Bringing on anyone to help with your game is frightening. And hiring a game composer is no different, especially if it’s the first time you’ve ever done it.
If you are regularly bringing on people to help with your game then hiring a composer is no different to any other freelancer really.
But for the purposes of this article I’m going to assume you are new to it. I’ll walk you through the process as well as highlight some of the main points you need to think about.
What I’ve done is written a brief outline of each stage of the process, and also provided the links to my previous articles on those topics if you’d like to read more.
How To Find The Right Game Composer
Assuming you don’t already have a composer in mind? (and even if you do it might be worth reading this) how on earth do you go about finding one?
I wrote about this in my article here, but essentially it involves a few stages of ever increasing commitment (Don’t worry you can back off at any time).
Essentially you need to just Google a few to start with – get a feel for who they are, what their music is like and what kind of person you’ll be dealing with. Obviously check out any social media links and generally get a feel for their style.
It also helps to actually get in contact with them – just e-mail them and ask them a few questions. You aren’t actually interested too much in their answers, but more importantly it shows how quickly they respond, how professional they are and whether they actually want the work.
I would also advise following up a day or so later with another question, just to check that first day wasn’t a one off.
Now I have found that certain developer forums seem to mention the same composers or music libraries again and again. Often these are free or indie community friendly guys who make music.
There’s nothing wrong with this, but as the whole point (in my opinion) of getting a unique soundtrack made is to make your game stand out, I would recommend doing your own homework as well in order to find your ideal composer.
What You Need To Look For In A Game Composer
Again, I’ve written about this subject before. It’s very similar to the first point in that doing your own research and homework really helps.
Very similar to the first point as well regarding starting up an e-mail conversation, the next phase is to actually speak to them about the project.
I would HIGHLY recommend doing this in person or at the least via video Skype call. I know a lot of people shy away from video calls, and I don’t exactly love them myself, but they are the next best thing to meeting face to face.
Nothing cuts through the guesswork and stops the worry about a potential hire better than and actual face to face conversation.
Start discussing the game, your requirements and see if they will even work on a demo or a sound palette for your game up front. Many composers including myself will do a mini consult and work on a demo before taking on a project.
Not only does this give you a better idea of whether they have the musical ability to create the soundtrack you want, but it also means you will effectively have started working with them before signing a contract. Very reassuring.
How Much Does A Game Composer Cost?
Now even with the best research and cleverness you can muster before you pick a compoer, at some point you’ll need to get down to talk turkey!
Now if the composer is any good he will at least have left you some clues as to what he or she might cost. If not, you will have to use educated guesswork.
If he’s only worked on AAA games, the chances of him doing you a cheap rate ‘for exposure’ or a ‘profit share’ are slim to zero. Cheap or free often isn’t the answer by the way – just saying.
I make it a point to actually be as transparent as I can about the kind of fees I charge. Not only is this good from the developer’s point of view, but it’s good from my point of view as it stops time wasters and chancers from getting in touch.
Well it doesn’t stop them, but it does filter a large proportion of them out.
The actual amount a composer charges is a varied and nuanced thing and is dependant of various factors.
As I often say, rather than filtering on the cheapest first, what I would recommend is speaking to a few composers so you can actually get a feel for the kind of soundtrack you need, then working backwards to see which composers you like, which can offer you what you need and then seeing which comes closest to your budget.
What Type Of Contract Do You Need To Work With A Composer?
In all honestly you could get away without any contract. BUT, I don’t recommend it. And whilst you may think it’s a bit over the top to have a fully blown contract for a few pieces of music, having a formal document laying out what’s expected, protects both the composer and you.
Having worked in the music business all my life, I have seen too many well intentioned casual agreements go very wrong when it gets down to the real world, particularly when money is involved. Don’t let this happen to you.
Now you don’t need to spend a fortune on a lawyer, any decent composer will be able to supply their standard contract. I have spent decent money ensuring my standard contract is not only very fair for both sides but also spells out very clearly what’s expected from either party.
It was annoying for me to pay money at the time when I couldn’t afford it to get this set up, but I’m glad I did.
If you aren’t happy reading and negotiating your own contract then you may need some outside help, but honestly you’d be surprised how far you can get reading a contract with some common sense and a clear head. Most contracts aren’t there to rip you off, they are there to formalise what’s already been agreed.
There are of course many details to how a composer contract could be structured, so here are a few pointers to get you started. This topic may well get a more detailed dedicated post in the future.
Why Not Just Use Stock Library Music?
This is a good question and I can understand why a developer would ask it. I take it from the fact you are even here though, you realise that it’s not for everyone?
Sometimes stock music is a good idea – if you are just making a game needing two or three looped tracks and nothing more. But sometimes it’s definitely not a good idea.
If you have been working on this game of yours for years, it’s the culmination of all your study, your hopes and dreams, do you really want to slap any old music on top which may well have been used for any other game? Presumably not.
If you game has any kind of depth to the plot, any fullness to the characters or an emotion you want to convey, one of the greatest emotional amplifiers you can employ is great music and audio.
I would say that, I’m a composer, but it’s true. The thing is with music, when it’s working really well, you don’t always notice it. That’s the clever part.
Take Things Slowly
Working with a game composer needn’t be scary or something to avoid. The main thing to remember is that it’s not an either or situation. Very often you can take baby steps to get to know a composer and even liaise and discuss or even work on the project a small amount (by means of a demo etc)before hand.
As long as you educate yourself and use your best judgement to seek out a professional, you can ease yourself into a relationship with your composer but not just blindly pay up front before you have at least have a few e-mails, a meeting or Skype call and a decent written proposal or even draft contract.
Compare this to accepting some bloke off a forums help, and I know which I would pick.