We like the idea of a studio being 100% responsible for their creation. Just a couple of guys and their ideas brought to life.
But – we also know that gamers, especially of the hardcore kind, are knowledgeable. So one day we just sent out a tweet asking if there’s a track that people feel would work for Witchfire.
What we hoped for was delivered. We do have our own database of tracks we feel are perfect for the game, but that database got bigger and better thanks to you. Much love.
What we didn’t anticipate was this:
And also we got nearly 200 inquiries from various composers, from first timers to AAA veterans.
It kind of broke our hearts.
See, the problem is that while most games need many graphics artists or programmers, they rarely need more than one composer. So what do you do when you tag a dozen of submissions and portfolios that are absolutely fantastic and touch your soul in all the inappropriate but exciting ways — but you can only choose one?
Anyway, we have our composer (who we contacted first ourselves, it’s a good story but for another time) and a list of people we would love to work with in some way either for Witchfire or in the future. We are very grateful for all the emails and contributions, and if you’re a fan of good music or maybe from another indie studio looking for a composer, we highly encourage you to check the replies to our tweet.
And now for the actual subject of this post… I’ve been making games for 30 years now, a huge portion of that as a Creative Director, and I went through the “let’s look for a composer” phase many times. I believe I have the experience needed to help artists get their message across better.
Here are two hints to increase your chances (for obvious reasons it all applies only to artists that are not too well known):
1. Remove Friction
When contacting a studio looking for a composer, you’re competing against many other artists.
To quote two pros who were kind enough to contact us:
I know you’re completely inundated with music emails now!
I’ll keep this short as you’ll have tonnes of pitches to wade through.
And now, imagine what happens when the Creative Director goes through the e-mails, he’s on number one hundred thirty seven, six hours of music samples behind him, he already has a list of great candidates, and the e-mail reads:
“Your game looks great. I’d like to give it a try, let me know if you’re interested!”
He’ll probably just click on the next email.
“I’ve just seen your tweet. HMU if you’d like some samples of my work.”
“Would it be OK if I sent you some of my tracks along with some info for you to check out?”
You get the point. Just give the studio what they need: a bit of info about yourself, and direct links to your work. Don’t turn this into back and forth. I mean, look at Amazon. Look how little friction there is to buy something, how easy it is. And when everyone thought that’s it, things can’t get any easier …they introduced Buy now with 1-Click!
The same philosophy should be applied here. Basically, make it so everything, literally all the stuff needed to consider you for the composer role is in your very first email.
2. It’s about the game
When a studio looks for a composer, they don’t look for a great composer, they look for a great composer for their game.
The best way is to always make an example piece specifically for the project (if revealed).
Here’s an example from our own past. The original teaser for The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was done by Arkadiusz Reikowski. Then we got a nice email from Mikolai Stroinski, with a link to his version (he basically replaced the original music with his own take). Can you not click a link to your own video but with new music? You can’t. And while this version was not necessarily better, just different, we loved it enough for Mikolai to be one of the first people to contact when the time came to look for the composer for the actual game.
So, grab a video or a screenshot, add your music and put it on YouTube (unlisted, of course). Let the studio see how the music sounds with their game.
Pure music tracks are totally fine, too. Attachment, SoundCloud, Google Drive, whatever. As long as it’s your vision of what the music for the game should be.
I can imagine some of you thinking, “Nah, fuck that, I’m not spending a day working on something that has a high chance of failure”. I get it, and you’re right, it does – as I said, usually the competition is fierce.
Another solution, then, is to point the studio to those tracks in your portfolio that are closest to that you would do for the game. For example, in our case, “While I don’t have anything perfect, here’s a dark ambient example for exploration: [link], and here’s some high intensity combat music: [link]”.
While not as good as a direct pitch, it can work. One of the best e-mails we got was from a composer who said (paraphrasing): “For Witchfire combat, imagine this dark piece of mine: [link to a track from the portfolio] but mixed with tribal war drums from [redacted]: [link]”. Great!
But what if you feel you could actually make the OST but don’t have anything resembling it in your portfolio?
Then, and I apologize for the brutal honesty, your chances are next to zero. Not because the studio is full of lazy assholes who don’t give people a chance, but because the said studio has already gotten a lot of examples that work for them – so why bother?
Treat it as if you only had one shot, one email
“Here’s audio/video of how I imagine your game to sound” is best
“Here are direct links to tracks from my portfolio that are near what I imagine for your game” is second best
I hope this helps. The rest is in your hands. All you need to do is be incredible and somehow fit the unknown vision the Creative Director has for the game …or one he never knew he needed.
Question of the Week
Speaking of brutal honesty… Most “colleges for game design” suck.
All the creators you admire in gaming… None of them went to one.
FWIW, it’s not like I think these colleges are totally pointless. You do learn something, you get a degree, and you’re surrounded by people passionate about the game developement.
But if you really want to become a game developer, spend your free time learning from actual developers (follow them on Twitter, read their blogs, watch GDC videos, etc.) and, more importantly, creating. With the engines and middleware and software like Photoshop or Audacity out there, it’s never been easier.