Tag Archives: composers

Life As a Freelance Musician: Part 7: The Pros of the Freelance Lifestyle

Freelancing definitely has its ups and downs. In some ways, it feels a lot less stable than a regular 9 to 5 job. However, there are some huge benefits to this lifestyle that I thought are worth mentioning. Here’s a few of the very real pros that can benefit you whether you make music, program, make art or whatever else as a freelancer.

No Commute

Sitting in my cozy house looking at a huge storm and 9-to-5'ers stuck in traffic makes me really happy with my choice to become a freelancer.
Sitting in my cozy house looking at a huge storm and 9-to-5’ers stuck in traffic makes me really happy with my choice to become a freelancer.

I think the single biggest advantage of working for myself is no commute. I used to spend 2 hours a day commuting to downtown Chicago on the CTA train. I was forced to spend an hour with obnoxious, rude, loud and even very sick people. Nothing like hearing a 15 second clip of a Jay-Z song on a distorted cell phone speaker over and over at 5:30am in the morning. It was not a fun way to start my day. By the time I got home after 2 hours commuting and 8-10 hours working, I was exhausted.

Now, I get up and walk over to my living room. I can work a 10-hour day by 3pm and still have the rest of the day to do other stuff. The time and money I spent commuting more than make up for the slightly lower income I have when business isn’t booming. I’m not forced to be out in the rain or freezing cold just to go sit at a different computer.


As already mentioned, commuting in public transportation exposes you to a lot of germs. Between that and working with co-workers who refused to take a sick day even when they were near death, I usually got sick about 3 to 5 times a year when I worked downtown. So far, I’ve been sick twice in my almost two years as a freelancer and I recovered in a day or two instead of a week.

When I had an office job, I had to eat out almost every day. There were few healthy choices and I was steadily gaining weight. Add this to drinking way too much coffee to get through the rough days, and it was a downward spiral for my health.

Since leaving I’ve started working out each day. I do Insanity workout and go jogging in my neighborhood. It helps me clear my head, manage stress and sleep well. It gives me a chance to listen to my mixes on different speakers in different environments too. I also use the time to check out what my colleagues are doing by listening to other game soundtracks. I’ve lost weight and feel great.

Flexible Schedule

As I mentioned before, my main reason for getting into this was more to do my volunteer work. The fact that it’s my ‘dream job’ also helps of course! Having essentially no set schedule opens a whole new world to what you can do. I’ve sometimes put in 40-50 hours by Wednesday and then had the rest of the week for volunteer work or whatever else. A 13-hour day doesn’t seem so bad when it’s just sitting in your living room. It also helps not to have to wear ties, dress clothes and all that other pointless office stuff.

Family Time

I’ve noticed by reading blogs and tumblr of other (more successful) freelance composers, programmers and artists that they talk about their family, post pics with their kids way more than folks I used to work in offices with. Since my wife works from the house too, it’s been a totally awesome experience to spend more time together, cook together and not spend 80% of our time apart. I imagine if you have kids it’s even more useful to have a completely open schedule for doctor’s appointments, school and other stuff that doesn’t fit into a 9 to 5 schedule.

Is It Really Less Stable?

A while ago I was giving some serious thought to if it really is less stable to be working for yourself than to be working for a big company. Look at a comparison of two events that happen for an already-established company compared to the same event with an already-established freelancer.

A big company has 3 big clients and various little ones. The 3 big clients account for about $400,000 a year of income. During an economic downturn, they lose two of these clients. Because of this, they can’t pay the salary for half their employees and have to let them go. Despite the sales team working hard to land a new client, 9 people lose their jobs because of this.

A freelancer has 5 major clients. Each one brings in about $12,000 per year. One client goes out of business suddenly and the freelancer loses that income. Despite working hard to find another client, for a time he’s forced to deal with a 20% drop in income.

Which is more traumatic to the worker? Thinking you have a secure job and then one day you and all your coworkers are sent packing, probably with little warning? Or being in business for yourself and having a 20% drop in income? And this doesn’t even take into account things like office politics, being the scapegoat for failure or being the overworked slave that others use to get ahead. Also, you know you didn’t lose your job because the sales team was lazy, or your manager lacks vision, you know you are working for your own money and responsible for its success or failure. In a way, I think it’s validating to accept that and be less dependent on others to keep a business afloat.

Both scenarios are frustrating and sad, but they’re essentially the same. In a big company, you are one cog in the wheel, but essentially the company is just one big freelancing entity looking for clients, landing contracts, and doing work to get paid.

Unless you have some government job that never changes, working for most companies only “seems” more secure than working for yourself. Especially now that many companies are switching away from “traditional” insurance and retirement plans. I’m not saying there aren’t advantages. There clearly are some who have different health situations or larger families that this does not apply to, and there are some companies who will take better care of you than you could on your own as far as medical plans and insurance go, but the fact remains, you still can lose it pretty easily.

So, it freelancing for everyone? Probably not. It took me some time to adjust my thinking and not feel like I had zero security. But seeing what happens with many companies has made me think a lot about what is important in life and what the trade-offs are for having that supposedly secure job.


Next few weeks:
-When Is A Song Done?
-The Secret Arts of Coming Up With Melodies
-My Biggest Mistakes as a Freelancer

Life As a Freelance Musician: Part 6: The Business Side of Things

I often get clients who are coming out of a disappointing project with another artist. It’s weird to me that people who have a chance to do what they love, wouldn’t take it serious enough to do the boring parts. Being professional is one of the annoying parts of the job that doesn’t always jive with our artistic side. But it is important. Here’s a few things that are imperative if you want to keep clients.

Honesty and Communication

Some simple organization can go a long way to being a good "business" and composer.
Some simple organization can go a long way to being a good “business” and composer.

Being straightforward and honest with clients is very important. The Internet is a shady place full of people trying to scam you. Just open an Elance job offer and see how many liars immediately appear and start pressuring you to give them an upfront payment. This is what many of your clients are wading through before talking to you. Many have already been scammed by someone who just took off with their money.

Remember, these people are essentially buying un-made art from you on your reputation alone. It’s scary for them to hand over a down payment or sign a contract when they have no idea about how you work, how long it’ll be, what happens if they’re not happy and other things like that. Try to put their mind at ease by being up front about as many of these things as possible. I have a sort of “boiler plate faq” document I email all my new clients to answer questions like these:

-What happens if I don’t like your song?
-How long does it take?
-How many revisions am I allowed?
-What formats do you deliver?
-What if I need a change a few months from now?

Another thing that helps is to make a clear spreadsheet of exactly what is to be delivered, in what format, and when. You can always refer back to this later. It protects both you and the client for forgetting what was agreed on or one party trying to add/remove things dishonestly or unintentionally late in the project.


Organizing files and contracts and making time tables and a schedule are boring tasks, especially to us creative types. But it’s a necessary evil if you are going to do music for more than a hobby.

I don’t like to schedule every minute of the day, so I tend to group things into, “Do this today”, “Do this sometime during this week”, “Do this by month end” and just work my way through the list taking breaks in between or whatever. Most clients aren’t in a time crunch on music, but they do expect to be kept in the loop and have a general idea of where you are and when you’ll have them something to listen to.

Useful Services

Here’s a few websites I cannot live without as an indie musician:

Soundcloud.com – We’ve already talked about this one obviously. Best place to set up a portfolio, works great on mobile devices, lets you showcase your work.

LegalZoom.com – A great place to get contracts made, incorporate your business and other exciting legal junk.

EchoSign.com – Having e-contracts makes you look more professional, and clients usually sign them with a lot less hesitation than if they have to print something, sign it with a pen, scan it back in and email it to you. I’ve actually lost clients because they were in a country where not everyone has scanners and they just got annoyed with the manual hard copy process.

Webs.com – This might seem like a wimpy little web building site, but it does one thing that soundcloud doesn’t. You can upload MP3’s to the same page and play them with a little play button. Why does this matter? If a client wants to preview SFX, it’s really annoying on Soundcloud since it automatically moves on to the next sound. Also, you can make a nice minimal “soundboard” type page of nothing but a list of your sound files and play buttons next to them.

Elance.com – Great place to find postings and clients. The odds are stacked against you at first of course, but keep at it!

PayPal.com – Obvious one. Quick easy way to transfer money. You can also pretty much build invoices here and not have to mess around with excel or other software for that.

idrive.com – A simple cloud bakcup system. You need to be backing up not only your project files but also your legal documents, quotes and other stuff.

Next few weeks:

-Enjoying the Pros of Freelance Life
-When Is A Song Done?
-My Biggest Mistakes as a Freelancer
-The Secret Arts of Coming Up With Melodies


Any other topics you want to hear about? Post in the comments!


Life As a Freelance Musician: Part 5: Portfolios, Losing and How Not To Get Ripped Off

Making music for a living is only about 50% actually making music for a living. The rest of the time is marketing, not-so-exciting business stuff and training yourself. Today we’ll take a look at what you want to have on your portfolio, how to handle losing jobs and how not to get ripped off.

What To Put On Your Portfolio

Soundcloud is the best thing to use for your portfolio when you start out. It’s free, easy to use, has a nice mobile interface (you don’t want your page to show a broken flash icon on someone’s phone), and is pretty much the standard place.  I’d buy the basic membership which opens up the spotlight option and allows you to control what appears first on your page.

The best things to put on your portfolio are obviously finished pieces, properly mixed and mastered for different kinds of games and what the music might sound like. It’s best to try to show off the full range of your skillset. If you have three great songs in the same style, put the best one up.

It’s also a good idea to make a default “best of” set or use the spotlight option to make sure the first thing they hear is what you want them to hear. It’s also worth getting someone to make you a professional looking logo and also have links to other things like your facebook or website.

What Not To Put

You want to make a great first impression with your portfolio. It might be the only chance you get. Your portfolio is not the place to put work-in-progress songs or songs that you need help with. As I’ve said before, I’m a huge fan of third-party unbiased criticism of my tracks. I have a separate soundcloud just for posting “Does this sound good?” and “What’s wrong with this mix?” type tracks when I embed them in a forum post or send them to a trusted friend. All musicians need feedback and help, but you don’t need to show your clients that.

Live tracks, joke remixes and other things that don’t relate to your most professional material that someone would want in their game probably shouldn’t be on your main soundcloud profile either.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

One of the hardest things to accept when you start looking for clients is that you aren’t going to get them all. The good news is though, there’s tons of reasons someone won’t pick you that have nothing to do with your skills.

-Price – In some countries, $30 USD is a month’s rent, so folks in these countries might be willing to do $1000 USD of work for $200. You can’t beat their prices if you’re in the USA and have normal business expenses.

-Timing – Some of the people you’re up against might not have jobs at the moment or have more flexible schedules. They might honestly be able to deliver way faster than you.

-Niche Skills – If the person is looking for a jazzy spy sound track and you mostly do orchestral RPG songs, chances are, some jazz musician will get the job. You can’t be a master of everything, so don’t sweat it too much.

It’s always worth while to be gracious and polite when told you didn’t get the job. Even when some potential clients don’t even say thank you or anything – I just see the job assigned to someone else – I write them a nice email saying thanks for the chance and if they need anything in the future, I’d be happy to work with them.

It can be a blow to the ego to lose a job, especially if you can hear the person who got it and think it sounds crappy. But just be cool about it. I have initially lost three different jobs only to have the client come to me three months later and say their chosen artist disappeared off the face of the planet and they are now in a crunch to finish the game.  Help them out now, and you have a client for life.

How Not To Get Ripped Off

So when I first started, I was so eager for work I didn’t think twice about making someone a sample for free. Some guy had a posting for some Mario Bros. styled chiptune tracks, I threw together a chipsounds Mario brothers-theme ripoff and mailed it over to him all excited, sure I’d get the job. He never wrote to me again, but, I noticed a link to his company on Skype. I went to it and found my loop was in his game. He never paid me and I really had no way getting any kind of justice, we never signed a contract or anything.

I learned a valuable lesson right there. Some musicians won’t turn over a single bar of music until a contract is signed, but remember, clients are afraid of being ripped off by you too. I think giving samples is totally necessary, but, just make sure your sample isn’t usable in their game. Here’s some ways to do it without ruining the sample:

-Add a layer of sound effects over top of it. You can tell them its to help them visualize it in game. Trust me, they love this but they can never use it in game due to the sfx.

-Add a repeating loop of a voice recording saying “demo” or something every 10 seconds. Keep it low. They’d never put it in their game because it wouldn’t seem professional.

-Add fade-in/fade-outs at the start and end and even some random ones in the middle.

Here’s a sample where I put some simple ninja sound effects over the track, so make sure the client didn’t just run off with my sample (he didn’t).

As you can seem the client gets an idea of what he’d be getting, but this track could never be dropped into his game, effectively ‘stolen’ from me. There’s another way people will try to rip you off. You should never take a job posting like this:

Need twelve tracks in the style of the Inception soundtrack. Must have actual recorded guitar and use Vienna strings or EWQLSO Diamond edition tools. All tracks must be delivered within the next week. Will pay $50 upon completion and full delivery.

Here you have someone asking for thousands of dollars of work for $50. Accept this job and you set a precedent for getting ripped off by this guy. You also devalue the entire market for people making music and make it harder for other musicians to get paid what they deserve. Some work is just not worth accepting. Here’s another one:

Making a new game called Angry Temple Birds of Candy Friends Crush. Need three cool tracks and some sound effects tracks. Please contact me on Skype at thisname and we discuss the prices.

The first time I was contact by someone like this, I thought, sounds weird, but I’ll talk to him. I have seen like ten of these since then, not one has ever panned out to actual work or payment. I seriously have no idea where this stuff comes from, my guess is some scammer out there is selling a e-book called ‘how to make money off SEO on the app store’, which seriously can’t work that great but here are some best resources that can be used to set  and build up the SEO of the company . My experience is these people usually have poor communication skills, try to  sidestep whatever site they are working through by contacting you on Skype and usually try to pressure you into delivering without paying and usually just disappear after wasting your time with long, confusing conversations. Just steer clear of this.

There’s a lot more that goes into the business end of things, and we’ll talk about that more next week.

Life As a Freelance Musician: Part 4: The First Game


Getting started in any career is not easy. You need to get hired to get experience but most people are looking to hire those who already have it. Fortunately, it’s a little bit easier getting started as a freelance musician. A little upfront work for free will get you up and running with an impressive portfolio. Some of the quotes in the next few articles are based on actual posts I’ve seen or actual conversations I’ve had. The average post for a serious, commercial music job usually looks like this.


Need 5 songs created for an iOS game and also SFX. Please post at least 3 examples of published commercial work that you have worked on along with attached demo reel of similar sounds and music to this style of game.


Clearly, you won’t get the job if you haven’t done any commercial projects. Someone else will. But by doing a game for free, you can probably land a job you wouldn’t otherwise and then you can start applying to jobs like this.



Your First Game


I didn't make much off my first game, but I am quite proud of it and it has lead to tons of other work.
I didn’t make much off my first game, but I am quite proud of it and it has lead to tons of other work.

Your first game project is going to be stressful and full of surprises. One thing I was not used to is dealing with a group of outsider’s opinions on my music and my vision of how their game should sound. I was used to being the driver, now I was sort of a copilot with specific skills. You can lessen your stress and make things easier when you start looking for paying clients by making a game for free when starting out. Obviously, you’ll want to do this before you’re relying on freelancing for income.


Your first game doesn’t need to be a huge hit or even be on some major platform, it could be a little flash game or a game for a friend. My first game was Robo Hero, a game that I’m still immensely proud of. The founder of Bravado Waffle was a friend of mine and asked if I could help him out. Although I didn’t make much off the game, it was the foundation of my resume and gave me a great starting point for a decent portfolio. My skills have come a long way since then, but I am still proud of that little game.


If you don’t have a friend to hook you up, here’s a few great places to find your first pseudo-client:


GameJolt.com – Lots of indie gamers collaborate here. Find a game you like that needs music and email the team. Most are on tight budgets or no budget, so they’ll welcome the free assistance.


NewGrounds.com – Keep an eye on these forums for anything from short indie film scores to new video games.


Machinima channels on YouTube – Machinima folks are usually not making any money of what they do but very passionate about it, they’re always looking for some composers to spice things up.


RPG Maker Forums – This is another group that creates some epic stuff and usually have little budget for anything paid for. They’re doing it for fun and looking for musicians who will too.


Who Not To Work For

Not everyone who is willing to give you work is worthy of it, even if it is free. You will see a lot of posts like this in the places I’ve recommended above:


Hi! I’ve got this great idea for a game, it’s like Zelda where you have this sword and go out to look for these diamonds. My friend Kyle from school got Photoshop on his laptop and we’re trying to come up with some art. We need 12 songs created right away for each of the game’s cities. We don’t have a whole list yet but you can start making one to get an idea. We’re still looking for a developer who will work for free to build this MMORPG.


This type of post is a red flag. A serious developer would not even be looking for a sound guy that this point. If the game doesn’t even exist and those involved has little experience, no clear vision of what the game is and most likely have zero budget to make it happen, you don’t want to attach yourself to the project. Most likely, it’ll never get finished. Your goal on your first project is to get your name on something that gets out there, be it in the app store, Youtube or even just a flash game. It needs to be something people can go and look at and see your work, even if it’s not super popular.


You might be surprised at how your first free game leads you to more work. Robo Hero has put me in contact with tons of other developers and artists who worked for Bravado Waffle. These artists get contracted into other projects and refer me to do the music and sound. These other developers move around to different companies and bring my name with them. Next time, we’ll look at how to build a great portfolio and how to avoid getting scammed.