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So often freelancers worry about trying to get clients. Trying to impress them with demo reels, quick responses, shiny websites and their overall professional approach. There’s nothing wrong with that but many forget that clients also need to impress their freelancers. Or they risk losing them. This blog is both a reminder to freelancers as well as a helpful note to clients. Much of the attention seems focused on the relationship from freelancer TO the client but, aside from a few humourous websites, little attention is given to how clients should be treating their freelancers. Here’s a quick-n-dirty list of some of the biggest offenses I’ve either heard about or experienced directly when dealing with these kinds of clients:

1) Little to no information

Most freelancers work remotely so face-to-face interaction is very limited, if not completely absent. This makes having precise and up-to-date info that much more important. Vital even. Most of my clients have been amazing at providing clear and consistent communication which really helps me do my job well. I’ve had a few, however, that go dark for weeks (if not months) at a time. Radio silence, when a freelancer is already remote, is a very scary thing! Suddenly doubts begin to arise: “Did they replace me with someone else?” “Did they lose funding?” “Is this project even on still?” Part of a client’s job is to keep everyone on the crew, including freelancers, in the loop. In the know. Not doing so is, to put it bluntly, sloppy and ineffective leadership.

2) Not keeping promises

A not-so-secret-dirty-secret about production is that it almost never goes according to plan or schedule. Even the best teams experience a tiny bit of variance from plan to reality during production. Most freelancers are aware of this and completely understanding. But when things start to get too far off the plan, red flags begin to be raised. I once had a project where the client originally wanted all of the music and sound done within one week. I calmly talked him off the ledge and we set up a more realistic and reasonable work schedule. He expected that game to be done within a month’s time or so. Six months later, the game is still not done. So clients, please do your best to make realistic and reasonable production schedules then keep everyone updated on any changes. Most of the time, we’ll completely understand! And if you’re not sure how long something would take, ask an expert on the team! For example, I also offer pre-production services where I can help plan out an appropriate schedule that gives plenty of buffer for changes as well as enough time for review and revisions. But once a certain amount of promises are seen as unkept (i.e. “We’ll have a new build by next week!” “The game will launch on X date!” and so on), faith in that team’s leadership and ability to perform takes a big hit.

3) Promising future work to make up for poor performances today

I’ll gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today. This one doesn’t really need an explanation, does it? I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard this line in my career. Each time I find myself thinking (often with one eyebrow raised) “Okay, so you want me to repeat this process with you, when the first time was so bad?!” Given, I know that each time a project is completed, a team gets better at the job. At least that’s the hope! But sometimes I’ve witness crews making the same mistakes over and over again. Sorry, I’m just not that interested in repeating a bad cycle. I’m interested in making great games with talented crews and always growing as an artist. So, clients, if you find yourself about to make that promise – stop yourself! Instead talk about what you’ve learned and how you’re going to make the next project better.

4) Offering exposure or credit as compensation

This also shouldn’t need much explanation, I hope! Making audio is how I pay the bills, feed my family and support my coke habit. Wait… ignore that last part. 😛 Exposure is only as good as the amount of eyes and ears that will be on the project. Something like Star Wars offers a lot of exposure and that’s worthwhile. A game that might be played by 30 people doesn’t offer that same amount of exposure. Also giving credit, in my opinion, should be standard! Withholding that, as I’ve seen some clients do, doesn’t make much sense and is hardly professional. I totally get that self funding a game is an expensive thing to do – I’m doing it myself right now! But offer some kind of tangible compensation. Offer an exchange of services. Make it a fair transaction instead of offering things that, really, don’t help support your crew.

5) Stick to the contract

Remember KISS? Keep It Simple, Stupid? It definitely applies here. Sure, a little bit of flexibility is fine, even warranted. But should the situation change too much, I’ve found it’s much easier, less stressful and more professional to simply finish out the current contract (with whatever milestones were completed) and then draft a new one so everything is always crystal clear to all parties involved.

6) Keep it professional

Game development can be (and is!) really hard. It can also be stressful. Sometimes egos clash or tempers flare. To an extent, this is just the hazards of working in such a creative and competetive field. But should things be taken to a personal level, which makes you uncomfortable, walk away. It’s not worth taking abuse from someone. I once had a client that I had worked with for five years. He would tell stories about how everyone he worked with was an idiot or a jerk. It took years but eventually he turned that abuse on to me. He was yelling, calling me names and taking it to a level that – honestly – I’ve never had another client take it to. So I walked away. I calmly told him that my time and craft were worth more than that. That I, as a person, was worth more than that. Don’t take abuse – it’s not worth it.

Summary:

I’ve been lucky enough to work in this field for ten years now (crazy how time flies!) and on over 150 projects. About 96% of my clients have been amazing, fun, super-duper talented and a pure joy to work with! I choose not to work with those VERY few who haven’t impressed me. So to you freelancers out there – keep fighting the good fight. Know that your time and craft are worth something – often more than you think! Be picky about who you work with! We’re freelancers, not servants. Clients, keep thinking about ways to make hiring and managing a freelancer more streamlined and effective. Look for ways to include that freelancer in the production so they don’t feel so in the dark. The better the communication, the better everything else tends to go. (Most of the time, anyway)

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.

Here’s a unique soundtrack: chiptune jazz. Trust me, it’s hard to make 8-bit samples swing! But I think the outcome was pretty successful. But don’t take my word for it, take the soundtrack out for a spin.

And check out the game itself: http://www.glassbottomgames.com/projects/hot-tin-roof/

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m passionate about food. Love the stuff. I like being around it, eating it, discussing it, smelling it and dreaming about it. Yes, I’ve had food dreams, what of it? Only in the last ten years or so, I’ve become more passionate about actually cooking food. Before that it was making meals as quickly and easily as possible…. or paying someone else to do that part for me. With much of the US huddled under snowing skies, including here in Austin, one of my favorite winter time meals comes to mind: stew.

What makes a great stew is the right ratio of ingredients, mixed together over the right amount of time. Stew, at least good stew, isn’t something you make super duper fast. So why am I writing about stew on my audio production page? It’s because of how often we, as composers and audio professionals, push audio content out the door SUPER fast. Sometimes this is out of necessity. Client calls and needs four cues by…. tomorrow morning. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. There’s definitely a skill and virtue to working fast and being able to just…. CREATE… without getting in the way of yourself. But there’s also a great deal of value to “living with something for a while.” “Letting it stew.” These are both phrases I’ve heard several audio directors use in the past.

We’ve all had moments of furious creation, where the art just flows out of us. It’s a great feeling and something that you should ALWAYS capitalize on! But for those more “regular” sessions where you’re not super inspired, I’ve found giving the audio some time to stew is useful and invigorating. Currently, I have two situations where I’ve had to let things “stew” longer than I normally would. One situation was recording several live musicians for a new track that still hasn’t been released yet. On top of that, I’m taking composition/production lessons (something I strongly urge everyone to do!) and I want to get some additional input before publishing the piece. As a result, I’ve lived with this piece much longer than normal for me. It’s made me re-evaluate and tweak certain parts of the work. Even my process and approach to that piece. All of this is making a strong impact. The other situation was for a HOG (hidden-object-game) that’s taking longer than the producer first thought it would (huge shocker there, I know!).

While letting something “stew” and “living it with” – you might find your ingredients were a bit off. Maybe your chorus is too weak? Maybe your voice leading is cluttered? Maybe your production is too static? Or maybe everything is just about perfect and you’ve confirmed it by letting your ears and mind rest before pushing the publish button. I’ve found that I do a lot of thinking about my music and audio outside of the studio. While I’m working out, running, doing chores or just watching TV. The problems I’m working out in the studio are always in the back of my mind. And often the solutions don’t come to me during my studio time. It reminds me of the quote from Hans Zimmer to his assistant about “working too fast” and missing some of the finer details.

Here’s what I’m NOT advocating: endlessly tweaking and “fixing” a piece. We’ve all been there. It can become an endless cycle. Eventually you do have to let go of your babies. And perhaps this article is coming about because so many of my clients, writing me today, want their audio done… yesterday. If not the day before. Everything’s a rush. But where possible, take it a bit slower when creating your audio. Consult an outside voice (see my previous entry “Letting Others In”) and when you’ve done a solid job of considering your work – release it to the world. Rest assured, young(er) composers, you get better and faster at creating good audio the longer you study it.

So how do you apply this in a real-life situation? Well, to be honest, it’s not always possible. But if you have a good relationship with a client, where they trust you, then you could say “hey, why don’t we try this out for a bit? If it works – great! If not, I’ll fix it.” It doesn’t always happen. Many of my clients need the audio as quickly as possible and don’t want to spend much time (and effort) implementing different options of audio content. They just want it to work. I don’t blame them for that. But if you get on with a project early enough or work with a client who does want to invest that time and energy into the project’s audio – seize that opportunity!

TL;DR – When and where possible, give yourself time to reflect on your audio work before rushing it out the door. The results might just surprise you.

Go make some noise.

Here’s a “new” track. Rather, here’s a new take on an old track from 2006! I hired Jean Bolger to play the violin tracks and we recorded them at Mark Derryberry’s new studio, Derryberrys Recording Studio. I’ll be honest, the track is still evolving somewhat but this is very close to a finalized version and… honestly, I just wanted to get it out there!

What I’ve tried to convey with this track is a blending of mystery, wonder along with some element of danger or foreboding. You’re in this Lost Forest but you’re not quite sure it’s a good or bad thing yet. Currently, I’ve got three or four more tracks coming down the pipeline once I get all of the parts recorded, produced and mixed. Stay tuned!

Thanks!

 
 
Here’s a short highlights reel of the music I composed for Forces of Nature, which was developed by Mean Bean Games and recently launched on the App Store! I hope you like it.

Check out the new theme I’ve written for an upcoming MMO project.

About to finish up several more projects and am available for more work so hit me up!

Madsen Studios has a new look! Also, it’s been a very busy time as I was one of three selected to take part in the very first Iron Composer contest held at Austin GDC. I took first place!I’ve also been busy in the book world, being a featured composer in two books on audio production being published this Fall as well as writing chapters for two books on game audio production which will be published soon. Finally, I’m still active in the video game realm, working on Jumpgate Evolution, LEGO Universe as well as several other unannounced titles. More info to come soon!

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