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Author Topic: Music Composer Information: Mathazzar Studios  (Read 2509 times)
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Richard Marks
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« on: March 13, 2009, 11:36:36 AM »

Music Composer Information: Mathazzar Studios

I recently spoke with a very talented music composer who gave me some insight into the really obscure world of composers.
He gave me permission to post this information here for you guys. Thank you Marius! Cheesy

Marius Masalar (Contact)
Mathazzar Studios
Composer for Media

Upon requesting information on what he would charge for some game audio tracks for a freeware title, I received the following response:
Quote
Regarding what I charge for music, I don't like to give ultimatum-style fees because they're scary and not proactive. My aim is always to work within the budget of the project, so that everyone comes out shiny in the end. However, since I don't know what kind of budget you're working from (if any), I'll give you a range of fees that I've charged in the past. The lowest I've agreed to work for is about $10USD per minute of written material, and the highest I've been paid so far is about $200USD per minute of written material. My average hovers in the $100USD/minute range and, since I'm still working on making a big name for myself in the industry, I think that's a fairly comfortable level. That being said, you should be aware that the "going rate" for a composer of my experience level in the industry starts at about $500/minute at the absolute lowest and climbs to about $2,000/minute.

Those are scary numbers, which is why they're not the ones I like to toss around initially, but I think it's only fair that those who employ me know what they would be paying for my work in a fully professional setting. Of course, the nature of competition is such that the only thing composers can really compete with each other on is price for work, and that's why many of us are willing to work for way below the going rate, but I myself refuse to work for too little simply because it would be contributing to a devaluing of the composer's work in general within the industry. Additionally, having done game dev work myself, I know that most small companies can't possibly afford that kind of paycheck, which is why my general policy is to try and work out whatever's fair for me and functional for the developer on an individual basis.

When asked about his work procedures, what he needs from the developers in order to do his job, etc...
I received this lengthy, detailed and informative wall-o-text Grin
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Anyway, I totally understand about the no-budget freeware model, and I'm happy to be at the top of your list I'm sure I'll be happy to help when you get around to needing it. I'd be happy to give you a rundown of my work process too...this doesn't necessarily reflect how most composers do it, since I believe in a far more collaborative and in-depth approach than some. Pardon me in advance for the wall of text, but you may as well have the complete picture as long as you're putting it on file. Here goes:

1) I talk to you. I get to know the team as people, get to know the project, its history, its evolution, its goals, its inside jokes, its failures, and its secret ambitions. It's the first stage of my immersion in the project environment.

2) I ask you for a design document, or equivalent sort of paperwork if there is some. This lets me see everything about the project at a glance in one nice document that I can later return to as a reference. When such a thing does not exist, I talk to you some more. In fact, I talk to you some more even if the thing DOES exist. I want to know as much as I can about the project.

3) I ask you about your views on the music. What's your take? Did you have something specific in mind? Examples of material you were hoping to emulate? Ideas for a completely wacky original direction you want the music to go in? I've been surprisingly lucky in that many of the projects I've worked for have allowed me a great deal of creative freedom to tackle the score as I see fit using my best judgement. Once the developers work with me a bit, they seem willing to allow me some breathing room to explore the music myself and perhaps surprise them with a result that fits in a way they were not expecting. I appreciate but by no means require or expect that kind of treatment as I said, I've just been lucky, since it means I get to contribute my own part to the game's overall vision.

4) I ask lots of questions. Throughout the process. Some of them are completely irrelevant to the music but help me get to know the game better. It may not matter how many boyfriends Miraya has had before Elikam, but it sure does help me paint a more accurate picture of her character through music. The better I know the game, the deeper I can immerse myself in its world, and the more characteristically accurate the music I write for it will be.

5) I actually write the music. Generally speaking, this is the most nebulous part of the process. Sometimes I've had developers send me packages with screenshots, brief text descriptions of environment/events for each particular "scene" or area. Other times, I just get terribly vague requests like "yeah...it's this space-y sort of stage and the music needs to loop. Um. Don't use brass." Understandably, I prefer the first option, but I've been able to produce perfectly viable tracks in both situations, so a happy compromise is just fine. Basically, the clearer you are with your intentions, the more likely I am to nail the music from the first go (which I'm happy to say I have a tendency to do). Keep in mind that this doesn't always mean musical directions....if you tell me that you need something for a dark forest that the characters are stuck in, having run from a terrible battle, and the mood is to be mysterious, dark, melancholy, and distantly menacing...then I have plenty to work with. Talk to me about intended moods and I'm good to go. Give me a screenshot or two as well and I'm a happy guy.

6) Once I know what I'm writing for, the music honestly writes itself. If I manage to get the scene in my mind, the score is just there and all I have to do is transcribe and produce it. That part is basically done somewhere between my piano and my computer. Once the score is written/played in, I sequence the MIDI data to ensure that rendering through my fairly ridiculous sound library collection sounds as convincingly realistic as I can possibly make it. Once I'm happy with that, I spend a good deal of time working on mastering the final track mixing is an oft-neglected but vital part of the production process and I always try and do my best to produce the most professional masterings I can.

7) Once the track is finished, I prepare it for looping (when required) and then encode it in whatever format we've previously decided you'll need (WAV, Mp3, OGG, etc.) and I send it to you either via email, direct upload to my private web hosting, email, or a file sending service such as www.filedropper.com .

Cool In terms of payment, I've done it a few different ways. In some cases, I've had a flat fee for all the music (usually when there are only a couple of tracks, for example) negotiated ahead of time. That fee is then split in half and I ask for half initially and the other half upon delivery of the music. If, for whatever reason, that isn't possible, then I still send the music within my usual timeframe, but not at its full resolution I send a crappy Mp3 at a terrible bitrate that's just good enough to ascertain whether or not the track meets your needs, but certainly not enough to be useable. Then, once everything's been confirmed, I ask for the full fee and then deliver the high-fidelity audio files. The other option, the one I prefer for projects requiring more music, is the pay-per-minute-written scheme which is largely what is adhered to industry-wide. In that case, I either write the music and ask for payment upon delivery of each track; or, as before, I send all the tracks in lo-fi format first, then collect the full calculated fee at the end and subsequently deliver the hi-fi versions of the tracks. Royalties and any SKU ancilliaries are negotiated on top of the composing fee for commercially-sold projects and help spread my income out a bit and give me something to work from in between contracts. As for the actual mechanics, PayPal is my preferred fund transfer method, but I'm fairly flexible when it comes to how I accept fees as long as they get to me.

9) After everything works out, I like to stay in touch with developers in case they have more work for me in the future, but also because I tend to make friends with them through the working process, which is an added perk from my perspective.

I hope that this information proves to be useful to those that read it.
A big round of applause for Marius and his inside-scoop of the game audio industry! Cool
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