Stories Five video game composers who know their way around an orchestra

By Ricky O’Bannon

Video games are undoubtedly big business.

In the United States alone, they generated a staggering $21 billion in revenue in 2013. To put that number in context, the Motion Picture Association of America reported $10.9 billion in box office revenue for the combined U.S./Canada region during that period, and the Recording Industry Association of America put last year’s domestic revenue from recorded music at $7 billion.

Likewise, video game music is starting to become a summer seller for orchestras as game tunes regularly get the full concert hall treatment through traveling series such as Symphony of the Goddesses, or Video Games Live, which the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will perform on Saturday.

Video game music has come a long way from the electronic beeps and MIDI tones where it started in the ’80s. Many of the most popular modern game composers are classically trained and compose for and record with symphony orchestras. Additionally, many talented composers are working to arrange and flesh out beloved tunes from early games — which by virtue of technology of the day were limited to as few as three audio tracks — for the full orchestra.

With many young composers looking to the growing gaming industry as a steady place to find a paycheck, in another few decades it’s possible composers like the ones on this list could be recognized not just as part of a niche field but as a major part of the orchestral ecosystem.

1. Austin Wintory

Wintory is a leading composer in the video game industry who has scored more than 300 games including flOw, Journey and Banner Saga.His work for Journey was the first ever nominated for a Grammy in the Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media. Wintory later took pieces of that soundtrack and wrote a standalone cello concerto, Woven Variations,which he performed with cellist Tina Guo.

2. Andrew Skeet

Skeet is a British composer, arranger and conductor who primarily works in television and film. However, Skeet produced and conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Greatest Video Game Music album and its sequel. In addition to performing tracks originally written for orchestra, Skeet wrote arrangements of older game music that often had little more than a melody and basic accompaniment because of limited technology. Skeet said he approached the tunes like composers before him who used folk music as symphonic source material.

"There are quite a few pieces on this album where I treat [the tunes] like Vaughan Williams would treat folk music," Skeet said in an interview with Classic FM. "I literally take eight little tunes from Sonic the Hedgehog [...] and I make a suite or a tone poem from it."

Sonic the Hedgehog: a Symphonic Suite


3. Jeremy Soule

Soule has composed for video games since 1994 and has scored The Secret of Evermore, Neverwinter Nights and The Elder Scrolls series among others. In 2013 coming off his popular soundtrack for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Soule turned to the crowd-funding website Kickstarter to raise money for his first symphony. Soule’s fans funded the $10,000 he was asking for 12 times over, and the piece nicknamed The Northerner is in development.


4. Chad Seiter

Seiter got his start in composition working as an assistant to film composer Michael Giacchino, where he helped orchestrate Cloverfield, Speed Racer and the Star Trek reboot. Seiter has composed for several video games, but his biggest contribution to the genre has been his work orchestrating themes written for early video games into works for symphony orchestra. Seiter arranged The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony and the Zelda Symphony of the Goddesses concert series. He is currently working on a symphonic adaptation of music from the Pokemon series.

Original theme as written by Koji Kondo.

5. Marty O’Donnell

O’Donnell worked as a jingle and TV commercial composer before moving to video game music in 1993. He has written soundtracks for Myst andOni but is best known as the longtime composer for Bungie, where he scored the Halo series. The original Gregorian-chant-laden theme is regularly considered one of the most iconic game tracks of all time, and O’Donnell reworked and re-orchestrated that motif throughout the series.