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Starting your career as a composer-sound designer (FAQ and answers)

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#21 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4085

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Posted 10 September 2008 - 07:13 AM

Thanks JBadams. :) I understand and know how to make posts stickies now.



Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

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#22 Kaiyoti   Members   -  Reputation: 134

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Posted 10 September 2008 - 11:54 AM

While I agree with Nathan, but I think I should throw this out too...

And this is obviously arguable... The main problem with most musicians is that they think too highly of themselves and expect too much. And the problem with film makers and game developers is that they don't understand music enough. Unlike 10 years ago where these music making resources aren't so abundant, anyone today can make music. Nowadays, with the technology, making a full orchestral track in front of your system isn't as difficult. Bedroom-studio composers are popping up everywhere. So musicians shouldn't automatically assume that their service is a rare trade and expect too much out of it. Most of these people can imitate the generic styles without any problem. You're probably not all that special as you may think you are. You need to stand out... be more than enough.

But at the same time, developers shouldn't take advantage of this. The market is tight, that does NOT mean the price should be dropped because of the so many available composers. In the end, it's still a trade. You want something, you pay for it. Time is money. So while developers won't be receiving profit from their projects, time is taken away from composers. So the next time a composer agrees to do custom music for you free of charge, be REALLY REALLY grateful. Make sure that credit page is huge to show your support. Don't just excuse yourself with that "exposure" your project will be getting for the composer. Music plays an important role in how successful the media's end product will be.

[Edited by - Kaiyoti on September 11, 2008 6:54:41 PM]
PaulKaiyoti

#23 Muzo72   Members   -  Reputation: 346

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Posted 11 September 2008 - 06:20 AM

Quote:
Original post by nsmadsen

Quote:
I think composers at first should be willing to work for free on projects to get experience and to put their name out there so you can point and say "there I made the music of that game".


The problem with this is it becomes perpetual. Let's face it, most folks with take something free over paying for it any day of the week and twice on Sunday. It's just human nature. I understand most young projects have little to no money, but working for free makes it hard for both the composer and the developer to break away. The developer will likely either want to keep using the composer on the next projects at a free rate, or move on to the next free composer.


Also consider what I've seen in the film world with some colleagues who thought that lots of free work was a great way to get a start. More than once I've seen a budding director hire a very cheap or free composer when he had no budget. Once that director moves upward and receives a decent budget, he doesn't hire the cheap composer. Why should he? Now he can afford the expensive composer he really wanted in the first place!

Also, the studio (think developer/publisher) who is putting up the money doesn't want the director to spend all that money on someone it has never heard of and who has no recognizable credits. There is too much money on the line to risk an unknown. ...And no director in that position is going to say, "I have to have this composer or I won't do the project."

Quote:
Original post by Kaiyoti
Unlike 10 years ago where these music making resources aren't so abundant, anyone today can make music. Nowadays, with the technology, making a full orchestral track in front of your system isn't as difficult. Bedroom-studio composers are popping up everywhere. So musicians shouldn't automatically assume that their service is a rare trade and expect too much out of it. Most of these people can imitate the generic styles without any problem. You're probably not all that special as you may think you are. You need to stand out... be more than enough.


This is a good point. Sure anyone can make music in their bedroom, but the truth is that most of it is very bland, ordinary, and sounds like a copy of some well-known music made by someone in a bedroom with no budget and half the skill. Orchestral music is some of the easiest to spot in this case. A trained ear can instantly hear someone's skill and experience when they write orchestral music either on a sequencer or record it live (and it has little to do with the quality of the samples). A non-trained ear may not be as critical, but it can instantly recognize the superior product when two tracks are compared.

Having the tools to make music doesn't make someone a decent composer any more than buying a hammer and saw makes you a carpenter. Anyone can pound a nail, but I wouldn't want just anyone building my house. As Madsen has stressed there is a lot of skill and learning involved in becoming a good musician. Someone who has put in those years of effort is much less likely to want to work for free, but that person probably won't sound like the free composer either!

Think carefully about what you are offering as a composer. Be critically honest with your abilities. Have the humility to recognize the amount of work it takes to perfect your art and your craft and then do that work. As Madsen has said, being a musician (or any artist) is a never-ending journey of learning.

[Edited by - Muzo72 on September 11, 2008 12:20:10 PM]

#24 Kaiyoti   Members   -  Reputation: 134

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Posted 11 September 2008 - 01:18 PM

Quote:

This is a good point. Sure anyone can make music in their bedroom, but the truth is that most of it is very bland, ordinary, and sounds like a copy of some well-known music made by someone in a bedroom with no budget and half the skill. Orchestral music is some of the easiest to spot in this case. A trained ear can instantly hear someone's skill and experience when they write orchestral music either on a sequencer or record it live (and it has little to do with the quality of the samples). A non-trained ear may not be as critical, but it can instantly recognize the superior product when two tracks are compared.

Having the tools to make music doesn't make someone a decent composer any more than buying a hammer and saw makes you a carpenter. Anyone can pound a nail, but I wouldn't want just anyone building my house. As Madsen has stressed there is a lot of skill and learning involved in becoming a good musician. Someone who has put in those years of effort is much less likely to want to work for free, but that person probably won't sound like the free composer either!



When I pointed out the bedroom studios, I should've mentioned that in the current digitally-packed world, being a musician is different then before. If you can still pull off live-recordings, then you're golden. But these days, everyone does music composition on electronic equipments or software. "Composing", is only a minor part to music arrangement. Producing is the major part. It's a common misconception to think that higher quality samples = producing. Like muzo said, samples play very little in producing. Game developers and film directors can only go as far as hearing that high quality sound, as opposed to how well the mix actually is. That means anyone can sound awesome to the director/developers. It's not hard for anyone to run their midi music through these softwares, get a domain, slap on a banner that says [name], composer for TV/Film/Game and "join" this industry. So it doesn't matter if you have 10 years training spent in RCM institute, if you are willing to do digital music composition, then you need to learn how to produce, mix, tweak, master your sound.

Good analogy with the carpentry. Which is why I don't ever call myself a composer, because I think it's an joke/insult to the big guys. A suitable title is a "musician" who composes... It's a silly thing to think but that's how I'll show my respect for them. Not everyone deserves the "composer" title. My analogy had always been that just because you cook doesn't make you a chef. What would the world be when people can call themselves chef just because they can make instant noodles. And no, cooking is not a common knowledge either, some people don't cook at all. I also don't believe in the variant degrees of level like "amateur" or "professional" composer. You're either one or not. Digital music composition is not an art anymore, it's a skill. And it requires more than you can imagine. You do NOT need the "composer" title to be hired to work on projects, what matters the most is the demo's and samples.

I realize how very demotivating my posts can be (rendering the original topic useless)... don't be. They're just subjective opinions and suggestions.

[Edited by - Kaiyoti on September 11, 2008 7:18:35 PM]
PaulKaiyoti

#25 NoiseBuffet   Members   -  Reputation: 122

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 09:14 AM

What a great post! There are so many ways to get involved with games. Mine was landing the first gig locally (paying gig) and then going to conferences and speaking about the work in front of small crowds. This led to more work as well as an invite to contribute to a new game audio design textbook!

http://www.target.com/gp/detail.html/601-7083768-8864113?asin=1428318062&afid=yahoosspplp_bmvd&lnm=1428318062|Game_Development_Essentials:_Game_Audio_Development_(Game_Development_Essentials)_:_Books&ref=tgt_adv_XSNG1060

just googled it and Target is selling it!? I was interviewed in the book and also contributed to the sample DVD. I have since worked on coin-op, casual and mobile games. I get my work by attending any and every event that is remotely associated with gaming. I look forward to doing larger scale work as my studio was recently re-located into a 20,000 sq. ft. church built in 1890. If you come to Denver, be sure to contact me for the grand tour! It would be good to talk shop with other composers

cheers
Ben
www.noisebuffet.com


#26 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4085

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 09:22 AM

You're in Denver? So am I! We should have coffee and talk shop.

Thanks for your input and support of this post.

Cheers,

Nathan
Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#27 NoiseBuffet   Members   -  Reputation: 122

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Posted 16 September 2008 - 03:51 PM

Indeed! I just moved my studio into the giant red castle at 30th/Vallejo. Can't miss it from anywhere downtown. looking forward to meeting

cheers,
Ben
www.noisebuffet.com

#28 Dannthr   Members   -  Reputation: 349

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Posted 16 September 2008 - 04:00 PM

Hahah, I forgot, I know both of you--I should've introduced you two or something, hahaha.

Nathan, you should come to the Colorado IGDA Chapter meetings sometimes.

#29 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4085

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Posted 09 October 2008 - 02:12 AM

Temporarily removed for reasons I'll explain in a bit. Trust me on this. :)

[Edited by - nsmadsen on November 14, 2008 11:12:13 PM]
Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#30 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4085

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Posted 12 October 2008 - 01:39 PM

Edit: Temporarily removed for reasons I'll explain in a bit. Trust me on this. :)

[Edited by - nsmadsen on November 14, 2008 11:39:44 PM]
Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#31 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4085

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Posted 13 October 2008 - 12:26 PM

Here's a good follow up question:

Quote:
I checked your demoreel. Generally, it is around -6db, and its sound quality and loudness dont decrease at stereo system. Did you use hardware to get the sound for that or other processing methods? Recently, I have this problem... even though my songs mixes are good, mastering is a hassle.


Hey,

I worked on each song at different times, then when I wanted to create a new, updated demo reel I put all of the songs in one session. Then I checked the balance from tune to tune making sure nothing was too drastically different volume-wise. Then I selected the segments I wanted to feature, cued up the cross fades and presto!

Mixing can be tricky but I don't rely too much on plug-ins for that. I find too many folks simply use various plug-ins (or presets of plug-ins) instead of using the most important tool: your ears. I just listen on a variety of speaker set ups and really try to make the sound as clear as possible.

Thanks!

Nathan

[Edited by - nsmadsen on October 14, 2008 7:26:41 AM]
Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#32 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4085

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Posted 16 October 2008 - 02:41 AM

Quote:

I would like to ask during what conditions the game industry guys are listening to the reels? Are they sitting by the computer with small nasty speakers, or in a conference room with a nice speaker system?


This is a great question!

Unfortunately the listener usually has way too much power over what the audio set up is like. So you can never really ensure a perfect listening session 100% of the time. Even with nice speakers and a quiet room, some folks may choose to have the sub turned to 11 which would effectively change the overall mix and delivery of your audio.

Some of this you have to just accept since almost every stereo system available today has some kind of EQ interface set up. Some of this you can prepare for. When I'm creating new audio I listen to it on a variety of set ups. The initial set up I use is my studio one. This is the highest quality in a nice, quiet room. I have the EQ set to normal and speakers set up correctly. Here's where the creation happens and this is where you need to have the highest quality speakers and equipment you can afford. From there I test the audio on:

*my iPod

*my laptop

*my car

*other stereo systems

*other computers

Testing on other computers is especially vital if you're making video game content. The trick to all of this is two fold:

1) Realize that each set up is going to change your sound somewhat. Nearly nothing sounds as pristine and good on laptop speakers vs. studio monitors. They just don't. Laptop speakers are generally too narrow in output and quality.

2) Instead of trying to make the audio sound perfect on each and every device you test, try to reach a good average. Understand how each system is going to limit certain things about your audio output, and focus on what is maintained. Try to make your audio sound decent to good on crappy set ups and very good on high quality set ups.

After testing on a bunch of set ups, make any changes that are needed and then put it out there.

As far as how folks are listening in the game industry: it varies greatly. When I was back at FUNimation, we were listening on mid-range speakers attached to a computer. They were decent speakers and got the job done. If it was specifically an audio based demo, we'd sometimes go into my office and use my equipment to listen. Sometimes not. In my current job, I listen to all audio-based portfolios in my studio. From there, I select the ones that I feel make the cut and then pass them off to my management for further review. From there some use headphones, others use conference rooms set ups. It just varies person to person and day to day.

Finally, I believe that good musical writing or good sound design creation will come out even on bad speaker set ups. Is the sound somewhat inhibited? Sure. But if you have a great demo reel that has variety and solid content- that will show through. Another thing to consider: if someone has their stereo set up all messed up, then they're hearing ALL of their audio output that way. Maybe they prefer nothing but bass. Maybe they like hearing only the highs and none of the mids or lows. :) Rest assured, none of the audio folks I've known or work with are like this. Now other depts (like HR, art or programming) are another story sometimes!

I hope that helps!

Nathan
Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#33 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4085

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 04:40 PM

Quote:

How do current video games support 5.1 surround sound?


It really depends on the audio engine being used. Open AL simulated 5.1 surround sound but all assets created for it (at least with the project I was on) was in either mono or stereo. Mono was used for objects that would be rendered in 3D while stereo was used for assets that wouldn't be rendered in 3D (like music and certain other assets).

Other audio engines, like Fmod and Miles, do support 5.1 surround mixing.

Quote:

How do you mix in 5.1 surround sound for a video game?


Okay, so how do I mix in 5.1 surround?

It's pretty close to mixing in stereo with a few exceptions.

You create five tracks and position them to where you have a center, left front, right front, left rear and right rear. This can be done several ways. Most DAWs will have some kind of interface set up to allow you to set each track up. Reference this picture of a 7.1 pan interface in Sonar 4.



Here's Logic 8's version:



Here's a plug-in available for Pro Tools:



All of these basically let you do the same thing: set up where you want your speakers to be with regard to your track's panning and other parameters. From there you need to have:

1) a 5.1 surround sound speaker system hooked up to your DAW (or 7.1 if you're going that route)

2) Have each speaker an equal distance from where you'll be testing the audio. True, most home stereo systems are not set up this way, but for mixing purposes we want to have equal distance from each speaker. This way we can really tell when we pan a bullet swish from track to track adding a cool whip around effect. A side not about these speakers: have them all be the same brand and quality. It would actually hurt your efforts if you had a mixture of high quality and low quality speakers in your surround set up. How can you trust that all 5 parts are truly representing your audio? You can't. Fortunately this isn't too much of an issue since most surround systems have options that can fit almost any budget.

3) Once the set up is in place, you'll do your mixing as you would normally. Bumping up sections that are too soft, lowering other sections that loud and panning effectively from speaker (or track) to track. This may take some time depending on your project. While you're creating your content make sure your set up is always set within normal parameters. You never want to create audio on a system that has custom settings (sub woofer turned up really hot, all of the highs turned down) because then the audio will sound odd or not as you intended on other set ups. Remember, the customer has plenty of power over your audio as is (with all of the EQ settings built into stereos these days) and they also have the ability to total screw up the physical placement of the speakers too. Don't add to that by creating content on a stereo with parameters you prefer.

Perfect real life example: I had a friend come by and show me his laser SFX he'd been working on. He was really pumped. He played them for me and was horrified! They had virtually no bass to them and the end result was very tinny and hollow.

"They sound better and more deep on my system!"

I asked him if he was using a sub woofer and he was. Turns out it was cranked up really hot and he thought he was creating audio that had some serious punch and depth to it. He wasn't- his system was simulating that for him. He went back, turned down the sub woofer, made the needed changes and then his laser sounds were great! Remember this!

4) From there you'll bounce out each channel by itself and then load it into your engine or playback format. This can vary depending on what media you're working for or what audio engine you're using so I'll not go into specifics here.

5) Once the audio is in-game or on the DVD in the right format spend some time testing it on various surround sound set ups: high range, mid range and low range. Also try several different rooms. You'll probably not be able to make it sound perfect on every set up or environment but work for a great audio experience overall. See if you like how everything works. If not, go back and fix what went wrong. Rinse. Repeat. :)

I hope that helps!

Nathan
Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#34 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4085

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 10:43 AM

John- I've had 11 operations on my ears from age 2 up until age 11 (or whatever age you are in 5th grade). This was because I was born three months premature and the eustation tubes in my ears were under developed. The doctors had to keep putting tubes in my ears to stretch out the eustation tubes. This caused both ears to have a good deal of scar tissue and as a result I do not hear a certain range of frequencies. I honestly cannot remember what that range is, but I've been able to do just fine with my hearing condition. I was able to graduate with a bachelors in music and then a masters in music as well.

I don't know how badly affected you are, so I cannot guarantee that you'll be fine. However, don't lose faith and as long as you can create good audio- you have a fighting chance!!!

Regarding the age issue: I don't know if this would keep you from being hired. I don't think it would. The main concern video game companies have is the quality of your work. The second issue they look at is your personality. They want to make sure they're hiring someone that will gel and work well with the rest of the team.

Edit: I would wager that most folks have some kind of hearing issue with today's influx of music and sounds. How many folks walk around listening to MP3 players with headphones on? Many of those are probably listening at levels that are harming their ears. How many concerts are usually WAY too loud and harmful to your ears? What about movie theaters? I would be willing to bet that most of the public has some kind of hearing damage and probably doesn't even realize it. So don't feel like you're doomed to never being an audio professional. You're not.

I hope that helps!

Thanks,

Nathan

[Edited by - nsmadsen on October 22, 2008 5:43:53 PM]
Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#35 Johntall   Members   -  Reputation: 122

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 12:47 PM

Quote:
Original post by nsmadsen
I don't know how badly affected you are, so I cannot guarantee that you'll be fine. However, don't lose faith and as long as you can create good audio- you have a fighting chance!!!
[/i]


Everything above 7-8khz on my left channel is gone to never come back, annoying. I use some very "sophisticated" plugins to double check my stereo mixes. I appreciate what you've said. Thanks.


#36 Johntall   Members   -  Reputation: 122

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 12:55 PM

By the way. Great tips on how to get noticed in the business.
While networking at conferences and lectures, would you recommend to use business cards with a link to my online portfolio or rather give away cd demos for example (by CD demo I mean professionally designed sleeve with an insert)?

#37 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4085

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 01:17 PM

That's a good question. Lately I've only used business cards because it gives the person all of my info without having to carry around my demo CD. This is especially helpful at conferences where everyone is passing out demo materials. I find it best to give them a condensed resume and my business card. From there, they can find out all they need about me.

Thanks,

Nate
Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#38 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4085

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Posted 28 October 2008 - 03:04 PM

Quote:
Original post by ndatxcod
Great tips, I was wondering which books about composing/arranging theory you would recommend.


Somehow I missed this one. This is by no means complete.

Music Theory

Tonal Theory:

http://www.amazon.com/Tonal-Harmony-Stefan-Kostka/dp/0073401358/ref=sr_1_1/189-6428117-3304720?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225245114&sr=8-1

20th Century:

http://www.bestwebbuys.com/Materials_and_Techniques_of_Twentieth-Century_Music-ISBN_9780139240775.html?isrc=b-search

For the best results when learning theory, get a book that comes with a work book or assignments in the text. Both of these should. Music theory is best learned by testing yourself and not just reading.

Orchestration

http://www.amazon.com/Technique-Orchestration-Recording-Package-Book/dp/0130771619

Counterpoint

http://www.amazon.com/Counterpoint-4th-Kent-Kennan/dp/013080746X/ref=pd_sim_b_5


Scores

http://www.amazon.com/Norton-Anthology-Western-Music-Ancient/dp/0393979903/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225245498&sr=1-1


http://www.amazon.com/Norton-Anthology-Western-Music-Twentieth/dp/0393925625/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225245498&sr=1-2


Musical History

http://www.wwnorton.com/college/titles/music/grout7/

Musical Dictionary

http://www.amazon.com/Harvard-Dictionary-University-Reference-Library/dp/0674615255/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225245562&sr=1-2


Scales Reference

http://www.amazon.com/Thesaurus-Scales-Melodic-Patterns-Text/dp/082561449X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225246600&sr=8-1

Musical Resources (for other texts)

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/713ANETWN2L._SL500_AA240_.gif

This should be enough to get you started. :)

I used all of these books during my undergraduate and graduate studies. The last book Music Reference and Research Materials (under Musical Resources) isn't nearly as boring as it sounds! This was the first grad class I took and I thought I'd hate it. It was actually very interesting and helped me have a solid grasp on what kinds of books, papers and articles were out there for certain types of musical knowledge.

Thanks,

Nate

[Edited by - nsmadsen on October 28, 2008 9:04:18 PM]
Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#39 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4085

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Posted 31 October 2008 - 02:43 AM

Quote:
Please explain Exclusive vs. Non-exclusive rights.


Sure. This is quite easy actually.

Exclusive rights means the buyer will own the content you create. They'll be able to use it and re-use it in any way they want without having to pay you anything extra. So, if you right music for Donuts 1: The Sugar Years and give exclusive rights to the buyer then that means he can use the exact same music in Donuts 5: The Diabetes Years and doesn't have to pay you anything extra. He owns the assets and can use them over and over.

You do still get industry credit for your music being used in multiple titles, but not extra cash. Because of this exclusive rights are usually 10 times your normal audio rate.

Non-exclusive rights are just the opposite. You're basically granting the buyer a one-time license to use your music in his or her game. Later if the buyer wants to use the same music in another project they must first pay you more money and/or get your approval. This is because you own the rights to the material and can use it as many times as you want. You can re-sell the music to other projects that are also seeking non-exclusive rights. Because of this, non-exclusive rights are much, much cheaper.

Here's what you cannot do:

1) Sell music for non-exclusive rights to a game or some kind of media.

then

2) Sell the same music later for exclusive rights to another game.

Why?

Because exclusive rights means this content has never been used in anything else before. The client is paying more for content that should be completely unique to their product and will not be happy if they learn that your "exclusive content" has already been used in other products in the past.

So the moral of the story is: once content is sold as non-exclusive rights, it can only be sold for non-exclusive rights any time in the future. Content that is sold for exclusive rights should only be used for that particular buyer.

Side note: With anything when negotiating there are other terms that can be set up and agreed upon by both parties. That's a case by case situation and I'm not including that in this basic look at rights.

Thanks,

Nathan

[Edited by - nsmadsen on October 31, 2008 3:43:12 PM]
Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#40 Jaap1978   Members   -  Reputation: 252

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Posted 31 October 2008 - 12:30 PM

When you sell your sounds or music as non-exclusive then make always sure that you set a fixed term in time. For example I sell a lot of sounds and music as library music and sound effects and I always (or the company, depends which library) sets an fixed amount of time that the music or sound can be licensed.

As soon as the license expires you can offer your music or sound as exclusive buyout if needed, but only after the license expired of course.

I had this a couple of times before that some of my sounds where requested to be bought exclusively as buyout through Sound Dogs and one time a sound was still licensed for 3 months. As soon as the license ended (3 days ago, wee ^^) the company could buy it out.
-----------Jaap VisserComposer/Sound DesignerJaap Visser Music Productions3 Peak Audio





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