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Berklee Prepares Students for Careers in Video Game Industry

Video games would be considered a distraction in most classrooms, but for Michael Sweet's students they are mandatory to the coursework. "We have been developing new classes, new curriculum over the past 12 months to get kids involved in creating music and audio for games," says Sweet, an associate professor at Berklee College of Music .

The students use music to help stir emotional currents in the game, just as they would with the soundtrack for a film. But to accommodate the complex, player-driven action sequences of video games, they learn techniques like looping, branching, and cross fading that make their scores more flexible. "In a game the player is actually the director in a way," says Filippo Beckpeccoz. "The music has to adapt always to make it seem like it has been written for that particular moment, but of course it is one in a million."

Beckpeccoz, who graduated from Berklee on May9, is largely responsible for the interactive music classes at Berklee. When he came to the school from Italy four years ago, the closest thing they offered were classes in scoring for film. He founded the Video Game Music Club, which quickly grew to 300 members. "It's safe to say that a lot of us have listened to more interactive music than linear music in our lives," Beckpeccoz says, "just because we played [video games] a lot when were kids."

After pressure from the club, the college hired Michael Sweet, who had more than 15 years experience composing for interactive media.

Soundtracks range from otherworldly to classically-inspired

Berklee College of Music has long recognized the link between music and technology. The music synthesis department was launched 20 years ago. Department chair Kurt Biederwolf says his students are also preparing for careers in the game industry, creating new sounds. "If you think of a game that may be a science fiction game or something that takes place in outer space, there are no sounds in nature associated with that."

Students use recordings of existing sounds, Biederwolf says, then manipulate them with software programs to create something completely different. For example, to create the sound of a dinosaur, he says, "you might take the sound of a lion roaring and layer that with a couple of other things and transpose and pitch stretch and compress time."

"Games have really arrived at the top in terms of a viable, successful place for employment and for artistic expression," says Stephen Croes, Berklee's Dean of Music Technology. He says several graduates have gotten jobs in the video game industry, and now they "come to the college specifically to develop skills that would allow them to be valuable in the game business."

Video game music is getting wider recognition as games outpace the sales of films and recorded music. "The genres that are inside these video games are grand scores," says Sweet. "There are really beautiful orchestral passages with nice themes that hearken back to great classical music." More orchestras are adding scores of popular games to their repertoire in an effort to attract younger audiences.

Berklee College of Music has its own 90-member Video Game Orchestra that exclusively performs scores from video games. It, too, is an outgrowth of the Video Game Music Club, and organized entirely by students.