Introduction – Budgeting Considerations

The popularity of platforms like KickStarter and Early Access has given indie developers the opportunity to finance their game without approaching Publishers. However, since its early days, especially for KickStarter, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to convince (justifiably) backers to part with their hard earned cash. So, making sure you have a realistic goal that can be met (and with any luck exceeded), is paramount. As a Composer and Sound Designer for games, I’ve been required to do budgeting in anticipation of a crowdfunding campaign. Given the frequency of these requests and viability of these new platforms to at least initially fund your game, I want to share my thoughts on the things you should consider when determining the audio portion of your total budget.

**Rather than write a “traditional” article, I’m going to list out the consideration points, as I feel like that’s the best way of providing you with the information you may need.

**Disclaimer: These numbers are derived from my own personal experience in the game industry. Other game audio designers and composers may have different numbers than the ones listed in this article. The differences in price can be influenced not only by experience level, but also one’s location, living expenses, and a variety of other factors.

First and foremost, I feel like it’s worth mentioning that most games have tended to allocate between 5 – 15% of their total budget to audio. Sometimes more if the audio plays a very large role in the game, but rarely less than 5% unless audio isn’t needed or they decide to use widely available/cheap stock audio. In addition to this, it may also be beneficial to know that some audio professionals offer package discounts if they’re hired to cover more than 1 service (music, sound effects, voice over). So, if you want to hire one person or company to take care of the audio for your game, you can plan to subtract anywhere around 5% of the total audio costs from the amount you’d allocate toward your crowd funding goal.

MUSIC

Ownership of Music – License vs Work For Hire

o   Something you should take into consideration that will affect the cost of the music is whether you want to own it wholly or if you’re fine with a licensing option. Many Composers’ licensing rates are significantly less than their W.F.H.; perhaps even four to six times less.

o   Exclusive & Non-Exclusive Licensing Agreements exist and usually differ in price. With non-exclusive usually costing less in exchange for the ability to place the created music in a library or other media.

  •  Temporary exclusivity can be worked into an Agreement as well. Something between 6 months and 2 years (after the game’s release) is relatively common. In addition to this there can be game exclusivity, which specifies that the created music can be licensed in other media (film, tv, etc.), but not another game.

Soundtrack

o   This is also something to take into consideration, as the % the Composer receives from Soundtrack sales will change and is primarily determined by the negotiated rate (which in turn tends to determine the Agreement type).

o   Another thing to keep in mind is whether the Soundtrack will be included as a Backer reward and if the Composer will be compensated for this.

Composer Fee (Original Rate)

o   Understand that Licensing Rates tend to be significantly less than W.F.H., I’ll list some standard W.F.H. rates below.

  • Elite Composer ~$2,000 + per minute of music
  • Mid Tier Composer ~$1,000 – 2,000 per minute of music
  • Emerging Composer ~$500 – $1,000 per minute of music
  • Per minute of music isn’t always the best way of defining the amount of music your game needs (especially if it’s highly interactive), but it’s a good starting place.

Live Musicians

o   Most good session musicians cost ~$100/hour, however great musicians or popular/big name artists can cost more. Great musicians can usually record ~5 minutes of music per hour; perhaps less if it’s very difficult & maybe more if it’s very simple.

o   This rate can be reduced if you’re hiring multiple musicians and/or if you record in other parts of the world. Your Composer will know more about this.

Score Preparation

o   If you opt to use live musicians (which I always recommend) then there’s prep work involved. Orchestrating, creating charts, etc.

o   There are primarily two ways to go about this.

  • If it’s very simple & only calls for a few soloists, then your composer may opt to take care of it; with the price either included in his/her original rate or as a negotiated hourly rate.
  •  If it’s very complex and requires multiple musicians (perhaps an orchestra) then this requires additional professionals to be involved. It’s hard to calculate the cost in these situations, as they all differ so much, but discuss it with your Composer.

Recording Engineer and Studio

o   A solid studio for a soloist (or a few musicians) may run around ~$50/hr where as bigger studios with large rooms and high end equipment may ask for ~$300/hr or more.

  • If it’s well planned and executed, most game soundtracks can be recorded within a few days (unless there are hours of music needed).

o   The rate for some studios may include a Recording Engineer, however if they don’t then they can usually be hired for between $50 – $150/hr.

Editing

o   These recordings will need to be edited so they work within any pre-existing musical material from samples libraries or other sessions. The Composer may end up doing this & include the service in his/her original rate, but if not then the cost may be ~$50/hr. Complexity of the score & the number of recording musicians will increase the necessary editing time.

Mixing and Mastering

o   The Composer may include this service in his/her original rate, but if not then great mixing engineers can usually be hired for ~$100/hr and (on average) it should only take a few hours of work per song. Especially once the first track is finished and if the rest are supposed to sound similar.

Implementation in Game or Audio Middleware

o   Lastly, the Composer may include this service in his/her original rate, but if not then an hourly rate ~$50/hr. is standard.

Wrap Up – Ask yourself these questions to estimate your potential music cost.

o   Do I need to own the music?

  • If no, then cut the listed W.F.H. rates in half, perhaps ¼ or more if it can be negotiated.

o   Approximately how many minutes of music does my game need?

o   Will the music require live musicians?

  • If Yes, then also consider Score Preparation, Recording Engineer/Studio, and Editing.

o   Can my Composer Mix/Master the music his/her self?

  • If no, then hiring a Mix/Mastering Engineer will be necessary.
  • Pro Tip: Most Composers can Mix/Master & it should sound good, but not as great as actual professionals.

o   Do I want my Composer to implement their music?

  • If yes, then discuss this when negotiating. Either included in the original rate or as a separate hourly rate.

 

SOUND

Ownership

o   Unlike music, Sound Effects tend to only be offered through a W.F.H agreement. However, there are a few (rare) exceptions and if that’s ever the case then you can expect the Licensing cost to be ~1/2 the W.F.H. rate.

Rate Per Finished Sound Effect (Work For Hire)

  • Top Sound Designer  ~$100/SFX
  • Mid Tier Sound Designer ~$40 – $75/SFX
  • Emerging Sound Designer ~$20 – $50/SFX
  • Rates can also vary based on SFX type (UI, Creature, Combat, etc.) or bundled together as an entire per project rate (rather than per asset).
  • In addition to this it’s worth noting that daily & hourly rates are common too, especially if the sound designer will only be hired for a short amount of time and/or are needed to work in the studio.
  •  $50/hr and anywhere between $300 – $400 a day is expected mid-level compensation. Less experience will cost less and someone with more experience will usually cost more.

Field Recording

o   Not every game calls for field recording, but if your game needs some very specific sounds or if you want entirely original source material (Ex: Gun Shots) then field recording may be necessary. The cost can vary immensely based on the complexity of the audio needed, so make sure to discuss this possibility with your Sound Designer.

Implementation

o   Most Sound Designers implement their own work, but for some projects they’re simply sending things “over the wall.” If they’re implementing audio, then make sure to clarify whether that service is included in their original rate or if it requires an hourly rate. If it’s the latter, then it’s comparable to the Composer hourly rate ~$50/hour.

Wrap Up – Ask yourself the following questions to determine your SFX cost

o   Do you NOT want to own the SFX and think you can negotiate a Licensing Agreement?

  • If Yes, then cut the W.F.H. rate in half.

o   Approximately how many Sound Effects will your game need?

o   Will your game require very unique or wholly original source material?

o   Will your Sound Designer be implementing his/her work?

  • If yes, then clarify if that service is covered in the original rate or if it requires a negotiated hourly rate.

 

VOICE OVER

This area of development is very “fluid” with its costs and I don’t have as much experience with it as other professionals, so I won’t be able to share as many specific numbers.

Agreement – Union vs Non

o   There are specific rules when working with union voice actors and your project must use union talent for its entirety as soon as you hire the first union actor.

o   So, it is important to determine right from the beginning whether or not you want to work with union talent. There are obvious differences in price, paperwork, and quality.

Determining What’s Needed

o   Will your game require actual dialogue or a made up language? Perhaps not even language at all, but instead vocal exertions & other sounds?

  • This will help you determine how many actors you need and possibly other things like whether you want to work union.

Casting

o   This process can be incredibly important and time consuming as it requires not only gathering a list of candidates (possibly their demos too), but also providing them with character descriptions and sample quotes.

o   Given the wide range of potential VO needs for your game, it may be best to work with an hourly rate; standard ~$50/hr.

  •  A simple project with minimal VO needs may only require a day or two of casting, whereas large projects heavy in dialogue could take weeks.
  •  It’s worth clarifying upfront whether your audio person will be directly responsible for casting or whether someone else will need to be hired and if that expense will fall outside of the original rate you initially negotiate.

Actor Fee

o   This varies greatly based on the quality/popularity of the talent, involvement of the union, etc.

o   Determine the pricing structure. Some common ones are per word, per line, per page, and sometimes per project or an hourly rate.

Session Preparation

o   Similar to Music, session preparation is necessary for things to run smoothly. Clarify with your audio person (who may also be your Composer/Sound Designer) whether this cost is included in their original rate or if it’s a separate cost. If it’s separate then the $50/hr standard can be used.

Recording Expenses

o   The cost for a voice over studio is very similar to that of music, except a large studio isn’t usually required. So, it’s quite rare that the hourly rate would ever reach $300/hr. Instead use between $50 – $150/hr.

  • Talk with your VO Actor (or have your Audio person talk with them) to determine how many hours may be necessary in the studio.

o   A Recording Engineer may be necessary if the hourly rate doesn’t include one. Use the $50 – $150/hr. rate if one isn’t supplied.

o   If your audio person is not a voice producer/director then you may need to hire one (this is requested frequently by the talent). Rates are similar to a great engineer at $50 – $150/hr.

Editing

o   All of the VO takes will need to be edited. Clarify whether that service is included in the audio person’s original rate or whether it requires additional compensation. In which case $50/hr. works.

  • For a simple session (mostly containing vocal exertions & other sounds), editing can usually be finished within a solid day of work.
  • For more complex situations it may require multiple days or weeks to properly edit, clean, & prepare files for implementation.

Implementation

o   If your audio person is also your Sound Designer, then chances are they will want to implement the VO too. Clarify whether that services is a part of their original rate or if it requires more. Standard $50/hr.

Wrap Up – Ask yourself these questions to determine your game’s VO cost

o   Do you want to work with Union Actors?

o   What kind of V.O. does your game need? Approximately how many lines and/or pages?

o   How many tasks is your audio person responsible for and are these services included in their original rate?

  • If not, then consider Casting, Session Preparation, Recording Expenses, and Editing.

o   Who’s implementing the VO?

Hypothetical Game Situation Determining the Audio Portion of the Budget

Game Info: Indie Game Developer (3 – 5 people), isometric view sci-fi RPG, expected play through story ~10 hours. Willing to hire 1 person/team to take care of everything.

Music

o   Do we need to own the music?

  • No. We are okay with a non-exclusive license. However, we want temporary exclusivity for a year after release, we need to be able to use the music in any of our trailers/promo videos, and offer the soundtrack as a Kickstarter reward.
  • Cut the WFH rate in ½

o   Approximately how many minutes of music does my game need?

  • 30 Minutes of Music, but we’d like the Composer to implement it in such a way to extend the music’s “life.”
  • Hiring a Mid-Level Composer. 30 Minutes at WFH = $36,000. Cut in ½ for Agreement type = $18,000

o   Will the music require live musicians?

  • Yes, but it’ll only require 2 different soloists.
  • Composer provides score prep in Original Rate (negotiated)
  • Studio for 1 day (8 hrs) with Recording Engineer @ $100/hr = $800
  • 2 very good session Musicians @ $150/hr. for 7 hours = $1,050
  • Composer provides editing in Original Rate (negotiated)

o   Can my Composer Mix/Master the music his/her self?

  • Yes, he/she can and we want them to mix/master all of the score except for the Main Title.
  • Composer provides mixing/mastering (negotiated) for most of the score
  • Mixing/Mastering Engineer for Main Title = $300

o   Do I want my Composer to implement their music?

  • Yes and we will be using audio middleware (Wwise, FMOD, Elias, etc.)
  • Rate at $50/hr for implementation, but discussions and conceptualizing the system shall not be included as billable hours (negotiated).
  • Estimated 12 hours total to implement and tweak the music system @ 50/hr = $600

o   Grand Total for Music = $20,750

Sound Design

o   Do you NOT want to own the SFX and think you can negotiate a Licensing Agreement?

  • No, we want to own the SFX.

o   Approximately how many Sound Effects will your game need?

  • 300 Sound Effects will be needed. At $50 per SFX on a W.F.H. Agreement = $15,000

o   Will your game require very unique or wholly original source material?

  • No and field recording will not be necessary.

o   Will your Sound Designer be implementing his/her work?

  • Yes and if possible it’d be great if he/she came into the office a few times a month (negotiated). 50 hrs @ $50/hr = $2,500

o   Grand Total for Sound Design = $17,500

Voice Over

o   Do you want to work with Union Actors?

  • No preference, but for budgetary reasons we will consider non-union.

o   What kind of V.O. does your game need? Approximately how many lines and/or pages?

  • Our game only needs 1 Narrator. The other VO is for creature vocalizations and other combat exertions. Our script isn’t written yet, don’t know how much we’ll need.
  • 1 Narrator needed and at least 1 additional Male/Female voice actor for exertions and creature vocalizations.

o   How many tasks is your audio person responsible for and are these services included in their original rate?

  • We’ve negotiated Session preparation & Editing into the original rate for Sound Effects, but we will cover the Casting and Recording Expenses. Sound Designer will also act as VO producer (covered in original rate; negotiated).
  • Casting @ $50/hr for 12 hours = $600
  •  Recording Studio and Engineer @ $100/hr for 8 hours = $800

o   Who’s implementing the VO?

  • The Sound Designer. 25 hours @ $50/hr = $1,250

o   Grand Total for VO = ?

  • Dependent on Actor Fees, but add $2,650 to Total

Grand Total for all Audio

Working with 1 team/person and 7% package discount = $38,037 + Actor Fees

o   This also assumes the deadline is pretty relaxed and there is plenty of time to complete each audio task (as it’ll take a lot of time!)

o   If this total exceeds what you realistically believe you can successfully acquire from your crowd funding goal, then one way of cutting down the upfront cost is to offer a backend %. Something like…

  • 50% upfront (after receiving crowd funding campaign money) with the remaining amount being paid out after the game fully releases and is generating revenue. In addition to this, the audio person/team would receive a % of all game sales (net), which can be negotiated.
  • Possibly limited by platform, duration (1 year, 2, etc.), or a negotiated amount (ex: $10,000 beyond the initial $38,037).

 

Thank you for reading and I hope this helps you determine (with relative accuracy) the audio portion of your crowdfunding goal!


About The Author

KoleHicksFace 1000Kole Hicks  is an LA based Composer and Sound Designer who’s work can be heard in PC games like Pixel Piracy, Kenshi, & Armored Warfare. Beyond creating audio for games, Kole provides session guitar work, has performed as guitarist for multiple touring bands (Critical Hit & Olivia Somerlyn), and is an accomplished writer of music articles having been nominated for a GANG award in 2012. Furthermore, Kole is an active member & proponent of the Game Audio community with experience speaking at UCLA, The Art Institute, GDC 2015, and Game Sound Con.

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