If you’re a freelance engineer or composer with an interest in working in game audio, it can be overwhelming when you’re trying to figure out where to begin. Some game studios can seem unapproachable or difficult to get in touch with the right person. In this article, I detail 5 tips for freelancing in game audio, from finding the gigs to delivering an amazing final product.
1. Find the Opportunity
If you’ve already found a game studio or client, then you can skip this tip.
For everyone else, this can be the scariest part of getting into freelance work especially in the audio world. Where do you even begin to connect to the engineering and composing gigs in the game studio world?
I recommend starting with your very own network. Who around you do you know that might be able to help you connect to a job? The answer could very well be no one… directly. Check out your contacts on LinkedIn. Are they connected to someone you might want to meet? Don’t be a shy, ask for an introduction.
Along these lines, if you’re in school studying engineering or music don’t be a stranger to your alumni associations. Ask your school’s career services if they have any contacts, via alumni or otherwise, with game studios or even better: audio producers at game studios.
There are a number of job and gig websites out there that try to connect freelancers like you with companies looking to hire. These can offer some great opportunities. If you see one that appeals to you and you might be qualified for, do a little homework. Is there someone in your network that can perhaps get you an introduction or at least some background on the gig posted? Sometimes a job posted sounds better than it actually is.
Some job boards I recommend:
AES Job Board (also, look into joining AES. They have tons of community resources for all kinds of audio-related questions)
Most of the work we do at my studio comes via personal recommendations. Satisfied clients tell other people about our work and then those people hire us to help them with their new project. It was through this loose network of connections and earned reputation that we landed gigs with Rockstar Games and other studios. It takes a lot of hustle and patience, but eventually you should be able to get your foot in the door.
TLDR: Exhaust your personal connections before relying on cold reach-outs to game studios.
2. Listen to Your Client
You might be the next coming of Koji Kondo (Mario, Zelda) or Martin O’Donnell (Halo), but that might not be what your client needs. Being on the same page with the game studio is imperative for a successful working relationship. The approach to a horror-survival game should be different from a Nintendo children’s game. When you get a gig from a game studio or a producer, it’s not necessarily an invitation to showcase every last skill you possess as a composer or engineer. While you might be immensely talented, you need to be judicious about the way you unleash those talents on any given project.
You also need to keep your budget in mind. If a game studio wants an orchestral score but they don’t have the money to hire a 64 piece orchestra, you might need to use patches and a midi controller to emulate it the best you can.
The bottom line is that it’s your job to deliver the final product to your client per their wishes, not to showcase your talents above all else. Making your current clients happy is one of the best strategies for getting new ones!
TLDR: Make sure you’re writing or engineering material per your clients wishes.
3. Execute on a Schedule
This tip could also be called: Keep Your Promises Reasonable and Communicate. One of the most important selling points of my services and my studio is staying on schedule. The audio and music in a video game is just one component of the overall product and, as a freelancer, you might be completely unaware of how your work will fit into the final game. As such, the most important date for you should be when the client needs the first pass and final delivery.
At my studio, we mostly use a shared Google calendar to keep all employees and freelancers up to date on scheduling, tracking, and editing. We have a main studio shared calendar and then I keep a separate calendar with the engineers I hire the most often. They usually book time for their own projects but to ensure I have the best talent for my projects, I keep them on a specific calendar together. That makes it easy to communicate if/when a session needs to be moved or we have some other change in plans.
Very closely related to keeping your project on schedule is communication. Stuff happens! Sometimes a project timeline can get derailed by things out of your control like weather, traffic, injuries, and so forth. The important thing is to keep your client updated with any changes in the schedule.
TLDR: Keep your schedule reasonable and communicate if things change.
4. Work the Revisions
Let’s put it this way: when a client requests edits or changes to anything you’ve submitted, don’t take it personally. You probably just spent a lot of time and effort to get the work to an acceptable stage to submit to your client. When they come back with numerous changes it can be deflating.
Remember, though, your job is to make your client happy. They’re not criticizing your work for the sake of being contrarian. They have their own priorities (usually getting the audio/score component ready to fit with the rest of the game) and are only trying to get the audio or music where it needs to be.
Developing the skill of having ‘thick skin’ can be one of the most important skills to have as a freelance engineer or composer. This isn’t art class, it’s business.
There have been many times at my studio where we need to provide multiple rounds of revisions. This is not unusual or something to panic about. It’s a little like building Ikea furniture, it’s better to get it right than to just get it done. It’s painful, but sometimes undoing the work you’ve done is the best way to get it right in the end.
TLDR: Don’t take it personally when a client requests edits big or small.
5. Final Delivery
Follow through. If you have final approval from your client, you then need to deliver the files per their instructions. Don’t skip these important details: each client might have completely different needs with regards for delivery. Sometimes the files can be hundreds of gigabytes. Pay attention to these details to make sure the conclusion of the gig is painless for your client. This will leave them happy, satisfied and more likely to recommend you to others or hire you again in the future.
Also, if they ask you to sign an NDA or otherwise not to talk about your work until a certain date, don’t break that agreement. Nothing will sour you to the industry like spoilers.
TLDR: Pay attention to the way your client wants their final product delivered to them.
Bonus Tip (Don’t Give Up):
You may have noticed that Tip 1 above contains many more pieces of advice than 2-5. This is because the first step of this process can be the most difficult. You’ve already developed your skills as an engineer, sound designer, or composer. Proving your talents and worth to game studios then becomes its own challenge. Don’t give up. The more you put yourself out there, the more likely you’ll develop connections that turn into paying gigs!
Ned Sedlak owns and operates Refuge Recording Studio in Brooklyn, NY. Refuge specializes in quality audio production, from tracking to mixing to editing. The studio also houses writing/production rooms as well as an independent record label.
Ned is a graduate of Berklee College of Music where he studied Music Production & Engineering.