YoungProdigy

What makes video game developers pay for music?

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Hey, YoungProdigy here. I'm looking to eventually compose music for video games for money.

I hear that a pretty standard rate is $100/minute.

But my question is, what actually makes a dev want to pay for music?

Essentially I'm asking, what would make a dev think a person's music was worth $100/minute or more?

Also, I want to ask, what would make a dev think a person's music was not worth $100/minute?

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32 minutes ago, YoungProdigy said:

what actually makes a dev want to pay for music?

A dev is making a quality game, doesn't want to use public domain or royalty free tunes, they want something original and specific to their vision and they want quality.

32 minutes ago, YoungProdigy said:

what would make a dev think a person's music was worth $100/minute or more?

Uhh, I guess they would listen to a piece and think "Damn, this is worth $100/minute or more!"

33 minutes ago, YoungProdigy said:

what would make a dev think a person's music was not worth $100/minute?

Uhh, I guess they would listen to a piece and think "Damn, this is not worth $100/minute!"

It's all subjective really.  A dev may not be able to afford $100/minute, and maybe they just want 2 tunes and they only have $40 bucks.  Maybe they don't want a minute worth of sounds so they don't have to justify the $100/minute.  It's important to know and be familiar with contracts that both parties can agree upon, but whether or not they want to pay you $100/minute is up to them.  Can they afford that?  Can they find someone cheaper?  Are you really worth $100/minute?  Are you willing to negotiate for opportunity and experience?  Are you willing to take a share of sales instead of $100/minute?

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1 hour ago, YoungProdigy said:

Hey, YoungProdigy here. I'm looking to eventually compose music for video games for money.

I hear that a pretty standard rate is $100/minute.

But my question is, what actually makes a dev want to pay for music?

Essentially I'm asking, what would make a dev think a person's music was worth $100/minute or more?

Also, I want to ask, what would make a dev think a person's music was not worth $100/minute?

1. $100/minute is not a standard rate, at all. Standard rate is around $800/minute. But that's for full professionals because that's their cost of business. If you're an indie/hobbyist, you can charge much lower. I don't see anything particularly wrong with $100/minute.
2. A dev will pay for music if they understand the importance of budgeting out for quality creative work. A dev who has a budget but doesn't allocate it properly for music likely doesn't understand the importance of good audio, which makes it even more likely they don't know what they're doing, and the project will be of no benefit to you (someone who doesn't know what they're doing is not likely to make anything good). So even as a free portfolio piece, it doesn't really net you anything. Maybe gives you some music to sell and post on your page, if you retained the rights properly. (***See way below)
3. You shouldn't worry about making the music itself "worth" $100/minute. Music is not a commodity, it's a creative service. The price is based on your cost of doing business. If you can make music fast, make good revisions and listen carefully, then that is what makes your service worth more. In other words, the better you are at communicating and doing your work with a good turnaround, that justifies your price, not so much the quality of the composition/production. If the dev doesn't like your composition/production, it's probably going to be difficult to get them to pay anything for it.
4. See above.

 

***This is a way different story if the dev doesn't have a budget, i.e. they can't pay you. Then it's not an attitude problem, they simply just don't have the money to give you. For these kinds of projects, you'll want to negotiate a portion of revenue, and rights to sell the soundtrack (with some kind of revenue split there as well). You should get some piece of the pie. Unless it's not being sold, then obviously there will be no compensation, and you're doing it on passion.

Lastly, the most rare case is if it's project where the pure exposure itself is actually valid (again, this is rare). If it's something that'll be so big and gain you actual exposure, networking opportunities, recognition, etc. then it's okay to work without compensation. This almost never happens, though, so be very careful.

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4 minutes ago, Skrypnyk said:

A dev is making a quality game, doesn't want to use public domain or royalty free tunes, they want something original and specific to their vision and they want quality.

Uhh, I guess they would listen to a piece and think "Damn, this is worth $100/minute or more!"

Uhh, I guess they would listen to a piece and think "Damn, this is not worth $100/minute!"

It's all subjective really.  A dev may not be able to afford $100/minute, and maybe they just want 2 tunes and they only have $40 bucks.  Maybe they don't want a minute worth of sounds so they don't have to justify the $100/minute.  It's important to know and be familiar with contracts that both parties can agree upon, but whether or not they want to pay you $100/minute is up to them.  Can they afford that?  Can they find someone cheaper?  Are you really worth $100/minute?  Are you willing to negotiate for opportunity and experience?  Are you willing to take a share of sales instead of $100/minute?

Hmm, well I'm certainly confident in my ability to make original music.

I do understand that sometimes a dev might not be able to afford it.

I guess what I'm really asking is, do devs expect a certain sample quality for $100/minute?

Would $100/minute be justified, if my samples weren't super realistic; but my compositions were good?

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13 minutes ago, YoungProdigy said:

do devs expect a certain sample quality for $100/minute?

Do you expect the finest ingredients when ordering in a five star restaurant, or the dollar menu at mcdonalds?

15 minutes ago, YoungProdigy said:

Would $100/minute be justified, if my samples weren't super realistic; but my compositions were good?

If they agree to pay you $100/minute for your compositions, then sure.  If they're looking to pay $100/minute for songs then they'll probably want quality sound and compositions.

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You can't make a dev pay $100/minute for music anymore than Samsung can make you buy a $15,000 HDTV. There's no magic trick to landing paying jobs in music - you have to be at the right place at the right time, the right man for the job working for the right people who just happen to have thousands of bucks to spend on a new guy.

Why would they not want to spend thousands of bucks on a new guy for music? Because from a musician's point of view, the music is the most important part of the game, but from a developer's POV, it's one of the least essential components to making a game that might be quality or successful. The fact that most games allow you to turn down or even OFF the music without objectively hampering the gameplay pretty much tells you everything you need to know there. As far as I know, a game has never failed or succeeded from the soundtrack alone. If it does happen, it's very rare. They have to think about more important things like programming, gameplay and, yes, graphics are more important.

I recommend you not think about getting $100/minute without even starting to make money doing music yet and focus more on the art. Don't be "confident" in your ability, keep going and improving, because THAT is the only thing that will help guarantee you make any money at this all (notice I said HELP guarantee). You have to earn that position. You have to start at the bottom doing it for free and peanuts just like the rest of us and earn your equity as an artist. Being hardline about money and payment just for noodling around like all the composers tell you to do is going to stall or even counter your progress.

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8 minutes ago, Meteo Xavier said:

You have to start at the bottom doing it for free and peanuts just like the rest of us and earn your equity as an artist.

Just like the rest of... who? 

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5 hours ago, Neblix said:

***This is a way different story if the dev doesn't have a budget, i.e. they can't pay you. Then it's not an attitude problem, they simply just don't have the money to give you. For these kinds of projects, you'll want to negotiate a portion of revenue, and rights to sell the soundtrack (with some kind of revenue split there as well). You should get some piece of the pie. Unless it's not being sold, then obviously there will be no compensation, and you're doing it on passion.

If getting paid is a concern, I'd steer away from profit sharing. Unless it's a true masterpiece that is guaranteed to get a solid return, the project is unlikely to see any meaningful profit. And what is guaranteed nowadays? Unless your client is a well-known name in the industry, whose name alone is enough to get people to line up, don't expect anything. Just consider profit sharing the same as pro bono, and that you're doing it for fun.

Also, if the client is someone you don't know, there is no way to tell whether they have a budget/won't pay you or don't have a budget/can't pay you. How many clients are going to tell you "well, I have a budget but I don't want to pay you"? They're going to tell you they can't pay you. So my advice is to be careful about separating your approach that way.

And no matter how you're getting paid, I would always keep full rights to the music and full soundtrack profits as well. Unless you're working for a AAA publisher/studio and able to charge a very handsome fee.

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3 hours ago, Neifion said:

If getting paid is a concern, I'd steer away from profit sharing. Unless it's a true masterpiece that is guaranteed to get a solid return, the project is unlikely to see any meaningful profit. And what is guaranteed nowadays? Unless your client is a well-known name in the industry, whose name alone is enough to get people to line up, don't expect anything. Just consider profit sharing the same as pro bono, and that you're doing it for fun.

Also, if the client is someone you don't know, there is no way to tell whether they have a budget/won't pay you or don't have a budget/can't pay you. How many clients are going to tell you "well, I have a budget but I don't want to pay you"? They're going to tell you they can't pay you. So my advice is to be careful about separating your approach that way.

And no matter how you're getting paid, I would always keep full rights to the music and full soundtrack profits as well. Unless you're working for a AAA publisher/studio and able to charge a very handsome fee.

1. I agree.

2. The easiest way to see if someone has a budget is to look at their team/company, their access to assets and other services they're utilizing for their game, whether for the game itself, for marketing, etc.. If they're taking advantage of resources that cost money, they have money. They're simply not allocating it toward our service because they're trying to shortchange us. Unless it's a completely blind gig where we can't see anything about the game and just have a single point of contact for work specs over skype, we can put two and two together; it's not rocket science. Again, I'm not saying free work is always a no, but if there's nothing compelling you to work on the game specifically (out of interest, passion, etc.) time is better spent looking for bigger (bigger can mean more compensation, or more interesting, or more exposure) fish to fry, especially if the developer demonstrates they don't really value your contributions.

In short I don't agree with working on a game for peanuts just because you want to work on something. That doesn't really help ("swing at every ball" is a myth). You have to be getting something out of it, otherwise your time is wasted.

3. I agree.

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53 minutes ago, Neblix said:

2. The easiest way to see if someone has a budget is to look at their team/company, their access to assets and other services they're utilizing for their game, whether for the game itself, for marketing, etc.. If they're taking advantage of resources that cost money, they have money. They're simply not allocating it toward our service because they're trying to shortchange us. Unless it's a completely blind gig where we can't see anything about the game and just have a single point of contact for work specs over skype, we can put two and two together; it's not rocket science. Again, I'm not saying free work is always a no, but if there's nothing compelling you to work on the game specifically (out of interest, passion, etc.) time is better spent looking for bigger (bigger can mean more compensation, or more interesting, or more exposure) fish to fry, especially if the developer demonstrates they don't really value your contributions.

In short I don't agree with working on a game for peanuts just because you want to work on something. That doesn't really help ("swing at every ball" is a myth). You have to be getting something out of it, otherwise your time is wasted.

Well, sometimes you get a one man or few-man dev team who says they did everything themselves. Maybe it's their first game. In those cases, you can't really look at their company or estimate their costs if they claim to have done it on their own with nothing besides time and passion. Am I going to know the truth? Maybe not. Maybe they did have a budget, but they blew it all by the time music came around. Maybe they did do it all for free and have money to burn, but don't want to pay me. In any case, does it really matter? I'm not getting paid, so that's that. I guess the distinction originally came into play when you brought up the profit sharing, but we both apparently agree it's a no-shot.

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3 hours ago, Neifion said:

Well, sometimes you get a one man or few-man dev team who says they did everything themselves. Maybe it's their first game. In those cases, you can't really look at their company or estimate their costs if they claim to have done it on their own with nothing besides time and passion. Am I going to know the truth? Maybe not. Maybe they did have a budget, but they blew it all by the time music came around. Maybe they did do it all for free and have money to burn, but don't want to pay me. In any case, does it really matter? I'm not getting paid, so that's that. I guess the distinction originally came into play when you brought up the profit sharing, but we both apparently agree it's a no-shot.

Yup.

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The biggest mistake a dev can make is concealing their budget from the person they're entrusting with their audio vision.  Unfortunately, a lot of devs "shop around."  Treat yourself with some respect but be objective and sincere about what price will yield your best results.

You can't deliver a killer soundtrack if you're on your third week of revisions for a single minute loop and you're now realizing that you're getting paid about 3 bucks an hour to write it.
Think about your skill level, be honest in your evaluation of how well produced/professionally produced your music is (as honest as possible) and come up with an optimistic fee, be open to negotiation and maintain a firm minimum.  If you have no credits, then money is probably not your primary objective for the work, that's important to evaluate as well.  I definitely charged low when I was starting out, never charged as low as $100/min, but low.  I had my minimums and sometimes that meant it didn't work out.  Sometimes that meant the dude who was charging $50/min got the job, but they almost always SOUND like it too.  I knew a guy who was trapped in $50/min, couldn't seem to work his way out, kept getting gigs by low-balling and then he grew a customer base of cheap devs looking for the bottom line.

He was not happy with the work he did and he had to do a high volume to maintain a steady income, so he burnt up all his creative juices just trying to churn out 40-60 minutes a month just to pay the bills.

Most importantly: NEVER, EVER POST YOUR RATES ANYWHERE--JUST DON'T DO IT.

All rate discussions should be kept private in undisclosed email conversations with your client.  The client will want you to disclose a rate immediately, but you cannot honestly estimate a rate if you do not know what kind of music you'll be writing, what the scope or duration of the project is, whether your client is expecting any live musicians, what KIND of production they're expecting from you, etc., etc., etc.

It's not about holding something back from the dev, it's about being honest about what rate will yield your best results.

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Also, if it's a total n00b developer who cares just enough to pay something for the music but nothing more than an amount that might buy you a sandwich, be prepared for this response as they change from a reasonable human being to:

"Jesus Christ, man! Do you think I'm a millionaire!? I know HOOKERS who charge less than you. Good luck, dude. I'm gonna tell everyone how insane your prices are and ruin your career!"

When the price you named was totally fair and they had the option of just politely looking elsewhere.   

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Another tidbit I'd add: If you pitch a perfectly reasonable rate, and they freak out about it, move on. Don't waste your time negotiating, at least not that much. If a game developer is not willing to pay a reasonable price for music, then they're not willing to get good music, which usually means they're not likely to care about conducting good business, hiring good artists or designers, or -- simply put -- releasing a good game.

Also, if it's some first-time indie dev, and they're short on cash, remember that not all payment has to be monetary or up-front. You could request to retain full distribution rights to the soundtrack and have them put an obvious link on the game's main website to the soundtrack on Bandcamp (kind of a risk, but less so if you're confident in your music's quality). You could ask for services from their developers to help code and design your website. You could even work out some sort of word-of-mouth networking endorsement, and have the developer spread the word to other game developers about your services and their positive experience working with you. There are a lot of good things you could ask for besides money.

Like Nabeel said, always get something out of it. It doesn't always have to be just money, but it should always further your goals.

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I'm curious about how people handle the "X money per minute" fee system when it comes to repeats and variations within the music. I mean, for example I make a track that has a 1-minute A part, then a 1-minute B part, and thereafter the song starts from the beginning. So that's 2 minutes to charge for. But on the second round the B part has new production tricks and little arrangement variations that weren't there the first time. Making them may take considerable time but they're an important part of the listening experience in the end. Do you then charge for 4 minutes (A, B1, A, B2)? Or maybe just 3 because the A's are identical? :blink: I'm looking to be as fair and realistic as possible, but I already know that some devs may get picky and say "COME ON IT JUST LOOPS AROUND, SAME SONG". It's not. It's musical variety.

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Not sure that matters, but I guess it depends on the buyer and what was negotiated from the get-go.

When it comes to music, whether it be for commercial jingles or VGM, the buyer wants the music and most don't really care HOW it is made. The pay for any smart composer would have been negotiated before ANY tracks were made for the project (whether that be by-the-minute or a flat rate), so it shouldn't matter HOW the music was made, so long as the buyer likes what they hear and the composer has some guarantee of compensation.

It's like any business equation: when you buy or sell a product or service, you're looking for the value from the end result of the transaction, not necessarily individual parts of the equation.

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This isn't a question of composition or production half the time. It's knowing what to write. Most devs don't even want to TELL you what to write. They want you to figure it out youself. Some are a bit more picky and micromanage, but the two projects I've had I'd just write something and they'd say if it fits or not, etc.

If you're being paid per product minute, that generally is you being the musician of the project. Not just you writing a track that might fit the game, but you writing music that fits that game like a glove.

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Also the per minute thing isn't something that usually directly quoted. it's more of a gauge for you to figure out if what they offered is workable. Often times you come up with a flat rate for the project, or per track. Though the per minute model could be a way to advertise your services.

I try not to use it as a AAA project would definitely need to pay more vs. an indie developer as they have higher budgets.

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On 7/20/2016 at 9:25 PM, Meteo Xavier said:

You have to earn that position. You have to start at the bottom doing it for free and peanuts just like the rest of us and earn your equity as an artist. Being hardline about money and payment just for noodling around like all the composers tell you to do is going to stall or even counter your progress.

No. No no no no no. nuuuuuuuuuuu.

This is the one thing you must NEVER do, in my experience. NEVER undersell. Ever.

If you're worried about "starting at the bottom and doing it for free and peanuts"... the music should speak for itself. If they like your music, they'll consider you. Doesn't matter how much work you've done in the past, if your music is what they want, they'll pay.

Ultimately, doing it for free undervalues your work. Yes seems simple but it does undervalue the work, both for you and the developer, but most importantly, everyone else. See, right now, there is this general consensus from a lot of indie developers that music isn't work paying for. Know what happens when developers don't pay for music? 3 potential things.

1: Musicians actually do a good job and get screwed cause they did all that work for nothing.

2: They do a half-assed job. I once saw a track from a guy in this community on a game I helped score... it was pretty bad. Like... sample quality and mixing were vastly lower than what the developer was asking for. I looked up his stuff on youtube. Was better than what I could do, really high quality, great samples, humanisation and mixing. Asked the developer, he said the guy worked for free and was busy. 

3: They just... disappear on you. This is something that developers tell me happens all the time with free people and honestly, why wouldn't it happen? They realise they don't get anything out of it, they're busy with life and just fuck off. Sad but true. 

See, it gives this idea that not only is music not worth paying for, but people don't give a shit anyway. I've managed to get paid gigs from people who said they only do free simply based on the fact that I promised to keep in contact and do a good job, and of course, when i've stuck to my word, they've kept me around. Depends how savvy the developer is on the whole situation tho. 

You pay for what you get, and if you tell them that, they'll be 90% more willing to pay you.

NEVER undersell yourself.

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What developers are looking from composers:

1. Experience

2. Quality

Those variables determine how much you developers are willing to pay. Its as simple as that.

Always after one succesful project, value yourself higher by raising the price. It is really effective way to raise your salary,

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21 hours ago, eluukkanen said:

What developers are looking from composers:

1. Experience

2. Quality

Those variables determine how much you developers are willing to pay. Its as simple as that.

Always after one succesful project, value yourself higher by raising the price. It is really effective way to raise your salary,

Doesn't always work that way sadly.

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2 hours ago, Nathan Allen Pinard said:

Doesn't always work that way sadly.

Well yeah, its was a simplification, but it works. Of course you have to have the contacts or make them before these ones have any relevance..

If you're presenting yourself as a composer to them, those last two things which developers are looking from composers:  Experience,  Quality, really matter.

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23 minutes ago, eluukkanen said:

Well yeah, its was a simplification, but it works. Of course you have to have the contacts or make them before these ones have any relevance..

If you're presenting yourself as a composer to them, those last two things which developers are looking from composers:  Experience,  Quality, really matter.

Yup, can definitely say the latter is most important, which is why I'm a crazy gear/VST head.

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