Written by Ryan Ike, and republished with his kind permission
After my thread (and post) about how game audio people (and freelancers in general) don’t charge enough, a lot of people responded with “I want to charge more, but I don’t know how to price myself.”
It’s easy, but you need to analyze your work, a thing lots of us don’t do. I’ll explain:
Most of us, especially if you’ve been at this awhile, have a basic idea how long it takes to make X thing. “I can write a minute of finished music in a week working full time hours, less if it’s a genre I’m comfy with, more if it requires lots of live players” Something like that.
As freelancers, we’re charging for our skillset, but even more so, we’re charging for our time. And a TON of us forget to take this into account when we set our rates on a new project.
If you sign on to write a full sized indie game soundtrack, (let’s say roughly 45 minutes of music), break it down. How long does it take you to write a 3-4 minute track? Or a minute of music? What about edits and revisions?
Yes, this is tricky and not an exact science, and every project differs based on the working dynamic, the type of work, etc. But just ball park it.
In most cases, you’ll find you’re charging not nearly enough for the amount of work you’re set up to do
Once you have an estimate on how much of your time this will take, charge based on THAT.
In most cases, you’ll find you’re charging not nearly enough for the amount of work you’re set up to do. If I charged $20,000 for the above example and it takes me roughly a week to write 1 min of music, that’s 20k over 45 weeks at BEST.
If we do a little math on that, that works out to roughly 11 dollars an hour if I”m putting in a full 40 hour workweek each week. That’s way under minimum wage here in Seattle, and a lot of other places too.
And that’s the really surprising thing I’ve learned by asking fellow audio folks to compare how much of their time they’re providing VS what they get paid. An absolute ton of you aren’t even working for minimum wage. You’re working for less.
I was chatting about this with a sound designer friend of mine who wanted to raise their rates, but wasn’t sure what to raise them to. I won’t name them, but they’ve worked on some incredibly popular things you’ve DEFINITELY heard of.
ME: Well, how long does it take you to make a sound asset, usually?
THEM: I mean, they’re all different, but usually around 3 hours.
ME: Ok, and what do you charge?
THEM: $50 per file.
ME: So . . . like 17 bucks an hour?
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And again, this person is crazy talented and has already worked on some major franchises, and they’re still barely charging over minimum wage where we live. And didn’t even really realize it, because we’re not used to thinking of our work in terms of time spent.
Game audio is far, far from a minimum wage-level job. The amount of time and practice required to get good, the cost of building a studio space and having the right gear/software, going to cons to network and stay in business, it’s HUGE.
Yet so many of you charge barely more than what you’d get paid if you worked at Starbucks. And not that working there is bad, of course, but it doesn’t require years of practice and thousands of dollars in gear to be employed there.
So, the next time you’re figuring out the finances of a new gig, think how much an hour of your time as a creative professional SHOULD be worth. 50 bucks? 60? More (typically, yes, more).
Break down the amount of work, figure out how long it’ll take you, and charge accordingly.
And it doesn’t matter if you prefer to charge clients based on X amount per track or asset, X amount for the whole project, or if you actually just bill based on how many hours you worked. But base X on how much time you’ll spend, and how you value that time.
Ryan Ike is a composer and sound designer based in Seattle, WA, with work spanning games like Gunpoint, West of Loathing, and Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. Outside of making audio, he spends his time trying to help newcomers find their place in the game industry, and is passionate about making sure that game audio pros (and creatives in general) are getting the pay and respect they deserve. You can listen to his work here
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