OPINION PIECE: All opinion pieces are not representative of The Sound Architect as a whole, but of the individual writing the piece.
Featured Image Credit: Inmybag.net 1
Article by Andrew Overfield
Edited by Sam Hughes
Keep in mind boys and girls, this is an opinion piece. My first for The Sound Architect and one of many I’d like to bring to the foray. Such opinions do not reflect that of our other contributors, interviewees or sponsors.
I also start this article with a phrase a good friend of mine told me which I apply to every project I am approached to work on “I don’t mind not getting paid if nobody is getting paid”.
Ok, disclaimer done.
Some of you know this already but for those who don’t, I am a composer for visual media who likes to make noises and music to accompany a game/film etc. In doing so, like many others, it’s nice to have a passion that can support your cost of living. Or does it?
Let me give you a little back-story that helped lay the foundations for this article.
I was in touch not so long ago with an indie game developer. For the sake of maintaining professional respect, they shall remain unnamed. However, I was made aware of this game being in development by a mutual friend who gave me a link to their crowd-funding page. In hearing they were in search of a composer, and me looking for the next game to work on in between other gigs, I got in touch with their studio founder and lead programmer.
Granted, they were a relatively new bunch, all with some good experience under their belt but, like many emerging developers slightly wet behind the ears. I was attracted to their game, a lot of effort had gone into the initial presentations so I decided to pop them a speculative email. In this email was a brief description of who I was, presenting my interest in their project and a link to a private SoundCloud show reel. I had created something a little more tailored to their game and how I thought it should sound using cues not currently publicly available on SoundCloud.
I received a swift response expressing gratitude in getting in touch and how they would love me to work on the game with them and provide the musical soundscape to their adventure.
Brilliant! I’d bagged another gig working on a game, which is generating fair amount of attention too. Time to bust out the old inspiration chair and hopefully help narrate what I think looks pretty cool. No stranger to speaking with studio heads or audio directors, I was slightly apprehensive to get a “yes” off the bat but I was intrigued and replied, thanking them, asking for some more info about the game and a little brief on what to expect when they hire me as their composer.
I was met with a quick response, very polite again, giving some more details about the game, plot, art and a note saying this was an unpaid position. If I was willing to not accept a fee, I was a part of their team and that I can be offered a huge amount of exposure in the game development community.
I didn’t hesitate to reply, asking why (out of what would be considered a large budget forecast for an indie game’s first development) if they had published to their backers that “X%” would be used for sound and music why this wouldn’t include my fee? I forwarded a brief summary of my rates, which would be a portion of the audio budget (to accommodate sound design, implementation, dialogue and editing) and a small terms of agreement.
A very rapid email conversation suddenly stopped in its tracks and I am yet to receive a response. This doesn’t bother me much, my mind is already made up on the faith of the project and my time is much more important to me than chasing this up. Now this could be purely coincidental and that they may have secured a different composer which can be common in early stages of development, but I found it curious that the conversation stopped when I essentially said “no” to not being paid.
Credit: Kash Designz 1
Here is where I wanted to share this experience. Bear in mind, I am no expert, I am no ‘professional’ and I certainly am not creating a bad name for independent game developers. This is just one of a similar thread of conversations I have had with developers, directors and small ad agencies over the last 3 years. This is not a representative of every professional encounter I have had but I can pretty much guarantee it won’t be the last.
I am lucky to have friends that work in many different careers, from creative people to 9-5 office workers and pretty much everything in between. For the last month I have asked them questions such as to a bathroom fitter “will you come and tile my bathroom if I tell all my friends you did a good job?” The answer was an unsurprising “no” (I was however offered ‘mates rates’ but that’s not the point).
The point is that for every person I have asked who is in 9-5 job, be it teacher, doctor, builder, engineer I am met with a similar response; “how can I pay my bills with exposure?”
This leads to me to my point. Let’s not all grab our torches and pitchforks, unlike stable employment, being in a creative career, money issues come with the territory, especially in the early days of carving your career. You are unknown, you are fresh, your credits are weak to none and your experience in negotiation is slim. That being said, food isn’t free.
Back to my earlier statement, if there simply is no money at all for anyone to take a fee from, and I’m very interested in the project or the opportunities that a certain project may create, then I will waive the fact that there is no fee.
Settling for ‘exposure’ each and every time you embark on a new project isn’t always negative, I will come to the positives shortly.
You’ll find in some small cases, a working relationship, that’s built on trust and transparency, can lead to further work, thus growing the relationship better, and ultimately your ideal of making a living from your art can become much more achievable.
There are, however, some cases where once you’ve settled for a ‘no pay’ instance in the beginning, a client may accept this as the norm. I can assure you this will not only devalue your time and your work but the client will gain no understanding of the value of your craft. Now if you don’t mind being a starving artist, then be my guest.
But this is the real world we live in. Where financial commitments require some form of at least semi-stable income. If you are not building relationships which generate this, not exploring avenues which allow compensation or not valuing your own time and work, then you will be less likely to fund what would I can only consider to be your hobby.
Now this is perfectly fine if you are happy holding down your day-job and enjoying your craft in your own time, without the drive to make it a career. However, there are those of you who cannot do anything but your art in every moment you can, whether it be sound design, composition, graphic design, coding or voiceover etc.
Don’t be afraid to at least enquire about compensation for a gig. I’m not talking about when dealing with licensing companies, trailer farms or big game studios. They are usually business savvy enough to understand a monetary compensation is a standard. Even when dealing with a smaller client, a student, an indie dev team don’t be afraid to approach the subject.
Remember you don’t have to just be paid in either credits/exposure or money. Say a local photography may want some bespoke music for their website to accompany a video portfolio of their work. If they have a very small budget, why not ask them to provide you with some professional shots for you to use in your online presence. Your Facebook page, your SoundCloud avatar, your website information. You credit them and they credit you and both of you can obtain a fair compensation for the deal. It’s not hard. I’m a firm believer in the saying “you don’t know if you don’t ask”.
I’m not sat screaming “this is the way to do things!” by any means. I, myself am very much still on the cusp of turning my goals into my career. My credentials cannot speak for themselves and my skills are still far away from granting me the ability to call myself a ‘professional’. But what I use, are my years of business management, sales and formal etiquette to try and make sure I’m ahead of the curve. If all else fails, I’ve still written some music which I personally enjoy and had a damn good time trying. I’m simply offering an opinion of how you should approach your aim to make sure there’s a roof over your head whilst you’re working on your craft. It’s nothing that can’t be found a hundred times over said across hundred of different creative forums and ‘self help’ guides. Though it’s the basis of a good business. Valuing your business. And if you can’t grasp the simplest of business skills to be able to respect your own time and work, then your hobby as <insert whichever creative direction you have here> will remain a hobby.
Ultimately, this side of your art should be as well-oiled as your hard drive, as clean as your brushes and as relaxed as your vocals before a read. Don’t fret from one gig to another, whether you land it or not. Walking away because of a lack of respect for your craft is not stupid, it’s sometimes tactical and allows you to evaluate yourself as an artist. So think to yourself when the next potential gig comes around the corner, do I need food this month and do I have enough exposure to pay for it?
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sharing my thoughts on this subject, and whilst it’s slightly out of my usual remit for The Sound Architect and more closer to my A Composer’s Guide blog (I should really work on that some more in 2016!) I do like sharing my opinions and creating a dialogue with readers.
If you have a comment, or would like to discuss this with me, why you disagree/agree then by all means share! Opinions are great because everyone has one, and I’d like to hear yours.
If you have an experience you’d like to share (names withheld please) then by all means interact and get a dialogue going.
‘Till next time!’
Andrew has been composing for many years and you can get in touch with Andrew or listen to his music at the following links:
A Composer’s Guide
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