Music is a feature I believe all GMs experiment with at least one point in their lives.  Either it be just background music from a radio or fully choreographed symphony music, everyone tries it once.  However, there is a curve of skill in using music.  There are ways to use it so effectively; some players will think they are actually involved in an interactive feature film, as every action taken seems punctuated by some wonderful chosen score.
     The first trick is to get a theme.  I don’t mean a theme song (we will talk about that later); I mean a theme to the music.  Whether it be songs or symphony or both, a GM must choose the music to fit the game and more importantly, be consistent.  Don’t start with epic soft music from Gattaca and segue into Front Line Assembly (Techno Industrial).  You can mix songs and symphony but this skill is the hardest to master effectively.  And despite what some might think, if the music is consistent, it doesn’t really matter what music is chosen for what type of game.  The feature film, “A Knight’s Tale” proved 70s rock could mix into a medieval story effectively and very successfully.
     Also, make sure the choices are distinct.  This is really easy to screw up using symphony music (see later).  You don’t need to make your own music, but perhaps try to stray away from music everyone has used.  The unsung rule is that if you hear the song in a TV commercial, chances are, it’s heard a lot.  Also, if you only have once CD of music to work from, its probably best not to use music since Players will get sick of hearing them same music over and over and over again.  Also some players might not respect the idea of music.  Good, experienced Role Players always do.  Usually only inexperience players or Slashers might be distracted by it.  This is a touchy subject, especially for GMs very protective of their game.  For my, music is PART of the game, and insulting that is insulting the game.  The use of music is the GM discretion.  Try it out; see how it works with the group.

"School Set-Up"

     When Daniel and Joe played my Necropolis game, neither had heard a really effort in integrating music before.  I had already played Necropolis twice before using music and this was my first great experiment using it.  When a suspenseful track from Aliens cued in as the two PC were encroaching upon a house that may or may not, contain something very dangerous, the mood set.  Daniel, a very experienced gamer, expressed amazement at the success of them music and noted that scene as what convinced him since he had not seen music done effectively before.  He said his heart was actually racing.  Later on, when Daniel, Joe, and three others sat in my Aliens RPG game (I had all three soundtracks at that point—Resurrection had yet to be made), all congratulated the perfect merging of music and game.  On the other hand, Terminals was my first attempt to not use symphony and instead try out new age music like FSOL, Enigma and Delirium.  This proved less successful since my collections of songs were less extensive and the tastes of music between the players were too varied.  This only lasted a few sessions before I went back to symphony.
GM:  "Its a micro-plutonium core..." 
Finlay:  "So we just wrap it in cheese-wiz and create our tiny star."


<<"Kitchen Table Set-up"
     Keep with CDs.  In this new age of CD burners, the highest quality music is the best.  I started with tapes but soon became exclusive with CDs.  Either way, it would be best to not just have you favorite bands or composers nearby.  Instead, to avoid halting the game as you set up the next CD, burn a CD of the music you will need in order you believe you need them.  Or perhaps make several CDs for every type of music I list below (Mood, Action, and Choreography).
 The speakers should be set up behind the GM or, with extensive cables, behind the PC themselves.  Try to avoid having them in front of the GM.  Don’t be too loud.  I hit this wall and was stubborn to concede.  The music sounds quieter from the GM’s perspective because the speakers point away from him.  To combat this, let the players adjust the volume to a level they are comfortable with.  It might seem quiet…but not to them.  Of course, there are situations where music can be louder.  This only applies if the music is IN the game.  If the PCs are also listening to the music, it could be louder, or more intrusive to the scene since it is actually part of it.


"Long Table Set-up">>
    Derrick and Joey bolted into a nightclub at the beginning of Necropolis, pursuing a drug dealer they had a bounty out on.  That evening was rave night.  The doors opened and the music kicked it, full blast.  I didn’t make it realistically club-loud but loud enough so the Players had trouble talking to each other, as did their players.  When the crowd became too dense, and the threat of losing their prey seemed imminent, Joey rose his magnum to the air and fired a shot in hopes of clearing the crowd.  No gunshot was heard.  The music was so loud, and everyone was so into the dance, no one heard or noticed the boom.  Joey lowered his gun in disbelief and look back to Derrick across the dance floor, who shrugged.  They pursued and finally caught up the bad guy.  Joey fired another shot, but this time, the shot flew through the crowd, between dancers and missing heads, impacting on the villains shoulder and pushing him out of the window, through a parking meter and into the window parked next to the street.  The music never stopped.

 There are three types of music depending on the situation of the game:

"Ground Level Set-Up"

GM:  "This is some amazing armor you got there...How did you make it?" 
Hollister:  "I don't know, Evans was trying to bake cupcakes the other day..."


     Mood Music is more or less the first type of music GMs experiment with.  Usually, this is a softer track in background to set the emotional level the GM is hoping to convey with the scene.  If this were a horror game, of course, something creepy and ominous would be played.  A little extra tempo introduced helps a suspenseful scene, like PCs breaking into a high tech corporate building.  However the first mistake is when a GM uses it ALL the time.  Constantly having music in the background was the first mistake I made, as the players never realer bother to pay attention when an important music is played.  Mood music does that…it sets the mood.  Only play it when a mood needs to be conveyed.  Mood music tracks need to be long and very simple.  Too intense, and they become a distraction.  Only Symphony music is really effective with scary or suspenseful mood music.  When a mood is supposed to reflect some more upbeat, songs are more appropriate.

     Charles was one of the first players of Pathfinder and he stuck with it until the end.  I perfected my musical technique through the course of the game.  My collection was so large, I used music no one had heard before or could easily recognize.  Charles hadn’t seen Crimson Tide by the time I was using its music in my game.  He told me later that he finally saw the movie and throughout, listening to it, all he could think of was moments from Pathfinder.  Months later, he still told me the music garners more recognition from the game than the movie.  Perhaps that was an indication I was using that soundtrack too much…so I stopped with Crimson Tide and moved on to others.


     Action music is usually where a GM makes a mistake.  An action scene in a movie can take anywhere from thirty seconds to 5 minutes to play out.  However a game action scene, with its rolls and charts—that same five-minute action scene is stretched suddenly to an hour.  A GM might have a great action track but no action music lasts an hour.  Instead, the GM either loops the same action track over and over again or connects a whole bunch together.  Action music sounds like a great idea but only in theory.  The group grows tired very fast of hearing the same music over and again, especially in a Slasher game, where battles are more frequent.
     Instead, a GM should reserve unlooped action tracks to permeate specific moments in an action scene or wait for a “Choreographed” Scene (see below).  Some action can use action music.  Short encounters are a good example.  A car chase or plane crash.  Sword and gunfights are often bad examples considering the amount of rolling and dodging involved.

     A good exception was my first Alien RPG (many years before FUZION).  There is so much music available for that one series alone, when the aliens attack, I was able to keep the fast pace going and still link up 15 minutes of music that never repeated.  However, if I were to do it again, I would have cut down the amount of music and reserved the action tracks for Choreography.
Brown:  "We're making progress.  Things are getting worse at a slower rate."


     The ultimate evolution in game music, but don’t confuse the title with “no control.”  Choreographed music is a track that perfectly fits the scene at hand.  Even music cues coincide with moments in the scene.  These scenes are often crucial plot points in the game as well.  Choreographed music can be mood, action, or just a well-placed music set to fit the scene.  Choreographed action is usually reserved for set piece action—that means action set around a prop including cars, planes, boats, trains, etc.  Sometimes these are scenes of sudden realization, or of horrible defeat.  See how vague this can become.
 It is important for the GM to get accustomed to the music.  Listen to the track over and over again.  And then listen to it again.  Get to understand the music, its highs and lows.  Find out where the tempo reaches its zenith and when the track changes pace.  You will be surprised how successful the music is and how impressed a group is when you scare them and the music follows your lead.  This is why I called it the ultimate evolution of game music, because it takes significant amounts of discipline to understand a piece of music that well.

     I may sometimes have very one-dimensional games with stories that are hard to veer away from, but one aspect of my gaming that I am the most the flaunt is my use of music.  I own more than 100 soundtracks from various composer and movies and have memorized almost half of them.  I usually can figure out what track and from what CD to use before the scene is required, forgoing the obvious delay that is created.  The tricky part is finding a way so than a choreographed action track ends the same time the game action ends.  This is the hardest thing of all.  A few times, I used that to my advantage.  Pathfinder had two examples of using a music’s finally as part of the game.  The most prominent was an episode on Stasco.  For those not familiar with Pathfinder, Stasco is a giant of a words where the population live in monstrous city block that move on tracks to keep pace with the six suns of the system to supply power.  The group’s spacecraft as well as a ship they were helping, crash lands on Stasco.  Later, they discover that they have unfortunately crashed on the tracks of one of these buildings.  The buildings will not stop.  In the final minutes, as the monstrous building closed it, the PCS raced against time to free trapped friends in the other ship and escape in their own.  I began the final track of the Se7en soundtrack, which is eleven minutes long.  I told the PCs that this music will not stop and when it hits the 10-minute mark, the building WILL reach them.  Coincidentally enough, the music track chosen builds in tension until the climactic final three.  It worked marvelously.  The crew escapes one ship and flees to the other.  The building demolishes one craft; the crew escape in the other, the music closes and the ship flees.


    Or scores, take you pick.  In episodic gaming, a theme track is a great idea as it gives the players the feel they are in a television show, with a score that can get them in the mood for playing.  However, don’t make these themes long.  Don’t start each session with the full version of Queen’s We Will Rock You EVERY session.  It will get old very very fast.  Instead, mix it, cut it down.  The theme song should not be more than a minute or a most, at minute and half.  The theme should be as hard to recognize as possible so that when the group listens to it, they identify it as the game, not the movie the music was taken from.


    Songs are surprisingly the most difficult to use.  The tastes of the individual players come into play.  Some would even speak up at their dissatisfaction of a certain song.  Songs are also the most easily ignored and often fail miserably to set the mood.  Choreographed songs work well as does action music (how many GMs have though of using Spybreak from The Matrix?).  Mood music however, seldom works.  Never has consistently be needed more than in a GM using songs.  Don’t mix rave music with Country…it just doesn’t work.  Keep the songs varied but make sure they don’t dominate the scene.  Don’t be exclusive to one band either.   Change the songs to match the scene but remember to be consistent.  If you are using 80’s tunes…stick with them.  The same goes for Heavy Metal, Techno, etc.
Max:  “What are those spinning symbols?” 
Carpenter:  “…Ummmm…Ever see Predator?”

    It’s hard for me to recommend specific bands or songs because of the obvious variety and numbers of songs available.  Although I will admit some preferences.  Terminals used songs to start.  I used Delirium, and Front Line Assembly.  Like I said, it depends on taste.  I won’t mention the big bands (U2, AC/DC, The Who), but I do recommend you avoid one style:  stay away from youth—Brittany, Christina, N’Sync, etc.  Do us all a favor…Thank you.
    Front Line Assembly – My friend called them Techno Ambient Industrial, but if you run a cyberpunk game, FLA’s Tactical Neural Implant is a fantastic recommendation.  The Music is sparse on lyrics but the sounds are intelligent and quite original.  Also, they have dabbled in very ominous tracks fit for mood music.
     Moby – Great varied music that offers wonderful emotional tracks well.
    Vangelis – The king of mood music.  Ridley Scott can’t be wrong.
    Delirium – lighter, ethnic style music from the same members of FLA.

    My specialty.  Symphony music, if done properly, can propel a game into a new field.  But the tricky part is finding consistence.    It would probably be wise to stick with one style of music or maybe even one type of composer. Symphony is great mood music and fantastic action music, but when it’s choreographed, its magic. There is so much variety out there; a GM can find anything to work in a scene.  The problem is acquiring it.  Certain composers work better than others but the problem is using soundtracks from easily recognizable films.  Never use Star Wars music unless it’s a Star Wars game, for example.  It doesn’t matter how hardly heard the track is…stay away.  Usually, the idea being if the film made 400 million or more and/or won an Oscar or original score, it’s not a good idea.  There are some exceptions of course.  The worst thing that can happen in a game is to play a music that someone recognizes or just even forces him/her to say over and over again, “Where’s this from?”

    Hans Zimmer --  Hans is closely becoming my favorite composer.  Many of his works are not film-specific and his later films have only gotten better and better.  Steer clear of his early work (Top Gun, Days of Thunder).  Backdraft may be an obvious example, but stay away…its used way too much.
        *Thin Red Line – The best mood soundtrack out there that no one’s heard.  Fantastic  musical tracks and some real epic scores that last upward of ten minutes.
       Gladiator – A little overly used for a Zimmer soundtrack but now there are two CDs  available.  Great action music in several tracks and some good ethnic work as well.
       Broken Arrow – Really good for action music but the country motif may bee too distinct.
        *The Peacemaker – A great soundtrack with good action music that no one can identify.
        Hannibal – A good ambient soundtrack save for those that contain dialogue.  I hate those.
    Jerry Goldsmith --  My old favorite.  Jerry has been composing for almost 40 years.  He has amassed a lot of almost every type of music.  Here is his best work.  Stay away from Star Trek.
       The Omen – The sole Oscar Jerry won came from this very creepy work.  Anyone  thinking of doing a horror game or a story about the paranormal should give this a shot.
        *Air Force One – Action Abounds.  Really good choreographed action music here.
        Executive Decision – Another action Track.
        *Total Recall – A new CD has been released with more than an hour from this classic  soundtrack.  It’s a must for good sci-fi games.
        *Alien – Even though Aliens is very unique, Alien can be spread out to other types of  games.  Good scary music.
        Outland/Capricorn One – A hard CD to find but it contained 74 minutes of good music,  more from Outland than from Capricorn.
    Eric Serra – Unique, unusual and hardly recognized, Serra music introduced itself with the films of Luc Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element).  Although his earlier synthesized work is very amateurish, his later work is fantastic.
        *The Fifth Element – A good length but still not long enough.  Great and varied music.
        The Messenger – A failed movie but a great soundtrack.  \
        The Professional – Unusual at best.
    John Williams – Williams is so good at what he does, his music wins awards on a regular basis…and that’s the problem.  His music is always so recognized, any music played in a game separate the players and they can’t help but think of the movie.  Williams’s music is grafted on its movie, and virtually impossible to separate…however…
        Empire of the Sun – One of Spielberg’s lesser known films (and why is that?).  Great music really only suited for choreography.
        Lost World – Avoid the Jurassic park theme, and what remains isn’t bad.

    The all time best soundtracks for each Genre (*must buys)…
(D&D, Middle Earth)
Conan (Basil Polendouris)
*First Knight (Jerry Goldsmith
The Mummy (Jerry Goldsmith)
Thin Red Line (Hans Zimmer)
*The Messenger (Eric Serra)
*Gladiator (Hans Zimmer)
*Stargate (David Arnold)
Space Opera
(Star Wars, Mekton)
*Thin Red Line (Hans Zimmer)
Lifeforce (Henry Mancini)
The Abyss (Alan Silvestri)
The Fifth Element (Eric Serra)
The Messenger (Eric Serra)
*Gladiator (Hans Zimmer)
*Stargate (David Arnold)
Wing Commander (David Arnold)
*Total Recall (Jerry Goldsmith)
(Cyberpunk 2020) 
Hardware (Simon Boswell)
*The Fifth Element (Eric Serra)
Alien (Jerry Goldsmith)
Space Gothic
(Alien, Pathfinder)
The Abyss (Alan Silvestri)
Dark City (Trevor Jones)
*Total Recall (Jerry Goldsmith)
*Alien (Jerry Goldsmith)

Modern Action  *Air Force One (Jerry Goldsmith)
 *Face / Off (John Powell)
 Broken Arrow (Hans Zimmer)
 Ronin (Elia Cmiral)
 *Peacemaker (Hans Zimmer)
Horror *Alien (Jerry Goldsmith)
Sphere (Elliot Goldenthall)
The Omen (Jerry Goldsmith)
    <GM and group> 
Penner:  "You guys were supposed to surrender." 
Fidler:  "Bah....10 to 1 odds...We've endured worse." 
      <Three hours later> 
Penner:  "Okay...there is one left...what do you do...He flees--" 
Dias:  "OH, he aint gettin' away!  Chase him down." 
Penner:  "I think you've proved your point." 
Fidler:  "Kill him!!"