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Seizing Opportunities - The Freelance Sound Designer

How to present yourself and your talents in meetings.

Seizing Opportunities

The idea for this post was presented to me by Brian Bush, a Gamasutra member, after he read my last entry. Thanks, Brian. Today I will discuss how to present yourself and your talents in order to secure a contract to work for a company as a freelance composer/sound designer, or at the very least to have a positive experience during the meeting.

Before we move on, it is best to understand one of the most important rules of freelancing:

Every person that you meet, either online, in person, at a game conference, or at a restaurant, that is involved in some capacity with a game company, offers you an opportunity to move forward in the industry and gets you that much closer to possible contracts and jobs.

Because of this, it is of the utmost importance to always be prepared to put your best foot, attitude, and personality forward. You usually will only get one chance with a person, so make sure that you are fully ready.

Let’s examine a scenario involving your first office meeting with a potential client and look at some preparedness ideas that may help you get the gig.

That Initial Office Meeting

Ok, so you have successfully scheduled a face-to-face with the creative director, producer, or owner of a game development company, and you are all set to meet them next Tuesday at 2 p.m.in their office. There are a few things that you can do to give yourself the best opportunity to make a good impression – and a few things that you should avoid.

Goals

Obviously your main goal is going to be to make a great impression. This will hopefully include having a good discussion about your skills as a composer/sound designer, have them examine some of your work and be open to the possibility of using you for future projects. In order to do this, you will need to do a little homework to prepare for the meeting.

DOs

Know Their Business

This could be one of the simplest, yet most overlooked areas of preparation for meeting a company for the first time, especially considering that a face-to-face meeting requires an appointment, so it probably wasn’t something that arose on the spur of the moment. You didn’t just meet these guys in the elevator, this meeting has beenbooked and you have had time to prepare. Here’s what you need to do:

Read What They Say About Themselves!

Research their website, find out what exactly they do (original IPs? An outsource firm that handles a number of tasks for their clients? A blend of the two?) Examine how they present themselves via their website. You may be able to see a few videos of their team in action and get a gauge on their corporate culture. Anything that you can learn from this will help you prepare for the meeting.

Read What Others Say About Them!

Get your Google Goggle’s on and see how much and what type of presence they have on the Internet. See what others say about them, their work, and their people.

Research Their Games

Perhaps there are trailers or cutscenes out there that you can review and discuss during the meeting. By being able to do so, they will know that you have done your research and have put some time into preparing. You will know who did their audio/composition and the style of previous projects. Perhaps you can ask them what they liked about the audio/sound design on their other games. There may be things that did not make the grade; obviously they are meeting you for a reason.

Have Your Materials Ready!

Be sure to have business cards, a demo reel, and a CV outlining your education, experience, credits and quotes from your past clients on hand. This may seem like a no-brainer, but having everything together gives you a much more professional look. Have all of this neatly placed in a folder for easy access to view. I know we are trying to be a paperless society; but if they can see quotes from your past and current clients, it accomplishes two things:

1)  A quote on paper makes a stronger impression than if you tell them what other people have said about you.  Things stay with people longer when they see them visually. (Another useful trick is to have one printed on your business card the next time you decide to do another print run. Don’t forget to ask permission first.)

2)  Your quotes may be from people that they know or who they have met in the past, giving you further credibility. The game industry is a very people oriented industry, there is a lot of movement from job to job, lots of cool conferences, lots of meet and greets. Capitalize on this.

DON’Ts

Don’t Talk Too Much!

Nobody likes a loud mouth. Do you remember meeting that special person for the first time? Hopefully you did not go up to her/him and tell them EVERYTHING about yourself without letting them get a word in edgewise! Of course you didn’t. You took it cool, and realized that the best way to meet people and have a pleasant conversation is to ask questions about them first. Let them talk about themselves; you learn a lot this way. This shows the person that you actually care about what they do and that what they have to say was important. Ask straightforward questions about the company’s past, how things are going, what are the plans for the future, upcoming projects, etc. They are obviously doing something right and have attained some sort of success, let them talk about it, they deserve to!

Don’t Hog All of Their Time

Always be conscious of their time, don’t slow everything down by being a fumbler. Know the few salient, important points that you want to get across and see where things go from there. Once you get your points across (which is obviously your sales pitch – experience, credits, great education, a team player, ease of use for your services for all of your clients, etc.) you have to be cognizant of their time. This is called “Controlling The Meeting”. It is always better to have your three, four or five things come across well and be memorable than to jam way too much information at them, seem overbearing and leave them with a jumble of bits and pieces of scattered information. Watch your speaking pace and always be prepared to let them jump in.

The Grand Finale

Ok, so you feel like you have had a successful meeting and you need to know where to go from here. What’s a good way to end it?  Remember, you need to get their ears and eyeballs on your sound design skills. Here’s one way:

Ask them if they would mind letting you have a short cut scene from one of their older completed projects, a speculative demo of sorts, so that you may add your sound design stylings. You can create a musical score, add some sound effects, add some padded layers, etc. This accomplishes two things:

1) They get to see your skills in action; and

2) You have just given yourself a decent shot at impressing them with your sonic wizardry and maybe, just maybe, to have your name added to their call list for future sound design needs.

Of course, you are going to do this free of charge.  Offer to sign an NDA if that alleviates any of their privacy concerns.

Or ask them outright if they would add you to their list of possible outsourcers for game audio for any upcoming projects and/or keep you in the loop regarding any possible job opportunities within the company. Maybe their current outsourcers are great at sound effects creation, but not as proficient at composing original music, ambient textures, or loops. Remember, you’re just looking for a foot in the door, and as mentioned earlier; there is a lot of movement in the game industry.

Hopefully these tips will help. The more you exercise your meeting skills, as with any other skill, the better you will get, thus helping you attain success on a more consistent basis. So if you have a sympathetic buddy or partner, get them to help you rehearse your questions and answers in advance. It sounds corny, and may feel a little artificial, but you’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to say what you want to say articulately if you’ve worked on it in advance.

Best of luck and see you at GDC.

 

 

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