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AndretheXLR8R
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Composer Contracts? Aug. 18th, 2012 @ 02:42 PM Reply

My fellow composers, I have a question and couldn't seem to find this posted in the forum.

What kind of contracts you typically see with game scoring based on your experiences?

Here's some examples Im thinking of:

1) Charge a flat fee per song
2) Charge an overall fee
3) Have 100% rights to your music, this means selling it on your own via bandcamp or where ever without giving anything to the game company.
4) Ask for a percentage of profits or units sold (since your music is part of every game being sold)

I'd appreciate any feedback, Thanks!

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Response to Composer Contracts? Aug. 18th, 2012 @ 02:50 PM Reply

At 8/18/12 02:42 PM, AndretheXLR8R wrote: My fellow composers, I have a question and couldn't seem to find this posted in the forum.

What kind of contracts you typically see with game scoring based on your experiences?

Here's some examples Im thinking of:

1) Charge a flat fee per song
2) Charge an overall fee
3) Have 100% rights to your music, this means selling it on your own via bandcamp or where ever without giving anything to the game company.
4) Ask for a percentage of profits or units sold (since your music is part of every game being sold)

I'd appreciate any feedback, Thanks!

There is no standards, you see 1, 2 and 4 all the time, and 3 would probably happen more on AudioJungle. It's really a case-by-case sort of thing, but I think that people most often ask for a bundled price. Again, it really depends on what type of project you're working with.


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Response to Composer Contracts? Aug. 18th, 2012 @ 02:52 PM Reply

At 8/18/12 02:42 PM, AndretheXLR8R wrote: 1) Charge a flat fee per song
2) Charge an overall fee
3) Have 100% rights to your music, this means selling it on your own via bandcamp or where ever without giving anything to the game company.
4) Ask for a percentage of profits or units sold (since your music is part of every game being sold)

Usually this, except for the fact that 1+3 go together sometimes.

There is also the possibility of charging per minute of music,but that's just another preference. It also depends what a person is asking for:

A)Currently existing music that they want in their game. This is probably the cheapest method.since all you're doing is paying for rights to use it in a game.

B)Music made specifically for the game,but aren't held under exclusive rights. They usually go for more than currently existing music,for obvious reasons.

C)Exclusive rights to the music for the game.These types of deals are the most profitable,as you're just handing over your rights entirely of the music over to the contractor. Keep in mind,while you do get paid alot of money,the music Technically isn't yours anymore,as you have given the rights to the contractor.

That's all I know from my experience. I'm sure someone like Rampant will come in and explain things better if a better explanation is needed.


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Response to Composer Contracts? Aug. 19th, 2012 @ 03:11 PM Reply

Depends on your ability to negotiate and the distribution you expect the game to have.

Of course the best solution is to do a cost benefit analysis between a flat fee and a royalty per game sold. The problem is that the wider the distribution network of the game, the less leverage you have unless you also have a name for yourself.

I make sure to always get credit so even if I don't get royalties, it goes on the resume to get more leverage for the next job. This is for all music, not just game scoring, cuz I don't do game scoring professionally yet. But it's all the same. More money is more money.


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Response to Composer Contracts? Aug. 19th, 2012 @ 03:53 PM Reply

I personally prefer royalties because it means if the game DOES go viral, I get a fair share of money. The issue with Royalties is that the great flash market is starting to dry up and its getting harder to "strike it rich" with flash-based games... so royalties don't earn you that much, and "viral" games are fewer and fewer. Charging per minute of score or per hour of work are great ways to go, but you need to do some math, some thinking, and some serious looking around (talk to someone like MaestroRage or some other folks who already have a solid foot in the industry) to figure out what rate is right for you- you can't just jump in and charge $200 for a minute loop, but if you balance your skill level, quality of production (again, ask someone seriously deep in the industry and genre that you are producing), and how long it takes to write a piece, you should be able to at least estimate a value.

Your first few jobs are perhaps your most crucial. Be sure to come off professional in your work, but not condescending or snobby about it- sell yourself. If you can make a good impression, they WILL pay you better... AND consider you for future jobs. I have found that if you set aside money for a little bit and discuss it once you have proven you can produce a superior product in good time, the discussion of pay seems a bit more personable and comfortable than hard-cut negotiations. As I said, I prefer royalties, including game ads, sponsorship, AND soundtrack sales if it is sold separately (a higher rate for the soundtrack than for game ads). Royalties are great for the flash industry because most flash artists/developers DON'T have thousands of dollars to throw around and invest (unless they make a kickstarter or had a previous success) until they get sponsorship and ad rev (both of which happen after release).

Like said before, it's a matter of personal choice how you want to request being paid.


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AndretheXLR8R
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Response to Composer Contracts? Aug. 20th, 2012 @ 03:52 PM Reply

Thanks for the replies, really great approaches here. Ill definitely take this into consideration.

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Response to Composer Contracts? Aug. 21st, 2012 @ 12:51 AM Reply

At 8/20/12 03:52 PM, AndretheXLR8R wrote: Thanks for the replies, really great approaches here. Ill definitely take this into consideration.

I have 4 licensing types (from cheapest to most expensive):

-Royalty-Free Stock Audio license: Pre-written stock audio a developer wants to use in a production. Cheap, one-time fee license cost.

-Non-exclusive Custom Audio License:Custom audio written for the client. I retain all rights and may resell the work as stock audio. Since I retain the rights, I may put it in compilation albums, and collect royalties if we work out a royalty cut agreement. Cheapest of the custom audio options.

-Exclusive Custom Audio License:Custom audio written for the client. I retain all rights but will not sell it to any other developer. Since I retain the rights, I may put it in compilation albums, and collect royalties if we work out a royalty cut agreement. More expensive option, since I am locked to one commercial use license.

-Custom Audio Buyout:Custom audio written for the client. They buy the rights, and can do whatever they want with the audio (resell, re-license, etc.) The most expensive option, since I have to cut all ties to my music :(

I don't disclose my rates online, as they change with my availability, and offers that are made by developers during negotiation (royalty cut, splash screen credit, etc.). In general though, a complete buyout will be several times the rate of a non-exclusive license. And not everyone offers the same type of license. I like to offer several options, because I get clients with a variety of budgets.

Feel free to check out my Custom Audio page on my website to see how I break it down in a little more detail. I've found this method to work extremely well for me -- I've been getting a lot more job inquiries since I added that page to my website!


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Response to Composer Contracts? Aug. 21st, 2012 @ 01:44 AM Reply

A couple of notes about money, as well, from an entertainment law student / semi-professional composer:

At 8/21/12 12:51 AM, DavidOrr wrote: -Royalty-Free Stock Audio license: Pre-written stock audio a developer wants to use in a production. Cheap, one-time fee license cost.

For unsponsored Flash-games and smaller independent game developers, upfront payments are usually out of the question: they generally don't have any overhead for their projects, and any associated costs tend to be recouped by actually selling the game. In these cases, you will probably work out a royalty agreement, like NewGrounds has ad revenue sharing.

Depending on how much music is being used, how good your music is (this can be hard to think about objectively: your friends will tell you it's great, and you will probably either over- or under-appreciate the value of your own work), and how good you want to get in with the dev team, you could probably go for about 10-15%. After all, you're not really doing any work: chances are, you're not even filling out any paperwork to negotiate the license. Being good at negotiating is very useful in getting a better rate: again, though, we have the problem of setting your cost too high or too low. 5% of the royalties isn't going to be very profitable for you: if the game makes $80 in ad revenue, you're going to get $4. But, the artists and programmers you're working with are probably also trying to break into the industry: if you go in demanding 50% of the profit, you're probably going to burn that potential future connection, because they'll see you as wanting too big a slice of the pie.

But it's even more complicated than that: the size of the dev team figures into it, too. If there are four people on the team - e.g. two artists, a programmer, and a musician - then everyone's going to walk away happy with a four-way 25% split of profits. That doesn't mean that you should ask for 50% of the profits if it's a two-man team, though: the other guy probably feels he should be compensated more if he's doing art and coding, and you're just providing music. Likewise, if your music is in a rhythm game with 50 other tracks, you're not going to have much negotiating power over what revenue you get: your track is and will be easily replaceable, because the music doesn't need to have a certain feel or personality to it.

-Non-exclusive Custom Audio License:Custom audio written for the client. I retain all rights and may resell the work as stock audio. Since I retain the rights, I may put it in compilation albums, and collect royalties if we work out a royalty cut agreement. Cheapest of the custom audio options.

This is another area where you have to take a look at royalties v. upfront payments. I won't disclose the name of the client, but one job I had in the past required custom music: we were a three person team, and we negotiated that each contributor would get 30%, and the remaining 10% would go toward other administrative fees (such as filing for copyright with the Copyright Office).

If the game has a sponsor or a distributor, you should ask politely if there's any money for development costs. Yes, music is a development cost, even though it's typically one of the last things to be added to a game. If it's a few hundred dollars, you need to weigh the cost-benefit of upfront v. royalty shares: do you negotiate for a $150, or do you ask for 20% of the profits? And if you go for the $150, will you feel like you've been ripped off if the game goes onto be the next big thing and rakes in $50,000+?


-Exclusive Custom Audio License:Custom audio written for the client. I retain all rights but will not sell it to any other developer. Since I retain the rights, I may put it in compilation albums, and collect royalties if we work out a royalty cut agreement. More expensive option, since I am locked to one commercial use license.

You need to be careful here, though: it's best to stipulate with your client that you retain the right to distribute your track on a CD for-profit since, technically, reproduction and distribution are two of the rights they'll be getting under the license (otherwise, they'd have to get your permission every time they sold a copy of the game with your music in it).


-Custom Audio Buyout:Custom audio written for the client. They buy the rights, and can do whatever they want with the audio (resell, re-license, etc.) The most expensive option, since I have to cut all ties to my music :(

This is called a Work-for-Hire and it should be very, very, very expensive. Professional film composers, working with Hollywood studios, can charge upwards of $1200 per minute of finished audio.

On top of what David said, there are a couple more things you should keep in mind:
- termination clause: if you're going to get a lump sum of money after the game is released, you'll want a termination clause. This would basically stipulate that you HAVE to get paid for the work you've done even if the developer fires you before you finish. This can either be an arbitrary sum, such as 50% upfront (i.e. before you even start working), or it could be derived from the amount of work you've already done (e.g. if you've written three tracks, you want 20% of the original amount).
- rewrite clause: basically, this states that you'll do a couple of complete rewrites for free. If they want more rewrites after that (as in, you're basically writing completely new tracks), they'll have to pay an additional fee on top of the agreed-upon amount. This basically saves you from being asked to make a gazillion changes to one track.

I think that's covered most of it. If you get involved with someone or get an offer you're not sure about, I'm sure some of the semi-pro and professional composers here would be willing to help you out if you have further questions.

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Response to Composer Contracts? Aug. 21st, 2012 @ 12:34 PM Reply

At 8/21/12 01:44 AM, RampantMusik wrote:
I think that's covered most of it. If you get involved with someone or get an offer you're not sure about, I'm sure some of the semi-pro and professional composers here would be willing to help you out if you have further questions.

Great Elaboration, lots of great info here!

-Custom Audio Buyout:Custom audio written for the client. They buy the rights, and can do whatever they want with the audio (resell, re-license, etc.) The most expensive option, since I have to cut all ties to my music :(
This is called a Work-for-Hire and it should be very, very, very expensive. Professional film composers, working with Hollywood studios, can charge upwards of $1200 per minute of finished audio.

A point of clarification -- $1000/min is a good starting point when you approach entry-level professional game studios (Think guys Zynga, or others with a couple of successful titles). When I was approached by a smaller studio within a larger developer last year (NDA, sorry), I gave them a buyout rate a fair-bit under the $1000 level and they told me they had NEVER had anyone ask for under $1000. I went back and checked my numbers against the industry, and yep -- the big boys will give payouts well over $1000/min if it's a complete buyout. Lesson learned!

Contracts can be a pain to work with, but it does get both parties on the same page, at the very least. I don't always sign contracts (I don't feel the time is worth it for small projects), but when I do, I always pay special attention to the NDA clauses, royalties, payment schedule, and rights waived on my part. I have my own personal contract template (purchased it online) when I'm not presented one. Honestly, you might scare away some of the younger flash developers if you throw a legally-binding document at them, but it does make people take your work and time more seriously.


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Response to Composer Contracts? Aug. 21st, 2012 @ 01:49 PM Reply

I don't know if anyone mentioned this but I thought it worth mentioning. I talked to MaestroRage last week about contracts and we both agree that it isnt really the composers job to come up with a licensing contract for a client. For me, most jobs up to a certain level are word of mouth(with specifics of licensing mentioned in my standard invoice). As long as you keep your bargain its not gonna be a problem. If a guy comes to you wanting to pay you 200 bucks for a custom song, and he wants some kind of contract made up so that you are 100% for sure obligated to follow it, then it is his responsibility to get said contract, not the composer. In a bigger project, they pretty much already know that and will come to you with a contract prepared, or will use a contractor to find you in the first place.

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Response to Composer Contracts? Aug. 21st, 2012 @ 02:15 PM Reply

At 8/21/12 01:49 PM, Breed wrote: I don't know if anyone mentioned this but I thought it worth mentioning. I talked to MaestroRage last week about contracts and we both agree that it isnt really the composers job to come up with a licensing contract for a client. For me, most jobs up to a certain level are word of mouth(with specifics of licensing mentioned in my standard invoice). As long as you keep your bargain its not gonna be a problem. If a guy comes to you wanting to pay you 200 bucks for a custom song, and he wants some kind of contract made up so that you are 100% for sure obligated to follow it, then it is his responsibility to get said contract, not the composer. In a bigger project, they pretty much already know that and will come to you with a contract prepared, or will use a contractor to find you in the first place.

I'd like to clarify some things here, as your post could be seen as a little misleading to people who are unfamiliar with contract law.

One thing that some people misunderstand is that your contract doesn't need to be written in order to be legally enforceable as a contract. There are certain requirements that need to be met Statute of Frauds in order to require that the contract is written, but that mostly pertains to long-term or ongoing contracts (e.g. Game Company XYZ wants to hire you as their full-time, salaried, in-house composer).

If you talk over Skype with a client, offer to work with them, negotiate some basic terms (such as "here's roughly how much audio we'll need; can you do some sound effects, too?; we'll share 30% of profits with you; we want to release by September 15th"), and both parties agree to those terms, then you actually have an enforceable contract. And since it's stored in Skype's chat history, you have written evidence that the contract was formed.

However, even in the professional entertainment world, many agreements are done as "handshake deals." That is, there's no real paper trail to follow, but both parties place trust in each other upholding their end of the bargain.

So unless you're trying to get hired by a fairly large company or a record label -- and both of those will probably have lawyers who'll handle the contracts and negotiations with you -- then contracts are something you shouldn't have to worry about.

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Response to Composer Contracts? Aug. 21st, 2012 @ 02:16 PM Reply

At 8/21/12 01:49 PM, Breed wrote: I don't know if anyone mentioned this but I thought it worth mentioning. I talked to MaestroRage last week about contracts and we both agree that it isnt really the composers job to come up with a licensing contract for a client. For me, most jobs up to a certain level are word of mouth(with specifics of licensing mentioned in my standard invoice). As long as you keep your bargain its not gonna be a problem. If a guy comes to you wanting to pay you 200 bucks for a custom song, and he wants some kind of contract made up so that you are 100% for sure obligated to follow it, then it is his responsibility to get said contract, not the composer. In a bigger project, they pretty much already know that and will come to you with a contract prepared, or will use a contractor to find you in the first place.

I do it for my own protection. For a job that's only as couple hundred bucks, I usually don't go with it. But if someone is commissioning me to write a 4 or 5 minute track off contract, and doesn't feel comfortable doing half up front half on completion, I will usually will present them with a contract to sign, with a timetable of completion and payment schedule. It's only a half hour of my time to revise my contract template, and it adds a level of commitment for the client. I've never been stiffed, but I have had people procrastinate on payments (requiring me to uncomfortably hassle them) -- with a contract, they have in writing (that they've signed and agreed to) that if they don't pay, they don't have rights to the music.

But yes, for bigger projects, I'm usually presented with a contract, not the other way around!


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Response to Composer Contracts? Aug. 21st, 2012 @ 02:37 PM Reply

At 8/21/12 02:16 PM, DavidOrr wrote: I do it for my own protection. For a job that's only as couple hundred bucks, I usually don't go with it. But if someone is commissioning me to write a 4 or 5 minute track off contract, and doesn't feel comfortable doing half up front half on completion, I will usually will present them with a contract to sign, with a timetable of completion and payment schedule. It's only a half hour of my time to revise my contract template, and it adds a level of commitment for the client. I've never been stiffed, but I have had people procrastinate on payments (requiring me to uncomfortably hassle them) -- with a contract, they have in writing (that they've signed and agreed to) that if they don't pay, they don't have rights to the music.

Yeah I can see how that presents a problem. I rarely have down payments for projects. Most of the time my clients dont pay a cent until they are happy with the end product. Just smack a watermark on stuff so they cant rip you off, and then the only leap of faith involved is that you will give them to full quality unmarked wave once they pay you.