*First and foremost, while this may be potentially
applicable across various freelance disciplines, I’d like to mention
that this article is being written from the perspective of a Composer
who mainly works in the Game Industry (with some additional experience
in the Production Music world). Furthermore, it’s always recommended
to hire legal help from an attorney with experience in your specific field
We’ve all been here before, many (or dare I say “most”)
of us dealing with this situation more often than we’d like. The
people involved are great, the project is inspiring, but that budget…
oh those numbers just don’t add up right. It’s true that most
of us would prefer to keep the “creative hat” on and delegate
the “business hat” to a manager or attorney. While it’s
always wise to hire someone knowledgeable in the inner workings of legalese
and contract construction, negotiations may cease before you even get
to that point.
So in situations where the Company/Developer/Producer doesn’t have
a large enough budget to cover the “standard” fees and terms
of an Agreement, it’s essential that you facilitate creative negotiations
that’ll be beneficial to each party. Agreeing on something that
quells their budgetary concerns, while maximizing your potential benefits.
Here are a few ideas that may help you maximize the benefits in your Agreements.
I. License Your Music
The game industry has a reputation for wanting to own everything they
possibly can and it’s understandable as to why, because the legal
side evolved from software. It’s easier to just pay more money upfront
to own something than have to deal with potential legal problems down
the road. However, royalties don’t exist at the moment for Game
Composers and we’re very much use to that from the Film and Television
world. So how do we potentially bridge the gap?
One idea is to License the music you create so that the developer can
use it in their game, but you have the option of selling or using it elsewhere
after the game has shipped. There are many talking points involved in
a Licensing Agreement and all of these can be negotiated. For example,
what will this initial License cover?
Will it only cover usage of the composition for the game on one platform,
how about any trailers or promotional videos, DLC or sequels? All of these
points are negotiable and will allow you to define a License coverage
(and re-licensing fees) that both parties can feel comfortable with.
II. Soundtrack and Bundles
Another idea, in addition to or replacement of a Licensing Agreement,
is to retain all of the revenue from sales of the Soundtrack. If the developer
doesn’t have a large enough budget to pay many of the standard fees
upfront, then it may be possible to recoup (or possibly exceed) some of
that monetary risk later down the line with Soundtrack sales.
Even if you’re working under a WFH Agreement I would urge you
to try and hold onto as much of the soundtrack revenue as possible. It
may be nearly impossible with larger companies, but smaller studios may
be open to the idea. Especially if you take care of everything (perhaps
using something like CD Baby) and report monthly with sales data. Eventually
sending them a quarterly check based off the percentages you negotiated.
addition to separate sales of the Soundtrack, it may be possible to negotiate
a potential “Bundle” package that includes both the game and
soundtrack. Usually the Soundtrack and Game are offered at a discounted
rate, but the lower price tends to make up for itself in a higher number
of sales. The thought behind this strategy is that a decent percentage
of gamers may not ever think to buy the soundtrack separately from the
game (unless they really love the music). However, if it’s offered
for only a few dollars more in a bundle, then they may be more willing
to part with that amount of money for additional value in the form of
If the developer is open to a Licensing option, then they may request
that the composition you create remain exclusive to the game for a certain
amount of time after the initial release. This amount of time can vary
drastically and numerous factors must be considered before both parties
can agree to an exclusivity period. Every month that the composition remains
exclusive to the game, is another large handful of days that you can’t
license it to another project or possibly sell it to a music library.
If you’re finding it difficult to agree to a specific exclusivity
period, then it may be easier to write in language for two possible scenarios
based off the performance of the game. If the game is doing quite well
after its release then perhaps the composition shall remain exclusive
for a little bit longer; however if sales/downloads of the game are lacking
then it would only be fair that the exclusivity period be shortened.
Furthermore, it’s essential that you get a clear answer on the
actual release date of a project, as many modern games (especially PC)
will release an Open Beta yet still charge customers or have already implemented
monetization. By traditional definitions this could be considered a full
release, but the company may not see it that way, so make sure to get
an official release date in writing if you plan on re-licensing the composition
after the exclusivity period.
IV. Revisions and Creative Control
Revisions and iterations are a part of any creative process, but some
developers (if not restrained) can micromanage a piece of music into the
ground. That is why it’s essential to write in a specific number
of revisions on a single piece of music into the Agreement. Any revisions
over that amount should warrant additional compensation. I personally
like 3 revisions and work that into as many of my Agreements as possible.
It’s a high enough number to facilitate efficient feedback so I
can create something special that resonates with the developer, but also
low enough to guarantee that any overly extraneous work or revision requests
are additionally compensated for.
Furthermore, based on the budget of the project and what you can negotiate,
it may be possible to retain creative control over the music’s direction.
This not only gives you the power to revise cues at your own pace, but
also the additional benefit of deciding on the overall palette/feel/goal
of the music. Obviously this would require an enormous amount of trust
from a developer, but in the right situation it’s possible and very
much worth pursuing.
V. Right of First Refusal and Future collaborations
Sometimes if a project doesn’t have an adequate music budget,
but is currently pursuing funding/investors, then they may (at some point
in the middle of development) acquire additional monies for the game’s
development. In this situation, it’s essential that you write in
the Right of First Refusal on creating (or re-creating) any of the music
for the game. It’s hard to imagine a developer disrespecting all
of the time you’ve invested up to that point and throwing you by
the wayside for another Composer, but it can happen and is best to have
Furthermore, in some micro-budget situations it may be pertinent to
write in language that guarantees you to be hired for any sequels, ports,
DLC, or maybe even wholly different projects. All of which are assumed
possible because of the original game’s financial success, at which
point you should be rewarded for your investment.
Lastly, but certainly not least, as there are tons of options I’ve
yet to mention, we have the option of writing in Bonuses into the contract.
The traditional bonus structure is based off the number of units sold
and is usually attached to a specific dollar amount the Composer shall
However, it’s entirely possible to base the bonus structure off
of different goals like: Total downloads, Youtube Video Hits (if you did
the Trailer/Promo music), etc. Furthermore, the bonus compensation could
be a specific dollar amount, or (if the developer would like to make sure
it gets invested right back into the quality of the game) then perhaps
it could go into the funding of live recordings. Paying for professionals
like a recording engineer, studio, session musicians, mixer, etc. All
of this should be on top of your initial creative fee of course.
In a world of diminishing music budgets for projects of all sizes, I
hope you’ve found this article helpful. We don’t always have
to just accept an Agreement with the provisions written in by the Company
/ Producer / Developer. It’s guaranteed that those provisions heavily
favor them and if they don’t have an adequate budget to pay for
the lack of beneficial provisions for you, then you have the prerogative
to suggest creative solutions. Thanks for reading and I wish you all the
best in your future Agreement negotiations!