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Music and Sound Effects Pricing?

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Ok, before anyone gets confused, I am not seeking quotes or work. I'm just trying to put together an estimated budget right now so that when I do (hopefully) get to the point where I need to seriously pursue work to be done for my game's music and sound effects, I can know how to appropriately budget things. Of course, since it's so early in development, I don't have details about how many tracks/sound effects will be needed, or even really what genre yet (I haven't settled on the game's atmosphere).

What do you estimate to be reasonable, average price for sound effects and music in a video game? And I mean good, professional quality (not extremely high end, but not an amateur either). What are the things I should consider when putting this budget together? I know it'll depend on the number of tracks and sound effects and the licensing. Actually, now that I mention licensing, I know that it's all going to come down to that. What are your estimates for various license types (exclusive, non-exclusive, direct payment vs royalties, etc.). I honestly have no idea where to begin or what to be considering in this. I know it's a huge question, and I'm not really asking for a great amount of detail. Just some starting basics that will help me to draw up this budget.

Thanks!

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What do you estimate to be reasonable, average price for sound effects and music in a video game? And I mean good, professional quality (not extremely high end, but not an amateur either). What are the things I should consider when putting this budget together? I know it'll depend on the number of tracks and sound effects and the licensing. Actually, now that I mention licensing, I know that it's all going to come down to that. What are your estimates for various license types (exclusive, non-exclusive, direct payment vs royalties, etc.). I honestly have no idea where to begin or what to be considering in this. I know it's a huge question, and I'm not really asking for a great amount of detail. Just some starting basics that will help me to draw up this budget.


Well it really depends on what your game is going to be launched on: iPod/iPhone/Ipad or PS3 or F2P websites, etc. My rates have two tiers that take this into account. You also mentioned exclusive vs. non-exclusive rights so I'll assume you understand the different and know that exclusive rights are usually more expensive. Another thing to consider is how much time you have for audio production. Like with other forms of business - rush jobs tend to cost more. Someone's credentials can also make a big influence. Generally the more credits and higher profile projects on someone's resume means the higher their rates are. Finally, how much content do you need? I'm more apt to offer a discount for larger orders than I am for smaller orders - which is another common business practices when buying in bulk.

Thanks,

Nate

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Well it really depends on what your game is going to be launched on: iPod/iPhone/Ipad or PS3 or F2P websites, etc. My rates have two tiers that take this into account. You also mentioned exclusive vs. non-exclusive rights so I'll assume you understand the different and know that exclusive rights are usually more expensive. Another thing to consider is how much time you have for audio production. Like with other forms of business - rush jobs tend to cost more. Someone's credentials can also make a big influence. Generally the more credits and higher profile projects on someone's resume means the higher their rates are. Finally, how much content do you need? I'm more apt to cover a discount for larger orders than I am for smaller orders - which is another common business practices when buying in bulk.


Ah snap, it's even more complicated than I thought ha. Well, it'll start as a cross-platform PC game (maybe publish through Steam or a similar service, or do World of Goo style distribution?), though I'd like to expand it if it finds any success (if its really successful (I'd like it to be, but I want to be realistic too), I'll probably expand it to iPhone/iPad/Android/PS3/XBLA/Wii). I assume that would affect the contract and that I'd have to either make the original contract limited to the PC sales (and then make a new contract for platform expansions), or I'd have to make it clear in the original contract that the work can be used in additional platform expansions. I bet that would affect pricing as well. For now, let's say it'll stay on the PC.

Right now I'm thinking of making it an immersive game where I'd rely heavily on the audio and graphics to accomplish that (I think I'd like to have no voices). So I'm guessing ~15 full length tracks and a healthy amount of sound effects (I have no clue how many sound effects the average game uses).

I've got a lot of time to allow for the audio production. This'll be a slow development process because I'm doing this in my free time (in addition to school and work), so once I finally get to the point where I feel like the product definitely isn't going to be vaporware, I'll start looking for some serious audio and graphical work to be done. How long, do you estimate, would it take to produce some music and sound effects (without being rushed)? I know it depends on the quantity, but an average X days per song or something like that.

Yeah, I know exclusive is more costly than non-exclusive. Do you have any kind of guess for how much it is for each one, just so I can know the (estimated) price diference between the two?

Thanks Nate!

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If you are doing your game part time, one suggestion woudl be to enlist a fellow student/recent grad to do sound/music. If your game will be developed "in your free time," unless you're well funded, you might have trouble attracting a more established game audio person, who will be concerned a) will they get paid and b) will the game ever finish. Yes, a student (or recent graduate) will be learning on the job, but I presume you're in the same boat and can perhaps learn from each other.

Presuming you decide to go the 'paid pro' route, the audio budget for a commercial quality casual game can range from a few thousand to a few tens of thousands of dollars. It largely depends on the scope of the project. Step one woudl be coming up with a reasonably precise audio spec-- how much music, how many and what type of sound fx (it takes a lot more time to create a new alien creature sound than a menu button press sound). Custom music generally is in the range from a couple hundred to over a thousand $ per minute of finished music (it can go much higher).
If upfront $ is an issue, consider sharing in the profits. So in exchange for a reduced fee, they get X% of your profits or gross income. Or limiting usage to one platform, with a fee for additional platforms (say 50% of the budget) for each additional platform. Presumablly, those other platforms only get done if your game is successful. They key here is that if you pay them less than their normal rate, they're taking more risk, so should be rewaded more if the game does well. (That's true for art as well).

As far as how much time it will take-- an experienced pro will be able to turn things around pretty quickly. Audio for a casual game can often be completed within a couple weeks to a couple months. But, it's far better to bring the audio in early. You don't want to be tripped up on technical issues, etc. You also want to be able to have the sound designer have plenty of time to play the game, try thigns out, make suggestions, etc. I.e. don't finish your game, then say "i want to ship in 3 weeks, so now I"ll get started on audio." :)

One iimportant thing. Ideally of course, get a formal contract for your agreement (which will cost Lawyer fees). If not, at the very least, once you have an agreement, summarize it all IN WRITING in one email which spells out fees, usage, scope of work, etc and have they reply to it that it represents your understanding.

Good luck and post to let us know how you're doing

Brian Schmidt

Executive Director, GameSoundCon: www.GameSoundCon.com

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Thanks for the great feedback so far!


If you are doing your game part time, one suggestion woudl be to enlist a fellow student/recent grad to do sound/music. If your game will be developed "in your free time," unless you're well funded, you might have trouble attracting a more established game audio person, who will be concerned a) will they get paid and b) will the game ever finish. Yes, a student (or recent graduate) will be learning on the job, but I presume you're in the same boat and can perhaps learn from each other.


I would love to do that (have a fellow student work with me on it). But unfortunately I don't know anyone yet that I'd like to work with. Hopefully I'll find someone, but I'm going to try and put a budget together just in case I don't find anyone. Ideally I'd like to work with a sound designer and a graphical designer and have it be a team of three, but we'll se how it ends up.


Presuming you decide to go the 'paid pro' route, the audio budget for a commercial quality casual game can range from a few thousand to a few tens of thousands of dollars. It largely depends on the scope of the project. Step one woudl be coming up with a reasonably precise audio spec-- how much music, how many and what type of sound fx (it takes a lot more time to create a new alien creature sound than a menu button press sound). Custom music generally is in the range from a couple hundred to over a thousand $ per minute of finished music (it can go much higher).
If upfront $ is an issue, consider sharing in the profits. So in exchange for a reduced fee, they get X% of your profits or gross income. Or limiting usage to one platform, with a fee for additional platforms (say 50% of the budget) for each additional platform. Presumablly, those other platforms only get done if your game is successful. They key here is that if you pay them less than their normal rate, they're taking more risk, so should be rewaded more if the game does well. (That's true for art as well).


Wow, that's good to know. I probably would go with a $ upfront with royalties route. But of course, well see.



As far as how much time it will take-- an experienced pro will be able to turn things around pretty quickly. Audio for a casual game can often be completed within a couple weeks to a couple months. But, it's far better to bring the audio in early. You don't want to be tripped up on technical issues, etc. You also want to be able to have the sound designer have plenty of time to play the game, try thigns out, make suggestions, etc. I.e. don't finish your game, then say "i want to ship in 3 weeks, so now I"ll get started on audio." :)


I was definitely planning on that, so it's good to know it's the right route. Right now I'm starting to prototype with placeholder art/music. Once I get some playable demos and levels set, then I'll start seeking work. But the game will still be months from completion at that point. More like a working model that the sound designer and graphical artist can use to put their art in and play around with the feel of things.



One iimportant thing. Ideally of course, get a formal contract for your agreement (which will cost Lawyer fees). If not, at the very least, once you have an agreement, summarize it all IN WRITING in one email which spells out fees, usage, scope of work, etc and have they reply to it that it represents your understanding.


Yeah, I would make official contracts before I contracted any work. I would also probably set up a little LLC for myself. I hope that would make people feel more comfortable doing business with me.

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Ah snap, it's even more complicated than I thought ha. Well, it'll start as a cross-platform PC game (maybe publish through Steam or a similar service, or do World of Goo style distribution?), though I'd like to expand it if it finds any success (if its really successful (I'd like it to be, but I want to be realistic too), I'll probably expand it to iPhone/iPad/Android/PS3/XBLA/Wii). I assume that would affect the contract and that I'd have to either make the original contract limited to the PC sales (and then make a new contract for platform expansions), or I'd have to make it clear in the original contract that the work can be used in additional platform expansions. I bet that would affect pricing as well. For now, let's say it'll stay on the PC.


Well, not everyone sets up their rates the same way. For me I charge different rates for a PS3 game vs. an indie Facebook game and so on. I do this because the price point (and usually funding) can be drastically different depending on what kind of launch the game is going for.


Right now I'm thinking of making it an immersive game where I'd rely heavily on the audio and graphics to accomplish that (I think I'd like to have no voices). So I'm guessing ~15 full length tracks and a healthy amount of sound effects (I have no clue how many sound effects the average game uses).


That sounds fine. Most composers charge per minute of music - and some platforms have different tech requirements or features (such as more interactive or less interactive music).


I've got a lot of time to allow for the audio production. This'll be a slow development process because I'm doing this in my free time (in addition to school and work), so once I finally get to the point where I feel like the product definitely isn't going to be vaporware, I'll start looking for some serious audio and graphical work to be done. How long, do you estimate, would it take to produce some music and sound effects (without being rushed)? I know it depends on the quantity, but an average X days per song or something like that.


Again this really varies from composer to composer. I can usually create a full song within 1-2 days and usually 10-30 SFX per day. For me a rush job is a deadline under two weeks. It's important to always allow for revisions and dialog to make sure the content is on the mark. For others, these stats can be different.

Thanks!

Nate

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While this is all definitely good advice, keep in mind that both Nate and Brian are grizzled industry veterans with loads of titles under their belts. For a student or starter project you would be more likely to go with a less experienced, and much cheaper, audio guy. I would hazard that you'd be looking in the region of $25-50 per minute, but the trade off is that the audio may take a little longer, or could be of lower quality than the work of a $1000-a-minute pro.

You may be tempted to take up one of the many "free composer" offers on this very forum. I would advise against hiring anyone for free - without any form of payment you have no guarantee of the quality of work, or even that it will be completed. Paying someone shows that you're serious, and in return you can be sure they're serious too!

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Jonny makes a great point. Even if using a student or beginner, set up a clear agreement for payment including payment milestones in an email. You'd be surprised what wonders a milestone payment can do for prioitiing someone to get your music/sound done!

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Awesome stuff. Thank you all so much! You've all been incredibly helpful. This is exactly the kind of information I needed to get started with my planning and budgeting. Thanks!

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While this is all definitely good advice, keep in mind that both Nate and Brian are grizzled industry veterans with loads of titles under their belts. For a student or starter project you would be more likely to go with a less experienced, and much cheaper, audio guy. I would hazard that you'd be looking in the region of $25-50 per minute, but the trade off is that the audio may take a little longer, or could be of lower quality than the work of a $1000-a-minute pro.



what?!? $25-50 per "minute"? Is that what I should be charging?

Why charge by the minute? I just finished two tracks for an indie game at $25 a track.

now i feel like i sold myself short :( But this is only my second project, i just started doing game music and had no experience before.

What are most indie game devs willing to pay for game music? It's just really hard for me to see an indie developer paying $300 for their game. I know that a lot of indie devs don't have a huge budget

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