My Life as a Video Game Audio Freelancer: What I Wish I Knew Starting Out

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Game composer Ted Wennerström got here the hard way. Will you learn from his mistakes?

The following blog post was written by Ted Wennerström, a freelance video game composer, sound effects designer and producer.

Ted Wennerstrom: Having celebrated my first complete year as a full-time freelance composer and sound designer, I looked back at when I took my first stumbling steps in this harsh world of game audio. I decided to put it down as a list to not only remind myself, but to help fellow composers understand what they can expect when starting their own freelancing careers.

Here are the 5 most important lessons I’ve learned in my journey.

1. Don’t give up. Seriously.

This was one of the hardest things for me to realize. Since I came from the music production industry, my skin was already very thick. For me though, the game industry was even harder because I didn’t know anyone as I did in the music industry, which made it difficult to get my foot in the door.

The competition is fierce. Keep at it. Take as many side jobs as you need. Never turn anything down, not even free jobs, at the start. You will eventually break through.

It took me almost four years before the jobs started to come more easily. But I did break through, after hundreds of emails, several meet-ups, and countless late nights in the studio. Don’t give up.

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2. Be professional

Today, anyone with a computer can be a composer, producer, musician, all of that. So one of the key things that will make you stick out is how professional you are. (I’m assuming you are already awesome at making music.) You will be dealing with companies a lot, and they have their standards and requirements you’ll need to meet or exceed.

Have good communication. Be clear as to what you offer. Set up boundaries and rules that both of you agree upon. Set a fair price that you think you are worth and try to stick to that – but remember, at start you will be doing a lot of low-price and free work to get your portfolio up and running.

“Being professional levitates you above the noise, and makes you much more appealing.”

Being professional levitates you above the noise, and makes you much more appealing.

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3. Be unique

Being professional is one thing, because it makes you stand out from the crowd. Next, you need to find something that truly makes you a cone in the ocean.

I found my thing when a friend showed me some software that allows for seamless shifting of music and sound effects according to gameplay. I really liked what I saw and started using it. This gave me a clear advantage and a good selling point when I looked for work. And the companies love it when I show it to them.

Figure out what you can do that most other composers can’t. This one I can’t help you with – what makes you unique, only you can know.

4. You won’t be doing that much music, at first

This was my saddest realisation. In my first years, my days looked like this: Emailing, marketing, connecting, emailing some more, doing a Twitter campaign, networking, and so on. And, if I had any time and energy left, I would write maybe 30 seconds of music.

You will be constantly hunting for your next job. And even when you land one, you will still be looking for the next one. Making music will all of a sudden be a low priority task, but don’t beat yourself up about it – you’re building up to eventually be able to compose all day long.

5. Have an understanding of the whole process

It’s really a big plus if you learn to code. Not on a professional level, but enough so that you get an understanding of how it works behind the scenes (I started out learning Java and Unity). I have talked with many programmers and composers and both look at each other as magicians – meaning that they have no idea what the other one does, it “just works.” If none of you have any idea of what the other person is talking about, this can get problematic once the deadline is approaching and the stress kicks in.

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Invest in yourself, and you’ll become even more appealing for companies to hire. And who knows, maybe you will start making your own games one day.

Yes, you can

So there you have it. If I had known all of this when I started out, I would have been up and running within a year. Now it took me, like I said, almost four years figuring this out and I’m still learning. It’s a tough crowd and a harsh market. Fight every day to stay afloat. Do everything you can to stand out in the crowd. Keep perfecting your craft every chance you get, and you will eventually get there.

Ted Wennerström is a freelance video game composer, sounds effects designer, and producer in Stockholm, Sweden. You can reach him via his online portfolio or on Twitter, or check out his work on Soundcloud.

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