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Engaging Independent Creative Professionals

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Working tips for Clients and Contractors in the Video Game Industry. Learn how work effectively and efficiently, creating an environment that is pleasant and win-win for all parties involved.

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Creating a win-win Relationship

This is a short list of tips for Indie Game Developers who want to engage Independent Creative Professionals such as Audio Designers, Artists, Writers and the like. In this article, I will be addressing common issues from the standpoint of an Audio Designer or Composer.

Outsourcing work to contractors can be extremely rewarding and efficient, or it can an extremely painful road, littered with distrust and vague agreements. How can you ensure that your development studio and the freelancers you contract have the best possible win-win experience? It's a two-way street, and here are some things I've learned from my own embarrassing experiences that you can do to get the most out of it.

Tips for Clients


Make sure that the audio asset list ("brief") is final or close to being so when you send it over to a contractor (if the contractor is not involved right from the beginning). If the brief is uncertain, it will lead to multiple changes and, frequently, wasted drafts or revisions that can strain the working relationship. Remember, since audio freelancers are usually not paid by the hour, every brief change means extra work. Unless you're paying a high fee to begin with, this can quickly result in burnout and a halfhearted end product.


When you communicate critiques or ideas to a contractor, make sure that you have a single point of contact. For maximum efficiency, the relevant individuals should confer and agree on the feedback before communicating it to the freelancer. This will prevent "broken telephones" or conflicting requests from hindering the audio designer in his job.


Milestones allow a large project to be split up into manageable chunks, allowing both parties to focus on specific goals, and will also create a clearer picture of WHAT exactly needs to be delivered WHEN. This also prevents confusion about the draft versus the revision stage.

  • (Contract Signed) 30%
  • (Music Drafts Approved, Placeholders Delivered) 20%
  • (SFX Drafts Approved, Placeholders Delivered) 20%
  • (Final Revisions made and Assets Delivered) 30%


If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. If you want to cut a deal, offer a trade of services. Equal and fair exchange (with occasional tidbits of goodwill thrown) is one of the most important principles to adhere to. Do not offer "exposure" unless you can deliver - if your game/company Facebook page has 25 likes and no traffic, it won't cut it.

ALTERNATIVELY - you can offer a shared revenue or performance based milestone system of payment pegged to the sales figures once the game ships. Keep in mind that this constitutes an investment in your business, and the returns for the contractor, should the game perform better than expected, should reflect the value of the investment by being larger than the flat fee that would have been negotiated based on the contractor's fixed rate in the first place.

Tips for Contractors


Have a document ready that shows your pricing options, and be detailed about the rights accorded to each tier. e.g. Tier 1 offers exclusive use of assets, Tier 2 offers non-exclusive use, Tier 3 offers non-exclusive use and no revisions after the draft stage etc. It doesn't have to be an impregnable wall of words, but specific and easy to understand. This allows you to give your client choice without compromising your professional image.

(This is no reason to turn down clients who aren't able to afford your services. If it looks as though they're serious and have a good game going, you can come to some sort of Barter agreement in the form of extended social media advertising or a trade in services - logo design/website design etc)


This applies to clients as well. Don't take forever to respond to emails or other forms of communication. When you do respond, make sure you are to the point, sound professional and you are saying something useful. If your terms are being violated e.g. your revision clause (frequently out of ignorance), speak up while being respectful and honest.


Not everyone does audio professionally, or went to a school to study it. When clients say something that sounds ridiculously stupid to YOU, bear in mind that you'll be a lot more popular if you are patient and explain things in layman's terms than if you become impatient or condescending.


A nice looking document with an explanation of your working process will go a long way in making you look more professional, and give you a starting point to negotiate terms. Some companies prefer to use their own contracts, and that's fine, but you should always be prepared with your own.


These are just some short ideas about how to make the work process enjoyable for both parties. I'd love to hear if anyone disagrees vehemently with something I said or has something else to add. Feel free to email me with questions or if you need some audio in your next project!

Independent Audio Designers who are interested can contact me for a copy of my own working agreement (without the rates)

Find out more at http://www.xiaoanmusic.net

About the Author(s)

Li Xiao'an is an Independent Audio Professional from Singapore currently based in Boston, MA. He graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.M. in Jazz Composition from Berklee College of Music, where he won a scholarship and several endowed awards for composition. As a guitarist, he has played on chart topping albums in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan under such labels as Universal, Avex Trax and Warner, as well as for prominent USA clientele.

He has also toured Australia and Brunei with the Singapore Armed Forces Music and Drama Company, played in Musical Theater Pit Orchestras, Top40s, Funk, Rock and Jazz Bands.

Visit him at:


GDOL (Gamedev.net Open License)


Jun 23 2013 10:04 AM

Well written article.  I would change the title though, and generalize this article, as these tips are good advice when dealing with ANY kind of contracted work.  

Jun 23 2013 06:28 PM

Thanks! I think I will.

Aug 10 2013 04:44 AM

Brilliant. Really good, concise advice.

Aug 10 2013 04:50 AM


Nov 26 2013 05:08 AM

Thank you, interesting and useful.

Feb 02 2014 10:35 AM

The only point I disagreed with was about bargaining. It's been my experience that a little bit of haggling can still result in you getting a paying gig at a decent wage and maintaining respect for all parties involved. It's more HOW you haggle or bargain and less about avoiding that approach altogether.

Feb 02 2014 02:09 PM


In retrospect, I agree. Sometimes it's not so much about the price as it is about making the client feel like they're getting a deal.


Part of me feels that setting my price higher so that it has room to go down is insulting the client's intelligence. Another part of me feels that clients who haggle simply want to get more gain for less investment, which is quite an understandable move, after all it's just business.

The biggest part of me knows that I don't make the rules for human interaction and I've learned to accept it as part of the process.


Feb 26 2014 05:05 PM

have a good sense of humor.   Take your work seriously but don't take yourself too seriously; easy going but not overly casual.  And be uniquely talented and gifted.  That's what I look for in an executive producer.

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