Jul 21, 2022 - News

Vanderbilt teaches writing music for video games

Illustration of 8-bit style sheet music.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Vanderbilt University’s music school is encouraging local students to explore an unconventional path onto campus and into the industry: writing scores for video games.

  • The Blair School of Music launched a summer camp this month that challenged middle and high school students to compose music giving life to the battle scenes and moments of victory in a video game.

Why it matters: School officials say they want the camp to be an open door that introduces young people to Vanderbilt and different careers regardless of their socioeconomic status.

  • They plan to expand on the idea by creating college-level courses on video game composition that might inspire current Vanderbilt students to broaden their career aspirations.

What they're saying: That work is part of a broader effort to push boundaries at Blair, which focuses on classical music, associate dean Seth Soloway tells Axios.

  • "How do we make it so that our students know that if you audition for the symphony when you graduate and you don't get in, you can still have a thriving career in music?" Soloway says.
  • "You can get legitimate gigs scoring video games, and you can win Grammys scoring video games."

State of play: A two-day pilot version of the Music Tech summer camp took place last week. A donation covered scholarships allowing students to attend for free this year.

  • Participants included students from KIPP Nashville schools, Montgomery Bell Academy, the W.O. Smith Music School and Meigs Academic Magnet.

How it works: During the workshop, the students worked with Vanderbilt professor Pascal Le Boeuf, an experienced video game composer and undergraduates to build out a fantasy game where the hero explores an ethereal landscape and confronts menacing amphibian creatures.

  • They collaborated to write theme music and music to underscore a battle against a boss that resembled a sea dragon.
  • They also worked on sound effects, like footsteps and splashing water, and created the main character's voice.

The big picture: Le Boeuf tells Axios video game composing is "a blooming field."

  • "It's a super relevant career path right now, in particular," Le Boeuf says. "There's a need for it."

Zoom out: Video game studio Iron Galaxy announced plans earlier this year to open a development studio in Nashville that would lead to 108 jobs.


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