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Game Audio -- Your Next Career Move?
An insider's look at a lucrative music market
By Ben Long


Game audio is more challenging than any other form of music or sound creation.  Why? Because you watch your favorite movie maybe five times tops, whereas a favorite game can easily be played hundreds of times. This means the audio must not only entertain, but it must do it again and again for the same person. That's a challenge!


Creating custom music, sound, and dialogue content for video games requires patience and a willingness to work within technical limitations. It's the ultimate marriage of cutting-edge technology and boundless creativity.


That sound design will involve anything from a "sound logo" behind the company name on the game title screen, to UI (User Interface) sounds, ambience or music behind menus that sets the tone for the game, and all the audio that happens during the playing of the actual game.


Developers are primarily occupied with the code, art and design, which is a huge task in itself. Most game developers outsource the production of new music and sound to a professional composer or sound designer. They know that it will make their game that much more unique.


So how do you become the composer and sound designer who gets these gigs?


Three sure-fire ways to break in to Game Audio


1. Attend smaller conferences. Although GDC (Game Developers Conference) is a required experience, don't overlook the lesser-known conferences. The smaller crowds can lead to better relationships and more gigs. The first one I attended was the Christian Game Developers Conference (www.cgdc.org) in Portland, Oregon. I was the only composer/sound designer out of all attendees. It turned out to be a great event which led to my second gig! This is just one of the many smaller conferences out there. Seek them out and attend.


2. The Leisure Industry. This is probably the most powerful tip. There is an entire sector of the interactive entertainment industry that falls under "leisure and gambling." This means everything from coin-op arcade games to pinball to video poker machines for casinos. These companies have a constant need for sound and may give you a chance. One of these events had around 5000 attendees and I was the only composer/sound designer there! Go to www.highwaygames.com and check out the list of conferences held all over the world -- enjoy this gold mine!


3. Stay at home. Not very social? Some folks cringe at the idea of meeting strangers at some event. Luckily, you can still land gigs from home. You'll need to scour the web for any and every game developer, leaving no stone unturned! I have used search engines to find some interesting projects. Seek out the gaming industry blogs that focus on the business side. This is where you can find new companies forming and announcing their new studios. There is a very good chance that they haven't even thought about audio. This technique works like a charm, and I keep an eye on www.mobilegamesblog.com.


Payments, contracts and references


The great thing about the mobile development community is that teams are usually small and this means flexibility. I have seen almost every possible type of financial arrangement, but most will fall into one of these categories:


1. Straight contract. In this situation, the composer/sound designer is paid a fixed amount for the work and never sees another dime. These deals range anywhere from $500 to $10,000 depending on the game and the caliber of the company. Your credits should be in the game as well.


2. Royalties only. In this situation, the composer/sound designer delivers the work in hopes of making money off sales of the game. No money is paid up front. It's common for a small group to split all revenue equally, which means you can make anywhere from zero to $100,000 and upward. The app stores are hard to predict so it's tough to forecast the success of a game. It's important to understand that most indie games will never make a profit.


3. Half and Half. This is a combination of 1 & 2. It's common for the composer/sound designer to be paid cash up front plus a percentage of all revenue generated from the game. This is my preferred method for working and brings the most satisfaction for the entire team.


One last hint: if you haven't read 'The Complete Guide to Game Audio" by Aaron Marks, then get it now. Also get "Game Development Essentials: Game Audio Development" by Jeannie Novak and Aaron Marks (I contributed to this one).


Ben Long (benlong@recordingmag.com) is a musician and composer/sound designer who lives in Denver, CO. This article is excerpted from Ben Long's eBook Game Audio 101-Mobile. Check it out at www.gameaudio101.com.


 


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