Daily Archives: April 22, 2012

4 years, 9 months ago 0
Posted in: Blog Post, Q & A

From time to time people who are just starting in video game audio ask me “how do I make it in this business?”  While I hardly believe I have “made it” just yet, I have completed sound design and/or music on over 10 different games over the last few years, so I suppose there is some wisdom I can try to share.  As I recently got another inquiry along these lines, I thought I’d write up my standard response on the blog rather than just email it out again!


Ask Everyone You Know How They “Made It”

The reason this is important is that everyone has a different story and I find it inspiring to read about how different folks have made it in the industry.  If you don’t know that many folks, pick up a book on the subject.  The Aaron Marks book Game Audio is a great place to start as it also includes good info about contracts, rates, etc.


Doing it for Free

Most folks I know started doing work for free.  Basically, finding a group of programmers on some web forum or in person and saying “Hey!  I’m just getting started in this business, but I’ll do a finished minute of music (or sound design or whatever) for free for the credit!”  Those first credits are SUPER important as it shows that not only can you finish stuff with sufficient quality that a coder let you put it in their game, but you also now have a reference which is worth its weight in gold!

A quick word of caution on this working-for-free business, however.  In general, I would recommend doing only a SMALL amount of work on a VERY small project for free.  Doing too much for free cheapens our profession.  If you offer to do 2 minutes of music for free and the developers love it, insist on them PAYING YOU if you want to do more.  Your time, expertise and gear did not come free, so your finished product should not come free either!


Putting together a Great Demo

There are ENDLESS articles, blog posts, podcasts, you tube videos and more dedicated to “what makes a good demo”.  Trust me – I feel like I’ve read them all!  In general, I would say try to have a good 2 minutes of a few styles that really shine.  This should be work that needs NO apologies.  If you feel like “well, this is pretty good, but the guitar on here could be tighter…” then don’t put it on the reel.  If you don’t have anything you can’t apologize for, then get cracking on putting together tracks you can be proud of.  Make sure to A/B it with commercial tracks in the same style and make sure it ROCKS.  Those commercial tracks are what your potential customers will be testing it up against so be ready!

A lot of folks (including myself!) are now also putting a handful of examples (sort the order so your strongest few play first) on Sound Cloud so that if a potential client asks if you do “funky” you can just point them to certain tracks on your sound cloud account which is fast and convenient.


Finding an Established Composer to “Ghost Write” For

Some established composers/sound designers are so busy that they need to contract work out to others to make sure to meet deadlines.  Typically, these folks command high enough fees that even though they will pay you a fraction of what they are getting paid, it may still be worth it – particularly if you starting out.  Talk to the composer about what credit you may or may not be able to show however for your efforts.  You may not be able to use the work as a credit, but you might be able to use the  tune in your demo reel, for instance, under a different name.


Be Social

Everyone wants to work with their friends.  We trust our friends and rely on them to get the job done, so why should I hire a stranger?  Go to as many gatherings of coders as you can and introduce yourself as much as possible.  Eventually, you’ll start to see the same folks over and over and you won’t be such a stranger anymore! Yes, this is time consuming and expensive, but should be worth it.  Look for folks who are maybe working on just their first game.  Even students are great targets here.  Those students just might be the next All-Star producers in 10 years and if you start working with them now, they almost certainly will “carry you along” for the ride!

Good events to attend are of course GDC and GDC Austin.  Also, join the G.A.N.G. to be in a group of like-minded folk like yourself!


You aren’t going to “make it” right away, so diversity yourself with other musical activities.  You may not have worked on a game title yet, but it will impress producers to know that you have worked on pieces for the stage that have been performed maybe, or doing VO work, or served as the musical director for live theatre.  Try your hand at doing some web videos to show your expertise to others.  Blog!  Tweet!  Get on LinkedIn!  All of these things leave a trail that producers who are scoping out your website (you do have a website, right?  And an email that is a @mycompanywebsite.com?) can quickly get a sense of your competence level.  Remember, major games have audio budgets of $50,000+.  Now,*I* have yet to work on such a title, but that’s everyone’s goal of course and when there is that much money involved, producers tend to get a little more nervous and a lot more discerning about who they hire – so leave a trail that shows you know what you are doing.

Summing Up

Well, that’s about all I’ve got on the subject, but I will conclude by noting that PERSISTENCE is key.  It may take a while before you get a bite but as word of your skills and reputation start to matriculate, you start getting emails that say something like “I heard from this guy who heard from someone else that you were really good – do you have some time to work on my project?”.

Good luck!