Whether you’re developing your first indie game or you already have a few under your belt, there comes a time when you need to implement music. Luckily, the internet is an endless ocean of contacts and resources, right? While this is true, such a vast wealth of options subjects us all to what is often called “analysis paralysis.” There are so many people and so many websites to browse, but how do you know which ones are truly useful? Maybe you don’t even know where to start. That’s okay.
I’m here to provide my expertise as a game audio professional so that you don’t feel so overwhelmed when it’s time to hire a composer. The trick is simple: find the places where serious composers gather. I’ll outline a few of the big ones to get you started.
Instagram is exploding with creative people offering goods and services. Problem solved, right? Not quite yet. You have to find the right people on Instagram. There are a lot of beginners and hobbyists to weed through. And if you’re serious about your game you’ll want to find a professional who has experience and marketing knowledge. If you're wondering how or why marketing knowledge has anything to do with musical ability, don't fret. This is incredibly important to consider. But let's take things one step at a time. It'll become abundantly clear by the time you reach the end of this article. Your best bet is to begin your search by using hashtags.
While virtually everyone uses hashtags on Instagram, serious composers use them to 1) target their audience and 2) make their content easily accessible to that audience. I like to tag #indiegamedev, #indiegamestudio or #programmerslife in nearly every one of my posts so that those who may need game audio will see my content enter their space. Check out this recent post of mine to see who I targeted.
Additionally, serious composers often tag their service or area of expertise so it’s easy for independent game developers to find them when they’re in the market for game audio. I like to tag #gameaudio or #mediacomposer in my posts because those are places game developers are likely to search when they need music. This is the approach I took for this post, which I used to promote my services.
Once you’ve identified one or more promising hashtags, it’s time to dig into the details. If you find an appealing post, be sure to visit that composer’s profile and look for 1) a professional bio and feed, and 2) consistent content output.
The bio is essentially the composer’s elevator pitch. If it’s straightforward and compelling, you can bet they’re invested in what they do. As an indie game developer, this is something crucial to look out for. The last thing you want is a flaky musician who leaves you hanging while you're pouring your soul into a passion project. Verify a freelance composer's credibility by checking out their feed. Here are a few things to look for while doing so:
Do they post daily? Weekly? Most professional freelance composers post new content between 3 times a week and every day.
Is their content good? It goes without saying that anyone can effortlessly post whatever they want. But if a freelance composer puts forth the effort to make their material presentable, you can tell they're far more than a hobbyist.
Does their bio have a link to their website or portfolio?
A work ethic like this tells you a number of things. Firstly, it shows that the composers in question are actively practicing and sharpening their skills. Secondly, it shows that they treat their creativity like an official job. Thirdly, it proves that they have an understanding of Instagram’s algorithm and that they care enough about their services to stay at the front of everyone’s news feed.
Twitter is another hub for game audio professionals, but there’s a lot of noise to filter through. Much of what I explained about Instagram applies to Twitter: find a composer via hashtags, make sure their bio is clean, professional and includes a website link, etc. But there’s a twist.
Twitter is so fast-paced that it’s impossible to compete for attention. So don’t expect a static portfolio like on Instagram. You’ll want to see if your prospective composers are 1) sharing expertise regularly, 2) posting their work instead of random retweets and political stuff, and 3) engaging with their audience. Browse through their recent tweets to get a feel for their level of commitment to video game music. Are they sharing useful articles and links? Do they ask questions and engage in genuine conversation? Even if they consider themselves a part-time freelance composer, these criteria still apply. An excellent example of this is Composer Code founder Matt Kenyon. Even though he works a full-time day job and supports a family, he still produces incredibly useful expertise that he regularly shares on Twitter.
Even if there isn’t much traffic on their posts, it’s important to consider the nature of their discussions. Are their tweets thought-provoking? Practical? Informative? Or are they simply spamming material for the sake of praise? Drawing this distinction will give you important insight regarding how reasonable they will be to work with.
YouTube is an entirely different beast in terms of social media platforms. Obviously, YouTube supports longer videos and allows content creators to go into as much detail as they please. But when it comes to freelance game audio, the biggest distinction between YouTube and other platforms like Instagram or Twitter is the purpose of the content being shared.
YouTube is less saturated with freelance video game music composers. This is because we use it primarily for instructional and educational content versus promotion or documentation of our creative process. You can visit my corner of the AudioCipher Technologies channel to see my educational content.
That being said, indie game developers may feel like finding a selection of game audio professionals that aren’t famous or expensive on YouTube is a tedious process. However, when you do find them, you can rest assured that they know what they’re doing and are actively producing material on a regular basis.
I used this platform purely for step-by-step educational videos, and would not have been posting much on YouTube otherwise had I not earned my place as resident composer by pitching my music composition experience as information worth sharing. In a nutshell, inexperienced and/or flaky composers likely aren't posting on YouTube because 1) they haven't accumulated enough material or expertise yet or 2) they know their flakiness will get called out.
Now, you might be wondering how to even begin your search for freelance video game music composers on YouTube. You have a couple options.
The simplest way is to consider YouTube as additional validation of a composer’s credibility. Let’s say you found some prospects on Instagram or Twitter, but you’re having trouble deciding who to contact. This is when you could search for those composers on YouTube to see who is on top of their game and most willing to share their expertise.
Your second option is browsing raw search results. But your findings are not purely happenstance. Finding an affordable and available audio composer this way tells you a few things. Firstly, and arguably most importantly, it tells you that the composer has spent a lot of time and effort carefully choosing their keywords so you could find them. Not only is this a testament to their competence but also proof of their devotion to handling their craft professionally.
Secondly, it could very well indicate that they have a lot of viewers. This suggests that either 1) they care enough about their work to invest in ads or 2) they are entertaining and personable. That second point is also a good indicator that they will be easy to work with.
Bring Your Indie Game To Life
Now that you’ve scoured the video game composer stomping grounds, you’re ready to make contact. See, it’s not too difficult!
The key is knowing where to look without overwhelming yourself with options. Cutting out the spam and noise makes the whole process run much more smoothly. Without a full-blown AAA studio-size team or budget to work with, it'll make a significant difference to invest in a quality freelance composer. Plus, when a composer has it all together, less oversight is required on your end which means there's more room for creativity to flow. And by taking the time to research your prospects, you’ll likely find someone who you’ll want to work with again in the future. It pays to connect with a composer who takes themselves and their craft seriously.
And there’s a final bonus to using the methods I’ve laid out. Doing it this way shows the composer that you are serious about your game. You can further prove your commitment to your craft by telling the composer where and how you found them, which videos you watched, which songs you listened to and what you particularly enjoyed. I can say from experience that it’s a huge relief when a game developer has done their homework and has digested enough of my material to communicate in detail.
For more details or clarification, keep an eye out for my upcoming blog posts about hiring and working with video game music composers. Alternatively, you can schedule a free 30 minute game audio consultation with me so we can discuss the process in detail!