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How To Get Work Composing for Games

Looking for work as a VGM composer? This is my condensed advice on how to break into the business, especially if you're out of personal contacts and have to resort to "cold emailing."

Ian Stocker, Blogger

December 9, 2014

4 Min Read

Last month, I received four emails from job-seeking game composers–a big jump from my usual one per month. Their pitch letters remind me so much of my own, from back when was hunting for my first gig, 15 years ago. Just like I did, they go about it entirely wrong.  To curb this disturbing trend, I am offering guidance, so that you, the aspiring VGM artist, will have better luck getting that first contract.

First, some background on me. Those of you who know me as an indie developer may not know that I worked as a contract game composer for 8 years, and have over 40 published titles. (Here are some.) If you owned the Nintendo handhelds in the mid-2000’s, you probably played one of the games I scored. I’ve lived all three roles now: aspiring composer, professional, Decider of Audio.

But enough about me. Let’s start with…

What Not To Do

You’ve exhausted your industry contacts, so you scour Google to find leads, and harvest a list of Entities That Make Games. The next step is where most people go wrong: Crafting a long-winded, five paragraph cover letter describing their education, qualifications, and passion, capped off with a portfolio link. This will get you nowhere, because it does not:

  1. Get their attention

  2. Address their concerns

The sobering reality is that there are 10 composers for every 1 gig available. To be part of the 10%, you must handle both of the above. Warning: it’s going to take some effort.

How to Grab The Reader

Let’s first overcome the reader’s impulse to reach for the Archive button.

  1. Be brief. Your reader has 20 other emails to deal with. Get right to the point.

  2. Offer something they can’t ignore. Maybe a song you wrote just for them? It could be remix from their last game, or even better, re-scoring footage from that game with your own composition. (I warned you about the work involved.)

By offering something of value, that you put time and energy into, you’ve increased your chances of a response by 1000%. Now you’ve got to prepare for phase 2:

Selling Yourself

Put yourself in the shoes of a sleep-deprived producer barely recovering from her last milestone. You have her attention, and now must address her basic concern: “Will this person solve problems, or create problems?” Answer this by addressing its three basic components:

1. Can I deliver on schedule?

Mention the timelines for your projects. (If you don’t have any games in your portfolio, find an indie game to score before going any further. The “songs only” reel won’t cut it.)

2. Can I take feedback?

Are you a game designer first, and a composer second? Has your ego already gone through the pain of having to scrap a perfectly good song because it’s not what the game needed? Give an example.

3. Do I have the skills?

So your tracks sound amazing. But we must go the extra mile. What more do you bring to the table? Dren McDonald mentioned the importance of learning some tech (e.g.Unity) to show you can do integration. Producers like to buy audio as a package. The more you can do beyond raw composing, (e.g. sound design or audio direction) the better.

Guidelines for a killer portfolio:

  • Include pull quotes from past clients.

  • Only include your best work. Do you need more than 3 tracks?

  • Show versatility.

  • Talk about specific challenges and how you overcame them. Learning to compose in a new genre, handling a ludicrous schedule…

  • Include video. This is 10 times more valuable than an audio track.

  • Look professional. Have your own domain. If you don’t know a visual designer, buy a theme online. (Just please don’t go overboard with CSS animations and slideshows.)

You’ve done it right when the reader is left thinking, “This person can solve my problems.”

Not every dialogue will result in an immediate gig. Be patient. Offer to do a guest track. Get a foot in the door.

Good Luck!

Did you find this helpful? What else would you like to read about? Reach out to me on Twitter or comment here.

Special thanks to @SalmonToro, @drenmc, and ‏@keinzantezuken for feedback on the first draft.

Originally published at http://www.magicaltimebean.com/2014/12/how-to-get-work-composing-for-games/

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