It’s no wonder that some things get put on the back burner and not thought of until the last moment.
Music is often one of these things.
So the very idea of a music budget when it comes to an indie game could be thought of as something of a luxury .
Trouble is, if you give it no thought at all until the eleventh hour, you will be at the mercy of whatever price a composer or website wants to charge you.
I hope by the end of this article to convince you that giving at least some thought to the music you might need and your budget in the early stages of development, will put YOU back in the driving seat.
Is Music In Game Designing A Luxury?
It’s true that music is very often an afterthought, irrespective of which media you are working in. In my licensing work in the music business I see this daily. Every request for a film, game or advert is ‘last minute with a restricted budget’.
I get it – people want things quickly and cheaply.
It is a shame though that very often music is shunted to the back of the queue when it comes to importance. As George Lucas says, “The sound and music are 50% of the entertainment in a movie”. The same is true in games.
When I talk to developers about music for their new games, the all too familiar thing I hear is that it’s too early to think about music yet.
Whilst I do appreciate the predicament, this inevitably means that when it is ‘time’ to think about the music, practically everything else in the game is finished. At this stage you would far rather be testing, tweaking and releasing the game to the public rather than worrying about the music
This means not only might the process of finding music be rushed, forcing you to make qualitative decisions you might previously not have made, but because of the time restriction, you will end up paying a website or a composer whatever they demand in order to get the job done quickly
There is however, a better way…
Think About Your Game Background Music Early
Games are very often in an enviable position to adverts (and even films sometimes) in that the lead times are substantially longer for games. 2 years development time for a large game is extremely common, especially if you are a one or two man studio or doing developing part time.
This means you really can afford at the start of a project to give some serious thought to your game’s musical direction. I’ve written about how you might want to do this before.
In terms of budget, when you are sketching out your initial idea or working on you GDD, sketch out some musical ideas too. They don’t have to be actual musical ideas, but use terms like heavy, solid, harsh, metallic etc. Include emotions too.
This allows you to live with your ideas and lets them cultivate. It’s gets you thinking in more abstract ways rather than just the visual.
This isn’t set it stone. It’s important to note that when you go looking for music (or use a composer) you may well discover completely different ideas, but it’s a starting place to help you express the musical direction your foresee for your game, and that’s the important point.
What If I Have No Budget For My Games Development?
Let’s be honest, if you are working on your game with zero budget ie everything you have done up until now on your game has been with freeware and favours off friends etc, a music budget is irrelevant. Don’t even try and set one. Go and find free production music online instead. That’s what I would do.
This is pretty simple if you are working on a small casual platformer, but if your game is somewhat larger with multiple levels & cut scenes etc, the downside of having no budget is that you’ll have to put the time in to find all the different pieces of music for these sections.
This is not always easy and maintaining musical consistency throughout your game could be an issue. But, it is possible – you’ll just need to put the hours in.
Remarkable Game Designers Start Early
If on the other hand you are working on a game you hope to be a flagship game for you, which really showcases your unique take on things, it makes sense to make the music for the game a priority (Think about that George Lucas quote above !). This means setting aside at least some budget for music. Putting thought in up front to the type of music you might want and what it will cost, will pay dividends later.
Once you’ve given some thought to the approximate amount of music you might need (number of levels etc), you can at least begin to cost this music up to get an approximate price for what you are going to need. If you are thinking about using a composer, I have also written about what factors may affect the price, so it’s worth reading that.
Just begin by researching on websites how easy it’s going to be to get all the pieces you need and ask a few composers to quote too. All composers will happily discuss your game for free and give you a quote if it’s a project they want to be involved in.
Some (including myself) will even do you a demo for free so you can get a real feel for what the finished music will be like.
Once you know the likely cost of the music you’ll need, you’ll be able to bear this in mind when buying other game assets, and that will put you in a better position than most.
The worst scenario is that you did have a budget, blew the whole lot on other things and end up just before release with no music and you are wondering what to do.
Don’t let this happen to you.
Let me know… after reading this, how likely do you think it is you’ll be able to give some thought to a music budget for your game up front? I’d love to know.