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All the World's a Stage: Your character soundtrack


The 80s are over, and the fine art of making a mixed tape isn't quite the same as it used to be. Oh, sure, the roleplaying kids nowadays tell me they have their fancy-schmancy character playlists. They scratch down the name "Dudeguy McDudicus" across the top of their iTunes, and call that their mixed tape. It seems to my aged, patrician soul that the character playlist lacks the same validity as a hand-recorded tape or Compact Disc. That could just be me channeling High Fidelity, though.

Regardless of the media you use to keep track of the actual songs, I'm pretty sure that the idea of a character soundtrack has been around since Gygax first rolled some D&D dice. I've heard them also referred to as a character tape, playlist, CD, and even "character sketch."

Ultimately, the point is that the character soundtrack puts aspects of your player character into music. It's another way of communicating some descriptive themes, genres, and tunes. Hey, if it's not you cup o' tea, no big deal at all. But for the people who do get into creating a soundtrack, the proper selection and organization can be an incredibly custom art.

Let's take a jump behind the cut and talk about how to put together your character's own soundtrack.

Caveat: This ain't for selling.

If you're putting together a character soundtrack, you should be doing it largely for your own amusement. If you do happen to put all that stuff on a CD for someone else, remember that this isn't your music to be able to sell. But, for general purposes, the character soundtrack you create is almost entirely for your own enjoyment.

Step One: Choose your media!

There are three options when creating your character soundtrack: sound file playlist (MP3s or whatever), Compact Disc, and audio tape. Yes, there are still people with the old tape style media. There's probably a lot of different arguments for the playlist style soundtrack, since it's easily portable, and can be read by most modern computers. I'm sure there are audio tape aficianados out there who swear it's the only real song media, but those guys are going to have to argue for themselves.

For my time, I prefer making character soundtracks on Compact Disc or DVD. (For the purposes of creating a soundtrack, they're virtually the same thing.) This is because you not only get to choose your music, the order it's played, and any filler space you might want, but you also get to slap some album artwork on there. How can you not want the additional opportunity to get a little creative?

Step Two: Choose your album artwork

I'm a big Blizzard fanboy, and I tend to prefer artwork that looks and feels like Blizzard's original work. Of course, when creating my character's album artwork, I want to use stuff that is available, accurate, and fun. One of my favorite sources would be the reams of fan art that's available in the big wide world, and even displayed on the official site.

Of course, there's also the power of in-game screenshots. You can take such pictures yourself or snag something from Around Azeroth. You'll want a high resolution picture, since the DPS of a screenshot's going to be much lower than what a printer requires. Still, if you tinker with a collage of images, or maybe some interesting layout tricks, you'll get a relatively satisfactory result.

Step Three: Start picking out the songs

This is the hardest part. Now that you have an idea what the front of your soundtrack's jewel case is going to look like, you need to start picking out some songs. Chances are that you've already got a few favorite songs for your character's history and personality. Jot those down on a piece of pape as you come across them for just these occasions.

There's a few different approaches to soundtracks like this. You could make your soundtrack story-based. Maybe a slow, gentle song at your character's birth. Then, something all frantic and energetic as evil Scourge wreck and pillage your character's home village. Then you insert a training montage (think "Rocky runs up the steps") as your character grows into a buff hunter, ready to get some vengeance.

If the story approach to soundtrack buiding doesn't interest you, then you could always go for the thematic approach. Fill the soundtrack with a dozen songs about the concepts surrounding your character. If your dwarf is a big drinker, you can include The Old Black Rum by Great Big Sea, for example.

The third approach to song selection is the dedication method. You interact and play with many people in World of Warcraft, and your character likely has thoughts and opinions about them. Dedicate each track on your soundtrack to those significant folks. Love songs for lovers, obviously. But you'll have to reach out and be more creative for other characters. Papa Don't Preach might be appropriate for a parental figure, for example, but be careful about any double meanings that song might carry.

The thing I'd recommend for most soundtracks, however, is to try and keep relatively inside the same genre. If you go from hard rocking Lordi to a soft-and-gentle song, and then back up the ladder to Metallica, you might end up leaving your listener a little confused. And even though I already said that this soundtrack was mostly for your own enjoyment . . . who knows, you might end up passing it off to a boyfriend or wife or something. And you want them to enjoy it also, right?

Step Four: Put it in order

I'm not a professional soundtrack creator, so my advice is relativley take-it-as-you-find-it. I tend to rotate my songs between long and short, fast and slow, and "better" and "not as better." Not all songs are created equal, so I try and keep the "big hit songs" rotated between the "artistically awesome, but not top 40." It keeps the audience listening to the soundtrack all the way through the song. Though, of course, you can't do this if your soundtrack is following the history of your character's life.

Step Five: Dress it up

This is a totally optional step, of course, but it's one that I've always enjoyed. You can take brief moments from television and film, cut the soundtracks, and use those voiceovers to give some flavor to your soundtrack.

One of my favorite character soundtracks was for a vain popinjay. I snipped a moment from Angel, when one character is mocking another. "Not the hair," the voiceover said. "Never the hair." I found the line sufficiently amusing that I kept it around for years.

Cranius and Legs actually do great jobs of using sound effects in a soundtrack. If you listen to Don't Make Me Get My Main, there are quite a few sound effects firing in the background. It adds a lot to the music.

Step Six: Burn it and enjoy

Fire off the CD, slap that artwork on the jewel case, and enjoy your creation. So, now that we have some opening setup about character soundtracks, I'd love to hear what you folks have used for character soundtracks. These tend to be fun conversations.

With so many roleplayers in the World of Warcraft, I'm guess some folks have had some truly awesome ideas already.

All the World's a Stage is your source for roleplaying ideas, innovations, and ironies. You might wonder what it's like to sacrifice spells for the story, or to totally immerse yourself in your roleplaying, or even how to RP on a non-RP server!

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