On that note:
Music can be used to set and reinforce a mood or a setting in a game. However, music must be set at a background level. Any louder than that and it becomes a distraction. If players are spending more time focusing on the music than playing the game, something is wrong.
Music is another voice of the game. Just like the GM needs to present information in the right way to preserve the game's feel, music should be selected to reflect the "feel" or ethos of the game. The specific music being played must fit the campaign, the setting, or the action. Music that fits the setting should reflect the kind of game and the environment like any non-player character. Drumming and traditional Japanese folk music were the soundtrack for my Nippon game. The soundtracks for Mortal Kombat were played when we were having combat in a martial arts game. We played chamber music for a Victorian game. Environmental sounds were great when we were in forests or out in the wilds. For a fantasy campaign, classical, celtic folk, or even Beatles could be applicable. During a huge street brawl in a modern-day game Marilyn Manson, Stabbing Westward, or Rage Against the Machine were all in the background. For superheroes, I tend to use compelation sound tracks, so I can run TV theme songs and incedental music, and Movie Sound Tracks. Find the mood you want, choose music to complement it, and play it.
To keep the disruption of maintaining music to a minimum. designate one player as "keeper of the music". It is that player's job to play DJ, with some input from the GM. This allows the GM to keep attention on the game, and to add music to the gaming experience. A keeper maintains a constant flow of music that fits the setting and mood at a low volume level. To assist this, most keepers create a "playlist" of what songs/ tracks on what albums were good for what kind of situations/ moments. The keeper is rewarded with extra experience or karma points because their efforts enhance the game.
So you are all hyped about music in your game. However, you complain that you don't have all this music. Where do you get "gaming music"? You would be surprised on how much "gaming" music you already have, from movie sound tracks and your troop's music collections. You can pick up more in any music or video store, and most local libraries. The internet is still a great source for free music, if you are careful. Just do not spend too much money on your music. It is just another game prop. If you need help finding appropriate music, music store clerks, media librarians, and some internet user groups, are great sources of information.
I would like to mention my favorite sources of music. Movie soundtracks are great sources of game music. The pieces all follow the same feel and have pieces for a variety of mood. (The compilation albums for a given time period or TV show themes also work well.) If the game is set in a historical period, use traditional music for that area. If the game is fantasy or sci fi, pick a musical feel and stick with it. Over the years, we have used Celtic, bluegrass, techno/dance, Native American/ tribal music, and Beatles tunes, to great effect. Environmental music/ sounds CDs, Fresh Aire, and classical/ opera music, round out the field.
Music is one of those you need to "gather" over time, rather than just grab in one bunch. The tool to facilitate that is the little black book. As a GM, you function much like an author. Like an author, keep a notebook with you. Record interesting things, observations, or ideas as you encounter them. Don't trust your memory. Trust your pen. Record descriptions (scenery, interesting people, the name of stores, music lyrics, turns of phrase) that can be used as little nuggets of descriptive goodness in your campaign. Record plot and story ideas and use them as springboards for future game plots. The little book will help you improve your game craft and your campaign.
Sage, Gamer, Mystic, Wit
"The road less traveled is less traveled for a reason."
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