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ZaphrodBeeblebrox

How to please or anger your customer

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Hey there, I currently am a senior member of an awesome game studio that has been doing well over the last half of this decade both in serving our clients and making our own games. However, during my career as a producer for this studio, I've had some good and bad experiences with composers and I wanted to share the bad with you today so that you have some perspective as to what your customers are thinking. So here goes the perspective-sharing :). We make games, so we need composers, but in searching for & working with composers we've run into several problems with them. I'll make a few posts listing the problems and solutions we see, and start with the one I think is most important below. 1. Not offering enough value: Problem: We often get solicitations from composers to the tune of "Hi, I'm XXX and I have XX years of experience in many types of games, music styles, with many different instruments, and overall I rock. Check out my portfolio. I charge $75/hour or $2000/minute of music." Okay, well, great - you've got a halfway decent portfolio. But here's news for you, we can get very very good offshore composers that meet our needs wonderfully for $10/hour and $200/minute respectively. So tell me, why should we go with you? Because you gave a self-testimonial? Giving a solicitation with a high rate and a good portfolio is not good enough. There's much competition in this market, and sound, while necessary is a commodity due to this competition. We'd honestly rather spend that money on good developers or level designers. Upside: Distinguish yourself As the sound customer, if we're going to be paying such high rates (remember, it's a global marketplace, we can get high quality/low cost offshore, we don't have to pay "Standard US rates") we want value. And sometimes, a US/EU composer will deliver that, and we'll pay his rates. For instance, on a recent project, we had a composer come to us offering package deals. We needed about 10 songs for our game, and roughly 500 sound effects. He offered a deal where for $12000, we could get everything, with a reasonable number of revisions. HOW did he offer it? He used his own offshore team to help him out, he had a great customer support system in place where we could contact him or his offshore guys at any time for help (which is much different from many composers who take days to respond to our emails), and he had a lot of previous work he'd generated which he could quickly adapt to our project. The result was that he produced the sound effects and songs with ruthless quickness & efficiency, and did our revision requests quickly. Overall, this phase of our project was completed in 2.5 months which likely equated to $3500 month personal profit for him from us (remember we're only one of his customers). So, for a guy like this, we LOVE to pay high rates. We produce a lot of material with our offshore guys now for smaller things, but when we need something serious done, we always go to him. That wraps up this post, but I'll continue to post good/bad things from the customer perspective about composers and how composers can change their business practices to make customers happier. But baseline is, if you live in a Western country and expect high rates. Make sure you differentiate yourself from others by offering tons and tons of value to your customers. Many composers will often expect high rates and do things like - Communicate with you really poorly - Fail to stick to schedules - Generate poor quality sounds & music, refuse to do revisions, and demand you pay thru the nose for their low quality work. - Be terribly non-proactive about trying to get you what you want after you've paid them - Generate conflicts with your art team because they want to exercise their own creativity and control over the true needs of your project - Etc. So whenever we see a new composer come around, we're always half-expecting to pay for bad work. However, if you really can offer high value and show that to us - trust me, we'll pay for it.

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Very interesting post!

Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
1. Not offering enough value:

....

Okay, well, great - you've got a halfway decent portfolio. But here's news for you, we can get very very good offshore composers that meet our needs wonderfully for $10/hour and $200/minute respectively. So tell me, why should we go with you? Because you gave a self-testimonial?


Perhaps some composers charge more than others because they have already proven themselves on various titles in the past. Perhaps some are just greedy! :P There will always be folks that can work for cheaper, no matter what industry you look at. This, in itself doesn't prove or really support your argument. I could find a free programmer, artist and producer right now if I wanted to, but I'd have no guarantee how reliable or good they were. A good reputation can be worth something. John Williams charges a whole heck of a lot more than most do because he has a stronger reputation.

You also have to consider that many pro teams want exclusive rights to all content. This means the composer can profit only once from all of this work while the team or company can profit from the same work indefinitely. The company would also own the work and be able to reuse the work as they see fit without paying the composer anything further. So when you discuss "high rates" consider that the composer is setting these rates for a reason. Also you mention contracting out work which means this composer isn't getting benefits or salary from you. It also means that the composer has to pay higher taxes due to being a contractor. My point is what may seem excessive to you may be just want is needed to get by on all of the bills and such.

Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
Okay, well, great - you've got a halfway decent portfolio. But here's news for you, we can get very very good offshore composers that meet our needs wonderfully for $10/hour and $200/minute respectively. So tell me, why should we go with you? Because you gave a self-testimonial?


I'd like to draw special attention to this point. Do you honestly expect these cheaper composers to always work at this rate? What happens when some of these composers start building a stronger rep and landing larger clients? Will you still hold them to the $200/minute rate? What I've seen is as someone's career grows so do their rates.

Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
Giving a solicitation with a high rate and a good portfolio is not good enough. There's much competition in this market, and sound, while necessary is a commodity due to this competition. We'd honestly rather spend that money on good developers or level designers.


I'd wager that great sound can help influence and support decent to great developers and level design. Bad or mediocre sound can have the inverse impact. It's all about what the company/team wants to focus on and invest it. Too many times I've seen audio get the least amount of funding, time, planning and interest for a development team.

Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
Upside: Distinguish yourself
As the sound customer, if we're going to be paying such high rates (remember, it's a global marketplace, we can get high quality/low cost offshore, we don't have to pay "Standard US rates") we want value.


You rant earlier about folks listing their credits but this is one way for a composer to distinguish them self from others.

Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
But baseline is, if you live in a Western country and expect high rates. Make sure you differentiate yourself from others by offering tons and tons of value to your customers.

Many composers will often expect high rates and do things like
- Communicate with you really poorly
- Fail to stick to schedules
- Generate poor quality sounds & music, refuse to do revisions, and demand you pay thru the nose for their low quality work.
- Be terribly non-proactive about trying to get you what you want after you've paid them
- Generate conflicts with your art team because they want to exercise their own creativity and control over the true needs of your project
- Etc.

So whenever we see a new composer come around, we're always half-expecting to pay for bad work. However, if you really can offer high value and show that to us - trust me, we'll pay for it.


Sounds like you've had plenty of bad experiences with composers. That's a shame. Most folks I know that freelance as composers have excellent communication, meet deadlines about 99% of the time and produce great audio. I don't know who you've been doing business but it seems you've pick poor candidates. Perhaps instead of creating a rant on a forum, you should re-evaluate your recruitment methods for finding higher quality composers. They are out there! :)

Nate

[Edited by - nsmadsen on August 19, 2009 11:30:58 AM]

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Perhaps some composers charge more than others because they have already proven themselves on various titles in the past. Perhaps some are just greedy! :P There will always be folks that can work for cheaper, no matter what industry you look at. This, in itself doesn't prove or really support your argument. I could find a free programmer, artist and producer right now if I wanted to, but I'd have no guarantee how reliable or good they were. A good reputation can be worth something. John Williams charges a whole heck of a lot more than most do because he has a stronger reputation.

You also have to consider that many pro teams want exclusive rights to all content. This means the composer can profit only once from all of this work while the team or company can profit from the same work indefinitely. The company would also own the work and be able to reuse the work as they see fit without paying the composer anything further. So when you discuss "high rates" consider that the composer is setting these rates for a reason. Also you mention contracting out work which means this composer isn't getting benefits or salary from you. It also means that the composer has to pay higher taxes due to being a contractor. My point is what may seem excessive to you may be just want is needed to get by on all of the bills and such.


Well, it's not so much that you have to pick cheap composers from expensive ones, it's just that overseas, you have composers with the same skill level offering their services for a price that allows them to live an awesome life in their economy. So to them, it's a high rate, and they're transparent about this. So from a company's perspective, when you can find equal quality, the cost case makes sense.

Generally, what we find is that good work comes from good relationships. We've used some expensive composers and the relationship turned bad because we just didn't get along with them or their working styles. Despite the fact that they had a huge portfolio, it didn't work. The key to making it work is taking the risk to develop the relationship, and in our eyes, we can take a smaller risk by investigating either people offshore who are great or people onshore who clearly show us that they'll deliver above and beyond value to us.

And I agree with you about exclusivity clauses, that's worth a high rate.



Quote:
I'd like to draw special attention to this point. Do you honestly expect these cheaper composers to always work at this rate? What happens when some of these composers start building a stronger rep and landing larger clients? Will you still hold them to the $200/minute rate? What I've seen is as someone's career grows so do their rates.


We start paying them increasing amounts, enough to make them able to buy houses pay for good cars :) and send them lots of work. They don't usually end up increasing their rates to US rates because they know it's part of their competitive advantage and they can live very well with an amount that's considered in the "very high" category for their economy's scale.

Quote:
You rant earlier about folks listing their credits but this is one way for a composer to distinguish them self from others.


I agree! It's the first thing that's asked for. And I think that composers should definitely go so far as to create their own works for portfolio purposes in addition to work done for customers. I think the point I'm really trying to convey is that you shouldn't use it as your only trump card. Sure, you have a good portfolio, but so do a lot of people. What else can you show us that'll make us confident you'll give us value.

Quote:
Sounds like you've had plenty of bad experiences with composers. That's a shame. Most folks I know that freelance as composers have excellent communication, meet deadlines about 99% of the time and produce great audio. I don't know who you've been doing business but it seems you've pick poor candidates. Perhaps instead of creating a rant on a forum, you should re-evaluate your recruitment methods for finding higher quality composers. They are out there! :)


Well we do have great relationships with composers now, it's just that when working with service providers, you have to spend some time taking risks and developing relationships. You always run into good workers and bad workers. We did our rounds, and have good people now but it took trial & error.

We use several offshore, and that really really great onshore guy who is a no doubt a superstar. Not to say that other on-shore guys weren't good, but most offshore guys are just as good (Afterall, they're human beings, just because they live in a country with a low GDP doesn't mean they'll somehow be bad at what they do) and they weren't as good as our super-star . From our perspective, why pay onshore rates for the same quality we can get for cheaper? We pay it for extreme excellence, but nothing less.

So I'm just saying, in a global economy, companies have options and I'm trying to present a customer's perspective. And really, for US or EU composers to be a good choice, it's important that they work to deliver something that blows most other competition out of the water. That's obtained through meticulous effort in professional improvement and awesome customer service I think.

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Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
We start paying them increasing amounts, enough to make them able to buy houses pay for good cars :) and send them lots of work. They don't usually end up increasing their rates to US rates because they know it's part of their competitive advantage and they can live very well with an amount that's considered in the "very high" category for their economy's scale.


Since we're talking about global economies, the US dollar isn't doing so hot and hasn't been for a good while. There are some cases, like with the UK, where foreign currency has more purchasing power (or longetivity) than the US dollar has. Yet you still say that US rates are so much higher. If we remove the amateurs and hobbyists working for free or for very, very cheap I wonder how much different pros in the US are charging from pros elsewhere. Something tells me it isn't always the US that is higher. Also since you bring up paying enough for folks to purchase houses and good cars have you considered how much these cost? Where I live a decent, middle class home in a decent neighborhood is at least $150,000 to $250,000. My car is a humble Honda Civic that cost $17,000. You mention paying some folks $200/minute of music (or at least cited some folks having this as their rate). This means if I do a ten minute soundtrack for your game I'm getting $2000. That is barely enough to get my past my bills (rent, utilities, food, etc). This doesn't include the cost of the hardware and software I have to purchase and maintain to produce professional audio. If I may be so forward, what is a reasonable rate per minute in your opinion?

I fully understand that companies will pick the best option (usually a balance between final result and cost). I know that I've been passed up for cheaper (if not completely free) candidates in the past. I do my best to charge what I feel is appropriate and fair to both the client and to me, my talents and my credentials. I'm definitely not getting rich but I get by!

Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
I agree! It's the first thing that's asked for. And I think that composers should definitely go so far as to create their own works for portfolio purposes in addition to work done for customers. I think the point I'm really trying to convey is that you shouldn't use it as your only trump card. Sure, you have a good portfolio, but so do a lot of people. What else can you show us that'll make us confident you'll give us value.


Personally I provide links to articles and events I've taken part in as well as cite happy peers and clients. I also try my best to have my personality come through, which can be tricky when dealing with only text! :P

Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
So I'm just saying, in a global economy, companies have options and I'm trying to present a customer's perspective. And really, for US or EU composers to be a good choice, it's important that they work to deliver something that blows most other competition out of the water. That's obtained through meticulous effort in professional improvement and awesome customer service I think.


Completely agree there! Nice discussion!

Nate

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This means if I do a ten minute soundtrack for your game I'm getting $2000. That is barely enough to get my past my bills (rent, utilities, food, etc). This doesn't include the cost of the hardware and software I have to purchase and maintain to produce professional audio. If I may be so forward, what is a reasonable rate per minute in your opinion?


Aha! Good question.

I understand that you need to get by. It's a tough world as a freelancer because there's no regular paycheck.

I'll give you my feedback on this when I get done pushing product out for the day :).

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Original post by nsmadsenThis doesn't include the cost of the hardware and software I have to purchase and maintain to produce professional audio.


This is one of those things that is not globally variable. Software and hardware generally costs the same no matter where you live in the world unless you pirate your software or engage in illegal practices.

At this time, the minimum buy-in for bottom of the line but commercially acceptable production software and hardware is going to set you back about $6,000.

To be anywhere near the top of the pile, you're going to have to look at spending a minimum of about $5,000 to $10,000 a year to keep current.

That doesn't include the cost of studio space, that doesn't include the usage of live musicians, it doesn't include recording hardware, it doesn't include overhead utilities, nor living expenses.

This is just computer generated music.

You have your standards, and by all means, if music worth $200/minute works fine for you, then go for it. I hope you make up for your devaluation by giving your off-shore worker plenty of work. For their sake...

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As a composer of primarily concert music, I am amazed that someone would pay $200 - $2000 a minute for music. My surprise is (from what I'm reading here) mostly due to my lack of understanding about the game music production business.

While I agree that a composer shouldn't fluff themselves up, I also think that pay should be reasonable based on their credentials. Sure, a hobbyist "offshore" will deliver the goods for $10/hr, but what about the doctoral candidate here in the US?

If I sold my concert music for $200 a minute, I think I'd have about a million dollars.

Are pieces for games generally short in length?

Has anyone developed a unified standard for payment/compensation between composers and game developers? Or are we dipping into Union territory?

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Original post by jjandreau
As a composer of primarily concert music, I am amazed that someone would pay $200 - $2000 a minute for music.


The last I heard the standard industry rate for exclusive rights is around $1250 per minute of music composed. It may be higher now.

Quote:
Original post by jjandreau
While I agree that a composer shouldn't fluff themselves up, I also think that pay should be reasonable based on their credentials. Sure, a hobbyist "offshore" will deliver the goods for $10/hr, but what about the doctoral candidate here in the US?


Another excellent point. Advanced degrees take more time, money and energy to attain and also raise someone's credentials. I, myself, have a masters in music.

Quote:
Original post by jjandreau
If I sold my concert music for $200 a minute, I think I'd have about a million dollars.


Hahaha, I have TONS of unused music laying around too. If i could sell each and everyone one of them I'd be living on my own private island somewhere...

Quote:
Original post by jjandreau
Are pieces for games generally short in length?


When compared to full orchestral pieces last 15+ minutes, yes. The average length, from what I've noticed, is between 3-5 minutes long.

Quote:
Original post by jjandreau
Has anyone developed a unified standard for payment/compensation between composers and game developers? Or are we dipping into Union territory?


Yes there is the industry standard, but there really isn't a union of game composers, at least not one that I know of.

[Edited by - nsmadsen on August 19, 2009 10:14:00 PM]

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A few more thoughts that came to me later after some of my other posts:

Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
So whenever we see a new composer come around, we're always half-expecting to pay for bad work.


This statement makes absolutely no sense to me and actually makes me think worse of your studio rather than the [supposedly] crappy composer(s) you've hired in the past. Why would you hire someone who's work wasn't up to your standard? When I hire people, I only look for the very best that I can afford and is available to work.

Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
I agree! It's the first thing that's asked for. And I think that composers should definitely go so far as to create their own works for portfolio purposes in addition to work done for customers. I think the point I'm really trying to convey is that you shouldn't use it as your only trump card. Sure, you have a good portfolio, but so do a lot of people. What else can you show us that'll make us confident you'll give us value.


I've already mentioned my credits list, links to articles and events I partake in, quotes from happy clients and peers as well as trying to get my personality out there too. You, the studio, has means to evaluate the composer as well. Does your studio conduct any audio tests before hiring on someone? The last two in-house jobs did this and I've also had to do this for some contract jobs. This is an excellent way to see how the composer will support and handle the material from the studio within the time frame you set. If your studio doesn't do this, you really should consider adding it in. If your studio does this practice and you're still ending up with poor results then something is awry... either in your studio and/or the composer you've picked.

Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
We needed about 10 songs for our game, and roughly 500 sound effects.

He offered a deal where for $12000, we could get everything, with a reasonable number of revisions.

...

So, for a guy like this, we LOVE to pay high rates. We produce a lot of material with our offshore guys now for smaller things, but when we need something serious done, we always go to him.


I'd just like to point out that just taking the music requirements alone:

$12,000 for ten songs comes out to $1200 a song. If you assume that each song is only one minute long, then he's actually charging just slightly below the standard industry rate. However if you add in the 500 SFX you also needed, then he's actually charging less. Let's assume that he normally charges $1 per SFX asset created. This is INCREDIBLY cheap!! Then the SFX take $500 and leave $1150 per song. Let me remind you this is assuming that each song is only one minute and each SFX asset only costs $1. If this wasn't the case then you're getting an even better deal that you first thought! Then comes the part where this is a collective of composers-sound designers so each individually is getting a smaller piece of the pie.

Yet you call these high rates?

These rates are not high, they're industry standard at best and below industry standard most likely with all details considered. You should see what some of the A-list composers in Hollywood charge!! That's high!! :P And you know, very few fault them for it.

ZaphrodBeeblebrox- I don't think you meant your original post to come off offensive, but it kinda does. We have someone who is coming to the music and sound forum and preaching to us about all of the things that [you] think composers do. You make a huge amount of assumptions and many of your statements don't consider the full picture. Talk about generalizing!! Right now I could spout off a rant about some of the crappy producers I've worked with and make it seem like it's a global problem with a majority of the producers out there. Many of my points would be spot on because I've dealt with many bad ones!! But thankfully I've also dealt with some suburb ones and I'm also aware that generalizing to that degree isn't a good thing and wouldn't make me look very good.

I cannot speak for why you've had so many bad experiences with composers because I don't know what company your work for nor do I know what composers you claim to have such terrible experiences with. I can, however, list off the top of my head ten freelancing composers that I have the utmost faith in and I know don't violate any of the items you listed:

Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
Many composers will often expect high rates and do things like
- Communicate with you really poorly
- Fail to stick to schedules
- Generate poor quality sounds & music, refuse to do revisions, and demand you pay thru the nose for their low quality work.
- Be terribly non-proactive about trying to get you what you want after you've paid them
- Generate conflicts with your art team because they want to exercise their own creativity and control over the true needs of your project
- Etc.


I'd also like to think that I, myself, am a composer that does high quality work, meets deadlines and responds very quickly to email. I also do not generate conflicts with the team to exercise my own creativity and control however this statement of yours begs the question: should the sound guy not also be included in making design decisions about the game? Some of the best projects I've been on were projects that had folks from all disciplines sitting down and collaborating on a game idea. Several very helpful things come out of this. Forgive me, but your post sounds like you want a sound monkey to just fill in the blanks that you feel are appropriate and leave their brain and creativity at the door. This doesn't always work. I like to think of it like this: I'm hiring you because you know skill X better than I do. I trust your judgment! Let's work together! So while I don't condone having any dept seize control over the whole project (and I've seen it happen before and it WASN'T audio), I certainly don't find having a meeting of the minds and collaborating across disciplines a negative. Just some of my thoughts.

Thanks,

Nathan

[Edited by - nsmadsen on August 20, 2009 7:46:36 AM]

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Well, all I'm saying is that a composer has to do better than just show a good portfolio. Because offshore guys who are happy to do the work at lower rates can do exactly the same quality work.

In general when a composer comes to us and listens to our needs first, and then creates a package that really suits our needs, that's when we'll pay the high rates.

We've met a lot of good composers and had experiences that most companies would call good, but we tend to be meticulous about getting the best business deal in quality/price we can get. So even though we went through some good composers, we still looked for better, and found it. We've since paid the super-star guy more for different pieces of work, but only because he always delivers beyond our wildest dreams.

I mean, sorry, but we're a business we go for great quality at great value. And we've found it by doing only by doing many many many trials with different composers. Self-professed credentials such as possessing an advanced degree, being super-experienced, long lists of customers (who you're not sure were happy customers or not) are all secondary to work you see them do and their pro-activeness towards your business during the first part of your working relationship. Also, many quote "industry-standard rates" it like it's something they're owed. Nope, you're not owed it because of a degree and your past success, you're owed it when you give us great value.

Again bottomline is, we'll pay high for great value, but the composer has to show they'll go above and beyond. We've been shown that by a few people, and they win the business and profit greatly from our relationship. As much as you may not like to hear it, composing is a commodity service, so you have to show a client real value beyond what the 5000 other composers out there are. I'm not saying you don't deliver that, I'm saying that composers really need to be pro-active in their business with clients to ensure they meet their needs, because your clients have many MANY options.

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