer to cut the song to game length (if they haven’t done so already), which is much less effort involved for them.

Not having to wait also means you can get these things later, which is why we call this the “fill in the blanks” section. Create your main story points using original songs, and cover them with the non-originals. In that way, it’s probably the right mix between idealism and pragmatism.

Dream Lineups?

You most definitely have this thought in mind when you dream of making your own rhythm game. In fact, I’d go further and say most people making rhythm games do it because of their dreams, pashun, desiyah, etc. As far as I know, it is rare to see rhythm games made out of pragmatism. I will not elaborate on this too much for now as I’d like to save it on an actual post mortem post. But to put it simply – rhythm games still remain too niche at the moment.

Where does SparkLine stand in the idealism vs pragmatism scale, you ask? At the moment maybe 7 idealism, 3 pragmatism. If you can scope your project properly, I’d say it’s already enough pragmatism. I would say… we did over-scope a little, but we remain in control. Our plan at the moment is to prepare content for 6 months after launch. What happens beyond that depends on how well we do.

Back to the topic at hand – I do have certain composers that I really want to have in my game, but we have to take things slowly. And to be honest, I’d argue I am already living the dream with having original songs in the game, no matter whom it may be.

However, it does not mean that I will treat certain songs differently just because they are not the dream targets. Every composers’ songs will have their role to play in the game. I will ensure that all of the songs are given equal and appropriate respect. It takes the convergence of many different fields of work to bring one song to you. All of these must match the quality and effort of each other.


The Retrospective

It took some time to get there, but we are in a spot that I believe is good. It was a long read that could be even longer, and I also had to be careful of what I’d write here. Let’s summarize our ideal approach to commissioning music:

  • Be mindful of your budget and time. I put this above everything else.
  • Original Vocal songs, with one of them being a theme song
  • Original Non-Vocal songs to help make the story clearer for you
  • Non-Original songs (either Vocal/Non-Vocal) to fill in the blanks of your story

A consistent theme of this post is on how the songs are made for the story and vice versa. If your game does not have it, you may have more freedom in your possible approach. But even with a strong story focus, we can always put the songs in a “singles” category where they don’t need to mix with the story.

As we look towards the future, there are certainly many composers we’d like to get, but the time is not right yet. I have written before that we are planning content for 6 months after our launch. These people will have their role in the story that comes after those 6 months. Until then, our focus is on these 6 months and to stay alive. The good thing is that we have already finalized our launch lineup. Having the time and resources to prepare for beyond that is already a cherry on top, so to speak.

However, please be mindful that our approach may not work for you. You will have to wade through the market yourself, learn it your way and decide what works for you. There is no teacher better than your personal experience, after all.

Beta-Testing and Additional Plans

As you may have seen in our Discord, SparkLine’s first closed beta test is complete! Again, thank you so much to all that have participated for your support. Not to forget the people that have been equally as important, are those that brought the beta test to others’ attention. Thank you so much for your willingness to share about it as well.

Please fill out the feedback form in this link and let us know what we can improve upon! I think the form should be detailed enough that the most important things are touched upon. We really hope that SparkLine is a game that you can recommend to your friends!

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