freelance audio payment Asbjoern Andersen


Are you charging enough for your audio work? Ryan Ike is back with more thoughts on pricing, and how to calculate if you're doing highly specialized audio work - at rates that are effectively below the minimum wage. Read on for his thoughts on setting the right price for your freelance audio work:
Written by Ryan Ike, and republished with his kind permission
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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?
THEM: …oh.
 


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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.

More on setting (and getting) the right price for your work:

 

Want to know more audio pricing? Ryan Ike has written another guide on audio pricing, and how to get it right, here. Also check out Kate Finan’s in-depth guide on how to set – and get – the right price for your audio work here.

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.

A big thanks to Ryan Ike for letting us share his thoughts on pricing! Got some insights or tips on how to set the right price? Please share them in the comments setion.

About Ryan Ike:

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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Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Environments Baltic Forest Play Track 53 sounds included, 233 mins total $39 $23.40

    Baltic Forest is a collection of ambient recordings captured over one year in a private forest in Northern Lithuania. 53 carefully recorded exterior ambiences made during summer, autumn, winter and spring. From the bright sound of native birds in spring and summer, to the freezing cold (-20 Celsius) snow storms and tree movements of autumn and winter – sometimes recording in knee-deep snow.

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  • Destruction & Impact The Vault Play Track 12743 sounds included, 1249 mins total $599.99

    The whole 9 yards.

    Comprised of five heavy hitting libraries, this bundle includes GEARBOXSORCERYHEROBROKEN, and MELEE. Save by bundling all FIVE in a single library.

    GEARBOX:

    Boutique analog mechanical contraptions, steampunk gadgetry, gizmos and machines big and small.


    SORCERY

    Spells, deflects, casts, blocks, beams, and more. Unrivaled wizardry at your fingertips.


    BROKEN:

    Car crashes, explosions, crumbling buildings, earthquakes, ripping earth and metal, to debris, and more.


    HERO:

    HERO – Sword fights, stabbing, guillotines, impaling, battle cries, shields, drawbridges, armor, foley and more.


    MELEE:

    Punches, kicks, blocks, bodyfalls, grabs, slaps, bone breaks, blood splatters, and more.


  • Mechanical Gearbox Play Track 3551 sounds included, 279 mins total $149.99

    We've ventured to obscure boutiques, prop houses and vintage shops to capture mechanical contraptions from around the world. Ranging from bizarre creations, to steampunk gadgetry, gizmos and machines, GEARBOX clocks in at over 10 GB of high definition, precision mastered sounds spanning across 2987 construction kit sounds and 584 designed sounds.

    GEARBOX equips Sound Designers with a literal toolbox of mechanical gadgetry. Ranging from tiny to huge, GEARBOX's machines and gizmos provide coverage for interacts, mechanism, machine or device in your scene or game.

    INTRODUCING BUILDING BLOCKS

    In addition to CONSTRUCTION KIT and DESIGNED SOUND content, GEARBOX features BUILDING BLOCKS. This category of sound consists of designed phrases and oneshots utilized for our designed machinery, empowering Sound Designers with maximum flexibility when trying to get that particular phrase from an existing DESIGNED SOUND. GEARBOX features over 468 BUILDING BLOCKS ranging from levers, hits, grinds, snaps, and more.

    Video Thumbnail
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    The World War II American M16 Halftrack anti-aircraft sound library features 313 sound effects in 18.86 gigabytes of audio. Based on the M3 Halftrack, this “multiple gun motor carriage” showcases 20 takes of up to 42 channels of performances from a White 160AX, 6-cylinder, 128 horsepower engine.

    Twelve onboard perspectives present the vintage vehicle in slow, medium, and fast speeds with steady idles and ramps. The twelve exterior perspectives include 26 channels of the halftrack starting, departing, passing, reversing, and arriving. Includes over 18 fields of Soundminer, BWAV, and MacOS spotlight metadata.

  • This SFX library features 217 sounds processed by a mint condition Chorus Echo RE-501, including metal impacts, church bells, chainsaws, voices, and water. In addition, self-oscillation sounds from the RE-501 are included. The combination of the 192khz high resolution sample rate and the tape saturation/warmth from the Chorus Echo make these samples sound great when pitch shifted and/or time stretched, even at extreme settings.

 
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