I knew I was good at writing and producing music tracks, I’d done nothing else since I was fifteen (My first computer which I used for music was a ZX Spectrum).
I’d written a bit of production music, done the odd student film and been in a few bands, but I couldn’t see a way of getting paid for for what I did.
Something had to change…
I was attracted to try and write music for games for the following reasons:
1. I found them exciting to play.
2. I loved that goosebumps feeling I got when I played a game with really good music or watched a fantastic game trailer.
3. I recognised games were a growing area whereas other outlets for music composers were suffering.
4. To be honest, I really felt like I could help make some super cool games.
Thing was, I had no idea how to get started being a game composer, and if I did have any ideas (AdWords?) I had no idea whether I was doing the right thing or not. Sound familiar?
In this guide I’m going to explain the exact process I used in order to land my first few paying clients as a game music composer.
This guide started out at being over 4,000 words long. Because it was so big I decided it was best to break it down into 4 parts. What you are reading now is Part 1.
Let’s get started!
The Big Mistake Most New Composers Make
First, you built a Soundcloud page where you uploaded a few tunes. You might even have a website where you embeded your new Soundcloud player.. seems like a good start, right?
I kind of cringe when I see adverts like this!
Here’s what usually happens…
1. A few indie devs hit you up and say ‘I’m working on xxx project, can you do me some music? Free would be best’ = Congratulations, you’ve now established yourself as the free music guy!
2. A few devs contact you and ask to hear your portfolio, can’t offer to pay you but say you’ll get exposure and maybe next time they’ll be able to afford to pay you = They’ll never pay you! If you do get noticed by another developer, they’ll ask you to write free music too.
3. Nothing happens at all. This is the worst result of all = You cry into your pillow!
What Went Wrong?
Think about things from a game developer’s point of view for a moment. More composers should do this (I do it a lot!). Would you hire you?
If you were a game dev and you needed music for your game, what are some of the questions you would have if you saw a random advert on a forum? I imagine they would be something like:
- Who is this guy? (or girl)
- Are they any any good?
- How do I know I can trust them?
- Will they steal my game idea?
- Why are they advertising on here if they are good?
- How come they are offering to do this for free?
- Plus at least another 10+ questions…
You get the point!
They have the same questions when they visit your website. Unless you address these specific questions on your site or in your content, you are putting the ball in their court and asking them to take all the risk on you. Why would they do that?
The Secret Of Finding Work Online
I have never posted an advert online asking for work… never. And I’ve worked on over 20 games and have been paid for them all.
How did I do it?
Now I should say at this point that the following method is only one way of finding clients, and specifically relates to online.
There are other successful ways such as the often overlooked but extremely effective one of offline interaction. This includes conferences, meet-ups and other places to hang out in the real world.
Yes, imagine, face to face with a game developer! Offline networking is a larger subject though and will be covered in a future article.
Rather than posting adverts online and waiting for game developers to make the first move and contact you, why not switch things around. You approach the game developers you want to work with directly.
Sounds crazy right? Let me break this down for you.
Step 1: Research
Find some game developer forums and join the ones you like. Here is a post on Quora suggesting a few to get you started.
What you are looking for ideally is a works in progress (WIP) sub forum where devs are showing games that are currently being built. You don’t have to choose just WIP forums, but at least you know this way a developer is working on a game which isn’t released yet… that helps, right?
Have a look round and see if any of the games there take your fancy and are the kind of games you’d actually like to work on. Don’t forget the specific game engine forums too such as Unity.
Once you have found a post you like the look of, read it carefully, watch any videos etc and just get a feel for whether this game might be a good fit for you and the kind of game which might actually need custom music.
How Do You Know What Kind Of Games Need Custom Music?
Generally expressions like ‘I am learning Unity and …’ or ‘I’m working on my first game…’ are best avoided. These people are not going to hire you.
What you are looking for is a small team of developers from say 1 to 5 people who have a professional looking post and profile ie they take their game developing seriously. In other words it’s not just a passing hobby.
I am embarrassed to say I once was so desperate for a game that I chased down a young developer for months… he said he was interested and we even talked money. I finally gave up when he said he had to ask his parents if he could use their Paypal account to pay me. Needless to say this never happened and in retrospect the clues were everywhere for me to see.
Don’t let this happen to you. Bail immediately if you smell a rat (or a very poor mouse who can’t afford to pay you for that matter).
This will take time – you may have to go through dozens of posts before you find one that looks promising.
Step 2: More Research
Assuming you’ve read their post and like what they have to say, the next stage is to find their website. There may be more useful information on their website which wasn’t included directly in the post.
There may be a link to their site in their forum profile on the site they are posting on, or if not, search for the name of their game or their game studio in Google. Very often in the post you are reading developers will say ‘we are Photon-Platoon [or insert another cool sounding double barrelled name], a game developer studio from xxx’, or something similar.
You are looking for the developer’s, name, studio, project or anything else that enables you to do a bit more research on them. Social Media accounts are also useful. You are just trying to arm yourself with all the relevant data you can before you approach them.
Be warned: All the time when you are doing this research you need to be on the lookout for two key words – ‘music’ and ‘audio’.
Any mention of their composer or game soundtrack etc is not a good sign, it means they already have a composer or have otherwise decided on the musical direction they are taking.
Don’t be put off if you absolutely love the game though. I have certainly been in touch with developers who already had a composer, only to find their composer has since left or they sacked him. If you aren’t too fussed about the game though, 9 times out of 10 you’ll be wasting your time in these situations.