Welcome to the fourth and final part of this series on finding work online for game music composers. In case you missed any of the other posts in this series you can find them all here.
In this last part we will cover a lot of the common questions people usually have about getting started pitching for work. Hopefully at least one or two will resonate with you.
Do You Need A Website?
Ideally yes, you should have a website. It shows you are a serious contender and not someone who may disappear overnight. A dev will have trust issues (understandably) when you approach them, and having a solid web presence is one way of overcoming this.
And if you do have a web site, ideally try not to have a [yourname].wordpress.com domain. Although having said that, Winifred Phillips has exactly that for her blog and it’s one of the best games music composer websites that I read. (I would also advise you take a look at her excellent book!)
If you do decide to go through route of Winifred, you can create a site really quickly using WordPress.com , and if you decide you want your own custom domain you’ll need to investigate WordPress.org. You’ll also need to purchase a custom domain from a registrar and pay for a hosting account too. There are other all-in-one sites as well such as Squarespace, I just use WordPress which is why I’ve listed it here.
Website builds are beyond the scope of this article though so I won’t go into more detail here, perhaps at a future time.
If you don’t have a website though, as a minimum I would suggest you have a Soundcloud page where you can direct developers. You don’t even need a lot of songs on there. My advice would be to put 5 to 10 tracks of your best stuff up there in various styles.
What If You Don’t Have A Portfolio?
This is a common problem for new composers, and to a certain extent it’s unavoidable in that every composer needs to have the first game they ever work on. But even if you haven’t worked on a game before, it doesn’t mean your portfolio has to be empty. Here are a few ideas to get some content up on a portfolio.
- Create new tracks for games that already exist that you admire or would like to write for in an ideal world.
- Put a few of your best tracks up on your website whether these are hosted on your Soundcloud page or not.
- Find some Creative Commons video online and write music for that. This may not be an actual game, but at least it shows the ability to score music to visual stimulus. I did this for my initial portfolio
At the end of the day, if you have a few great examples of your music in various styles, your portfolio will have done it’s job.
If your music isn’t right for a particular developer, having 5 or 25 examples of your work isn’t going to make much difference. Sure your music is important in whether you get the gig or not, but that’s not the end of the story. Choosing the right game developer to approach, how good your pitch is and even your social skills can be just as important.
Don’t hide behind not having a slick portfolio in order to avoid reaching out to developers.Tweet This:
Do You Need To Know About Interactive Music?
This is a natural concern. We’ve all heard about how games use complex interactive music systems and how sound designers use middleware like fmod and wwise. BUT, the reality is, if this is your first game, the chance of landing your first gig which needs a fully interactive score using middleware is pretty remote.
The likelihood is the first few gigs you are going to get are going to just need loopable clips delivered in MP3 or wav format.
I’m not trying to hold you back from your ambitions, but it’s extremely advisable to work on some games which are a bit simpler before jumping in claiming you can handle the next Batman game. You can’t!
Even if the worst (?) does happen and you realise the score does need to be more complicated, there are plenty of good resources online to give you an introduction and get you up to speed on the options.
What If Clients Ask For Too Many Revisions?
It’s always hard to gauge if you are on the right track when working on a piece of music. What if your client just doesn’t like it and thinks it’s totally wrong for their game?
While this can’t be avoided completely, there are a number of things you can do in order to reduce the chances of this happening.
First, you need to make sure the game developer has actually heard your music. If you’re not sure (for whatever reason) you can ask them – ‘hey, which tracks in my portfolio did you think might be closest to what you’re after?’ If they say ‘none’, at least you know. You can then ask why the hell they want to hire you then?! Better to have this conversation now.
It might sound strange that a game developer considering hiring you has never heard your music, but believe me this does happen. In my experience, the reason this happens is that the game developer probably isn’t interested in you or your music, and are just fixated on price. In other words they are accepting music pitches from anyone who will pitch them and assume all music is pretty much the same. This is a red flag as the gig will pretty much come down to a price war.
One big thing you can do in order to reduce the risk of your client rejecting your music, and this is what I do, is to offer to do a demo of one track up front to make sure you are both of the same page.
I offer this right up front and talk about it a lot as it mitigates risk from the developers point of view, and mine. What if they hate the demo? I usually say something along the lines of ‘… and if you don’t like the demo, no problem we can call it a day, no harm done’.
It’s important to only actually start work on the demo after the terms and price have been agreed though, that way you know you are not wasting your time.
Another tactic you could implement is to say up front how many revisions you are prepared to do for free, although I wouldn’t recommend this when you are starting out as you will still be finding your feet.
The best way of reducing the chances of getting it wrong and limiting the amount of revisions though is to ask the right questions up front when you speak to the developer. Don’t rush this phase. The more time you spend really prodding and poking to find out what the game and developer are all about and what musical preferences the dev has, the less chance you’ll end up in revision hell later on.
What If The Game Never Gets Finished So I Don’t Get Paid?
I did touch on this in part 3 of this series, but it’s worth mentioning again as it’s a very common problem.
The reality is you can’t stop it or prevent it 100%. It really comes down to judging the professionalism and commitment of the developer you are working with as well as limiting the amount you expose yourself financially to the risk.
I have certainly got burned before on this, spending perhaps 90 hours on a game creating a soundtrack, only to have the project shelved. Because the type of deal I negotiated was purely a back end royalties situation, I never saw a penny.
If you are starting out, working with a small developer, you are not really going to be in the position of demanding advances or down payments etc upfront and there’s just going to have to be an element of co-operation and trust. Some tips that might help are:
As you can see, with all the situations being different it’s hard to put any definitive measure in place to stop a game being dropped. But just be aware it’s a fact of game composing life and as long as you are careful you can hopefully limit the damage to a certain extent.
Now You Can Feel In Control Of Your Future
There’s a lot to take in here I know. What I’ve tried to give you is a snapshot of how you can go from having no games under your belt, to getting paid for your first few games.
The direct outreach method of getting clients that I have shown you in this series is just one method in a toolbox. The fact that I do this doesn’t mean I don’t do networking or other ways to get my name known, but it’s one method that has served me well and is certainly worth a try if you haven’t worked on a game before.
Also don’t try and do everything in this series in one afternoon either – it may take you weeks or months to get all this set up. Just concentrate on one step at a time eg:
1. Sort through your tracks and pull out the 5 best ones for your portfolio.
2. Get your Soundcloud/website set updated.
3. Find say 5 likely forums for WIP games.
4. Draft initial e-mail pitch.
I’ve used the principles and tactics above to work on over 20 games and get paid for them all.
Yes, it’s extremely competitive, and hard work, but by being pro-active, professional and persistent (I will call those my three P’s), you stand the best chance of landing a paid game composing gig and more in the future.
I do hope you enjoyed these articles and that you’ll start to implement some or all of the content. If you do, let me know how you get on – I’d love to know. Again If you would like to access the video of me using Kickstarter to look for clients or the handy calculator to help you work out an acceptable hourly rate, simply click below.