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m4uesviecr

Music as A Business: The Nitty Gritty

4 posts in this topic

A while ago, a CEO of a recently acknowledged game publishing company (not going to name), offered to have me as a ... composer-in-residence, if you will. If a particular game that he planned on publishing needed music, I would write music for the developers (with the developers), with a slight discount in prices. After talking with him, I ... semi-politely turned down his offer (okay, through text, it probably wasn't polite, *sigh*), because of how artificial and shallow he was making the whole business aspect off to be. There were some things I partially agreed with, and some that made me go... "Are you kidding me?". Our conversation was centered around the business aspect of presentation, and how to set yourself up visually to sell yourself well. I personally felt that, though the visual aspects are important, I do not think that it should be at the foreground for an audio composer. Here are some things he said during our discussion that either made me cringe, gave me a slightly wrenching feeling in my stomach, or made me nod and go "actually, I can understand that":

"[i]If I were you I would work towards designing some form of business model where you can sell your work for a rate you feel comfortable. You may even have to charge less then comfort to get started and work up to comfort. But I would think design a business eseentially. So start with name, colors, and slogan, nothing has to be set in stone.Then design a model, so what you will sell, how much, how often you can take on clients etc.[/i]" <- [b]Name, colors, and slogan before designing how the business should be setup?[/b]

"[i]I think the main thing you will need to focus on is marketing. You have talent, drive and youth. You just need appeal. So as you are working on your 'shop' I would start to think about what to call it. These names will suck, im bad on the cuff. But like 'Jazzy Coops Original Music' Then you have saxyphones as emblems[/i]." <- [b]I know the example is cheesy, but does the title really have to "stand out"? Most composers just have their name. I actually overlook composers that have websites with sparkly titles. I think keeping it simple and to the point would be nice. I would see it being different with a group of composers, but besides that..[/b]

"[i]I been on the indie scene for a while, I know what people generally post and how things are received. I believe if you design something impactful to present your music you can show up on every indie scene and have people be busting down your door for gigs. It's all about advertising. As sleasy as that sounds, it's true. If you go by your name you are just another one in the sea. If you work on 'selling' yourself you stand out.' It's small things that the average person doesn't realize. As an exampel, colors and fonts. As an artist you should try to pick 2 main colors as your colors you use in all advertising, websites and other media, same with fonts.[/i]" <- [b]I can see this. I would hope that most composers would keep the fonts and colors of their business cohesive and consistent.[/b]

"[i]The key is to work backwards. That's why I started with asking where you wanted to end up. Thing long term, 20 years, where will you be ideally, but realistically? Then go back 15 years where will you have to be to be there in 20? Then 10, then 5. When you are at the 5 mark, go back to now and see what you will have to achieve to reach your 5 year mark and be on track" <- [/i][b]This one really made me think. Of everything he said, I could totally see how effective this would be.[/b]

"[i]I would just take it slow, and research and learn, and lean on me as much as you need to. There are plenty of great resources out there, and it will really set you above everyone else. It's called the peasent barrier. If you can pass it, you will sell. It's the gap between crappy production quality, and excellent presention quality. It's when you see an indie production and think it's made by a pro studio, they have passed the peasent barrier. Us being the peasents lol... It's a reference to history, we used to be kept oppresed by the governing body hoarding modern technology, still happens but way less.
So now we can make things as good as people with millions for thousands. Anyhow, the point is, you should definitely work towards figuring out how to sell yourself. It's a hard feat, if I remember correctly you have dark skin and glasses, and a nice smile. To be honest I think you should be rather easy to market and pick a genre/niche etc. I would consider going gamer nerd, if I may be so bold, if can get the right outfit etc, you could totally pass as one of the hot nerdy chicks. A nerdy chick that makes music is totally a good sales pitch. It sucks to sell your music with sex, but that's marketing. Do that for X months until you get a fanbase then just shift gears, viewers are views. As long as you stay true to yourself there is no harm.[/i]" <- [b]So sell myself based on my gender. My gender?! I don't think he understood how big of an insult this was. Plus, a false persona. Gamer nerd? I mean, I compose for videogames. The game nerd aspect should be obvious. And how does one stay true to themselves by being fake to the public?[/b]

After that last paragraph, it just went downhill for me. My question for those out there is, when it comes to selling yourself as a composer, is this the route that many of you take? This artificial, falsified, hollywood version? Picking over fonts, over colors, because you want to be noticed by others, or because you want the colors and fonts to represent who you are. From what I have gathered, most composers focus on networking, building their portfolio, and being true from the beginning. A lot of what confused us was his idea of presentation was what I considered how professional something looks. I even offered a couple of personal websites from this forum, and he considered both of them to "suck" and lack the correct qualities to effectively pitch themselves out to the masses. Is what he speaking partly the truth? I know there are a bunch of guys on this forum that are waist deep in the audio world and probably have a lot of experience and can speak on this. Was I very naive in this conversation? Was he honestly speaking the truth? Edited by M4uesviecr
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I can see where you would see at lot of what he was saying as "artificial and shallow", and perhaps it/he is.

That said, I'm not sure I'd be so quick to be 100% dismissive of what he was saying.

I think about 2 of the more iconic game composers who have been quite successful-- Tommy Tallarico and George Sanger (aka "The Fat Man"). Both really got marketing and i don't think they'd disagree that their image/persona were in part responsible for their success. The Fat Man is a great name/moniker for George who is a tall, lanky, skinny Texan. He'd always go to shows with his cowboy hat, studded jacket and boots; Tommy for years never went anywhere in public without his "Gold Lame" jacket. They both also happened to be prolific and talented, but understood that one vector to success is splashy marketing (there are other vectors as well). Everyone noticed (and remembered) George and Tommy. Everyone else just sort of blended in. But--here I would agree with you completely-- that worked for Tommy and George because their marketing persona were based on aspects of their own personalities; so it didn't come across as fake (even though in normal living, neither of them wore fancy jackets around..).
I can completely see how turned off you would be by "Gamer Nerd Gurl" suggestion. But the notion of creating a way of presenting yourself in public that is memorable and a bit out of the ordinary has some merit. But it has to be 'true' to who you are, or it will come across as phony and fail.

And, yes things like having a good logo, font discipline, color scheme are marketing 101. Now I think he's overstating things quite a bit (and I would argue that business plan comes [i][b]before [/b][/i]logo design [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/smile.png[/img]) -- marketing to end consumers (which he has to do) is a bit different than B2B (Business to Business) marketing which is what a came composer does. My [url="http://www.BrianSchmidtStudios.com"]own studio web site[/url] doesn't follow good web design rules at all and is in some ways embarrassingly poor, but I've been very fortunate that I don't really need to market myself. But when I created [url="http://www.GameSoundCon.com"]GameSoundCon[/url] , I had a professional marketer/web designer do it because I was going to need to do more formalized, professional marketing. So it needed to look a lot slicker.And yes we talked back and forth about the "feeling" visitors to the site would get, and what the main colors would be, etc.

I'm curious... aside from your icky feeling in your stomach about marketing, were there particular reasons you opted not to take him up on the offer?
If "composer in residence" meant you would have to not do any work for anyone else, that'd be a deal breaker as a contractor. But if not, I have certainly been willing to negotiate somewhat lower rates in exchange for volume. But an in-house (Full time employee) composer who worked with different developers sounds like a pretty cool gig.

My point is that, regardless of his presentation, he is correct that an independent composer has to think about marketing themselves. In that sense, we're like tiny small businesses, and we need ways to a) get people to notice us and b) get people to remember us. Does it take the place of ability, drive and talent? No, of course not. But it can be helpful. I would say your CEO's big flaw, though, was a presumption that slick marketing is [b][i]required [/i][/b]to make it. it is only one of [i]many ways[/i] to try to be successful as a game audio professional.


Thanks for an interesting/thought provoking posting..

Brian Schmidt Edited by bschmidt1962
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Well, I was really turned off by his approach to business (seemingly artificial, though I am very glad that you lent examples of very prolific composers who used qualities of this marketing technique), but after discussing things with a friend, I found other instances that seemed to point me away from the job. Though it is a very new company (It popped out of the womb possibly last month), he has two games under his belt. That isn't a bad thing at all, but both games are using RPG maker, and of the two, only one really shows promise. I also didn't like his sudden offer to help "manage me", or for me to "lean on him if need be", as if I wouldn't be able to support myself without aid from a person who "knew the dark side of business", so to speak. I mean, the conversation (which started to get pretty heated), ended with him blatantly telling me that he must go because I was "wasting his time". At that point I told him to keep his offer. Though I wished him luck with his company, I didn't like the sudden discard of my importance, even if we were debating different views on something. He was very quick to give his advice on everything (solicited, or unsolicited), about what he thought would be the most effective way of promotion, many things that I did not agree with to the point that I was beginning to become insulted by examples he was proposing.

I feel as if the way he wants to promote is vastly different from what is comfortable with my idea of promoting. Though it is advice, the fact that his mindset is settled there... it feels weird and unnerving. Edited by M4uesviecr
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You made the right call. It sounds like your "somethings not quite right here" radar went off, and steered clear.

Another way to market yourself is to be competent and make yourself known in the community-- submit talks/panels for GDC or smaller variants, network (lots of recent threads on this); not marketing campaign is based on glitz and outrageousness...

That he would dismiss any other way of thinking besides the glitzy style makes me think he's quite myopic.
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Hello,

Thank you both for sharing your stories and experiences.

I too think you did right declining the offer if you had your doubts about it.

Regarding the topic of marketing yourself - yes, it can help to just genuinely be an interesting person. But having a "rockstar" image is just one possible part of making an impression, and it's far more important to be genuinely [i]interested [/i]in things that are sometimes well outside of our direct musical scope.
Sometimes marketing yourself is just asking questions and listening, you can make some great friends and potential business partners that way. And it seems you're already doing everything right in that aspect, so more power to you!

Cheers,
Moritz
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