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AndySlatter Envato team says

Hi all, here’s the scenario: You get asked to do some custom work, they ask you how much you charge, and what you terms and conditions are, what do you do? Panic? Procrastinate? End up working for little or nothing?

If you are used to getting a lot of custom work you no doubt be confident at knowing what to do next. But I’m sure we’ve all been in the position where we are not sure what to charge, we are not sure how to proceed in coming to a working agreement, we may not have an appropriate license agreement or contract.

I’ve been talking recently with Tim McMorris and Rob Astleford, both of whom shared some interesting insights. I thought it might be useful for all authors if there was a thread where we can share resources about work, money, contracts. So perhaps if you want to share your insights on how you work with your clients, pricing, or if you want to link to some sample contracts/agreements, or you want to you want to share your terms and conditions, or any other useful information, this could be a good place to do it!

Thanks folks!

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SonicCube says

Hello Andy

Excellent Idea, as i’m allways a bit confused when someone ask me for a custom work. I don’t have much experience to share when it comes to multimedia jobs, my knowledge is more in the record label / company direction.

What i consider regarding pricing :

  • Is it for a commercial project, where the agency who asks for your music will earn a lot of money from their customer ?
  • Do you have to deliver the soundtrack exlusively and on a flat rate basis ?
  • Will the company ask you again and again for a lot of changes, or do they take your work as it is ( maybe with some minor changes ) ?
  • Do they credit you in their final work ?
  • Is it a returning customer ?


This are my thoughts when making a quote / offer to the customer.

In general, i deliver the final product watermarked and the original version only if i have received the money. If it’s a returning customer, and he is trustworthy, i will sure deliver the original directly.

Allways remember to work on time and act proffesional, because there are so many people out there, offer their music for free, only to be a part of the game. You have to proof an advantage for the customer, if he pay you good money.

Waiting for your thoughts :)

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garethcoker Envato team says

I can’t really offer any super specific advice here. I genuinely believe that every ‘client’ (I hate this word) is different and each has to be catered to on a one-to-one basis.

I’m probably not the most experienced author here, but I do have some experience. I’ve also never lost a client, and am on the verge of being able to start my own studio – as opposed to just working from home.

The following particularly applies for film/game/TV/commercial work. I am most active (by some distance) in the game world, and while I can’t for legal reasons talk about specific projects, here are some observations that I’ve picked up, almost all since I’ve been in LA.

These observations are going to come in a totally random order. My apologies.

- Before anything else. Make sure your music is of excellent quality. If you want to have a lasting career getting paid lots of money for custom work, and to have a legacy of people liking your music AND other composers respecting your work, you need to have high quality music – at least in the film/tv/game world. That means constantly comparing yourself to what the top composers are doing and trying to match that level of quality with your own spin on things. This may seem obvious, but there’s a reason that there are only about 15-20 composers working regularly at the VERY highest level.

- You WILL get way more work if you stop treating everyone you meet / work for as a potential business contact. MAKE FRIENDS with these people first, they will give you a job anyway if you’re friends with them, and if they can’t give you a job, they probably know someone that can.

I swear, there are composers who would probably sell their parents / children if it meant they could get a job on some TV show / film / game. Ugh…..

- If you’re fun to hang out with, you WILL get more work. Don’t hide behind the internet. You will never have the career that you aspire for, unless you dream only of money (because Envato marketplaces can certainly make you quite well-off ;)

- It’s human nature that people who you are friends with WILL pay you more money whenever they possibly can.

- ALWAYS start high in negotiations, no matter your experience. A great strategy is to start with DOUBLE what you would be happy working for. If you get lucky, you will get paid that amount, if not, you offer them 50% off (which is your original rate that you would be happy with), and everyone wins.

- A high salary will give the impression that you are ‘unobtainable’. Trust me, this is a VERY good impression to give. People always want things that are unobtainable. It’s human nature.

- When dealing with contracts, get a specialist entertainment lawyer. Money spent now will save you money later. I’ve managed to negotiate KEEPING all the rights to my soundtrack as well as a percentage of game sales for three games I’m working on. I may have been able to do this myself, but entertainment lawyers will look for the best deal for you if you find a good one.

- Get an accountant.

- Your website MUST be awesome. The irony is, that when you are an established composer, you will almost certainly never need a website again :D – your phone will be constantly ringing.

- When your invoices get paid, ALWAYS send a thank you note. You would be amazed how few people do this.

- If you are working on a film or a game, or a TV show, you should hopefully have built up a good relationship with the director. If not, you’re very foolish!!! You should also build up a relationship with as many people on the crew as possible.

For films and TV, this means:

- Assistant Directors, Editors, Music Supervisors, Producers

For games, this means:

- Audio Leads, Game Directors, Producers.

- If you finish a project you’re working on for a long time, i.e. a film or a game, buy the person who originally employed you on that project a special gift, i.e. something unique to that person. It makes a HUGE difference.

- NEVER sell the rights EXCLUSIVELY to your work unless it is an insane (life-changing) amount of money ($250,000 + ). This does happen from time to time.

- For small-scale projects (commercials / promos) you should license your music on a non-exclusive single-use basis. There are some tracks I’ve been paid for 10 times over by various trailer companies. It’s a nice feeling.

- COMMUNICATION .COMMUNICATION.COMMUNICATION.

It’s so unbelievably important. If you communicate often and well with the people you work for, your life will be so much easier. Make yourself available at all times.

Finally, if you’re working in the film / TV / game world, you have to remember this.

You are providing a SERVICE for someone else. You answer to them. They will allow you creative input, but ultimately your decision will not be the final one. You should bend over backwards to accommodate your director. The very best composers (Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Hans Zimmer) are renowned for not just being wonderful musicians, but for also, when it mattered, being able to be utterly charming and accomodating to the people they worked for.

It is amazing (and I see it every week here in LA) how many composers complain about the people they work for. They are working, but not at the level they aspire to be (which is why they came to LA in the first place).

You might wonder what this has to do with ‘custom work and pricing’, but this entire philosophy starts from the moment you get approached. If the person who is about to employ you thinks you’re awesome before you’ve even signed the deal, you’ve already won….

If you manage to do all of these things over a long period of time, good things will inevitably happen (though you also need a bit of luck ;) )

So yeah, those are my views…I’m not sure how helpful they were. Looking forward to what others have to say.

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OhmLab says

You’ve done it again, Gareth. A wealth of information and insight, that will no doubt help many authors here. It sure is nice to have such a great community and one that is willing to share so openly with each other. Thanks for starting the thread, Andy! ;)

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dejans says

Thank You Gareth! That was really helpful. Priceless info!

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jhunger says

Very interesting and informative thread! Gareth, as always, excellent information. The time you take to share your insights is very much appreciated.

Though I guess after 1.5 years I’m an AJ “veteran,” I’m pretty much a newbie to the semi-professional music scene and can maybe only offer what not to do.

The main mistake I’ve made is to lowball my price on the grounds that music is not my day job, so I would quote quite a bit less than I make per hour writing software. This invariably led to less than stellar results, because I’d feel rushed in the studio and maybe didn’t do as many takes or pay attention to detail as well as I should have. While the clients always seemed to be happy (probably because they were getting a smoking deal) I never felt like it was my best work.

I think Gareth’s advice of originally quoting twice what you think your worth is an excellent rule of thumb. Personally, the route I’m taking going forward is that I’m quoting a certain percentage over what I think one of my comparable stock pieces will make over a 3 year span on all marketplaces based on historic data. At least that way I’m not worried about opportunity cost when I’m working on a client’s track, and also I have some way to justify my rates.

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garethcoker Envato team says

A couple of other things.

—You should ALWAYS be willing to make changes, no matter how annoying it is. You should assume this before you even start.

The definition of custom work, means that you are customizing your work until the person/company who hired you is satisfied. If you’re good at your job and you communicate well, you should get through most custom work with not many changes. This can lead to some projects that drag on and on, but this happens at all levels of the business. You will also get projects that get finished in 2 days.

—For custom work, you should ALWAYS demand credit. And for music on a film, game or TV show, it should be a single card with no other names on the screen, wherever possible.

If they’re not going to give you credit, you should ask for a LOT more money.

—Soniccube is right. Be on time, be professional. You’re instantly ahead of 90% of the competition if you can do this.

...

Also, I found it interesting that Soniccube watermarks his files. Obviously I don’t know who hires him, but I personally don’t think it’s a good habit to watermark your files, because it’s a real hassle for the end user, particularly on projects with a time constraint.

If you don’t think the person you are working for is trustworthy from the beginning, then you should be questioning why you are working with them in the first place. Also, it doesn’t really send a positive message to them.

If your customer was going to steal your files, then they weren’t worth having as a customer anyway :)

In short, I personally don’t know any composers that watermark their files.

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AndySlatter Envato team says

Hi guys, great thread, keep it coming, thanks to Soniccube and Gareth for such detailed information, this is really useful.

I studied for a diploma in Music For The Media
a few years ago, my tutor was Peter Howell, I can verify that a lot of what I was taught on that course was exactly what Gareth has said here.

One of the first things I learnt on the course was that you are not writing for yourself, you are writing to a brief, you cannot let your own tastes start to influence the direction of the music, you can still put something of yourself into the music, but the minute the music starts going off on it’s own course but away from the brief you’ve failed. You need to be able to recognize when this is happening and either strip everything back, or scrap the idea and start again.

I was always told that you should never work for free, but that in the real world, inevitably there are going to have to be times when you are trying to get your foot on the ladder that it might be worth doing so.

Most of the other stuff is basically exactly what Gareth has said: communication with the client, being prepared to make changes even at the very last minute, making personal connections- get to know producers, attend film and game festivals.

Like most people here I want to gain more custom work, and one of the problems I’ve encountered is when you get offered a job out of the blue and find yourself procrastinating because you are not sure what you should be charging and you haven’t got an appropriate contract to use.

Gareth: do you issue your new clients with some kind of “These are my terms and conditions” type document before you work with them?

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Mihai_Sorohan says

Also, I found it interesting that Soniccube watermarks his files. Obviously I don’t know who hires him, but I personally don’t think it’s a good habit to watermark your files, because it’s a real hassle for the end user, particularly on projects with a time constraint. If you don’t think the person you are working for is trustworthy from the beginning, then you should be questioning why you are working with them in the first place. Also, it doesn’t really send a positive message to them.

I was thinking like this when I got some job proposal from the director and co-owner of one of the biggest record labels in Lithuania.
Everything went quite smooth, I offered two different versions of the work, we agreed on a meeting to discuss details… and from here started the chaos.
First, when I’m in front of his building, he cancel the meeting, put it to next week, cancel again. I finished the work in 28 November, after many canceled meetings, I call him and he say “I’ll call you back after new year”. In February I call him reminding about the work I did for him telling him that I wait for a simple answer like “I like your work and I’ll buy it, or I don’t like your work and I’ll not buy it”, he started to insult me on the phone and close…
I guess you can end up with unpleasant surprises from the most unexpected people/ companies. Better safe than sorry.

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solarsound says

Also, I found it interesting that Soniccube watermarks his files. Obviously I don’t know who hires him, but I personally don’t think it’s a good habit to watermark your files, because it’s a real hassle for the end user, particularly on projects with a time constraint.

If you don’t think the person you are working for is trustworthy from the beginning, then you should be questioning why you are working with them in the first place. Also, it doesn’t really send a positive message to them.

If your customer was going to steal your files, then they weren’t worth having as a customer anyway :)

In short, I personally don’t know any composers that watermark their files.

I don’t see anything wrong with watermarking your files, especially if you are working with someone over the internet that you have never met face to face. Most clients over the internet seem to be ok with that.

Of course, if you are working on a project in LA and you meet with your client regularly (scoring a film for example) then that is a different scenario. ;)

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