In this part we will be covering the all important aspect of money amongst other things. I hope you’ll find it a good one. Let’s get started…
You Don’t Have To Be A Second Hand Car Salesman To Sell Your Work
Yes I said sales… but don’t panic, you’re not going to have to turn into a second hand car salesman.
Assuming the game developer you’ve just pitched (see part 2) reply with a positive response, what then?
Well, in your e-mail pitch you probably said something along the lines of ‘…let me know if you are interested and we can talk more’. Well once they reply positively, it’s now up to you to lead the way.
Explain your process/how you like to get started/next steps etc. Very often the developer is straight into asking you questions though or telling you about their game anyway in their response.
At this stage, all you are really trying to do is find out the most you can about their game. Don’t be forced to name a price for music before you’ve found out a lot more about the developer and the game.
Just say you’d like to speak with them to find out more first. They’ll understand most of the time, and if they don’t they may not be a good fit anyway.
Now when it does come to arranging a conversation about the game, you can talk to them however you want, but in my experience, getting a dev on a Skype call (ideally video chat) is preferable.
Talking face to face or at least on a call reassures the developer that you are a professional, knowledgeable safe bet and you are far more likely to actually get useful information out of the developer too.
Are You Asking The Right Questions?
When the conversation with your new potential client is underway, you want them to tell you as much as they can about their game. Obviously things like size of game, number of levels, amount of music are important, but also things like the characters, setting and emotion. This will all help you craft a great soundtrack for them.
Get them to give you musical references or name existing game soundtracks they like and think would suit their game.
Bonus Tip: At all costs, you job is to weed out of the developer any ideas they have about their ideal music which they would love to have, but they aren’t telling you about for whatever reason.
That last tip is worth the time it’s taken you to read this article so far – trust me.
I have had countless conversations with devs where they say ‘it’s up to you’ when talking about musical direction (presumably not to limit my creativity or their options). However when I deliver the demo, they often send me an e-mail back saying ‘I imagined it would sound a bit more like this [insert youtube link of their favourite game soundtrack of the moment]’.
This isn’t always the case, but do be aware of it – just because a game dev says you have free reign to create the music for their game, it doesn’t mean you do. It’s worth pushing a bit to see if they already know what they are after.
I can remember one specific example of when I offered to write a demo, totally misunderstood the brief and ended up writing a demo that was far more abstract and sound design based than what the developer was after.
I think his feedback was something along the lines of ‘…really, it wasn’t even what I would call music’. At this stage we parted ways and I learned a lesson in digging deep at the interview stage of things to find out what a potential client really wants (or needs).
How To Work Out What To Charge
This is where it gets messy, complicated and a bit awkward.
Well it can, but if you are clear in your own head what you are asking for up-front, and what you are prepared to accept, things will go a lot more smoothly.
How To Get Paid?
There are a few different ways you can get paid for writing music for games. Here are the most common:
- A flat fee (based on your hourly rate, per min of music delivered or total project price).
- A royalty (with or without a cap in terms of money or distribution period).
- Small fee up front with a further royalty down the line.
- Revenue share (effectively a royalty, but with a different name and will generally be more of a slice of profits IF the game does well).
What you should actually charge and by what method is not a simple topic. It depends on you, your experience and also what stage the developer is at in their business. However, here is my take on what I would prefer to do in order of priority:
1. A flat fee (you know what you are getting in advance and you aren’t reliant on the game selling well, which after all is pretty much out of your hands).
2. A small fee with a royalty (this mitigates some of the risk of just a royalty deal by giving you some money up front, but you are also protecting yourself if the game sells really well because the royalty is in place).
3. A royalty (They guarantee to pay you a royalty at a set rate irrespective of whether the game does well or fails. However because this royalty will be a per ‘unit’ rate (ie for each game they’ve sold) if the game does bomb you are unlikely to get paid much, or anything.
4. Revenue share (unlike a royalty, the concept of a revenue share is a lot more vague and will often be subject to things like ‘after the company has repaid its costs’ or when the company is ‘in profit’. So you could be building up your hopes for the day when the game dev is in profit, and they might never be, ie you don’t get paid a penny. That being said, if it does do well, you will be laughing.
How Much To Charge?
For flat fees, in terms of actual dollars and cents (or pounds and pence in my case being from the UK), this is literally a try it and see approach.
Indie game composers fees will range from FREE to several hundred dollars per minute of music delivered.
What you decide to charge will be based on several factors including your experience, how much you like the game, how much you need that game (to increase experience, add to portfolio, get testimonials etc), how much the developer likes you over other composers etc. How quickly the developer needs the music could also be a factor.
My advice? Work out roughly how long you think the job will take and pick an hourly rate. This could be based on what you are paid at your day job or an ideal hourly rate you would like to achieve to make it worth your while. When you are starting out, it really doesn’t matter that much what you initially charge – you can tweak things as you progress in your career.
Just pick a rate and work out a price. Just bear in mind that if this is your first game, you need to be on the lower side of the scale.
When you are starting out I would recommend evaluating all of the above and instead of saying ‘I shouldn’t charge less than $40 per hour’, re-frame the problem as a question and ask yourself ‘if I was to do this job, for the money on the table, would I be happy or would I feel short changed?’.
If the answer is ‘yes’ you would be happy, then you have your answer.
It’s only through working on games and getting a feel for how long it takes you and how much effort it is to produce say a two minute main theme, that you’ll be able to refine your prices over time.
Now it’s worth noting that hourly pricing, or pricing per minute of finished music is only one way to go, and the reason I mention those first is that they are the simplest.
There is also value pricing which is basing your fees on the outcome for the client, but this is for a separate discussion. For now it will most likely be a case of you quoting your price to a developer and negotiating from there based on your needs and those of the dev.
In terms of royalty deals, you could literally be getting anything from 1% upwards depending on who is involved and how long the game dev proposes to pay you a royalty for eg a few weeks or forever (perpetuity in legal speak).
Again, just do a few calculations, take everything into account I’ve mentioned and just decide if it’s worth the risk. At the start of your career, your main concern should be getting paid work and experience, not whether you are earning the maximum amount you can.
How do you know you’re not wasting your time, working on a game that will never be released?
I’ve heard a lot of stories (and have experience myself) of composers delivering music for a game for a few months and then the game never gets finished or the team disbands.
Evaluate the commitment and professionalism of the dev team when you speak to them, and also from your e-mails/conversations and hopefully this won’t happen too often. If the dev team seems flakey, not really sure what they are doing and change their minds a lot, just be careful… they may pivot their whole business one afternoon without any warning.