This blog covers some very important concepts that are useful to young(er) freelancers. The inspiration for this entry comes from several discussions I’ve had with other freelancers as well as some interactions I’ve had with some clients in the past. When discussing money it’s helpful to remember one core idea:
A client wants to get the best content for the cheapest price while a freelancer wants to work on quality projects and be able to make a decent living.
Most of the time clients are very fair and even if some have misconceptions of what a standard rate in the gaming industry would be, they’re willing to pay more for higher quality. When the topic of money comes up, I always find it helpful to present my rates then compare and contrast them with what the standard rate is at that time for that kind of work. This helps give scope and scale to those numbers. After all if a client is expecting to pay $500 for exclusive rights to a 2 hour orchestral score and then gets quoted 10 or 20 times that amount, sticker shock isn’t uncommon. So treat this as an opportunity to educate your potential client.
Give you client options.
Instead of just stating one flat rate, supply several options for the client to choose from. Does Starbucks offer just one cup size? Of course not! They offer several options and this appeals to different types of customers. Me? I’m a venti guy almost all of the time. I want the largest beverage I can get. My wife likes the tall (or small for you non-Starbucks type) serving size. Different prices, different amounts, different tastes. So when constructing the rates consider what options might appeal to a wide(r) range of clients.
If possible, offer some perks to help entice your clients. Sometimes this can mean extra work sometimes it can be small things but if you surprise your clients they’ll often remember that and come back. Often times a little bit of extra work on the front end can outweigh the reward on the back end if you really surprise and exceed expectations.
Let’s say client X really wants to hire you as the composer of their next indie game but their budget falls short of your normal rates. This is a promising project that you feel could be a nice addition to your resume and credentials. Why not offer up some compromises that are not listed in your normal rates sheet? Just for example, you accept a lowered rate upon completion of work and in return for that discount get a percentage of all game sales. Look for ways to make it a fair trade off for you work/talents and energy but still giving the client what they need. Just because you have established rates doesn’t mean they’re set in stone or you cannot think creatively outside of the box. What counts is that you feel the exchange is fair to your work and time. Working for free (aka for credit only) is hardly EVER fair. If you’re even considering working for free – don’t. Instead make it an exchange of services. “I write music for your game and you design my new logo.” “I provide sound design for this project and you redesign my website.” Place value on your time and craft so the client will place value (at least to some degree) on it as well. Place zero value on your work/talents/time and your clients will place lesser value to it – if they place any value to it at all.
Don’t forget the big picture.
You know this point is important because it’s what I named this article! In many ways all of the previous points fall under this simple principle. Always keep the big picture in mind! Remember that your client has goals for your work – sometimes using the content in a series of projects. Other times releasing a soundtrack in additional to the game or project. Part of your job is to make sure you’re getting a fair rate. Which is better: getting paid $500 for non-exclusive rights to do a 30 second music track or getting paid $5,000 to do a three hour soundtrack at exclusive rights with no royalties or profit shares? The first option basically means you’re working for $1,000 per minute at non-exclusive rights. The second option means you’re working at a much lower “per minute” rate – roughly 28 bucks a minute. So when looking at only the rate vs. amount of content (and the type of rights required) the first offer seems better. But what if this is George Lucas and the film is Star Wars 18: Luke Stubs His Toe Part 4? Things change yet again. Hence the title of this blog – keep the big picture in mind at all times while negotiating and reviewing potential projects. And yes, sometimes this can be hard to do.
Let me provide a real life example – I was recently asked to produce sound effects for a royalty-free sound effects collection. They offered to pay me $1,400 for about 500 SFX. At first glance this looks somewhat enticing. But I dug deeper and learned that this team wanted exclusive rights to all content meaning I’d never be able to use these sounds again. Furthermore they said no royalties, bonuses or additional payments would be made after paying $1,400. This means they could sell my work over and over again – each time profiting from it while all I would earn was $1,400. Suddenly it doesn’t sound like that great of a deal. And keep in mind that since it was a royalty-free library that was going to be distributed, my source files would have to be 100% original. That means even more time recording, doing foley and then editing everything. All for $1,400. They weren’t going to put my name on it. In the end I thanked them for their interest but explained I couldn’t work for that low of a rate.
So when a client approaches you about job X make sure you look at all the parameters of that job. Ask tons of questions. Make sure everything is setup and that you agree to it. Don’t make a rush decision just because the headline looks good – take your time. Keep the big picture in mind. What are the client’s goals? What are your goals? Be realistic about how much time and effort will go into the job. Be flexible with your rates but don’t undersell yourself – otherwise you could be working for just peanuts. Using some of these approaches can help you make smarter decisions and propel your business forward. Good luck and happy hunting.