The Non-Game Music of Video Game Composers

Laser Time, video game, music BGM, VGM, composers, Akira Yamaoka, Peter McConnell, Yoko Shimomura, Yuzo Koshiro, Nobuo Uematsu

Composers are the unsung heroes of the video game industry. While graphics and gameplay set the foundation, the iconic tunes these artists create are what ultimately breathe life into a truly great game. Video game composers can complete a game’s atmosphere with a moody background track or create a catchy theme that seamlessly loops forever without becoming stale.

But for all these VGM composers are remembered for inside of video games, few are remembered for the music they create outside of the industry. That fact changes today. We’re going to look at a few examples of the interesting, impressive, or perhaps silly tracks our favorite game composers have created for non-game pursuits. If you’re looking for solo albums, side-projects, and media tie-ins, you’ve come to the right place.

Akira Yamaoka

Laser Time, video game, music BGM, VGM, composers, Akira Yamaoka, Peter McConnell, Yoko Shimomura, Yuzo Koshiro, Nobuo Uematsu

Akira Yamaoka is perhaps best known as the composer, sound designer, and sound director of the Silent Hill series. While there are many factors that have contributed to the success of early Silent Hill games, the atmosphere and tone created by Yamaoka’s sound work are arguably the most important. In addition to the long-standing horror series, the composer has also worked on Grasshopper Manufacture games like Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw. Unlike many in the game music business, Yamaoka understands the priority of sound design in creating a game’s atmosphere, which is why he is to be considered one of the most significant game composers in the industry.

After 15 years or so creating music for video games, Yamaoka released his first original album in 2006. The album, titled iFuturelist, serves as a heavy-hitting industrial album that makes use of crunchy guitars and electronic weirdness. The album features guest appearances by Japanese musicians like Metal Gear composer Norihiko Hibino, Sana, Yasuaki Honda, and others. Many songs on the album, such as the title track, remix Yamaoka’s work on rhythm series beatmania IIDX and pop’n music. This would make these tracks half-game music, half-original composition.

While the album features songs that appear in the Bemani music game series, there are still a number of completely original tracks, such as “Adjust Rain.” Some of these tunes evoke the music heard in Silent Hill, especially credit songs like 2‘s “Love Psalm.” With the help of other vocalists on the album, Yamaoka also sang some of these songs himself. Revealing his unique voice, Yamaoka’s sound on this album seems to me a mix between KMFDM and Dead or Alive. It’s pretty amazing.

Yoko Shimomura

Laser Time, video game, music BGM, VGM, composers, Akira Yamaoka, Peter McConnell, Yoko Shimomura, Yuzo Koshiro, Nobuo Uematsu

Yoko Shimomura has been referred to by some as “the most famous female video game composer in the world.” Beginning with work on early Capcom classics like Final Fight and Street Fighter II, she is responsible for the catchy stage and character themes heard in early fighting games. Shimomura has since moved on to create the timeless scores in some of Square Enix’s longest-running franchises, such as the Mana and Kingdom Hearts series. When I think of the most grandiose game scores in history, Yoko Shimomura’s are some of the first to pop into my head.

In terms of music composed outside of gaming, Shimomura collaborated with J-pop vocalist Chata on the 2007 album Murmur. The songs on this album retain the brilliant instrumentation heard in Shimomura’s video game work, and carry a softness that is both beautiful and carefree. Something about the composer’s jazzy, orchestral style adds a dramatic layer to the music, setting it apart from other J-pop acts.

Shimomura has also contributed music to a few anime series. In addition to involvement with the anime Dan Doh!!, she composed music for the anime adaptation of the Best Student Council manga series. The anime’s second soundtrack release credits Yoko Shimomura as the musical artist, meaning that she at least composed background music for the series’ second half, if not the entire thing. Many of the songs sound right at home with Shimomura’s other video game work, as they could easily serve as JRPG town or overworld.

Three more composers await on the next page!

4 thoughts on “The Non-Game Music of Video Game Composers

  1. I like Two Steps from Hell. They make music mainly for movie trailers. I know they aren’t don’t make in game music, but I believe a song of theirs has been used for a TV game advertisement.

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