Freelance Game Audio Tips
Working as a freelance game audio contractor can be exciting, challenging and and downright scary. Not knowing where the next check is coming from can either motivate or terrify. If does the latter, you may be best suited for a full time gig. The comfort of having a steady paycheck can bring security and allow one to really hone in on the game audio. Perks can include health benefits, free coffee, donuts and the comradery of working with the same artists, programmers and producers on a daily basis. Large established companies have traditionally provided a stable career, but sudden layoffs can happen for a myriad of reasons beyond your control. It's important to be able to fall back on freelance skills (and contacts) when needed. There are plenty of stories of composers/sound designers pouring their talents into one company only to get the boot, finding their work owned by the company. Either way, one should consider formal training as it will provide a current curriculum and in many cases, open the door to hiring managers. Be grateful for every single chance to work with game audio, but don't let unsavory situations ruin it for you. Memorize all the basic freelance success tips and live by them. Regardless of ones path, basic business skills are key for freelance game audio endeavors.
The Freelance world has it's own set of risks and benifits. Working on wildly different projects can be fun and rewarding. In many cases, you will be wearing multiple hats, like audio director, coordinator, composer, sound designer, programmer, guitar, keys, bass, cowbell and even casting director. In the beginning, you may also be the janitor, HR department, accountant, agent, CEO and everything else. Some clients may forget to pay you, while others may refuse. Some may ask for things outside the scope of the contract, like handing over all of your DAW project files. (even though your boutique plugins and esoteric settings will not translate to their newly purchased DAW. Some truly think that what we do is simple) You must be able to handle these people with tact and in many cases, educate them. Get used to discussing money and brush up on your negotiating skills. Be professional, do great work and then ride off into the sunset, like a boss.
The best gigs will bring total creative control and the client will pay promptly. These are the ones you want to cultivate and build ongoing relationships with. They need audio help and it's your job to step in and the be the expert. They dont have time to explore the world of game audio and cherry pick from the roster of awesome people - they are trying to run a business and finish a game, which can be a massive undertaking. You must be fast, awesome and a pleasure to work with. Become their audio resource. As a freelancer, you are in FULL control of how much, or how little work you get. It's all about the hussle.
Here's some freelance game audio email scenarios. The key is always trying to schedule a video call. Face to face is best, but screen-to-screen may be your only chance to connect. Study email etiquette and make your responses easy to read and understand.
1. Hello, we have a game that needs music and sound. Unfortunately, we only have three days to make it happen and a tight budget. This could be great exposure for you.
Firstly, they dont have their sh&# together. They developed a game and now expect you to handle their shortcomings and deliver world class audio in a short amount of time, for free. Their time crunch is now your problem, but that's OK, right!? Normally, a rushed job should cost more than your usual fee. You are a professional, but the "great exposure" angle is more often than not, a way to lowball you. They are assuming that you have zero experience, so try to get them on the phone/video to better understand each other. Heck, they may have a great game to show you. You need to trust your instincts and beware of chump tactics.
2. Hello, We are making a cool jungle farming game and need 15 bird squaks, 30 tiger roars and a couple horse trots. Oh, maybe some music too - something along the lines of Tool meets The London Philharmonic, but with an EDM feel. There will also be random guitar riffs that morph and stretch with every event.
They are trying to communicate so much here, but seem a bit scattered and overly optimistic. They may also need to license an actual game audio engine for the guitar riff morph events.. Many people think music is "free" since it plays on the radio freely, every day. This must make them an expert in musicology. Sure, you can write, arrange, perform, record, mix and master the perfect music for them (plus revisions), but its important to convey the cost. Communicate clearly and get them on the phone, preferably on a video call. Find out what they are trying to do and get the full scope. Try to get a detailed list and if possilbe, video footage of gameplay. Each animated event must be synced up with the video in your DAW. Many devs will let you use the video footage later for your demo reel.
3. Yo yo yo yo. We need some audio for our game and wanted to see what is your rates?
They just gave you zero information about their project. Also, the email started with yo yo yo yo yo, which doesn't translate well to total strangers. Find out about their game and see if you are even interested. Human conversations are best so try and set one up. You aren't changing tires here, so try and avoid playing the "WalMart vs. Best Buy" game. Some people insist on "shopping around" for better rates, but beware of allowing people to compare you to others. You are here to do your own thing and stamp that in the concrete. You have zero competition, period.
4. Greetings! We are making a game called Mad Eagles. It's quite brilliant, and involves these angry eagles, which go around humping house pets. The goal is to hump all animals, but mostly, the pugs. Pugs bring higher points blah blah,.....
It's a (complete ripoff) so run away fast! No amount of money will make you happy with these projects. They are usually an absolute nuisanse to work on. Sure, you could make a quick buck, but you may regret the whole thing. If I were british, I would say these projects are bollocks. Of course, you may be more tolerant or desperately need the work. Eagles humping animals sounds kinda funny ,so go with your gut. Just get a feel for projects and see how serious they are. Insticts are important, so trust your intuition.
5. Hello, we like what you did on ___ project and wanted to see if you are available for our latest game! It's a 4D liquid block stacker game dream project and really needs a great audio environment. There will also be many sound events and we can send a full detialed list. Please let us know if you are interested
They treated you with respect right off the bat and seem to have a semblence of how important game audio is to their game. You might really enjoy this one. Try to find their budget and work within that. If there is zero budget, but you get a good vibe, go for it. You can build credits and possibly make a great impression, lining up real future projects from them.
Overall, this image should sum up your attitude. Remember that game audio is just as important as NASA explorations and space travel. Always be there to help out, but stay grounded and command the highest wage possible:
Here are some resources to help with navigating the freelance jungle:
Game Industry Events by Jurie Horneman -The master list of game industry events, worldwide. Show up at these events with impressive biz cards and maybe hand out branded, USB drives containing your work. Make connections. Follow up via email and let them know you are there for their audio needs. Rinse and repeat.
The Complete Guide to Game Audio by Aaron Marks - This was my game audio bible starting out as a freelancer, and still a great read. It goes into deep detail about similar scenarios like the emails above. Aaron combines business accumen with the creative process, which prepared me for many situations. The book contains actual contract samples and tons of actionable info
Cash Tracks by Jeffrey P Fisher - While not a game audio book, this one explores the freelance music/audio for mixed media. Pretty cool how many side-roads there are and how they all connect to game audio. Such endeavors can broaden horizons and fatten the wallet. This book gave me hope for striking out on my own, in many directions.
Creative Mind and Success by Ernest Holmes - The ultimate book for thinking positive and moving towards lasting financial success. Written back in the days of zero distractions(1919), this book goes deep and helps you win the game of life.