Where are all the Black videogame composers?
They’re out here. They’ve been out here.
The overwhelming volume of Black composer excellence that’s been sent my way this week is undeniable, from chiptune jams to electrifying RPG battle tracks and the chilliest of songs about magical girls and cats.
Some have made games to score themselves. Others have been doing sick remixes and spec work. They have games that are forthcoming, and games that never made it. And some have games that did make it, and their soundtracks are fantastic. Some of them are big. Really big. Call of Duty big.
But still, my last column is near the top of Google results for “Black videogame composers.” And that’s fucked up.
These are facts that cannot be understated: Black composers exist, they’re doing the work, and all of us in the industry have let them down.
The drive and eagerness and dedication to craft that has been flooding my mentions for the past week is indomitable. But in both the opportunity to do work in games and in coverage of their existence, Black game composers are shamefully underrepresented.
Originally, I was going to do one big column next week. I wanted people to have time to decide if they could trust me, reach out, and get their materials ready. But it turns out, a lot of the composers who showed interest didn’t need the extra time. They were ready. Have been ready.
So, we’re kicking this off now. Why wait?
Besides, what good is one piece when you can do at least two weeks celebrating Black videogame composers?
But let’s be clear: this is a tiny step. No one column can possibly hope to contain the wealth of Black creativity in games. We need more. As an industry, we need to do better covering, supporting, uplifting, and providing opportunity to Black composers—and all Black game developers, critics, streamers, and press.
They’re out there, they’re doing it.
We need to be too.
Without further ado, here is the first part of our look at Black game composers. I hope you’re as delighted by their work as I have been.
All bios written by the composers.
John Hamilton Smith V (aka Slide20XX) is a composer who decided to write music for videogames at the age of 13 and hasn’t stopped since. His work has appeared in Against Gravity’s VR title Rec Room, a Princeton affiliated massively multiplayer neuroscience game named EyeWire, and crowd-controlled music-based videogames designed and shown at the Red Bull Music Academy in Madrid, Spain and MIT’s festival of arts and technology, Hacking Arts. He is currently serving as composer for Calico by Peachy Keen Games and Composer and Creative Director of his new development studio, Games Without Words.
All my life I’ve been writing music, whether it was mini-musicals, little piano ditties, recording full-length songs, or rescoring old film classics, I’ve always been writing. I put my heart and soul into everything I create because my music is an extension of who I am. My goal is to collaborate with other like-minded individuals who love their craft as much as I love mine, and to push myself to create as much music as I possibly can, because one thing is certain: I love what I do.
I’ve been inspired by anime, film and game composers since I was young. Listening to anything I could, I taught himself to play the piano by ear at the age of 7 and learned to play trumpet, percussion and other instruments in school as time went on. I love writing for visual stories and can think of nothing more satisfying than composing music for well written anime and game projects. Drawing from an ocean of inspiration, I strive to tell a story with each piece of music. Often blending various musical genres to find the perfect sound for each scene. It is my hope to be among many people of color to bring both diversity and new perspective to the world of anime and game music.
In a short period of time, Chase Bethea developed his own signature sound which earned him the respect of many in the gaming industry, amassing some awards and recognition, some of which include Cubic Climber, Reality, Super Happy Fun Block and Aground. Chase also signed a publishing deal with Materia Collective. His music has been featured on multiple podcasts such as Pixelated Audio, Video Game Island, RPGamers Radio, 8bitx Radio and streamed on Spotify, Pandora, YouTube Music, and many more. Chase’s reputation and style of composition has him being sought out to collaborate with multiple game studios, a pioneer in the future of game music and a guest speaker on gaming panels all around the world.
Colin Andrew Grant is a composer and sound designer primarily working in games and animation based out of Seattle, Wash. Though by day he holds jobs such as dialogue coordinator, sound designer, and music editor primarily in the AAA space, the rest of his time is dedicated to writing music. His most recent work was contributing music to the indie game Norman’s Night In, which was previously a PAX Indie Showcase Winner and a part of the PAX West Indie Megabooth.
Calbert Warner is a NYC based audio architect that has a passion for creating videogame music. With his signature blend of orchestral and electronic elements, Calbert continues to bring life to a wide variety of multimedia projects. When he is not composing, you can find him capturing life in the streets of NYC with his Sony A7iii.
D’Anthoni Wooten is a game, film and television composer currently based in Los Angeles. He grew up in Olathe, Kan. (outside of Kansas City) where he took to learning piano, composition, and music technology from a young age. He later attended Berklee College of Music in 2013, where he studied film scoring and electronic production and design and focused much of his studies in scoring for games. After college he interned for the Japanese production company “G-Angle” which later led to the path to score for various games, shorts and television including aMAZEin (videogame), Fair Trade posted on Linkup TV), Black Boys Film (selected in the Toronto Film Festival), Long Way Home (with film editor Kat McAuley), for the Japanese company Takahashi Shoten (?????), which aired as part of their 2020 company campaign “Footsteps” and was broadcasted on Japanese television, and various other projects.
Daniel Dante is a 24 years old game developer and game composer from Brazil that learned about the possibility of making games with a pirated copy of RPG Maker 2000 and the fan games of its time. His work with music for videogames started with the lack of composers between his friends in game jams and now he has published four games with his music, programming and game design. He not only created the project Spooky Station but also programmed and did the game design for two games in the project and the soundtrack/sfx for three. Currently he is working with his friends on the indie company Expresso Studios making the soundtrack for the game Railgunners, and programming and composing for a unannounced game.
Wilbert Roget, II is a veteran composer in the videogame industry. He joined LucasArts as a staff composer in 2008, where he scored several games in the Star Wars universe, including Star Wars: The Old Republic and Star Wars: First Assault. He later became a freelance writer, scoring Mortal Kombat 11, Call of Duty: WWII, the Emmy Award-winning Star Wars: Vader Immortal, Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, Destiny 2: Forsaken, Anew: The Distant Light and other indie and AAA titles. His scores have earned him several awards and nominations from ASCAP, the Game Audio Network Guild, the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences (D.I.C.E. Awards), and others.
Roget also co-founded Impact Soundworks, a successful music software company, and is an accomplished lecturer on game music, giving talks at the Game Developers Conference, ASCAP and BUMA Expos, PAX and PAX Dev, SF Conservatory of Music, Yale University, UCLA and other institutions. He frequently gives online masterclasses and tutorials on music composition and production, and has a passion for teaching the craft.
Inspired at an early age by classic Japanese game soundtracks, Roget specializes in writing music that employs memorable themes, developed throughout the score in a traditional fashion. He balances modern production with classic construction, creating fresh and contemporary soundscapes as well as nuanced orchestrations. Wilbert studied music at Yale University, is originally from Philadelphia, Penn. and currently resides in Seattle, Wash. He is an avid multi-instrumentalist, performing solo flute, keyboards, world instruments and guitar on many of his scores.
Roget is an ASCAP-affiliated composer, serves as a board member of the Game Audio Network Guild, and is represented by Cheryl Tiano of The Gorfaine-Schwartz Agency and Greg O’Connor-Read of Top Dollar PR.
is Dia Lacina’s weekly non-linear, non-hierarchical aural odyssey through gaming’s great soundtracks.
Dia Lacina is a queer indigenous writer, photographer, and founding editor of CapsuleCrit.com, a monthly journal dedicated to microgenre work about games. She tweets too much at @dialacina.