sound design rates
Old 30th March 2008
  #1
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Thread Starter
sound design rates

Hey fellas, got a sound design job lined up for a computer game developer and we're about to start discussing rates and what not...

For those of you who have worked on game music and sound design before (paid work), how would you go about charging for "X" amount of sound effects and some background music/ambience?

Do you go for a flat fee per design/audio clip or try to adjust according to the developers budget and potential market etc? And for music, would you charge per minute or ???

any info would be helpful
Old 31st March 2008
  #2
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Hey,

Sorry, I don't know the answer to your question, but in general, the key is always to agree to provide x, y and z for $x by x date, without sounding inflexible and difficult. Specifics. That way if the goal posts start moving you can say "that's not what we agreed upon" (without sounding difficult and inflexible!). Obviously the goal posts invariably will move somewhat, and usually that's fine but you need a clear defense if things start spiralling out of control.

I've found it gets messiest when they don't know what they want. Best to take control yourself. Tell them what you think they want, make a well educated guess, (9 times out of 10 you'll be exactly right) and then have them agree to those specifics. If there's a tech spec for this gig get a copy personally, who knows what's in there.

I'd be keen to know more about sound for games, let us know how you get on!! : )

Matt
Old 31st March 2008
  #3
Gear maniac
 

I've worked in three ways previously:

01) Provide X sounds for $Y by Z date.

02) Provide sound effects at $X per sound effect.

03) Monthly retainer. I'm paid $X per month to do whatever they throw at me.
Old 1st April 2008
  #4
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Deciding how to charge is a big problem. Especially when I move from low/no budget clients, to clients with a money to spend. That way if I make it too high I could lose the job, but if I quote too low I could possibly lose it again. Or make no money.
Old 1st April 2008
  #5
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Sorry to the OP for the hijack, but am interested in knowing how you went about getting involved in a game. I would absolutely love to do this at some point, but I don't have any contacts within the gaming industry - how did you go about making these?

Once again, sorry for the hijack!

thumbsup

P.S. Congrats mate!
Old 2nd April 2008
  #6
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I've heard that many of the top game audio providers charge roughly $50 per sound and included with that will make changes and tweaks to those effects within reason. If I remember correctly their team of people would create a total of 50 effects a week for delivery.
Old 2nd April 2008
  #7
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I generally pay one of two ways:

A: $X for all effects needed for Y asset (if asset is a gun, this includes firing, reverb tails, animations, reloads, shell drops, etc).

B: $X per delivered sound file.

Generally methods A and B work out to about the same dollar total, it just depends on what I'm asking for and how it's easier to present to the contractor, billing, and lawyers.

Dave
Old 2nd April 2008
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dsteinwedel View Post
I generally pay one of two ways:

A: $X for all effects needed for Y asset (if asset is a gun, this includes firing, reverb tails, animations, reloads, shell drops, etc).

B: $X per delivered sound file.

Generally methods A and B work out to about the same dollar total, it just depends on what I'm asking for and how it's easier to present to the contractor, billing, and lawyers.

Dave

so no "timeline" involved then. so you charge for "real" sound design instead of grabbing a un sample and placing it where the character fires a gun.

lik creating atmospheres, or wierd synth type efx for sci fi stuff.
or does the sound designer need to know some sort of game programming?
Old 2nd April 2008
  #9
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I'm not sure what you mean by 'timeline.' I definitely give a deadline, if that's what you mean.

If I'm sending something to a contractor, they don't touch the game engine. They'll receive whatever picture/movies/lists they need to do the design and that's it.

Also, I generally won't outsource ambiances. They're too much fun.

Cheers,
Dave
Old 2nd April 2008
  #10
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gsilbers's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dsteinwedel View Post
I'm not sure what you mean by 'timeline.' I definitely give a deadline, if that's what you mean.

If I'm sending something to a contractor, they don't touch the game engine. They'll receive whatever picture/movies/lists they need to do the design and that's it.

Also, I generally won't outsource ambiances. They're too much fun.

Cheers,
Dave
timeline as the timeline in pro tools or something where there is movie start and a movie finish and you follow the action in the movie. instead of a "list" or other things that are not like a regular movie postprod.
Old 2nd April 2008
  #11
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For the timeline question, the answer is not exactly.

Let's take the gun example. I'll make a movie of the gun firing that includes all the necessary parts for which I need sound. Then I'll send a list of assets along with the movie telling the contractor exactly what I need to assemble the sound in game. Let's say it's a machine gun, then the set might look like this.

-Machine gun thwomp firing loop, 4 variations, stereo
-Machine gun reload mechanics, 4 variations, stereo
-Machine gun single shot reverb tail, 4 variations, quad
-Bullet casing drop, 4 variations, mono
-Machine gun present, 2 variations, stereo
-Machine gun holster, 2 variations, stereo
-Rumble sweetner loop, 1 variation, mono
-Bullet impacts body, 4 variations, mono
-Bullet impacts concrete surface, 4 variations, mono
-Bullet richochet sweetner, 4 variations, mono

The editor can cut these things however he/she wants, however they need to deliver me the specific assets I ask for. If they simply sent me a 2-track that matched the timeline I'd have no use for that material (well that's not true, I could cut it up myself but I don't want to because I'm paying to make my life easier, not harder).

Other things you want to ask/talk about are optimal/maximum loop lengths, RMS ranges, how light/heavy to compress, etc.

Cheers,
Dave
Old 3rd April 2008
  #12
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thx man. interesting.
Old 3rd April 2008
  #13
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Regardless of what method you decide to use for bidding, you basically need to know two things:

1) How much work do they want me to do?
2) How much of my time is needed?

You need to establish a number to present to them in order to begin negotiations. That number might be too high, or too low, but it's a start. A "Straw Man" they like to call it in blue-suit management type classes. That being said, if you know you're bidding against several other sound designers, and if you really want/need the work, you may want to temper your estimate to assure it doesn't scare them off right out of the gate, or at least make very clear that you're flexible with the price, and that it is 'just an estimate'.

If you can get an itemized asset list, sit down with it and estimate how much time it's going to take you to design each sound, in hours or partial days. Add it all up. Once you have that number, (for example: 33 days. Or 225 hours...or what-have-you), multiply it by how much an hour of your time is worth to you. $20/hr? $50/hr $100/hr? That will give you an initial estimate based on an hourly rate. From there, you can do all the other variation comparisons.

For example, how does that compare to a piecework method? If our initial estimate was $10k based on an hourly rate and there were 200 sounds on the asset list, that's $50 per sound. Likewise, if they come back and say, we can only do $8k, you know how that compares to your initial estimate, and can decide from there whether or not 80% of your initial bid is worth the effort.

Music usually uses different bidding processes. I know charging "per minute" is somewhat common. The "going rate" that gets thrown around at GDC for music in AAA titles is between $500-$800/min. If you're doing full-blown orchestral composition it's higher, Mr. Telerico would say, $900-1100/min for live orchestral music.

Though, I think you can apply the same hourly rate approach to establish an estimate for music. They want 4 minutes of heavy, driving aggro-rock with 3 variations of equal length. How many hours/days will that take you? Multiply that time by your hourly rate, then see how that compares to the $/min industry standards.

I present all of this only as a way to get an initial number to compare things to, not as a hard and fast bidding rule. Every project, every developer, and every budget is different, but you gotta start with something grounded in some sort if reality.

One last note, I find that the inclusion of a hourly rate along with your itemized bid can work to your benefit (others may disagree, and please speak up if you do, I might be handing out crap advise for all I know). It offers transparency and shows the producer that your final number is not unreasonable (assuming it's NOT unreasonable). If you list $25/hr, ($25/hr x 225hrs for 200 sfx = $5625, which = $28/sfx) I think many a producer in an established company would be hard-pressed to argue that your bid is highway robbery.
Old 3rd April 2008
  #14
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in the example above with the video being sent of the animation its also good to trigger a beep with the animation so the designer knows where the engine actually triggers the sound. this will help with sync issues in the future. Also if there are multiple sounds being triggered for each animation you will know and design accordingly.

Personally I would rather design the sounds AND do the scripting in the game engine. This allows for a more top down approach to design as you have control over the big picture. Even with control over the scripting you still probably wont have control over when the sample is played in relation to the animation.

I've seen this as a issue in a larger game where the intro was the in game engine and instead of using a scripted sound set along with the engine they played back the audio as just a mixed down 2-track/6-track. Well as you can imagine all kinds of sync issues arrived because the fps is not stable and the audio kept chugging along at the certain rate so by the end of the 5 minute intro it looked like crapola.
Old 4th April 2008
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JSt0rm View Post
I've seen this as a issue in a larger game where the intro was the in game engine and instead of using a scripted sound set along with the engine they played back the audio as just a mixed down 2-track/6-track. Well as you can imagine all kinds of sync issues arrived because the fps is not stable and the audio kept chugging along at the certain rate so by the end of the 5 minute intro it looked like crapola.
Break your final mix into sections rendered out with all effects tails, wire up each one as an event triggered by the anims and drop it in like that. I've dealt with this problem, it's a major pain in the ass, but if you granulize your mix it will help. Leaving the effects tails will give you a bit of coverage if there's a slight delay in triggering the next stem.

And yeah, it eats up a little more memory in the long run, but if it's an in-game cinematic you should be dumping it all out of memory once the thing is done anyway.

I've seen this done (and done it myself) on a lot of UE-based projects. Matinee is NEVER stable.

Moving along...

The advice provided by dsteinwedel and NotVeryLoud is great. That's exactly what I'd do in your boat.

To jharvey, I've got a bit of advice:

Hit up game developers' trade shows (GDC, GDC Austin especially), start networking through game development sites and organizations. Make sure you're a gamer. I can't speak for other developers, but in my experience I've seen audio people come to us acting as if games are low hanging fruit, a way to supplement their TV/music/film income, etc, and it's a bit offensive. Our job is pretty specialized, and if we're doing it we're generally passionate about it, so we expect the people we work with to speak the language. My boss recently said "If you're a composer and you come to me for work, and you haven't played games, it's like telling a film producer you want to score their film but you never watch movies. It's insane."

So yeah... network, be into games (and learn everything you can about them), and network some more.

And as a reply to Jstorm's comment about scripting and implementation:

I'm the same way. I love doing this part, and consider it half the job. I've been an outsourced resource for developers in the past where they kept me up to date with builds and let me do this work on my own. But you've gotta know what you're doing, and you have to prove that to them. And you've gotta be secure. Sending builds out of house is risky, and some developers are not cool with the idea. But when you can get that sort of work, it's fun.

I firmly believe that the implementation is half of the sound design process for games. Everything we do content-wise is based around how it is hooked into the engine, and creative implementation can increase the effectiveness of sounds in a game. This is what separates us from our cousins in TV and film.
Old 4th April 2008
  #16
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dsteinwedel's Avatar
 

Quote:
in the example above with the video being sent of the animation its also good to trigger a beep with the animation so the designer knows where the engine actually triggers the sound. this will help with sync issues in the future. Also if there are multiple sounds being triggered for each animation you will know and design accordingly.

Personally I would rather design the sounds AND do the scripting in the game engine. This allows for a more top down approach to design as you have control over the big picture. Even with control over the scripting you still probably wont have control over when the sample is played in relation to the animation.
Both very true statements. I had my programmers build an animation counter into our scripting tool so there's a visual cue mapped onto any recorded movies (built in timecode!).

Integrating is definitely half the battle. As Mark says, getting the work as a contractor can be difficult, depending on the developer.

Dave
Old 4th April 2008
  #17
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Quote:
To jharvey, I've got a bit of advice:

Hit up game developers' trade shows (GDC, GDC Austin especially), start networking through game development sites and organizations. Make sure you're a gamer. I can't speak for other developers, but in my experience I've seen audio people come to us acting as if games are low hanging fruit, a way to supplement their TV/music/film income, etc, and it's a bit offensive. Our job is pretty specialized, and if we're doing it we're generally passionate about it, so we expect the people we work with to speak the language. My boss recently said "If you're a composer and you come to me for work, and you haven't played games, it's like telling a film producer you want to score their film but you never watch movies. It's insane."

So yeah... network, be into games (and learn everything you can about them), and network some more.
Thanks for the advice mate

Aside from audio & film, gaming takes up most of my leisure time and have been an avid gamer since I was knee-height.

Do you think its worth contacting large game companys at their office? I know Lionhead is only forty minutes away from where I currently live for example, maybe I should ask for an intership with their sound design company?

With regards to the networking idea, I'm gonna have a look at what shows there are in the UK, maybe contact the admin of some MMORPG's see if they would be interested in teaming up. In all honesty, I think I would prefer to work on music for games as opposed to TV, it would certainly be a lot more up my street.

BTW, you guys might disagree... one of the few jobs that could equal being a well-paid musician/producer...being a well-paid games tester, now that would be a job I would get up early to go to!
Old 5th April 2008
  #18
Gear maniac
 

If you're just wanting to do music, I'd suggest getting in touch with the audio directors of the developers you're interested in.

If you're wanting to do sound design, doing an internship could be useful.
Old 5th April 2008
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jjharvey View Post
Do you think its worth contacting large game companys at their office? I know Lionhead is only forty minutes away from where I currently live for example, maybe I should ask for an intership with their sound design company?
Absolutely. It can do no harm.

Contact either the company's Human Resources department or the Audio Director (it will probably be easier to get in touch with HR). Tell them you're interested in interning and ask if they have an established intern program. If they do, they'll tell you how to go about applying. If they don't, there's still a chance the Audio Director might be willing to take someone on. (Audio departments need all the help they can get at the tail end of a project). Ask if you could contact the Audio Director (or equivalent) via email or phone. If they give you the contact info, great! Now pitch yourself again. If they don't, they'll probably relay your message and contact info to the appropriate audio staff.

If you don't hear anything back, just assume they don't need anyone. Don't take it personally, or think you weren't qualified. It doesn't always work like that.

Better still, if you can arrange to visit the studio and the audio director, you've done yourself a big favor. A simple introductory email explaining that you're very interested in game audio, and that you'll be in the area, and would love the opportunity to come by and see how it's done (without commanding any more than 30 minutes of their time), would suffice. It would help to throw in a little Lionhead flattery, by mentioning a title of theirs that you thought the audio was particularly well-crafted.
If you get a visit, take a moment at the end to ask if they offer internships.
Old 7th April 2008
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NotVeryLoud View Post
Better still, if you can arrange to visit the studio and the audio director, you've done yourself a big favor. A simple introductory email explaining that you're very interested in game audio, and that you'll be in the area, and would love the opportunity to come by and see how it's done (without commanding any more than 30 minutes of their time), would suffice. It would help to throw in a little Lionhead flattery, by mentioning a title of theirs that you thought the audio was particularly well-crafted.
If you get a visit, take a moment at the end to ask if they offer internships.
I'm thousands of miles away from you of course, but I would react pretty positively to something like this. Granted, I'm not an audio director, but I'm sure I'll be in that position at some point in the future. Either way, if I received a request to meet and talk about the job to someone who's new to it, show them what I do, etc I would make 30 mins out of a day for it.

So yeah, good suggestion.
Old 12th May 2008
  #21
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Rob King's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by introvert View Post
If you're wanting to do sound design, doing an internship could be useful.
I was an audio director from 94'-01' for a software company and now I am freelance. I had an intern that I later hired and showed him the ropes. After 3 years he went on to work as a Lead Sound Designer for some huge projects with major publishers and is currently an Audio Lead at a major publisher. He has a lot of drive and a great worth ethic and I am still very proud of him like a little brother.

The point of my story is if this is what you want, go after it and bust your ass. Learning from someone as an apprentice gives you more education than you will ever know, till you know it. thumbsup

The industry has changed and evolved so much over the 15 years that I have been in it for sure, and you really need to know your shit these days. I work on every aspect of game audio (music, SFX, V.O.) and it has taken years of experience, diversity and over 100 titles to get here and it still seems that you are only as good as your last product, because the game designers and producers are always turning over and people only know who you are if you were fortunate to have worked on the latest media "Buzz" game...

Words of wisdom, just work really hard, be honest, stand by your product and work and keep on building relationships with clients.

"There is no reason to have an Ego because there will always be someone better than you, or someone that perceives someone else to be better than you" - Rob King


hmm, I guess this really didn't help out the original poster of this thread for studio rates..Sorry Greg
Old 12th May 2008
  #22
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I am currently a mixer, not a sound designer, but over many years I have worked in many different creative jobs, including Jewelry maker, graphic designer, songwriter, film score composer, music engineer, documentary writer, picture editor, sound editor, and currently re-recording mixer. I have excluded numerous jobs that are not related to creative endeavor.

Based on everything I have learned from these varied experiences, if there is a general statement that I can make that sums it all up, it would be this:

If you are marketing your services based on price, it is a race to the bottom. There is always someone who will underbid you, and if there isn't, you are working for free.

If you are marketing your services based on quality, then you can charge whatever the high-end market will bear.

Shoot for the type of client you want to serve. If you bottom fish, you will get bottom feeders. If you position yourself to serve the elite, then you will tend to attract those who care more about quality than nickel and diming you to death.

Base your bid on what you truly (and realistically) believe your services are worth, not fundamentally based what you anticipate people are willing to pay. Eventually someone will take you up on it. Just be sure you can deliver.
Old 13th May 2008
  #23
the guys are right. If you want to get into a bidding war, you will lose. Somebody will ALWAYS underbid you.

I have a set of rates at my facility. If you want a short gig done here's what it will cost per hour. If you call and demand a rate there ya go!

$150 / hour for music composition
$150 / hour for sound design
$150 / hour graphics
$200 / hour picture editorial
$225 / hour for ADR and dialogue cleanup
$300 / hour for Foley
$350 / hour for mixing
$350 / hour for printmastering and/or encoding Dolby or DTS
$450 / hour HD laybacks
$450 / hour VFX

These rates do chage based on duration and on a gig for gig basis once I have reviewed the work, project plans, deliverables, issues, etc. I also charge a less when I have more creative freedom. Normally the rates are close to these...

You might say, my rates are inversely porportionate to the amount of fun I get to have.

The one thing I never ever do is fixed price gigs. NEVER!
I will do fixed price/fixed duration or fixed price/fixed effort gigs. But never, fixed price gigs.

Most of our gigs are either film projects where we take somewhere around 10% of the budget for post or a subset of that depending on what he client hires us for... ( within limits )... or, are Commercial Ads where we run around $300 / hour on average.

No more freebies and bidding wars...


As they say in life "No good deed goes unpunished..."

we are good, we are fast, but, we are not cheap. What we are... is cost-effective.

cheers
geo

Old 14th May 2008
  #24
OK, let's say you have to write a score for an independant documentary which you know will air on local PBS at very minimum. The length is about 80-90 min. job also includes recording and editing all the VO work, what is a round about acceptable market rate for a sound company that is worth its salt, but fairly new to the scoring market.
Old 14th May 2008
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Studio RI View Post
OK, let's say you have to write a score for an independant documentary which you know will air on local PBS at very minimum. The length is about 80-90 min. job also includes recording and editing all the VO work, what is a round about acceptable market rate for a sound company that is worth its salt, but fairly new to the scoring market.
So actually you are writing the score (how much music?), recording and mixing it, as well as ADR? any SFX? Mixing? not to mention a documentry has a TON of dialogue...

That's a ton of work dude...Bill accordingly and make sure you have a few months of time.
Old 14th May 2008
  #26
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yea... like four months...

I did that exact thing last year; feature doc, 23 music cues, remixing, noise reduction, editing, SFX, etc. It was a pain and I was totally under paid but the experience was worth it. The film ended up winning some festival awards and getting distro.... hopefully that will equate to better paid work for Joe later.

Without experience you cant get what it's worth. Just ask for what you need and try to get some extra differed.
Old 14th May 2008
  #27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob King View Post
So actually you are writing the score (how much music?), recording and mixing it, as well as ADR? any SFX? Mixing? not to mention a documentry has a TON of dialogue...

That's a ton of work dude...Bill accordingly and make sure you have a few months of time.
Yes, writing and recording the score. Most scenes will have music, but there are a few commercial songs that will be licenced. Probably about 45 minutes of actual music. VO's yes, but not necessarily ADR. No SFX. Mixing the actual music, but the editor will mix in the final takes to the video. We have about three months and we've already started.

I know we won't get fair market value for this gig, but I'm just curious as to what a project like this SHOULD be going for.
Old 27th June 2008
  #28
Gear interested
 

Owning Sounds

Has anyone ever just licensed original sound design for a specific project
and retained ownership? (non Game only i would suspect) and part of a pitch I just did to a filmmaker with , you guessed it, no money left for post audio. I am of the mind as stated above to "say no to lo no" ( a little island off the coast of mexico where composers and sound designers get paid for their work)
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