Whilst tempting, in this article I hope to encourage you to look a bit deeper about what the you are getting into and also offer some alternatives to free.
Most composers who write for free are doing it for exposure, experience or a favour.
Now, exposure and experience are both perfectly valid reasons, and I have done this myself, but you do need to ask yourself, if this composer has followed the strategy of offering his work for free more than half a dozen times, what exactly is the problem?
By then, they will have proved his worth and even built up a small portfolio. So why exactly can’t they ask to be paid?
Sometimes this is because a composer undervalues themselves and just assumes no one will pay. But other times the answer might actually be because they aren’t very good!
I’m sure there are some truly remarkable composers who are working for free, and if you can get one such composer when he’s starting out trying to get his first game under his belt, you may just have hit the jackpot. But I’m just warning you that sometimes, this isn’t the case.
The situation we are discussing here is a scenario where a game designer has no budget, but still wants the specialised skills/experience & final quality results of using a composer.
What to do?
What’s In It For The Game Composer?
Now, I’m sure your game is fantastic and any right minded composer should be pleading with you to work on it, but just supposing that’s not the case for a moment, what are you offering the composer in return?
Here are a few ideas of how you might structure a deal with a composer you want to work for free whilst avoiding a huge up front cost:
- A share of equity ie no money up front, but royalty payments once the game is released*
- No money up front, but a larger fee once game is released
- A step deal – small fee up front with incremental payments at set intervals depending on sales
- No money up front but a share of in app purchases
- Royalties for a set period of time only.
- Some combination of the above
*This is often a model small indies try to offer composers, BUT, in order for this to be attractive, you had better have a decent body of work with proven sales of your games or at the very least a solid plan of how you propose to make your game a success. The more convincing your offer is, the more likely you are to find a composer who is prepared to work for free.
It’s also worth pointing out that the cost isn’t the end of the story. Although right now this may be all you are concerned about, if you are serious about a future in games development, it makes sense to develop a good relationship with one or two quality composers.
Pick the composer whose work you love and most importantly you actually can actually communicate with, then figure out the commercial terms. Your composer could be with you for years – Don’t be led by price – it’s false economy.
What’s my take on working for free?
I have over twenty years experience in the music industry and have built up my composing skills since the age of fifteen. This expertise, and the man hours it takes to produce music are worth something, and I expect the kind of developers who like to work with me to respect that, and so I want to get paid for my efforts.
That said, I do work for free occasionally, normally because I am so in love with your game that I just HAVE to write the music for it. Either that or that your game will enable me to develop (without wanting to sound like (Liam Neeson) a very particular set of skills.
“Free” isn’t my default position though and it happens rarely. I am flexible and will usually try and work with you and your budget.
As I have said before in a previous article, if you have no budget at all, just using free online production music is very often a good choice. But, if you are trying to produce a pro quality game and so need a composer, I hope the ideas above help.
What’s your view on composers working for free on your game? Have you had any trouble persuading them?