Intent on being a professional opera singer, college music professor, and voice teacher when she arrived at Wittenberg, Elisabeth Schueler Jetter, class of 2010, found that life had other plans for her – the video game industry.
Currently a freelance composer, sound designer, and business owner of TheNoteWeaver, LLC, Jetter has used her music skills to break into this multimillion-dollar video game industry, which Wittenberg recently entered in part with the launch of an esports program.
“I enjoyed every music course, including performing, so it seemed to make sense to become a professional opera singer and music professor or voice teacher,” said Jetter, originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, who earned her degree in vocal performance. “After Witt, I briefly attended grad school to continue down that path, but for several reasons, I soon realized it wasn’t the right fit for me. Wondering what was next, I kept thinking about how much I had enjoyed Witt’s computer composition class where we set music to short films, as well as the composition assignments for music theory. As I started to contemplate that direction more, I realized that writing music for different mediums could be a satisfying creative outlet.”
At Wittenberg, Jetter immersed herself in music, including as a member of the Wittenberg Choir, Opera Studio, and as an aide in the music office. She also was a member of the Weaver Chapel Association, the Martial Arts Club, the Honors Program, a peer helper/mentor, and a participant in the One-Act Play Festival. Since that time, she hasperformed in church choirs and on church worship teams, as well as with the Greater Hamilton Civic Theatre, the Footlighters, the Lebanon Symphony Chorus, the May Festival Chorus, and the Miami University Summer Steel Band. For about a year, she also taught at West Chester Academy, teaching private voice and piano lessons and steel drum classes. Additionally, she worked with young children in three age categories—birth through age four, preschoolers, and kindergartners—in group settings to expose them to basic music concepts.
Yet, after attending audio-related talks at PAX East 2013, a video game convention with around 70,000 gamers in attendance one weekend, Jetter saw a new opportunity.
“At the panels, I learned more about the possibility of being a composer and sound designer for video games and something clicked that weekend: I love music and audio, and I’ve been playing video games since I was four, so why not marry those two interests? Since that time, I’ve gotten involved in the game development community in different ways,” said Jetter, whose husband, Andy, is also into game development.
“We’ve been able to be on this adventure together,” she continued. “Fortunately, Cincinnati has a local chapter of IGDA, the International Game Developers Association, so it’s been a great way to make friends with other creatives in the field and support each other’s projects. I’ve enjoyed participating in over 10 game jams the past eight years. A game jam is an event where you have a short amount of time to make a functional video game with others, often just 48 hours.”
In 2018, Jetter attended Game Developers Conference (GDC), the largest of its kind in the world, and worked as a conference associate for it.
“It was a great way to meet more game developers from all over the world,” she said. “I’ve also done a couple talks on game audio, one for a STEM expo at a junior high and another at a games festival.”
Her most recent project has been serving as sound designer for the video game ‘Drift,’ a space-survival game, which was released in early access on Steam, a platform for purchasing and playing PC games, in May 2023.
“I want to continue doing more sound design projects, as well as landing my first published game credit as composer,” she said.
While video games are now her primary focus, Jetter is still open to doing music composition and sound design for other mediums too, such as film, television, commercials, podcasts, etc.
“This is not the path I thought I’d be on after graduating from Witt, but I’m so happy to be on it,” she said. “Over the years I’ve helped with different projects, working with game developers of different skill levels, including volunteers, hobbyists, or more experienced, some of those being local. Most recently, I reached an exciting new milestone in my journey, with one of those game projects getting released on the market in early access.”
Jetter was contacted by the game’s local developer, KAR Games, to do sound design for ‘Drift.’
“It’s been a fun project to work on and a great team to be part of,” she said. “With it being a space-survival game, there have been some sci-fi elements, and things you wouldn’t necessarily hear in the real world. So sometimes it takes some out-of-the-box thinking to come up with the sound effects. It’s creatively different from composing music, but still creative in the sense of how to layer, edit, and add effects to sounds, to birth new and exciting ones. As a sound designer, you also must pay close attention to the music, making sure the tones in your sound effects are complementary with the notes and chords of the soundtrack. If an unpleasant dissonance distracts the player, it will pull them out of the immersive experience that the sounds are meant to enhance.”
Jetter explained that video game music differs from other mediums in that it often needs to be adaptive. For instance, in film, the video will always play in an identical linear sequence of events every time, and so the music follows suit, but in a video game, the player has much control of where to go and when, and no two playthroughs will be the same.
“So, for instance, if a player approaches a boss area, then something needs to trigger the boss fight music, which could start at any time. So, there is a need for having smooth transitions between different tracks of music. And a lot of video game music loops, but the last thing you want is for the player to be too aware of it,” she said. “It’s a good goal to aim for music that enhances the experience without being too repetitive or distracting. Music (and sound effects) can also serve as cues, such as if a secret door opened somewhere or an important item is nearby. Ominous music can warn the player that danger is nearby.
“To continue growing my skills, I’ve been learning audio middleware, which you can think of as light programming to give audio people more control of the adaptive sound effects and music and lighten the programmer’s workload,” she added. “I’ve earned a certificate to cover the basics, and now I’m learning how to make music more adaptive in the software (Wwise by Audiokinetic). I’m eager to one day put those skills to the test, and it’ll help me solve more problems for game programmers.”
Jetter is also currently in the middle of creating her first album, based on time travel. She plans to release it online for people to purchase to have the non-exclusive license to use it in their media of choice.
Her YouTube channel, TheNoteWeaver, began when she decided to post one of her college compositions, ‘Ocean’s Sunset.’ It was meant with positive feedback, so she wrote a couple more tracks to upload. Enjoying where it could go and wanting to improve, she set out on a challenge of writing or arranging a new piece every week for a year, and the #TheNoteWeaverWeekly was born. She posted 52 new pieces by mid-2016, and this led her to start the LLC on the side.
“An exciting tidbit that I learned from doing #TheNoteWeaverWeekly is that you never know what opportunities might come your way,” she said. “A worker at a castle in Europe heard one of my weekly pieces called ‘Unfamiliar Faces’ and contacted me about adding it to a soundtrack of music to play throughout the castle. So, if you’re ever visiting Fort-la-Latte in Brittany, France, you might hear my music. It’s funny, too, because that week I was dealing with a creative block, but I eventually wrote something, and now it’s playing in a castle across the Atlantic!
“A few years back, I also had a guy who owns a film company reach out to me about scoring a short video targeted at game developers, as part of a marketing campaign,” she said. “He came across my YouTube channel and liked my music, and so I was able to score a short pixel-style video with a chiptune piece. It made for a fun challenge.”