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Advice for pro composer moving into games


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#1 jamiesalisbury   Members   -  Reputation: 124

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Posted 10 September 2013 - 03:42 PM

Hi all, I'd be very grateful for some advice if you can spare the time.

 

I'm a professional composer - just to give you an idea of the level I'm working at (I'm not attempting self-promotion here!) I've done a little TV, short films, a commercial for a major mobile phone company, theatre music, soundtracks for contemporary dance and production music for the likes of EMI/KPM, Immediate Music, Cavendish and Abaco. These soundtracks include live symphonic orchestral scores, recording in London, Prague and Budapest and mixing and mastering at Abbey Road.

 

Following a day at the Games Music Connect conference, it's dawned on me that I'd really love to compose for games, and that my music and way of working is also very much suited to it.

Problem is I have hardly any contacts in the world of gaming (having just written for one iOS game a couple of years back) and haven't played games (for time reasons, not motivation!) for about 10 years.

I'm too busy to justify starting at the bottom of the ladder, writing for peanuts to get established, but at the same time I have no illusions that I'll be writing for AAA titles with little prior games music experience.

 

So I need to present my showreel to companies working at a decent level, but probably not wasting my time with sending my showreel to Sony until I have a few good games under my belt!

Question is, how do I know which companies to approach - ones that will have a reasonable budget for music? 

And secondly - would a plane ticket to GDC next year be worth the cost and time (I'm based in London)? Can you suggest any other ways I can meet suitable developers? 

If it helps to know what my music sounds like, search for me (Jamie Salisbury) on Soundcloud and listen to "Endworlds Showreel" (didn't want to link directly as I wasn't sure about the rules on self-promotion here).

 

Any advice would be really appreciated!

Thanks

 

Jamie 

 




 



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#2 frob   Moderators   -  Reputation: 18888

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Posted 10 September 2013 - 04:25 PM

I'm too busy to justify starting at the bottom of the ladder, writing for peanuts to get established ... how do I know which companies to approach - ones that will have a reasonable budget for music?

 

So you want to get big juicy contracts without spending time developing contacts.  Got it.

 

The small indie games developed in a basement won't have a budget you are interested in --- unless they become popular, by which time your opportunity is passed.  

 

Medium size studios don't really pay well, and generally contract the work out to people they know or people who come recommended within the industry --- but you wrote that you don't want to spend the time doing that and are looking for bigger budgets.

 

The big companies that do have money also have a pool of many experienced people to choose from so they won't bother with an unknown, which you will remain until you have done some of the things above.

 

 

 

In that case you are going to need to have a carefully crafted and carefully timed approach. Some reading about doing that. You might also want to get involved with groups like the Game Audio Network Guild to help get the inside information on jobs.


Check out my personal indie blog at bryanwagstaff.com.

#3 jamiesalisbury   Members   -  Reputation: 124

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Posted 10 September 2013 - 04:45 PM

Thanks, appreciate the link. 

To be clear - I'm not looking for big bucks at all. Just enough to justify my time - I've got a family to support, I'm not fresh out of college so I just can't do those free/micro budget gigs anymore. I'm pretty good at what I do, so I don't think it's unrealistic to aim a little higher. That's what I meant by "reasonable budget".

I know what the top end budgets are like and I know I won't get that straight out of the gate, as nice as it would be!



#4 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 8669

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Posted 10 September 2013 - 05:38 PM


1. would a plane ticket to GDC next year be worth the cost and time (I'm based in London)?

2. Can you suggest any other ways I can meet suitable developers?

 

1. GDC is probably the most worthwhile game industry event. But would it be "worth it" to you? Nobody can tell. 

2.a. Yes. Local networking, and European game developer conferences. Subscribe to Gamasutra and gamesindustry.biz, get hooked into the network.

2.b. You don't necessarily want to meet developers only. You should also meet publishers.  And lead designers, and design directors, and audio directors.


-- Tom Sloper
Sloperama Productions
Making games fun and getting them done.
www.sloperama.com

Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.

#5 jamiesalisbury   Members   -  Reputation: 124

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 05:16 AM

Thanks Tom, that's useful advice. I'll check out those sites. Unfortunately it seems I just missed the big UK conference "Develop" by a couple of weeks.

Re: the worth of me attending GDC - do you have any idea how likely it is that a U.S company would use a UK composer, rather than someone local? From my perspective there's no issue at all in working remotely and I do it all the time, but I just wondered if you knew what the games industry perspective was likely to be. 

Thanks for 2b in particular - I'm coming from a position of no knowledge of the games industry whatsoever, so even just getting the hang of understanding what job titles to look for is very useful.



#6 Hamsta   Members   -  Reputation: 830

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 07:49 AM

Audio isn't my field, but I met a good deal of game audio professionals and hobbyists when I attended San Francisco Bay area game developer meet ups. Seems like there's a lot of competition and not a lot of jobs in an industry that isn't easy to get in at any positions.


Itamar Reiner: Self Financed Concept Artist http://www.hamsta180.com

#7 jamiesalisbury   Members   -  Reputation: 124

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 08:11 AM

Well people say that about film...and TV, and any good creative industry....it's true to earn a living as a composer you've got to beat off a lot of competition for the jobs and I'm not moving towards games because I think it'll be easy pickings. But from what I learned at Games Music Connect, there are opportunities if you're good enough, and it's an expanding industry, unlike Hollywood for example, for which opportunities are getting ever slimmer and budgets ever tighter.



#8 bschmidt1962   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1711

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 09:58 AM

It's very common for US game companies to hire composers all over the world.

 

GDC is a must-attend if you're serious about doing games.  It's a tremendous networking resource, provided you're not a wallflower.

 

Do you like games?  That can be a big plus.  It's much easier to network and hold a conversation with a developer at GDC if you know and love games, know what's current, and have opinions about them.  Do you think Speilberg would want someone scoring his film that hadn't seen a movie in 10 years?

 

Also, apologies for the plug, but on November 3-4 in LA, there is GameSoundCon, a conference and seminar specifically for composers and sound designers who want learn more about doing music and sound for video games.  There are a ton of differences between doing game music and doing film music.  Big disclaimer: I run GameSoundCon.  Also, there's a discount for people who read GameDev.net (if you go to the music and sound forum, you'll see it).

 

GameSoundCon is just ahead of a new conference from the GDC people called GDCNext also in LA on Nov 5-7.

 

As frob mentioned you should look into the Game Audio Network Guild (G.A.N.G.), a non-profit group that many professional and aspiring game composers belong to.  They occasionally put on events, talks, or just social get togethers.   They also host the annual GANG Awards each year at GDC, which recognizes accomplishment in game music and sound.  Another disclaimer: I'm President of G.A.N.G. so may be biased.

 

Don't be afraid to go after some smaller games-- even medium sized facebook or iPhone games can have audio budgets in the low-mid 5 figures.  It's not the half-million dollar (or more) audio budget of a big AAA game, but they also take one tenth the time to do.

 

Feel free to email me if you have specific questions about either GameSoundCon or GANG.  I'm easily google'able.  (though please note that I did not win the Nobel Prize for work in Astrophysics a couple years back--that would be the other Brian Schmidt)


Brian Schmidt

Executive Director, GameSoundCon:

GameSoundCon 2014:October 7-8, Los Angeles, CA

 

Founder, EarGames

Founder, Brian Schmidt Studios, LLC

Music Composition & Sound Design

Audio Technology Consultant


#9 jamiesalisbury   Members   -  Reputation: 124

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 10:16 AM

Thanks so much Brian. I've seen G.A.N.G mentioned a few times, but wasn't expecting the president to reply to my question!! Haha. Brilliant. I'll check it out soon and see about signing up.

Looks like GDC is a no-brainer, will be an expensive trip, but I'm always prepared to speculate to accumulate.

I've not played games in about 10 years, but that's purely because I just saw them as a time-suck and a distraction from my work at the time - if anything I enjoyed them too much! My plan is to get one of the new generation consoles when they come out. I'm really looking forward to it, because I can now just enjoy gaming without guilt because it's research now! I'm sure the changes since I last played will be jaw-dropping.

I just attended Game Music Connect in London with Jason Graves, Marty O'Donnell, Jesper Kyd, Joris de Man, Alistair Lindsay (Sony) and Paul Lipson (Microsoft) - I learned a HECK of a lot in 8 hours! Amazing guys without exception. Lots of fascinating stuff about interactive music in particular.  If your event is similar then I'd highly recommend it to others, although it's unlikely I'll be able to afford the time/expense to come over for it myself. 

I have written one iOS game (as yet unreleased) but it was an enjoyable experience and as you say, paid surprisingly well.

 

Thanks again, I may well be in touch re: GANG.

 



#10 jamiesalisbury   Members   -  Reputation: 124

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 10:40 AM

I've just realised GDC Next (Nov) is sooner than GDC (March next year).

How do you think it would compare in terms of my aims - i.e wandering around with a stack of CD's trying to meet the right people? Would the same companies be likely to be present at both?



#11 bschmidt1962   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1711

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 11:42 AM

I've just realised GDC Next (Nov) is sooner than GDC (March next year).
How do you think it would compare in terms of my aims - i.e wandering around with a stack of CD's trying to meet the right people? Would the same companies be likely to be present at both?

 

 

That's a hard question.  GDCNext, being new, is a bit of an unknown.  It won't be nearly as big as GDC in March

Here's a comparison of what they each cover.

http://www.gdconf.com/conference/index.html
http://www.gdcnext.com/conference/index.html

 

GDCNext has no "Audio Track" (that's one of the reasons I put GameSoundCon right next to it).  

So the downside is that there are no audio sessions to go to or audio people to meet.  Of course, the plus side would be that there aren't 300 other composers "wandering around with a stack of CD's" to compete with.

GDCNext is also co-located with another new conference called AppDev which is for more general app developers than just games.

 

As far as content/learning is concerned, you would get more out of GameSoundCon/GDCNext than GDC.  GDC sessions generally assume a few years experience in the game industry, whereas GameSoundCon has a series of sessions specifically for composers/sound designers from Film/TV, etc to educate them about games  and also has some hands-on training in game audio tools.  In fact, composers who went first to GameSoundCon and then on to GDC have often told me they would have felt lost in a lot of the sessions if they hadn't gotten the background at GameSoundCon.  

 

You'd also  get to know the speakers better and have a chance to talk with them by going to GameSoundCon specifically because it's so much smaller.

 

FYI, here's the first talk of the conference from GameSoundCon (2010): http://vimeo.com/16516382

 

But as far as overall networking is concerned and getting the "vibe" of the game industry, GDC in March is a hands-down winner. (Here my disclaimer is that I sit on the GDC Advisory Board).

 

As much as I'd love to say "Go to GameSoundCon and GDCNext", if you could only do one, you would probably get more out of GDC in March.   Of course You could always do both ;)

 

Finally, we do have a deal with GDCNext; if you attend GameSoundCon, you get a free "EXPO" pass to GDCNext/AppDev.  That gets you onto the show floor and to the GDCPlay events, but doesn't let you attend any of the technical sessions.

 

wandering around with a stack of CD's

 

 

As someone on the receiving end of this, most of the audio directors I know these days don't take CD's at shows anymore. Aside from the fact that they're a pain to have to carry around, when they are, they are often just left in the hotel room or discarded.  Not because we don't have the best of intentions, but just because its hard to find the time to listen to them.

Definitely have contact information, biz cards with direct web links to your demos,etc. But a CD is also kind of old fashioned these days :)..

 

Brian


Edited by bschmidt1962, 11 September 2013 - 02:10 PM.

Brian Schmidt

Executive Director, GameSoundCon:

GameSoundCon 2014:October 7-8, Los Angeles, CA

 

Founder, EarGames

Founder, Brian Schmidt Studios, LLC

Music Composition & Sound Design

Audio Technology Consultant


#12 jamiesalisbury   Members   -  Reputation: 124

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 03:26 PM

Thanks so much Brian.

I'm very seriously considering coming over in November for both GameSoundCon and GDC Next. Tempted to do GDC in March as well to be honest, although I'll have to consider family needs and finances of course.

Yes, I know CD's are old-fashioned, but I've got some good looking ones that I can at least wave at people before I give them a business card!

 

Thanks again for all your help.



#13 jamiesalisbury   Members   -  Reputation: 124

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 03:29 PM

On another note, I tried following Leon Whittle's advice from the link in Frob's reply to try and find what games are in development. Unfortunately 2 of his links don't work and the other just has about 10 titles all released this year. Google doesn't seem to be helping me out either. 

Has anyone got any advice about how I can find out what games are being released in 2014/15 and beyond?



#14 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 8669

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 05:12 PM


how I can find out what games are being released in 2014/15 and beyond?

 

Read a lot.  Especially sites targeted to players rather than industry types.  GameInformer magazine, for one. 


-- Tom Sloper
Sloperama Productions
Making games fun and getting them done.
www.sloperama.com

Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.

#15 frob   Moderators   -  Reputation: 18888

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 06:31 PM

You also keep mentioning that you don't play any games lately. That really isn't a problem. Making games and playing games are completely different things.

There are parallel industries for the game-makers and the game-players. For example, this site is aimed at game-makers.

To figure out what is coming out in the future, you need to look at BOTH. You need to look at who is hiring and what they're hiring for. Many big games are announced to players, so watch the player industry. Other games are not announced in advance, you learn about them by watching the product cycles of games from the studio; there is usually a pattern of when they hire and when they release. The Internet Archive can help with that. When you want to be hired by a specific company for a specific product you need to do some serious digging, NSA style.
Check out my personal indie blog at bryanwagstaff.com.

#16 bschmidt1962   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1711

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 10:13 PM

You also keep mentioning that you don't play any games lately. That really isn't a problem. 

 

I'm going to disagree a bit with frob (yikes...his reputation is over 10,000!)..

 

As far as doing the actual work, there is some validity to that.  But in terms of networking or even interviewing, playing games shows you're passionate about the industry.  Often people want passion as much as they want skill.  It will let you actually engage in a protracted conversation with a developer where otherwise the conversation would have lasted 3 sentences.

 

When I was at Microsoft, it wasn't uncommon at all for us to suddenly ask a candidate during an interview "So...what games are you playing?"  Someone coming up empty on that wasn't necessarily disqualified, but it certainly didn't help them stand out.


Brian Schmidt

Executive Director, GameSoundCon:

GameSoundCon 2014:October 7-8, Los Angeles, CA

 

Founder, EarGames

Founder, Brian Schmidt Studios, LLC

Music Composition & Sound Design

Audio Technology Consultant


#17 frob   Moderators   -  Reputation: 18888

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Posted 11 September 2013 - 10:45 PM

Please, feel free to disagree with me. I've been wrong plenty of times.

You are right that it can make some difference. I wouldn't turn down a strong candidate who hasn't played any big games lately, but I suppose others might.

When he wrote that he hasn't played games for 10 years, my interpretation is that he hasn't played MMO/hardcore/etc games for that time. I don't know many people who actually abstain from ALL games. People who often say they don't play games end up actually playing games, they minimize their game playing since to many people social games and smart phone games seem to not really count in their minds. Even an answer like "I've been busy working so my games have been limited to Words With Friends during breaks," or "I love such-and-such on my phone", that is still playing games.

I don't believe that you need to be up to date on playing all of the latest games in order to be a good game developer. Designers can benefit from it so features stay competitive, but other disciplines, not so much. When someone says "I want an effect like such-and-such", it is easy enough to pull up a youtube video demonstrating it.
Check out my personal indie blog at bryanwagstaff.com.

#18 jamiesalisbury   Members   -  Reputation: 124

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Posted 12 September 2013 - 06:03 AM

Thanks for the views. I think there's probably some truth in both your views - I'm sure I don't NEED to be a regular gamer to get a job. Especially if my music really speaks to a developer as perfect for their game, then they won't care in the least. I was hired for an iOS game last year with no questions about my gaming experience.

However I think for my purposes of approaching developers and needing to persuade them to hire me, or at least, I would benefit hugely from being a gamer as Brian states. At least being able to reel off a few examples of games I enjoy and game scores I like, at the very minimum. 

But also in terms of my ability to do the job if/when I am hired - the way music is integrated is key to the result and I'm not going to get a deep understanding of that without playing the latest games. At the lower/simpler level (for instance the iOS game I composed for), you can watch a few videos and then write as if you're writing for TV or whatever, it's easy enough to do. But when we're talking about console games with interactive music involved then I'll need a deeper understanding about the way it feels to be immersed in that kind of world. 

Hence my plan - I've just borrowed a friends Xbox 360 for a few days, and will invest in a PS4 or Xbox One as soon as they come out in the UK. Apart from anything, it'll be fun - I only ever stopped gaming because it took up too much time, it wasn't through lack of motivation!



#19 noisecrime   Members   -  Reputation: 720

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Posted 13 September 2013 - 01:54 AM

Hi,

 

I had a listen to some of the stuff on your soundcloud and whilst very competent (and good, really liked a few themes and motif's) it felt rather TV/Film centric which I guess is to be expected. Of course game soundtracks often echo tv/film but there was something about yours that didn't always seem to fit with my expectations of a game soundtrack. Unfortunately I can't quite put my finger on it (maybe individual tracks were too long?), but I did feel that perhaps it would be beneficial for you to familiarise yourself with modern games and their soundtracks in order to write more game centric demo tracks to add to your showcase.

 

To this end it may well be worth either writing specifically game designed music to sell or even taking on some short, lower paid work for actual game music to broaden your show-reel. For example you could write some themes or several tracks based around a theme and sell them yourself or better through a virtual store like the Unity Asset Store. Indeed hanging out or posting in the Unity forums (and places like Unreal UDK or Crytek) might lead to some lower paid work to get greater recognition. Another positive, is by hanging out in the Unity forums (and other places) you'll absorb the culture for game production and that can only be a good thing in terms of breaking into writing music for games.

 

In my mind this would kill two birds with one stone, it both expands your showcase with actual game centric tracks and increases your exposure and recognition. Although Unity is clearly aimed at indie's it is increasingly being used by indies making larger projects and the cost/budget of indie company (as opposed to say indie bedroom coders) games is growing substantially. Indeed today indie games can easily have a decent budget for composing bespoke soundtracks, so I don't think its necessary to think about targeting AAA.

 

You should also consider that for lower paid work that you keep the rights to the music allowing you to sell the soundtrack independently on say iTunes. Several indie games seemed to do this such as Fez, Minecraft etc. It provides a second revenue stream for yourself (possibly making up the difference in excepting lower paid work)  and again increasing general exposure.

 

At this stage I would strongly discourage getting a next gen game console, there simply aren't going to be many titles available for them for the next year or more. Far better to pick up a current gen cheap (360 or ps3) or use you Mac/Pc and join Steam to buy cheap (on sale) games (sometimes you get their soundtracks too), also might be worth checking out Humble Bundle as they often throw in soundtracks with the games.

 

Overall I feel like discovery and self-promotion are going to be large factors, sure you have soundcloud and a website, but I feel you should be doing more if you want to break into a new market. Get a YouTube channel up (at least a quick search didn't reveal one, though there are several Jamie Salisbury's and a couple of video's using your music), engage as much as possible with fans and commentators, networking is always good and you'll never know when it might give up a profitable lead.

 

One last comment which is rather critical, is that I didn't feel you had a signature style. I heard echo's of David Arnold/Joel Goldsmith (Stargate) and a few other modern composers in your work. This in itself is no bad thing, and i'm pretty sure producers would often ask for composers to write something in the vein of another, however it did leave me wanting to hear something more personal, more unique, to get a better understanding of you as a person and as a composer.

 

 

Anyway with the absent of direct information in this thread (though quite a few good suggestions), perhaps it would be worth discovering some of your favourite composers for games and researching them to see how they got into the business? For example Youtube is a good way of finding the OST's to games to judge the style and maybe get some hints to the composer, from there you can check wikipedia or the composers won websites. It will also point you to game developers that you feel more in tune with in terms of your musical style and who might be worth sending a showreel to.

 

e.g.

Lorne Balfe (Assassins Creed 3 OST) (Wiki)

Michiel van den Bos (Overlord 2 OST ) (Wiki)

Magnus Birgersson (Mirror's Edge OST) (Wiki)

Brian D’Oliveira (la hacienda creative) (Papa & Yo OST) (Papa & Yo Wiki)

Rich Vreeland (Fez OST) (Fez Wiki)

 

 

 

It may be worthwhile to subscribe to uk trade magazines (should be free, certainly don't pay for a subscription) so for games Intentmedia (Subscriptions - 01580 883 848) make two that might provide useful information and contacts

 

Develop: www.develop-online.net 

dev.subscriptions@c-cms.com

 

Slightly marketing/advertising biased in my opinion, but at least gives you a bit of an inside track on companies making games in the uk.

 

MCV (The Market for Computer & Video Games)

www.mcvuk.com

mcv.subscriptions@c-cms.com

 

Focuses on the selling and marketing of games, so not directly related, but might still provide you with ideas, information and contacts.

 

Now one or maybe both of these also come with a yearly 'Source Book' that lists companies involved with gaming, though much is focused on services that have no relevance to you there is a small section for 'software development' as well as 'Creative & Promotional services' so maybe they might have some useful contacts to pursue.

 

 

Anyway good luck with your endeavour.



#20 jamiesalisbury   Members   -  Reputation: 124

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Posted 13 September 2013 - 03:48 AM

Thank you so much for checking out my soundcloud Noisecrime, and for the wealth of information - it's truly appreciated! This was clearly the right forum to come to :-)

 

I put together a new, very short showreel from "Endworlds" last night, which I was hoping would be my "go-to" demo showreel for games, particularly fantasy/sci-fi etc:

 

https://soundcloud.com/jamiesalisbury/endworlds-short-showreel

 

If anyone has time to listen and feedback I'd really appreciated it - it's only 3 minutes long.

I'm really interested as to why my music "doesn't sound like games music". I know you said you couldn't put your finger on it, but if anyone else has time to listen and can put their finger on it I'd love to know! I know structurally of course it will be different, but in terms of the tone and style I'd love to know peoples thoughts.

Re: style - I'm sure that's true, although I think it's something that is impossible to know from my point of view as I can't be objective about it. I'm definitely a jack of all trades (see "iPod shuffle" on my soundcloud for an extreme example!), which is both a blessing and a curse of course. 

When you're talking about "lower-paid" indie games, is it possible to give me an idea of the sort of fees you're talking about? I'm really happy to work for a quality project for a lower fee, I just need to make sure I get paid enough to justify doing the work to my family at this point. 

I won't respond to every point so as not to clutter the thread, but I'm taking everything onboard, agree with you on most points and will follow up all your links.

Thanks again!

Jamie

P.S I've got other tracks in mind to demo different styles, won't expect anyone to listen, but in case anyone's curious and has any thoughts for me:

https://soundcloud.com/jamiesalisbury/monsters-vs-pirates (fun, happy, main theme)

https://soundcloud.com/jamiesalisbury/imagem-us-drama-album-excerpts (Moody, introspective, atmospheric)

https://soundcloud.com/jamiesalisbury/sets/end-game (thriller, action)






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