If you’re developing a game, at some point you may be wondering whether or not to invest in a custom game music soundtrack and whether to hire a game music composer to work with or not. One big question that I’m sure is on your mind, is how much will it all cost? How much do indie game music composers charge typically?
Unfortunately this isn’t a simple question to answer since every composer is different. However, as a freelance indie game music composer myself (learn more about me!), I can try to give you an overview of what sort of rates you may come across and to help you understand where some of the pricing structures and costs may come from.
What kind of composer rates can you expect?
Across the whole industry, you will probably find a big range in prices offered by various composers. From what I’ve seen that range can stretch anywhere between $50 all the way up to $2500 per minute of music, with hobbyists, part-timers at the lower end and 'stars' at the top end.
For indie game music composers with a fair amount of experience and a decent credit list, most will tend to have prices within the range of $200-$1000 per minute of music.
The more experienced and in demand a composer is, the higher they are likely to charge for their music and time. Some will charge per minute of music, whilst others will charge per track or will quote you for the project as a whole, and some will charge for their time like any other contractor / freelancer may i.e. per hour of work.
Most composers will have some flexibility and be happy to negotiate their fee with you but at the same time, they will have their usual rates that they tend to work with and so are unlikely to stray massively from their original quotes. This goes for me as well. If you'd like to work with me on a project but aren't sure about the fees / financial side, just drop me a message, give me an indication of what sort of budget you have to work with, and we'll see if we can work something out!
If you're hoping to work with a big name in the industry then definitely expect rates to be higher. They will be in demand, their time is precious and they can afford to carefully select the projects that they wish to work on and those that they wish to reject.
Do some composers work for free?
If you're expecting people to work for free or for 'exposure', then beware who you approach in this manner. Hobbyists, enthusiasts and those starting out may well be prepared to create a game music soundtrack for you for little or no pay, in exchange for the experience and as a way to build up their credit list and portfolio. This can be a great option if you have the time to nurture them and to work closely with them to ensure you get music you're happy with.
However, if you're looking to work with a professional composer, do keep in mind that this is their profession and hence their skills, talent and time all holds a value which you must be willing to invest in and to pay for if you are keen to work with them and build a strong working relationship with them.
What contributes to the wide range in pricing?
There are lots of factors that come into play when composing a track for a game, film or media in general. Just to give you an idea there’s the:
experience & track record / their specialism, if they have one
style of music and the complexity of it
length of the track
number of tracks in the project/soundtrack
musical training and talent of the composer
sounds / software / production tools
deadline i.e. how quickly you need the music to be done
number of changes / iterations / variations needed
And those are just for starters!
So depending on what you’re looking for and where you’re looking for it, the quotes you get may vary quite a bit.
Now, how much should you be prepared to spend on your game music soundtrack?
Well, only you can really answer that and only you will know what your financial situation is and also how important you feel the music is for your particular game. Music can really help to bring all the main elements in a game together and to enhance the overall experience for the player. See my article on 5 Reasons to Invest in Great Game Music.
As I'm sure you can imagine, large AAA games and films have big budgets (i.e. in the several tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars) when it comes to music. Many are scored similarly to films, using large orchestras and big epic scores and thus - this is no simple or cheap endeavour.
For indie games there is a much wider range in what indie game studios and indie game developers tend to spend on music. Those will small budgets tend to go for royalty free music (also known as stock music / library music / production music or copyright free music). This can certainly be a way forward for you if you’re starting out and aren’t ready to invest in custom music. Check out my royalty free music options here.
However, those with budgets of usually between $1000-$10,000 are more common for indie games seeking a custom music soundtrack and wanting to hire a composer.
There are many different things to think about and also many elements that you can play around with to help you get the most out of your music funds.
A few things that I’ve found useful to think about:
If you choose a composer who’s music you really love and who you trust, you will often find that your game music tracks don’t need to be as long as you think they need to be. An experienced composer will know how to sustain interest in their music even if the tracks are short. So, if they charge per minute, you can reduce costs by reducing the length of your tracks.
A composer’s experience
Composers with more experience will usually take up much less of your time than someone earlier on in their career. They shouldn’t require any handholding and should be accustomed to delivering high quality work straight away. So, although they may feel a bit more pricey, they can save you precious time which in some ways can be priceless!
Communication is key. Make sure that you work with someone who understands you and that you understand too. Knowing that you can easily communicate with a composer will make you feel more confident in your working relationship.
So, to sum up, there is no one fixed rate that indie game music composers all work to, however, most will be willing to talk to you about your budget and to explore ways of making things work for you. If you take a look at my credit list, you’ll see that I’ve worked on a real range of indie games, indie films and other projects, which each had different needs music-wise and budgets to work with. We found a way to make it work and to create soundtracks that everyone is super happy with – so keep an open mind, explore your options and talk – I mean really talk, to the composer(s) you want to work with. If you feel like exploring things further - contact me now.
About the author: Ninichi is a freelance indie game music composer who enjoys creating soundtracks for video games, film & media. She's composes in a wide range of styles & loves supporting indie game developers and indie filmmakers with their projects. Find out more about her game music or royalty free music and contact her to discuss your project and music needs.
Follow her @ninichimusic