As a composer and roleplayer, I've been very interested in using music in my games. At the moment I game once a week and generally my group plays music end-to-end through the session. Music can help to underline the game, both helping create an atmosphere and potentially blocking out any distracting external noise.
The music discussed above is ambient backing music. A theme tune on the other hand is designed to draw attention to itself. It is used to create a sonic identity for a tv show that becomes recognisable and prepares the audience. Why might we want to use this for a roleplaying game?
A player of mine once commented on what he called 'The transitional period.' When the group gets together we spend time catching up, telling jokes and just being mates together. Not everyone starts the evening in the roleplaying mood, ready to immerse themselves. Whenever I tried to start a game the group went through a transitional period. This period varied from night to night but it was basically the time that it took for the group to really get into the game. During this transitional period the group were often distracted and still catching up with their discussions.
So, to use similar techniques to Robin, we can play the Theme Tune to underline that the game is starting. Perhaps the GM says a few words over this, recaps the basic idea of game or whatever but the point should come across that the game starts now and hopefully the theme should help to get the group into the roleplaying mood more directly.
Well this is an important point and we've often found ourselves using the same music throughout campaigns. It should be something that plays through in a fairly brief period. For me, not longer than 1 minute seems appropriate. For my group I found that playing the same music every week really helps to reinforce the effect. Some games have obvious music (Star Wars, for instance) but other games took a while to find appropriate music. For Call of Cthulhu I've used jazz, classical, film soundtracks and even some pop tracks.
Ok, I did write some music myself and this month I am very proud to present a piece I've written specifically as a theme for The Esoterrorists game. Although I am currently working on Trail of Cthulhu music at the moment, I am planning to complete an album of Esoterrorists music this year. For this specific theme I wanted to allude to the general mystery and add some anticipation with some heart-racing action music.