How To Find Work Online As A New Video Game Composer
Written by Chris Lines
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 learnt about positioning, pitching, selling and running a freelance business.
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.
What Do Most Composers Do Wrong?
It’s all too common to see posts on game developer forums where composers are offering their services. I have never done this.
If a composer does get an answer to their post, 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 point of view though.
Try it for a moment - why would they trust this person who posted on a forum out of the blue 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 (Here’s a link to Quora with some suggestions of game developer sites), but there are also sites like Kickstarter
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… there’s no short cut
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 their game’s 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, 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 or even a reply. 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 get 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?
A proper web site 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.
P.S. If you get a positive reply and actually get to the stage where you are asked to quote for music, how do you know what to charge? You can download the 5 questions I ask myself every time I quote for a game here which should help.
Written by Chris Lines
Chris has over twenty years experience in the music industry pitching music for games, film & television and has written music for a number of games, most notably The Haunt (Top 10 in the Amazon Chart).