Game Music

6 Things to Discuss With Your Composer Before a Project

So you want to hire a composer to create music for your game. Good choice! The only problem is: where do you begin your search for the perfect fit for your project? What do I ask them? Will they have anything in common with me?

To help get you over the hump I’ve prepared a quick list of some things to talk about with a potential composer before you decide if they are the right fit. There are no real rules when approaching a potential composer but this will help you get across what you are trying to achieve efficiently.  If you have a rough idea of what style of music you would like I would suggest listening to composers’ demo reels before approaching them. Every professional composer has a demo reel that should be easy to find and be customized to reflect their music style.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1. A Timeline

One of the first things you should sort out is the timeline of your project. There’s no sense in getting each other pumped up to work together only to find out that your schedules don’t jive. This goes for both parties – a composer shouldn’t proceed with a potential client unless he is absolutely sure he can fit the project in.

It doesn’t matter if you have a release date set or not – as long as you give each other a rough idea.

2. The Size and Style of the Project

Both of these factors play a key role in just how much work is going to need to be put towards the music. As I said before – you should have already listened to some of the composer’s previous work by this point so you can now discuss what styles of music would best suit the project. If it’s a retro-style action game you’ll want totally different music than you would for a full-scale RPG or a first-person shooter. Composers are always open to whatever ideas you may have of the music and should be able to adapt to the style you want. If you have any sort of idea of what the length of your game – or at least the main story of your game – will be in minutes it would be worthwhile to share this with the composer.

Some styles of music are a lot more intensive and take a longer time to create. If you’re building a full orchestral arrangement for a game it will take way longer and will be harder to polish than something built with only synthesizers. It is only after you’ve determined the size of the project that you’ll be able to discuss how much it will cost you to hire a professional composer – which brings us to the next step:

3. What’s The Budget?

I can’t stress it enough that both parties need to be aware of how much they can afford to give each other before diving in. After the composer has time to think about the timeline and gets a rough idea of the scale of the project and the amount of time he’ll need to put into it they will know what they can afford to charge without putting themselves into a tight spot. There are many different pricing options that you could be quoted but one that is very common in the industry is to pay per finished minute of music.

Before the game developer begins this conversation it is essential that they figure out exactly how much they can afford to spend on a composer. Budgets are very tight when creating any sort of media be it a film or a video game but a certain portion of that needs to be set aside on the front end for sound. If you have a lump sum set out to make the composer an offer. If it is reasonable they will likely take you up on it.

4. Who Owns What?

When you pay for a composer to create music for your project you may be under the impression that you OWN the music that you are paying for – this is often not the case. There are many different agreements that can be met to determine who will be the owner of the music going forward. A contract or “licensing agreement” should be signed before the beginning of any project to prevent any disputes.

There are many resources online for you both parties to research what needs to be in your licensing agreement. As long as you both agree to each other’s terms there will be nothing to worry about in the future. This is probably one of the most overlooked yet important steps in the process. You need to develop a clear understanding of this before you can be in a professional relationship together.

5. Show Off Your Concepts

Composers who work on games do it for a reason – and most of us LOVE gaming. We get excited when a game developer shows off some of their concept art or lets us read a storyboard. Creating music for media can be a very emotional and involved process and they soak up every last detail that you can spare like a sponge. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas with each other.

The same goes for a composer after the work begins – They should be keeping you updated every step of the way by sending you what they’ve been working on. It gives both sides a chance to discuss new ideas and changes that can be made to get the project to where it needs to be. Remember, now that you’ve hired a composer he is part of your development TEAM.

6. Keep Eachother In the loop

Composers love loops. They like to make loops of music that will fit into your games and be able to repeat infinitely (hopefully without becoming a nuisance) and they also like to be inside of them. If something big is happening or a change is being made to your game they want to hear about it. It may affect them in a way that you don’t realize and sometimes a fresh idea on the programming end can spark a new idea for the composer. Keep them as informed as you would any other member of your team.

If you can get at least a few of these things prepared before embarking on your journey you will be off to a fine start. We all know that time is scarce when working in this industry and the more prepared we are the easier it will be for all parties.

Happy trails!



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Chris Scribner

Canadian game composer & sound designer.


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