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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!

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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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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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$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?


Nah not high rates, just higher than offshore. And yeah I agree with you, it was a great deal :). The songs were from 1-3 minutes long, most on the shorter side.

Also, he used offshore labor as well and had a huge bank out sound effects he made on his own time that he could tweak, so lets just say he had good tooling in his factory which reduced his personal time on it immensely. He worked smarter, not harder.

He runs a really efficient operation, so he's able to crank things out fast and charge what seem like crazy rates, but to him, he's making out really well. Honestly, it blew us out of the water too - we never expected it, but it's reality and we're loyal to him and not others. Trust me, we've sent a ton of business his way as have his other customers, his tenacity has paid off for him.

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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.


Well good for them. We don't care to pay for some glittery hollywood composer, we pay for people who are into our making it work out for our business.

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Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
Nah not high rates, just higher than offshore. And yeah I agree with you, it was a great deal :). The songs were from 1-3 minutes long, most on the shorter side.


I just pointed this out because earlier you stated:

Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
So, for a guy like this, we LOVE to pay high rates.


Perhaps this was just a typo or perhaps I just misread it but it sounded like you were calling these rates high. That's all.

Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
Well good for them. We don't care to pay for some glittery hollywood composer, we pay for people who are into our making it work out for our business.


No need to get snippy. I'm simply pointing out that there are folks that charge a good deal more than the standard or average for exclusive rights. Also, with the current trend of film score composers moving more and more into video game scores, you might end up looking to one of these guys as a possible resource in the future. You just never know.

Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
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.


That's fine, I mostly agree with this point. I know many composers that do step up and go beyond just the "look at my portfolio" approach. Having said that, the portfolio is the meat and potatoes of the composer's impression, is it not? To me the most important factor for a composer is how good (or bad) the music he or she can write. This is made evident directly by the portfolio provided as well as any audio tests required by the studio. All of the other stuff simply supports and enhances the composer's standing.

Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
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.


Well I can't speak for other composers but I list my credits to show that I've gone through this process before. To show that I'm familiar with the process of taking many teams and many elements and making them work and meld into one cohesive and effective experience, be it a film, TV show or video game.

I have an advanced degree which means I've done further study of music. Does this mean my music is automatically better than others? Not necessarily but it does mean I've invest time, money and energy into further studying my craft.

For the record I charge below industry standard rates. I also never approach this like "I'm owed this." I approach it like so: This is the norm in the industry that I work in, so I'm going to charge X." I explain this to the client because the expectations of clients varies to a HUGE degree. Some clients feel that paying $100 for a full game soundtrack is very expensive while others don't bat an eye at dropping $20,000 for a full soundtrack. So this provides context and not an explanation of what I'm owed. Perhaps you just take this the wrong way?


Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
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.


Completely agree there. Never said I didn't. After all, in my own experience I started with zero contacts and zero formal game audio experience. I was a music school teacher with a dream. I've literally clawed my way up to where I am now and learned many lessons along the way. Over the past 4 years I've worked on over 140 projects and have had two in-house jobs so I know what it takes to get clients to recognize your talent and ability and have enough faith to invest in that for their product. I completely understand the business side of things and have no issue with companies trying to create the best work for the least amount of money. It's simply the way business works.

[Edited by - nsmadsen on August 21, 2009 8:09:35 AM]

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I find it interesting that Zaphod is basically making the argument that outsourced talent to other countries is just as good as anything in the US or UK, but at a cheaper price. For some projects this is probably true. However, with projects where quality is more of an issue than budget, this argument breaks down.

I just worked on the live elements for a videogame soundtrack for a major developer. The composer and developer had thought the costs were quite high for what they were getting. ("But we can get an ensemble twice that size for the same price in <other place>!") Then we had our day in the studio.

The music was orchestrated by a Hollywood talent. The sessions were recorded at a studio in Hollywood sought after for great recordings because of its warm sound and legendary reverb chambers. Because the contractor knew Hollywood, he knew when the other film and record dates were happening and was able to schedule the recordings at a time when A-list talent would be available. This meant that everyone from the players, to the music editor, to the engineers, was one of the best in their field.

By the end of the first day, the composer sat in stunned silence. He was stunned that all these people came into the studio with the same great attitude and goal of making his music sound the best it could. They genuinely cared and kept asking if he was satisfied. But what shocked him even more was the skill of all these people. They backed up that positive attitude with the ability to work together seamlessly and deliver a quality of sound he had never heard before with unsurpassed efficiency. The intonation, playing, and expressiveness was perfect - often on the first take, the mix was fabulous, and we had recorded 25 cues by the end of the first day.

This composer had gone overseas in the past to search for the cheapest option possible, and had gotten what he thought were perfectly fine results. He never knew his music could sound like this. For the first time he realized that at the top end of the spectrum there really is a reason why good people charge what they do. Given the quality he received, he even commented that in the future he would rather record here with a smaller ensemble than a larger one overseas. It just sounded better, and the experience was so much more pleasant. It was just plain fun to record all that music with such great people and get such wonderful results!

Now, this is not saying that price alone determines quality. But it is saying that if someone does charge "more" for their work and has the proper experience to merit that, it's worth checking some references to find out why. It may be that the value they deliver is something that can't be found elsewhere. Granted, there are those who charge more just because there is a lot of hype surrounding them, especially in the videogame industry. But with a few well placed phone calls, you can usually cut through the hype. Most good people are happy to provide honest references and welcome your checking them.

So don't be too quick to assume that you can always get the same quality for cheaper. If you can find the quality you need for a cheaper price overseas, fabulous. I applaud you. However, don't expect someone to cut prices just to compete with offshore vendors. At the highest levels there are things that you just can't do elsewhere because the personnel and resources aren't available everywhere. Otherwise when budgets are not a concern and quality is paramount, people would still go to cheaper overseas vendors. But they don't do that, do they?

[Edited by - Muzo72 on August 29, 2009 11:26:55 PM]

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A good relationship is worth more than ego. Ego may get you noticed but going above and beyond earns you good will. Developers would rather go back to an audio contractor that ensures that their clients are looked after than someone who's all about the credit or even worse about the money.

I agree, looking after your clients is paramount to running a successful audio consultancy. You're joining a project to make a game, not get your music or name out there. It should be all about the game what does the client need from you to make the game. Obviously you don't want to be taken advantage of but that's where a good relationship comes into play, there's a level of trust that runs both ways.

I'm somewhat surprised to hear that some of your composers didn't want to provide revisions, that just reflects badly on their name. Obviously, if you're changing your mind about the style of the music written that's a spec change and time should be paid for. If you've committed to provide music for a project, it's your professional obligation to provide revisions. A lot of composer have to understand, it's not about YOUR music, it's about THEIR project. Understandably compositions are an expression of one's self so it's easy to be protective over it and your skill, but to be successful you need to put that behind you and concentrate on what your client needs.

I've worked on a project where I was micro-managed as a composer. I had to change the smallest things around multiple times, re-sequence sections, change orchestration, even , revert those changes at a later time after other changes had been made. Believe me it was really really frustrating. My typical turn around is 1-2 revisions, on this particular project I did about 15-20 revisions. Not because the music was bad, but because the producer had a particular idea in their head and they wanted to hear it exactly how they heard it. It took a good 4 weeks for 1 song instead of 1-3 days. Unfortunately this was just the producer's personality and wanting what was in their head. I just grit my teeth and made the revisions to the best quality I could and gave the developer exactly what they wanted quickly. They were very happy with the result and the game shipped and has been successful. Did I work with them again, no :) I was offered more work, but the dynamics of the relationship they were after was too draining and counter productive for myself.

I'm curious, when you're talking to prospective composers if you've ever asked them for references for you to check up on their quality, delivery record and professional attitude?

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Quote:
Original post by yjbrown
A good relationship is worth more than ego. Ego may get you noticed but going above and beyond earns you good will. Developers would rather go back to an audio contractor that ensures that their clients are looked after than someone who's all about the credit or even worse about the money.


I agree but I don't feel this conversation is directly about this. I feel that for whatever reason ZaphrodBeeblebrox has an organic, negative response to composers who charge more than ZaphrodBeeblebrox feels is fair or more than what others charge.

Quote:
Original post by yjbrown
I'm somewhat surprised to hear that some of your composers didn't want to provide revisions, that just reflects badly on their name. Obviously, if you're changing your mind about the style of the music written that's a spec change and time should be paid for. If you've committed to provide music for a project, it's your professional obligation to provide revisions.


Well, yes and no. I feel that there is a balance of responsibility here. Yes composers should be willing to do revisions when needed and requested by the client. The client should also do their research and have a very clear vision of what is needed so they can help guide the composer and the rest of the team. Two examples of what I mean:

Back in 2006 I worked on a space game by one of the members of GD.net. The game looked AMAZING and I was really excited to be part of it! Before starting any of the compositions I asked for any reference material to help guide me. The client wasn't a musician so I told him that referring to other game soundtracks, films, cds, anything would be helpful! He provided none. I also told him that descriptive words could help like: angry, intense, fast-paced music. He provided none. So I just started writing what I felt would work for the visuals and type of game he was making. When I'd get his feedback it was completely vague. Here's one for example:

Him: I like the piece but something about it doesn't work.

(By the way I understood he wasn't a musician so I started asking questions that could help narrow down what he didn't like about the piece.)

Me: Is it something that sounds high or low in the music?

Him: I don't know.

Me: Is the music going to fast or too slow?

Him: I don't know.

Me: Ok, can you tell me where in the music, time-wise, it starts happening?

Him: No.

Me: Okay, you're not giving me very much to work with here.

After doing over six drafts and never getting any solid feedback from the client I quit the project. To date this is the only project I've ever quit.

My friend and fellow composer, Will Loconto, once said to me:

Iteration just for the sake of iteration dooms a project to failure.

I completely agree! So yes I agree that a composer must be willing to make revisions, the client needs to provide the needed info to help the composer. One way I put it to my clients is "the more info you give me now, the better I can create the perfect song for this project on the first try." It is my policy to include 3-4 revisions bundled with the original rate I charge. Any revisions beyond that cost the client extra. This does something interesting to the client: it forces them to consider the changes they're requesting. For some personality types if they know the revisions will always be free then they'll be more likely to request many changes without considering if they're really needed or not. I've witnessed this first hand. But if they know that it comes at a cost or they have a limited amount of re-dos available then they'll be more cautious with them and use them when they're really needed and valid.

On top of this, I provide updates for every 30 seconds or so of music composed. This enabled the client to get frequent updates and help keep me on track instead of reacting to a full, complete song which may or may not be what they wanted. With the exception of the game I listed above, I've never had to go beyond my revision limit.

One more example (which is shorter! :P )

I've worked on a team where they wanted to iterate with every dept all of the time. "We'll keep iterating until we get it perfect!" While this sounds good and can look good on paper it is ultimately a doom state, much like Will said. Over three years later this project is still focused on making the first small section (roughly 1.5 levels) instead of focused on the overall game. Iteration for the sheer sake of iteration doesn't make good games nor does it keep teams on schedule. You must have a clear vision of what your goal is otherwise you'll be running around in circles.

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Quote:
Original post by yjbrown
It took a good 4 weeks for 1 song instead of 1-3 days.


All that this means is that if we can be expected to do this, we should charge per track, enough for 4 weeks of work.

This is why composers are expensive.

In my contracts, I explicitly outline the revision process and I provide my clients with up-to-the-hour/day works in progress so that things outside of the clients needs are not committed needlessly.

I also specify time-lines and milestones in my contracts to avoid a situation where I spend 7 times longer than expected on a track, as in Yannis' case.

If I can be expected to take up to 7 times longer, than I have to make sure I charge 7 times the price for 3 days of work.



The contractors triangle:

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danthr said:
In my contracts, I explicitly outline the revision process and I provide my clients with up-to-the-hour/day works in progress so that things outside of the clients needs are not committed needlessly.


Fortunately this was a once off case and very early on in my career. I didn't have a revision clause or relationship established as it was a new client. So I treated it as I had committed to the project and just give the client what they needed and part on good terms. I wouldn't say it was 4 weeks of full work, but the revisions did drag on over 4 weeks, perhaps 1-2hr per revision. Still being micromanaged like that wasn't pleasant.

A revision clause is definitely a good idea so both parties understand the boundaries.

There is as nsmadsen says 'a balance of responsibility' is necessary from both parties.

Quote:
nsmadsen said:
On top of this, I provide updates for every 30 seconds or so of music composed


That is a really good mechanism for ensuring that you're giving your client what they need, and they're knowing where you're going before wasting too much time.

Quote:
nsmadsen said:
I feel that for whatever reason ZaphrodBeeblebrox has an organic, negative response to composers who charge more than ZaphrodBeeblebrox feels is fair or more than what others charge.


The whole pricing factor is not the issue he's trying to make in his original post. Unfortunately, it probably was not a great example to use comparing apples to oranges (cheaper Eastern EU composers vs comparitively more expensive Western composers). The underlying statement here is comparing value between two composers.

Quote:
ZaphrodBeeblebrox said:
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 can't control that composers in cheaper countries can charge less because their intrinsic base costs are much lower. The only thing you have to remain competitive is your service and quality and professionalism and that's the point he's trying to get across.

A lot of audio providers here are trying to break in and need to know what they need to do to obtain and retain work. A good relationship developed between a developer and a content provider will ensure that fairness runs both ways. I think we're all a little scared of being taken advantage of from historic experience.

[Edited by - nsmadsen on August 31, 2009 6:04:52 PM]

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Quote:
Original post by yjbrown
Fortunately this was a once off case and very early on in my career. I didn't have a revision clause or relationship established as it was a new client. So I treated it as I had committed to the project and just give the client what they needed and part on good terms. I wouldn't say it was 4 weeks of full work, but the revisions did drag on over 4 weeks, perhaps 1-2hr per revision. Still being micromanaged like that wasn't pleasant.


Yeah, 20 revisions is a pay-able offense. I'd say that 3-4 revisions are reasonable.

Also, I agree with Nathan. It's important to provide direction to the composer. I'd say that sometimes producer don't always know that, so if you sense he's a reasonable guy, give him tips on references.

Quote:

Quote:
nsmadsen said:
I feel that for whatever reason ZaphrodBeeblebrox has an organic, negative response to composers who charge more than ZaphrodBeeblebrox feels is fair or more than what others charge.


Quote:
ZaphrodBeeblebrox said:
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.
.

The whole pricing factor is not the issue he's trying to make in his original post. Unfortunately, it probably was not a great example to use comparing apples to oranges (cheaper Eastern EU composers vs comparitively more expensive Western composers). The underlying statement here is comparing value between two composers.

We can't control that composers in cheaper countries can charge less because their intrinsic base costs are much lower. The only thing you have to remain competitive is your service and quality and professionalism and that's the point he's trying to get across.


Yeah, all I'm saying is that Western Composers need to do better than their cheaper counter-parts elsewhere. I just get so many solicitations from composers that offer exactly the same quality than our offshore guys, but charge 5x more.

I think the hollywood composer was a really good example of why someone would pay more. If they can produce an above and beyond quality, and that's what the game needs - that's worth paying for. A lot of the solicitations or applicants we've seen though don't go above and beyond what cheaper guys in other regions can do. But some do. Some offer either a better quality or go to heavy lengths to customize their offering to our needs and that's the posting's main point.

We Americans like to THINK we're somehow better, but you'd be surprised how far people in other countries have caught up to us. Even when I was part of a game development service company here, we found many other competitors offshore had just as much to offer as we did. So we had to work hard to out-do them :).



Quote:
A lot of audio providers here are trying to break in and need to know what they need to do to obtain and retain work. A good relationship developed between a developer and a content provider will ensure that fairness runs both ways. I think we're all a little scared of being taken advantage of from historic experience.


Yes, my advice would be to make your offering suit your customer's needs %110. I don't mean undersell yourself or agree to 20 unpaid revisions. What I mean is to really ask questions about what your customer wants and then come up with an offering and quality that they can't refuse. Don't just give an "industry-standard" deal, give a deal at industry-standard rates that really addresses what they're trying to do.

For example, take a space game that has several levels that need sci-fi sounds and the customer is not sure exactly what would fit it, and is looking for composers to make the sounds. He'll probably hear this.
Composer 1: "Okay, I see, I'll offer XX sound effects, for XX dollars"
Composer 2: "Okay, I see, I'll offer YY sound effects, for YY dollars, I've done sci-fi before, here, look at my portfolio"
Composer 3: "Okay, I see, I can give you several references for sound effects that I think would fit you, and then we can discuss what from the references sound good, and what we should do to make sounds that really fit these levels"

Composer 3, is definitely the winner. Not because they offered a lower price, but because they offered something that seems like it'll make the project a success.

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Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
For example, take a space game that has several levels that need sci-fi sounds and the customer is not sure exactly what would fit it, and is looking for composers to make the sounds. He'll probably hear this.
Composer 1: "Okay, I see, I'll offer XX sound effects, for XX dollars"
Composer 2: "Okay, I see, I'll offer YY sound effects, for YY dollars, I've done sci-fi before, here, look at my portfolio"
Composer 3: "Okay, I see, I can give you several references for sound effects that I think would fit you, and then we can discuss what from the references sound good, and what we should do to make sounds that really fit these levels"

Composer 3, is definitely the winner. Not because they offered a lower price, but because they offered something that seems like it'll make the project a success.


Are you honestly suggesting that some composers would just state a rate instead of giving you any references for this level? I find that very unlikely based on the composers/sound designers that I know and work with. Most are so eager for work that they'll gladly provide reference/test material for you to evaluate. Other thing to keep in mind that some of the reference materials can likely come from a demo reel or assets they've created in the past. You seem to dismiss the demo reel's function and pros rather quickly.

I know many American composers that already do this. In fact I often see young(er) composers willing to do a full score for FREE just for the opportunity and exposure! So I really don't feel that the situation you're illustrating is what is actually happening... at least from my experience with a wide variety of composers and clients. Plus I know of many clients (US and abroad) that have their prospective composers (or sound designers) do audio tests that use content from their game to see if they're a good fit or not. The key here is context. If I may be so bold, I feel that you misinterpret someone's intent or actions and draw negative conclusions from this. For example when you state:

Quote:
Original post by ZaphrodBeeblebrox
Also, many quote "industry-standard rates" it like it's something they're owed.


Nobody is saying they're owed anything. Most likely they're giving you a reference point. This is the going rate for service X but I'll charge you Y. As I stated in an earlier post this gives the client a reference point.

At the start I'll offer up my rates and my usual bit about who I am and what I can do. What you're talking about (from the quoted section above) usually comes a bit later after the introductions are made and the company is narrowing down who they want to pick. Yet you seem to fault US composers with regards to their introductions. They're just an introduction. I couldn't possibly give you a bunch of reference sounds that I think would work well for your game until I've played a bit of the game, seen some concept art and heard about the plot and niche that the game is attempting to fill. That doesn't usually happen until later in the process and after an NDA.

What awesome game studio do you work for anyway?

Thanks,

Nate

[Edited by - nsmadsen on September 3, 2009 5:46:25 PM]

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I agree with Nate's viewpoints. Although I don't have experience in the business of this type of field, I can tell from the way Nate talks about it that he is very conscientious of his clients, and the way he conducts his business; no doubt the result from his fair-share of mistakes.

It seems as though Zaphrod (which, correct me if I'm wrong, should actually "Zaphod" from the book,) has a predisposition toward "US Composers," and instead of providing a helpful thread for those who wish to learn more, is in effect, illustrating this message: "Offshore composers are better, US composers just do things wrong."

I get the sense that just because I live in the US, I shouldn't even bother - if all the jobs are going to go overseas anyway, right?

This thread feels less helpful, and more accusatory.

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jjandreau- AMEN!

I started with the attitude of let's hear what this guy has to say but have ended up feeling more accused, stereotyped and frustrated by ZaphrodBeeblebrox's statements and opinions. Don't get me wrong, he's completely entitled to them... as is everyone.

Some of ZaphrodBeeblebrox's statements do not come off well and almost promote a lack of understanding with how the industry and specifically game audio operate. I'm not trying to be insulting and perhaps he truly has had many negative experiences with composers... but I'd fault that more on his (and the company's) methods of recruiting and less on American composers as a whole. Not only is that massive stereotyping it can be easily proven false by the network of fantastic, professional and very hard working composers here in America as well as abroad. There will always be bad apples. There will always be composers that give our industry a bad name. It's the job of the freelancers to do our best (and from my experience a majority of them do) and it's the job of the client to search for the best ones. If the client is having negative interactions with freelancers then they should re-evaluate how and where they're searching for crew members.

I don't know ZaphrodBeeblebrox nor do I know what company he works for... but he hasn't done a very good job of promoting himself or his company here. I agree with jjandreau- ZaphrodBeeblebrox didn't do a very good job of making this thread helpful. It reads much more like a rant.

[Edited by - nsmadsen on September 3, 2009 5:15:01 PM]

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Quote:
Original post by nsmadsen
jjandreau- AMEN!

I started with the attitude of let's hear what this guy has to say but have ended up feeling more accused, stereotyped and frustrated by ZaphrodBeeblebrox's statements and opinions. Don't get me wrong, he's completely entitled to them... as is everyone.

Some of ZaphrodBeeblebrox's statements do not come off well and almost promote a lack of understanding with how the industry and specifically game audio operate. I'm not trying to be insulting and perhaps he truly has had many negative experiences with composers... but I'd fault that more on his (and the company's) methods of recruiting and less on American composers as a whole. Not only is that massive stereotyping it can be easily proven false by the network of fantastic, professional and very hard working composers here in America as well as abroad. There will always be bad apples. There will always be composers that give our industry a bad name. It's the job of the freelancers to do our best (and from my experience a majority of them do) and it's the job of the client to search for the best ones. If the client is having negative interactions with freelancers then they should re-evaluate how and where they're searching for crew members.

I don't know ZaphrodBeeblebrox nor do I know what company he works for... but he hasn't done a very good job of promoting himself or his company here. I agree with jjandreau- ZaphrodBeeblebrox didn't do a very good job of making this thread helpful. It reads much more like a rant.


Was this a somehow competition about who's right/wrong? I'm just stating my experience and opinions, and I think it's turned into an emotional thing for some people on the thread.

I guess what the point really boils down to is that in a global economy, service providers in 1st world countries have to work harder to beat the offers of their offshore counterparts if they want to compete with them. For a commodity service like Music, Art, and even complex console, nexgen, or MMO game programming these days, someone will be there to underbid you in price, so you have to outbid them in level of service.

And in terms of offer, offer something awesome! Don't be a slave or undersell yourself, just bring something that fits the customer's needs in a way someone who's cheaper (or who's the same price) isn't. One of the big advantages in any 1st world country is that you get most everything about the culture. You can use that to your advantage to understand requirements, form a good relationship with people, and then tailor your offer to their needs exactly.

So I've said my bit :), good day.

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It does get emotional when you refer to music as a "commodity," like some sort of condiment that you dabble on your hamburger to make it taste better.

I still don't understand what this recurring motif of "you have to be better" has to do with "pleasing or angering" the customer.

If we really want to dance around, I could say that game developers are really just a luxury, as music stimulates growth emotional, kinesthetic, and developmental growth - proven to help students exceed in all areas of academia.

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