Where to get audio for your video game

If you’re reading this you already know how to create video games.  You’ve chosen a suitable editor or programming language and you’ve started making some good progress.  Then you hit a stumbling block… you can’t create your own sound and music… how should you proceed?

Obviously you could learn to do it all yourself — and that would be a topic for a whole series of articles — but let’s assume you want to source good quality audio soon rather than having to spend months or years learning to make your own.  There are a few approaches:

  • Look for free audio
  • Purchase stock audio
  • Hire one or more people to create your audio
Let’s look at each of those in a little more detail:
Free Audio

A lot of people are tempted to look for free music or sound effects for their games — and if you’re just making games as a hobby it can be an appealing idea.  Unfortunately there are a number of problems with free audio:

  1. Legal issues.  It is often unclear whether or not free audio is legal to use, and what the terms of use might be.  Without clearly stated licensing terms and audio provided by a trusted source, you run the risk of being taken to court or receiving a cease & desist further into your project.
  2. Consistency.  Having to collect different sounds and music from a variety of sources to get everything you need, you can often end up with a collection of audio that doesn’t quite go together.  A few of the effects might be louder or quieter than others, the music is obviously of different styles, etc.
  3. Quality.  A lot of the stuff that is freely available was released by hobbyists and may not be top quality.  Music might not loop properly and can sometimes be distorted.  Sound effects might have unwanted noise on the recording, or cut a little too short.

The good thing about free audio is obviously the price; but with an increased investment of time required to track down exactly what you need it’s well worth asking yourself how much you value your time, and at least considering the option of paying to get exactly what you need without all the hassle.

If you do decide to go with free audio be sure to carefully check the licences or request licensing terms if none are provided, and don’t run the risk of using anything without a clear licence.  Keep a record of where all the audio came from in case you later find out the providers weren’t 100% honest.

You might try Freesound.org as a starting point to your search for free audio.

Stock Audio

Stock audio is music and sound effects that have already been recorded and can be purchased.  This audio is not specifically tailored to your project and you usually won’t have an exclusive licence to be the only one using it.  Thanks to the vast amount of audio available however you will usually be able to find something suitable for your needs.

The advantages of stock audio are:

  • Available to use immediately after purchase.  You don’t have to wait for it to be created.
  • You get to hear what you’re getting up-front.  Most providers offer water-marked or lower-quality samples.
  • Licensing terms are clear and — assuming you don’t do anything naughty! — there are no legal problems.
  • Stock audio can sometimes be cheaper than custom-made.

If you decide to purchase stock audio, remember as always to check that the licencing terms are appropriate for your intended usage; most stock audio sellers provide a simpler explanation of the legal terms of their licences, but if you’re still unsure it’s best to just ask.

You’ll find plenty of sources for stock audio if you search for “stock music”, “royalty-free music”, “stock sound”, “royalty free sound” or similar terms, but the following are a couple of trust-worthy providers to get you started:

  • AudioJungle have a library containing thousands of sound effects and music tracks at reasonable prices.  You would normally want to purchase a “regular” licence for use in free games, or an “extended” licence for games you intend to sell — this page is provided to clarify which licence you should buy.  I’ve used AudioJungle a number of times for my own projects, and always been happy with the service and result.
  • Partners in Rhyme are a very popular source for royalty free music and sound effects, offering a massive selection to choose from and a nice clear explanation of their licencing terms.
  • iStockPhoto is another popular stock collection which has expanded from it’s initial photo-based service to also offer audio and video.  Licensing for iStockPhoto is more a little more complicated, but the informational pages are well written and should allow you to quickly find an appropriate licence.

Custom Made

Lastly, you have the option of hiring someone to create custom music and/or sound for your game.  Custom audio can really help to give your game a distinctive feel, and can be a fantastic way to help create a unique brand; everyone immediately recognises the music from Mario Brothers!

Custom audio is great — and obviously everyone would have it if they could — but it does have a couple of small down-sides: you have to wait for the audio to be created, and it can potentially cost more than stock audio.  If you approach it with reasonable expectations about the number and length of tracks for your game you might be pleasantly surprised about how affordable custom audio can sometimes be — it’s well worth at least taking a little time to investigate!

Most sound and music professionals will charge:

  • Per minute of music, or per sound-effect.
  • Per track.
  • An agreed-upon amount for the whole project, or
  • (more rarely in my experience) for their time (i.e. an hourly rate).

Keep an eye out over the next few days for a follow-up article detailing how to choose someone to create custom audio, as well as what you’ll need to do and provide to get the best results!