Contributor: Chris Lines (http://www.gamecomposeradvantage.com/) shares his advice on becoming a successful video game composer. This is a short version of a longer series of articles from Chris’s site to help game composers. You can check out the longer in-depth versions here.
Many composers have either studied music formally for a long time or are self-taught to a pretty good level, and yet they haven’t actually worked on any video games at all, let alone been paid for one.
I was in a similar position until a few years ago… I’d always written music since I was fifteen, been in bands, had my own studio set up for years. But apart from a small amount of production music, and the odd student film, I had never really achieved that much. I decided something had to change…
I noticed that there were plenty of game composer websites talking about VSTs and DAWs but none on the actual hard work of freelancing. So I invested thousands of pounds in the best freelancing courses and books I could, and learned about positioning, pitching, selling and running a freelance business in general. What I learned wasn’t specifically tailored for musicians – most of my fellow students in fact were designers, photographers, web developers or other freelancers, but I found universal lessons that could be applied to music too.
What Most Composer Do Wrong
It’s all too common to see posts on game developer forums where composers are offering their services – and often for free. I have never done this. If a composer does get an answer, they’ll generally be asked to write for free, or for ‘exposure’. More likely than not they just won’t get a reply. When they don’t get inundated with offers to write music they then get disappointed. “Why on earth not?”, I hear them cry, “I’m offering to write for free! What could be better than that, right?”
Most composers don’t see things from a developer’s perspective though. Try it for a moment – why would they trust this person who posted on a forum offering to work for free? Is this the way a professional composer would act?
There Is Another Way
What I quickly learned from my studies is that rather than posting adverts on forums and waiting for the phone to call, I came to appreciate the power of the hustle. By spending time upfront researching the most suitable developers, picking the games I really wanted to work on, and only then contacting the developers directly, things seemed a lot more hopeful.
Now I rather glossed over the part where I mentioned research – but this is essential and is where most of the effort should go. There’s no point pitching just anyone who is making a game. You need to choose carefully – take your time. The best places to look are game developer forums where devs are posting about what they are working on, but there are also sites like Kickstarter. Here’s a link to Quora with some suggestions of game developer sites.
And once you have found a game you like the look of you need to find the developer’s email address. Sure you could contact them via the forum, but I think email is best. You might have to do some digging and Googling to get an e-mail address, but again it’s worth it. Once you have an e-mail address you can then quite honestly tell them who you are, what you do and genuinely offer to help. It’s not magic – just maybe a bit braver than the average composer, and that’s the point. You don’t want to be the same as everyone else.
Get Used to Hustling
It has to be said, 9 times out of 10 a cold pitch doesn’t work. Game devs either already have a composer or they have settled on an alternative approach to the music. Or they just weren’t a good fit in the first place and just don’t reply. Don’t worry! Keep trying and occasionally… just occasionally… it does work.
Now it has to be said that cold pitching (even with the right research) is a numbers game. You’ll send out dozens and dozens of e-mails before you get any interest. And even when you do, you might only get a ‘maybe’. It’s then your job to keep in touch, keep pitching, making contacts and eventually something good will happen.
The point of this article is to show one method of finding work online. There are others, and I
should make the point that real life meet-ups, conferences and networking are just as important – they just aren’t the focus of this article.
What If You Aren’t Ready?
I’ve found a lot of composers are put off getting themselves out into the market because they feel they aren’t ready. This could be for a variety of reasons:
- they don’t have a good enough website or portfolio,
- they don’t know enough about games in general or interactive music
- plus many other reasons.
You should at the very least have some kind of portfolio showing off your music, even if this is just a SoundCloud page. Otherwise how on earth will a developer hear what you can do? More than that is obviously nice, such as a smart, clean website with a dedicated portfolio section and maybe a blog, but it’s not needed in the beginning.
As for having expert knowledge of interactive music and middleware? In reality for your first few gigs as a game composer you aren’t going to need to know much of this stuff, if anything. Don’t wait till you are ready… take action now and learn as you go.