Designing Sound Discussion Group Video: SFX and Freelancing in Game Audio

Have you ever thought of becoming a professional freelance sound designer? Don’t you wish there were a bunch of professionals who could give you priceless advice on how they navigate the shark filled waters of contract audio work??

If so, then you have just struck an information goldmine! 

In a recent Designing Sound interview Matt Piersall (Gl33k game audio studio), Gordon Hempton (The Soundtracker), Douglas Price (ProSound Effects), and Rodney Gates (Audio Director at Sony Online) all chime in on what it means to be a sound designer and freelancer in game audio. This talk is extremely insightful to professionals and beginners alike.

The lighthearted, honest nature of this interview is very inviting. They discuss many topics such as how to get work, licensing issues, legal issues, Q&A with users, SFX recording tips, and insights into SFX aesthetics.

Video Timeline Overview – This will help you skip around to the topics that interest you.

1:00 – Licensing SFX for businesses vs. individual licenses.
8:00 – Process of licensing SFX to individuals and developers. Defining the terms for each unique requirements.
12:15 – Should freelancers have a lawyer to look over contracts and licenses. Yes… the answer is Yes 🙂
15:40 – Boutique Library licensing.
20:00 – Should freelancers own their own libraries?
21:00 – Licensing terminology, Indemnity clauses
23:00 – Discussing part time work, job security, and the possibility of requiring businesses to keep a person hired as part of a company if they used a custom library in the project. It’s unlikely that businesses and companies would allow such a system. Sony likes buyout of everything for flexibility.
29:45 – What makes a good freelancer that consistently get hired? The ability to do the job of more than one person, be heavily technical (implementation), shipped titles,
31:15 – Benefits and risks of never turning down work or clients.
33:50 – What kind of freelancers do companies hire from Sony perspective? Sound Designers with specialties for limited time hire and people who they trust their body of work.
35:30 – How to get on the radar as a freelancer. Groups of people with experience would be the first place Sony would go for assistance.
36:50 – Unique Nature Ambience recordings from around the globe for licensing- Typically gathered from libraries due to cost and time. Discuss the possibility of a global recording collective to get ambiences from unique regions of the globe. ProSoundEffects offers this.
40:20 – Reviewing ways to stay employed: Collectives (community to keep people employed), Niche libraries, Networking.
41:00 – Social Media Networking
42:00 – Sony discussing how they typically work internally or seek out specialties for one off contact sounds.
43:00 – Making organic and lasting industry connections: Find a way to stand out! Demonstrate your sound design value through community connections. Find a way to be around the clients. Being out of sight is being out of mind. Business drops dramatically when you can’t see them face to face or can stop by at a moments notice to troubleshoot issues. Attend conferences, live around where the work is at.
50:50 – How to get audio to be seen at the level of importance it deserves to be seen.
54:00 – Ambience recording and setting levels. Gordon records ambiences as a focus, but leaves headroom for other sounds. He considers it the biggest factor that tells the player where they are. Foreground, vs. mid ground and background.
Peak Recording Levels – Car Crash -2 on digital or analog to saturate. Ambience at -10dB peak.
57:00 – Have you ever had to prove you own libraries. Some of them have.
58:00 – Is it worth making articles about sound design to network and get attention? They all answered yes as long as you provide value. This also allows you to learn topics on a deeper level.
1:02:00 – How do you showcase implementation skills? Download UDK, Unity, or other project and replace the sounds. Capture the video and make it part of your demo reel. Wwise allows you to replace sounds in Limbo. Accept criticism as a chance to learn. Don’t try to do EVERYTHING, try to excel at fewer things.
1:07:00 – Networking and finding mentors: Have social media conversations and dialogues, offer to work for someone you respect for free,
1:09:30 – Pricing: Look at what you want to make, compare it what in house guys make, look at your own experience and what you could charge in house, size up how much time you’ll be on the project. If there will be more work in the future consider giving indies a break. Each project is different.
Pick a number that if they go off and make millions of dollars that you don’t resent them or feel guilty if the project is a flop.
Look at estimated costs and time, which is usually half of what it really takes, and determine your pricing.
Establish your costs of bills, rent, electricity, taxes to determine your fair pricing and not just your time.
1:14:00 – Fmod can connect to unity and Cryengine without a license for learning purposes. You have to replace all the sounds in order to rebuild the banks.
1:14:45 – If you make a sound library it’s best to have raw files that have been cleaned up.

This is a masterclass in what it means to be a freelance, contracting, sound designer for video games! Big shout out to Designing Sound and all the participants for providing such useful interviews for the public!


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Come back soon for more posts about game audio, sound design, composition, integration using engines like Unreal and Unity, and much more.
Play Dot Sound is created by multiple award winning sound designers and composers in the video game audio industry. Our purpose is to educate, connect and inspire both beginners and professionals to make better sounds for their games.

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