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New Vlog Madsen’s Musings is now out!

It’s been a while since my last update! I’m very excited to share with you the first episode of my new vlog, Madsen’s Musings. In this series, I’ll discuss all things audio – from music composition to production, to sound design and focus quite a bit on the human elements of being a working composer/sound designer. Wanna know how to get into the industry? Want to know how to improve your online presence? I’m also setting up interviews with other industry pros for future episodes! This is the vlog for you!

Check out episode 1 here: Madsen’s Musings – Episode 1 : Are You Hyper Critical?

I’ll be learning as I go as well! This is my first vlog series to produce and publish, so I’m sure I’ll be changing my approaches, gear and techniques as I get deeper in the process. If you have some questions or topics you’d like to have discussed, please reach out on the YT channel! Comments, feedback and thumbs up are also more than welcomed! This vlog series also showcases my newly animated Madsen Studios logo with original sound design that I put to it! I’m looking forward to making Madsen’s Musings a content rich resource that encourages and teaches others as well as myself. Come take part and let’s learn together!

This first episode deals with a topic that impacts so many of us creative types: being hyper critical of our own work! This can quickly lead down a path where our inspiration, morale and energy level suffer, which makes being creative that much harder. Check out the episode to hear more about what I have to say about this topic. And please subscribe so you don’t miss future episodes. I’ve got about 21 more videos planned out and several others already in the production or post production phases.

Want to get in touch with me directly? Want to work together? Curious what my favorite candy bar is? Get in touch!

Thanks so much!

Nate

Bio:
Nate is an established composer/sound designer, based in Austin, TX. Aside from making various kinds of noises and music, he also teaches private lessons (saxophone and piano) and performs with live bands. On the weekends he likes to sit and watch the grass grow. He’s also quite fond of fancy beers.

nathan-madsen-composer-sound-designer-music-audio-moving-to-austin-texas

Moving! And two new videos!

It’s been a good long while since I’ve updated this site! Sorry about that!

So some news – we’re moving BACK to Austin, TX. SGI is relocating me to the Austin branch to assist with audio needs down there and this will put us much closer to our families again. It’s a generous and amazing offer from SGI and we’re thrilled to accept it. Leaving Iowa will be bittersweet because it’s been a wonderful place for our family. Great people – beautiful nature and some really great places to eat! Moving, especially across multiple states, is never easy. So good thoughts, positive vibes and plenty of chocolate donations would be greatly appreciated! 😛

Also I’m still busy writing music and producing sound for SGI as well as freelancing on a film project as the sound designer and mixer, finishing up Spartan Fist’s music and audio as well as finishing up a few other unannounced projects on the side. Busy times! Below are two of my more recent releases – Treasure of Cortez and Monopoly Colossal Boardwalk. I hope you enjoy them!

Much more music and sound to come as things continue to be made public. Madsen Studios LLC will take a break in a few weeks with all of the moving craziness but we’ll be back in business once we’re settled in Austin! If you need audio – hit me up. I’d love to chat with you.

Bio:

Nate Madsen is a 13 year industry vet who’s worked in games, films, taught college courses and has performed and recorded in various settings on both piano and saxophone. He’s been with SGI for almost two years and has been running Madsen Studios LLC since 2005. On the weekends he likes to be very still and watch the grass grow. And he’s considering taking up the bagpipes. He’s currently in Cedar Falls, IA but, if you’re read this post above, you now know he’s moving back to Austin, TX. His favorite color is green.

Once you land the gig…

 
Many of my articles have focused on how best to network, promote yourself, negotiate and interact with potential clients. In this article I’m going to share a few pointers to help after you’ve landed the job. As with anything, nothing is a fix-all solution so always take these suggestions with a grain of salt. Carefully evaluate each situation, each client and if one of these tips seems to be a good fit then by all means use it! So let’s get right to it:
 
 

Don’t begin work until you have something to work to.

 
Sounds like simple common sense, doesn’t it? But in my experience it’s been rather surprising how often less(er) experienced clients expect me to begin work right away without any art or visual references. Usually more experienced teams already understand that audio is one of the last elements to be placed into a video game. Less experienced teams, however, tend to get excited and also not be aware of the common and more effective pipeline. Even for more simplistic sounds (like a generic button click) if a game isn’t there yet, so much can change during the production cycle that any sounds created early on could end up not fitting or matching the game’s vibe and feel. So if a team doesn’t have anything ready for you to work to – they’re not ready for audio yet.
 

Balance your workload – especially when extra tasks pop up.

 
Several times I’ve had clients expect me to capture video of the game when it was never part of the assigned tasks set up in the contract. These clients didn’t offer any kind of payment for my time or use of my equipment. Instead of getting upset or simply saying “no” I told them I would be happy to assist but we’d need to first figure out an appropriate cost for this extra service and the time it would take. Every time I’ve used this approach the team, which previously was too busy to capture video or didn’t have the needed tools, suddenly had the time and resources to provide those videos. So remember – unless a task is specified in the contract, it is extra work and as such you could require additional payment.

In some situations you can choose to take on some extra tasks to help the team out – which can really help your reputation with the team! This is usually when your work load is very light and you don’t have other projects also demanding your time. But be careful. Always explain if you’re making a concession. Something as simple as “well I usually charge for X but I had some extra time and wanted to help the team out.” The key here is balance. Don’t allow a team to repeatedly throw extra tasks at you which were not set up in the contract without added pay for your time and efforts but don’t nickel and dime your clients to death either. It’s a fine line but remember: it’s YOUR choice.
 

“Just play the game and create sounds from watching the game.”

 
While more rare, I’ve had a few clients give me a build of their game and expect me to just play it and then make sounds or music to that game build. When I asked for animations to “score” directly to they tell me to just play the game. I’ve even had a few clients push back after I explained my workflow process (placing animations directly in my DAW and creating sounds directly to that file). What usually convinces the client is this simple question: Do you want the sounds of the game to be estimates and guesses are do you want your sounds to be precisely synced to all animations?
 

Not all feedback is useful feedback.

 
I once had a client give me one-word feedback for about 20-25 sounds I had delivered: “Rework.” I explained that with that kind of vague feedback, I didn’t have enough information to know what direction or changes needed to happen. I didn’t know what the team didn’t like, I didn’t know what the team did like. It didn’t even specify what sounds needed to be reworked. After asking for more detailed feedback I found out there was only one sound they wanted reworked and the changes requested were minimal. The initial feedback was so vague, it gave me nothing to work with. Don’t accept vague feedback like this or you’ll end up running in circles and wasting a good deal of time. Asking for specific feedback isn’t challenging or rude when done in the right way. It shows how invested you are in making sure the sounds are the perfect fit for the game.
 

Iteration for the sake of iteration is crap.

 
I once worked on a team where the culture was to iterate just to see what would happen – without any clear goal or direction. In my frank and honest opinion it was a crappy attempt to cover up a clear lack of vision on the project. So teams just started iterating and making content, remaking content, scrapping content, going back to previous content, creating new content all in the name of iteration. And it was crap.

I’m ALL for iterating and adding polish to make something better. To achieve that end goal. To push the limits. But if a team wants you to iterate just to see “what happens” or “what comes out” then inform them that it raises audio costs and slows down the production time table as you’re stuck iterating on level 4 over and over again. Side note: this is why I have a revision limit on my rates. If a client feels they can have unlimited revisions at no extra cost then, by God, they’re going to use them! So make sure your rates allot for those situations where you’re drafting 15 versions of a game theme and explain those costs and limitations upfront to the client.
 

Play the game when mixing/implementing audio but push for alternate testing methods as well.

 
Once I was trying to test a sound I had created in a client’s build of their video game. The certain sound was on a stage that was so buggy and the game event so rare that it literally took me an hour to just hear the sound. Once! Then I made the needed changes and still had to fight the game to make that sound event happen again. It ended up taking much more time than it should have and made me quite frustrated. For those harder, more rare game events push for an alternate testing method. Perhaps a virtual soundboard of some sort or slash commands (if it is similar to a MMO-type game). Anything that can help you speed up mixing/implementation time. Some clients will push back on this but if you charge for your mixing/implementation time (which you should) then this can help speed up these tasks and lower the cost to that client. This is usually enough rationale to help convince the client that it is worth their energy and time.
 

Setting the right expectations.

 
As with many things in business, this is all about setting the right expectations and then fulfilling them. Even exceeding them. Explain to your clients what you need and why. Show them how by providing these items it will help you do a better job for them, make their product’s audio that much better and help you keep audio costs down and on schedule. So the final tip is really all about communication. I strive to have fluid, frequent communication with all of my clients and I have yet to hear a single complaint about it. The better you communicate, the better everyone understands their tasks, their roles and the needs of the project.

Get out there and make some noise!

The Big Picture

 

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.

Offer perks.

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.

Be flexible.

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.

Easy, right?

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.

Freelancing: Reality vs. Perception

 

Before I took the plunge into full time freelancing I had a romanticized view of what the job would be like. In some ways my expectations were pretty much on the mark and in other ways I was completely mistaken! Now, after nearly 15 months of being a full time freelancer, I thought I’d share some of my perceptions and how they did or did not match up with reality, along with some tips to help avoid some common pitfalls.

 

Perception: I’d be 100% productive 100% of the time.

Reality: I needed consistent periods of time away from the creative parts of my job to stay fresh and inspired.

 

I wasn’t naive enough to think that I’d constantly be busy with clients. I knew that freelancing would require a good bit of effort but I did expect to at least have a steady stream of new music flowing out of my studio. That wasn’t the case. I didn’t realize how much of my time and energy would be spent on other business and non-related business items. If I had to estimate, about 30 to 40% of my time is spent looking for my next gig while the remaining time is doing the actual work. Of course there are periods when I’m super busy and lucky enough to land multiple projects at one time and remain booked solid for a chunk of time. I’m in one of those periods right now where I’ve consistently had work to fill up my workday since May and it’s been great! But I also know that dry spells happen to everyone. The important thing is to know what to do when those deserts show up. More on that in another article.

One thing I do when I’m feeling less than inspired is focus on the administrative sides of the job. They have to be done anyway and can provide a nice break from the creative process. I’ll send out a slew of networking emails looking for new clients and more work. I’ll write articles about audio production (much like I’m doing now!) or research new hardware/software solutions to keep my gear up to par. Other times I’ll do some house chores or exercise. And to be totally honest sometimes I’ll just tune out with a great movie or video game.

 

Perception: I’d wake up every single morning excited to be able to work from home.

Reality: Sometimes you just HAVE to get out of the house.

 

Ask anyone who works from home and they’ll probably tell you that it can make you a bit stir crazy at times. This wasn’t something I anticipated at all but found myself suddenly just dying to get out of the house even though I had work to do. So I went out for a few hours, got a Starbucks and when I came home I felt better. You’re not a robot and even though your home is (hopefully) a warm and comfortable place for you – a change of scenery can really work miracles! Side note: a similar issue is always having work’s siren call when you’re supposed to be off of work. It’s very easy to slip back into your office and do a “few more things” and end up working very long hours. When crunching this is pretty much expected but when you’re not crunching do yourself (and your spouse/significant other/friends) a favor leave it until the next day. Working too much can just stress you out – even if you don’t feel the physical symptoms. Doing something outside of work for a while is really good for you. You’ll come back to your work more rested and excited to tackle the next issue.

 

Perception: Working in your PJs would be awesome and completely liberating!

Reality: While working in your PJs certainly is glorious, showering and dressing like a grown adult can be a nice change and make you feel more professional.

 

When you’re freelancing you ARE the company, right? You want to come off professional and taken seriously, right? Part of feeling like a professional is dressing like one. There were times I’d start to feel like I didn’t have a “real” job – that I wasn’t a true professional. Call it shallow but waking up, getting ready and dressing like I was actually going into an office environment instead of another room in my house helped! Suddenly it felt less like a random weekend day and more like a productive week day with work to be done. It can set the tone for the day. I know, odd. But it’s a small mental trick that I’ve found works sometimes.

 

Perception: Every single client would be highly professional and pay me right when the work was completed, delivered and approved.

Reality: Most of the time clients will pay you but it takes effort and, in many cases, time to get them to pay you. Even with a set pay date in a signed contract.

 

Alright, I’ll come clean. This wasn’t exactly a perception I had before plunging into full time freelance work. It’s more a talking point that is very important to me, especially given some recent events. Before going full time freelance, I moonlighted (freelancing on the side for those that don’t know that term) for several years and learned about clients and payment the hard way. But I’m often reminded how vital it is to keep everything legit, documented and within a contract, even when it’s a friend contracting you for work. Business is business. Keep it that way! Save yourself from the trouble later. Trust me. And when it comes time for collecting payment remember that you ARE the company. Just as you’re responsible for fixing or providing IT solutions when your hardware/software go bust and belly up and responsible behind the branding of your company, you’re the accounts receivable dept for your company. It’s up to you to follow up with clients and ensure that you get paid. We can talk in more detail about HOW to do this the right way in another article but for now the point’s been made – you’re gonna wear all kinds of hats when freelancing and being a one man company.

 

I think that about does it for now. Freelancing is a state of mind and it takes a great deal of discipline to be able to do well. Just as with many other things in life, listen to your body, follow your heart and give yourself plenty of opportunities to recharge. When you’re facing a hard situation, talk to other freelancers. Not only can this give you a compassionate ear of someone who’s been there, it can often provide new solutions and methods to help resolve the issue you’re having. Until next time have fun creating audio (or whatever it is that you do) and enjoy life!