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Music in D&D – Creation and Implementation

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

A piano and music note overlaying


My name is Philip and I compose RPG music for D&D/Pathfinder campaigns and other tabletop games on Patreon. I studied and played the piano for 15 years of my life and that's basically where my passion for writing music came along shortly.

Since then I was a self-taught composer and I have been writing music for 10 years now. But only recently, a couple of years ago, I discovered this brand new world of tabletop games and I immediately fell in love with it because It gives me an endless source of inspiration, the opportunity to fully express myself with no limitations to my imagination when it comes to songwriting. I have been playing ttrpgs for a couple of years now but I have to say that I am still just a young Padawan, learning the core mechanics and rules of it all.

I write almost an hour of RPG music each month so that leaves me with very little time to actually play the tabletop games, which is a bit ironic since I am a ttrpg creator. Nonetheless, I keep myself updated well enough to know what my patrons and other clients love and currently play. So I always keep my music thematically adjusted up to date with their current campaigns & settings. I am happy and blessed to be surrounded by such an amazing community of players who are passionate and willing to support the creators and their hard work. That's what keeps my motivation going and the reason why I make music every day!

Why should people use music in their D&D games?

I think music is a very powerful tool that can enhance the experience of all the epic or emotional moments in your tabletop/D&D adventures. Music inspires us, influences our actions and emotions. Not just in tabletop games, but also in life.

It is a universal language that can set the stage even before the narrative part of the story is revealed, alerting the adventurers and giving them enough time to prepare themselves for what comes next. It can connect people in many different ways, and create new friendships, new alliances, celebrate victories. That would be just one of the examples but that's the beauty of it all. There is no setting or an encounter where music can't help you to act more confident, or influence your next move.

What makes the ''best'' D&D music?

Although I said the music can be a great asset to D&D campaigns, It's not the most important one. If you already have an amazing adventure accompanied by an interesting party, then picking a playlist for your next game should be a piece of cake.

As a music producer I have to say that while having a high production quality playlist is a bonus, it shouldn't interfere with your personal choice when it comes to picking a good track for your next game. Also, just a simple bard's advice for the rest of the composers out there: Understanding the vision behind the scene/setting is a very important thing to have in mind when writing a piece of music for D&D campaigns.

For example, if I'm writing a track to go along with the fey forest setting I always start off with a calm introduction, possibly with one instrument that introduces us to the main theme. That theme can later on emotionally evolve and unravel the deeper mystery of the ambiance or even serve as a prelude into the unexpected encounter where later on you can explore the possibility of adding more instruments, reusing the same theme in different chapters and expanding your soundtrack altogether with the story of the setting, while retaining the audiences attention without disrupting their gameplay experience.

Example: Tales Of Ravenia - Stargazing track

Sometimes this can be more important than instrument selection, production quality and quantity of tracks you'd like to have. If your intuition tells you that a simple piano track is enough to open up the concept of that ambience you're working on, trust it!

The Music Making Process

First comes the barrel of coffee and waves of anxiety haha. Just kidding. But there is a bit of truth in that as well since I'm always so emotionally involved when it comes to creating my next track and I just want it to be perfect for my listeners. So as I said, the story comes first. I try to understand the motive, theme and idea behind the track I'm writing.

Take the Circle Of Wildfire track for example

Although this track was created for one of the druid subclasses from Tasha's Cauldron Of Everything, I gave myself some freedom to create a background story about two druids who joined forces to revive the forest life so they could swiftly retaliate against the great evil that threatens their realm.

The beginning describes the mysteriousness and beauty of the forest's wildlife. Remembering the way it was before the great battle that took place deep in the forest. Somewhere around the first minute of the track, string section movement ( sad theme) describes the aftermath of the battle. Countless casualties, scorched grass and fire everywhere.

The second minute of the track is where the druids, while gazing upon this horrifying sight, saddened and angered, start raising an army of woodland creatures to retaliate against the disruptors of peace and get their revenge. That part lasts until the end of the track, slowly building up in tempo, leading us into the great battle where this part of the story and the track ends.

When I'm finally certain in what direction to take my music I start selecting the most suitable instruments for the track and start with composing arrangements and lead melodies.

Character sheet, dice, and D&D handbook

The string section is used to describe the power and emotion of the moments. Leading us from the sad emotional part into the powerful and inspiring moment, staccato string sections takes it away combined with percussions to prepare our party for the great battle. The choir section (Slavic voices) worked amazingly here since I was trying to add a bit of a whimsical yet tribal-vengeful vibe to that part of the track. Telling the folks that while the creatures of the forest are innocent and neutral beings by nature, they are not to be trifled with. In the end, we can't have a triumphant/pre-battle moment without a powerful Brass section to accent the power and give us the full image of a thousand forest creatures marching led by the two very powerful and angry druids.

When the writing process of the track is done I turn to mixing and mastering to round up the concept, production value, tone and that's pretty much it. Almost every track I composed so far was inspired by the amazing art (maps) created by many different talented creators of this community. I'm am grateful to have that ability to translate their visual masterpieces into my musical canvas. I also like to know what my patrons are playing currently so that I can adjust my creative mischief to their setting in campaigns. But in general, all my tracks come to life with a simple melody and a couple of bars that later on evolve enough to be worthy of the next encounter/story I am currently writing the music for.

Retaining clients

There is no secret recipe for retaining clients and preserving a healthy business relationship. Be nice, be honest and most of all be interested in what they have to say before talking about the price. Before I started with composing my first soundtrack for a ttrpg, called the ''Black Void'', I spent 2 weeks talking with the creator Chris Sevaldsen because I wanted to learn as much as I could about his vision for the void.

I am happy to say that after the job was done we stayed in touch, became good friends and already planning the soundtrack for the next instalment of the Black Void. Clients will most probably ask you to work for them again if they see that you're genuinely interested and behave as a part of their team, even if you're not.

We also have to mention the money. You don't work for free and you need to value your product most of all but In my opinion, this topic shouldn't be something you open up the first conversation with. That comes after you and your client got to know each other well enough to start talking about the rates and payment. It all starts with gaining trust.

Consistency of workflow

I work from my home studio. In my humble dungeon. I spend around 6-7 hours a day composing music and right now that's all I do. But It is not uncommon for artists to become overburdened with work and give up at some point. In not so distant past I dealt with the same problem many times.

We could say that the consistency of workflow is retained by a healthy balanced way of life and discipline. It doesn't come easy, believe me I know. I worked on my music for 10 years without making any profit. It was only my love for composing music and persistency that kept me going. But now after all these years, I have to say that the thing that keeps me going is the wonderful support I receive from my patrons. They push me to become a better version of myself each day and give me enough motivation to organize myself so I can make even more music and eventually make this my full-time job.

To make yourself disciplined enough to have a decent consistency in your work, you have to start with small steps. Create small tasks for yourself that are not very hard to achieve on daily basis. With time, you will form a common routine that will also reflect on your workflow and after just a couple of months, it can change your life for the better.

How does one make money when creating D&D/TTRPG music?

It depends. Are you doing this for the money or just as a hobby? Are you looking to make a full-time job out of it or just a side income? If we're talking about making a full musical career out of this then it's pretty simple. Composing music and posting it once or twice every two months on youtube won't make you a dime, in most cases.

You are your own boss. You are the composer, manager, promoter, and the face of your business. When I started I thought that all I have to do is upload my music on YouTube consistently, to have a decent commercial music quality and eventually everything will come to its place. Boy, I was wrong. Luckily I discovered Patreon not so long ago, which in my case was a perfect platform where I can promote my music and reach out to many other creators, users and fans who can recognize and are willing to support hard-working artists and their effort.

But even being on Patreon is not the end game. As I said you have to dedicate your time to be a manager as well. Promote yourself on different social platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Reddit and reach out to the potential audience that may be quite interested in what you do, but just doesn't know you exist yet.

For example, I received most of my audience by promoting my music on social networks for free and therefore my income and audience grew over time. People learned that I do this out of a love for music first and for the money later. Find a community that trusts you as a creator and knows that you are there to express yourself as an artist first! For example, the tabletop community on Twitter is such an amazing place to be. People are friendly, there is a place for everyone and I am certainly very happy to say that it is a home to my music as well.

So, if you're an aspiring composer and looking for a way to make a living off your music, dig in and don't be afraid to reach out by sending your music out there! Don't hesitate, it already sounds good and you know it! :)

A Small Conclusion

Life is too short to be living somebody else's dream. Your work matters, be consistent and believe in yourself - because I already do!

Thank you very much for having me! I hope my story will be of use to someone as a guiding light in the darkest dungeon!

Much love, stay safe!

About the Author

Philip Melvan is the creator of the Tabletop Music Bazaar, a YouTube channel that posts free music tracks to use at your game tables. He also has a Patreon where he creates custom music for his patrons.

Here is where you can find and support Philip!






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