Do you just do a Google search and pick the first composer you can afford, or are there slightly more sophisticated methods to selecting one?
Here’s are some suggestions for how you go about selecting the RIGHT person.
It’s worth pointing out that this article doesn’t focus on what musical ability the composer has. In my opinion, being a great composer is the point of entry, this post is meant to just help with the selection process involved.
Loitering With Intent
If you look on any game engine forums you will either come across a section specifically for people offering their services, or failing that, doing a search for “music” within the forum will usually bring up a string of threads where composers have jumped in offering their skills.
Now I’m not suggesting you just pick any one of these and hire them, but what this enables you to do is click through to a few composer’s web sites or profiles, listen to their music, get a feel for who’s out there and importantly, what you like.
Check out five or ten sites and make a note of any composers you like. It’s rare You’ll be able to find a price straight away on their site, (although I have given you an approximate indication of my rates here, but some composers will do the same.
Google A Game Composer
If you search for “game composer”, “indie game composer”, “composer for games” etc you are bound to find some interesting candidates.
Don’t limit yourself to first page results either as these will tend to be restricted to AAA composers. Click one or two pages down and you are more likely to find those who are active but not world famous (yet!).
Look for composers with active web sites, either including recent work, blog posts or news items etc. This shows they are current, interested and up to date with what’s going on.
Again, make a note of any that interest you.
It’s All About Me (Them)
Look for what their experience and credentials are and generally read as much as you can in the form of blog posts or articles etc. This will help give you a feel for their approach to music and games in general and give you useful insights on their personality.
Tell People About You
Although you are looking for a composer, telling people about what you are working on in the Indie community will actually attract composers to approach you! Development blogs and updates to forums you post on are all great ideas for attracting interested partners. These places aren’t just for trying to promote or sell your games.
Composers approaching you is helpful:
a) it shows they are keen and looking for work
b) it means you’ll usually get a pitch of some sort up front saying exactly how they can help you
Look for people who are a bit more creative than ‘I’m a composer, hit me up if you want some cool music’. This is a lame pitch and not really worthy of serious consideration. They should be doing the work up front, showing you why you might want to start a conversation with them.
Reach Out To The Game Composers You Like
Once you have identified a few likely candidates, the next stage is to get in touch with them.
You can do this via the forums, but I would usually recommend a direct message or an e-mail via their site.
Introduce yourself, tell them what you are working on and ask them what their process of working is.
This serves two purposes:
i) It enables you to see how professional they are. Any decent composer will reply with some sort of procedure or suggestion of how to take things a bit further.
Again, I would suggest avoiding ‘what you after man?’. Although friendly, it doesn’t exactly give off a professional impression and could be a sign of what’s to come. I have heard a few too many stories recently of composers just disappearing off the planet after starting work on a project, sometimes even after getting paid!
ii) It enables you to see how quickly they respond! This is vital.
If you are in the middle of a project the last thing you want is to e-mail your trusted composer about a last minute tweak only to wait three days for him to get back to you.
People go on holiday yes, but any decent composer will let you know he will be away if he’s in the middle of a project for you.
It’s Good To Talk
At this stage, you’ve selected some candidates and reached out to them. You now really want to talk and discuss your game as much as possible with the composer.
Although you may know what music you want, but even if you don’t, talking about your project is the chance you’ve got to see how you get on with the composer.
I know you may still be fixated on cost at the moment, but this really is only half the story. There is no point choosing the cheapest composer you can find, who delivers only average music and has zero communication skills.
If you are serious about your future in games, you want to find a reliable, talented
composer with top notch communication/social skills. This may sound over the top, but again, at crunch time, you want someone who can take criticism, really understand your project and give their creative input calmly and constructively.
Face to face is obviously best for these talks, but Skype is great and even e-mail will suffice.
If face to face, one meeting may suffice, but if on a forum or using e-mail just make sure you have a few reasonably deep exchanges about your project so you can get a feel for how they work.
Here’s a few quick indicators to watch out for which will let you know the calibre of who you are dealing with:
Does the composer ask about the characters in the game?
Does he talk about the story ark?
Is he interested as interested in the underlying emotions of the game?
Now, these aspects aren’t that vital if you are working on the next Flappy Bird (or are they?), but they are clues you are dealing with a pro.
Check Out Their Chops
Most composers at this stage will offer you some kind of demo. Take them up on this. You may not always get this offer, so you’ll have to play that part by ear (no pun intended).
If they do offer, obviously you will get to hear what they are capable of, but also you will be able to find out how long they take to produce music in general.
Don’t be put off if you don’t like the initial demo, it can take time for you and the composer to really understand each other. It can sometimes take 2, 3 or 5 versions of a demo in order to really nail the sound.
The important thing is how you work together, can he take suggestions and criticism and is the underlying sound of excellent quality?
Don’t Fixate On The Cost
I’ve written a few articles previously on how much composers cost and what aspects affect the price, so I won’t go into that here. Just to say don’t fixate on the price too much.
Your end goal is (or should be) to make the most unique, high quality game you can. Don’t go for the cheapest price if this is in anyway detrimental to the sound of your game. It’s just not worth it in the long run.
Go With Your Gut
I’ve saved the most important advice till last. Go with your gut instinct.
If you in anyway get a weird feeling about a composer, either he’s bluffing about his experience, sketchy about his commitment, too vague about price or just giving off dodgy vibes, walk away.
You really don’t need to work with people like this.
There are plenty of composers out there, and by spending a bit of time reviewing their sites and actually getting in touch with them and talking, you will quickly get an idea of who’s good and who’s not.
That’s my recommendations for looking for a composer.
I’d love to know about your experiences with composers. How did it go? Any horror stories to tell or just excellent experiences? No need to name names, but I’d love to know the details. Leave a comment below.
(Photo: We Could Communicate)