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Discussion in 'Indie Related Chat' started by Jesse Hopkins, Jan 6, 2007.
I had it, after Starship Tycoon. Went to work at Elixir, then Lionhead, to pay the bills. 5 years later I was indie again, with a vengeance, and a nice bank balance.
I could possibly have gone back to it earlier.
A long time maybe, but just to say it can be done.
I don't have too inspirational story to share, but I do what I do by keeping my cost of living waaay way down. I commute by bike, eat simple, mostly healthy foods, drink tea, don't eat out much, live with roommates. I am able to work only two days per week, at a meat pie shop.
Having a part time job is a nice change of pace from indie game developing. However for those of you who are accustomed to a more... normal... lifestyle, this might seem extreme. It works though!
Soon I am going to see if I can earn the money I need doing contract programming work, which could be a nice thing. It might not do as good a job of "resetting my brain" as working at the meat pie shop does, though.
I got me a wife with a job!
Now that is a sneaky plan Mike.
I knew there was a way to survive in this business, now I know what it is
Very Big Games
Huge and Unique Science Fiction and Fantasy Games
Hah, and I gotta admit, I got me a girlfriend with a car!
I was a consultant programmer for 6 years before the .com crash and had to go back to fooltime work. Stayed fooltime for 2.5 years while also holding down a side consulting project and plugging away on ArcadeTown. Finally left that job and bam AT exploded in my face. I never expected this but looking back I put far too much effort into it as a side pet project for it not to. Moral: find a way to do it and do it!
I think this is more a case of developing a more realistic outlook on life to be honest. I don't mean that in a derogatory way, but there are very very few people who get by in life doing exactly and only what they want.
It's a nice thing to strive for, but you shouldn't consider your life a failure if you don't make it. Get some commercial work in and try to enjoy doing it. The fact that doing so is a means to an end should ease the burden.
You imply that you being a musician as opposed to a programmer means you're less likely to find freelance stuff, but what job is it that you're talking about taking ? Is there no way to at least do this from home where you work your own hours etc ?
I (admittedly as a programmer) found this to be a great half-way house allowing me to control most of my working arrangements coupled with actually paying the mortgage and having a life.
In fact, I'd reccomend that route to everyone here who's not already "made it" in the indie world. Contracting from home will keep you in money, and because you pick the hours, you can do your own stuff on the side *much* easier. I'd say do whatever you can to make this happen - you can't do anything creative whilst worrying about money anyway.
You should try to make it work somehow: live in a cheaper place, smaller house, advertise yourself more, think up new ways to offer services to people who can't afford the $100/Min rate, or find people who can afford the rate and offer your services to them. If commissions aren't coming to you, you go and find them. It should be possible.
The problem is the HUGE majority of Indies are either part-timers or on a shoe-string budget. Most can't afford $100-400 per minute of music, especially if their game requires 5-6 tracks that are each a couple of minutes long. It will be tough catering exclusively to this group. The successful freelancers I've seen around here seem to have a good mix of big and small clients.
The talented composers on this board I've seen who haven't done well with freelance game music are usually those who were pretty inflexible with their rates and didn't have enough varied music samples on their site. I think the biggest challenge for freelancers at the beginning is just getting your name out there and establishing contacts. You don't want to have dirt cheap rates, but in the early going you should probably be less concerned with getting $250 per minute (or whatever) and more concerned about building up a client list. After all, 2-3 positive recommendations can lead to an additional 4-5 jobs. When I personally look in the Art/Sound forums, a recommendation from a forum member (especially a respected member) carries a lot of weight when deciding who I'll even contact for a quote.
So in the early going, you can have an "Indie" rate or even discount the rate further if the client agrees for the music to be non-exclusive, which you can continue to license. Get creative! You're definitely a very talented composer, so if this is your dream I think you should push as hard as you can and try various angles before giving up and going back to the "Man". Boost your website and your music samples. Have music samples with a variety of styles, this will increase the odds of a wandering developer (potential client) finding something of interest and contacting you.
Though you do need to make sure you have enough savings to get you through the "building" phase. If you can only survive for a couple of months without any substantial income you're probably not ready to go full-time freelancing. Most people I know who go fulltime Indie/Freelance can usually survive at least 12 months off savings or loans, or they have a big client (usually former employer) who can pay the bills early on.
As for me, I've run into your situation several times since I've started my business over 3 years ago. I ate through my savings and had to get loans multiple times. But I knew this is what I wanted to do without question and I have my family's support, so I've always found a way to keep chugging along. Now I'm finally getting some decent income and I still have a good cushion of money from loans, so I'm good for at least another couple of years even in a worst case scenario. Like ArcadeTown, I'm finding that when you cut the strings you just find a way to make it work. It ain't always pretty but if it's your dream, I say it's worth the effort/gamble. Life is too short to be drudging away at a 9-5 job you hate.
If you can swing it, try getting a regular part-time job, like I have now. It is better living that continually watching every single cent while living off savings, which is what I did early on. Now I work for someone else 2-3 days a week and can work 4-5 days per week on my software without pressure. It also means if I am sick for a couple of days or need major repairs to my car or myself, it just means I ship a few days later rather than being in risk of running out of money and having nowhere to live.
You might not get work in your dream area with the part-time work (I do work in IT support, ergh) but the opportunity to have a crack at your dream whilst not living in fear of financial ruin is a great one indeed.
And with any luck, eventually your business will earn enough to survive on its own and you can weigh up going fulltime.
Yeah, I've been there, done that. At one point my software company employed a full time staff of three, and an additional part-time staff of two other people. Unfortunately for me the market I was in at the time, which was online gaming in the late 90's, changed drastically and in a very short time period. My company was unable to adjust to the changing market quickly enough, and with enough decisiveness to keep the ship from sinking. I came close to loosing everything, and did lose my wife, but I never lost hope, and refused to give up even though it meant I was in debt many 10's of thousands with nothing to show for it. It was a very tough road.
Yeah, I could have gone bankrupt and walked away, but then the only thing I had left would have been gone too, my pride. I got a job and worked to pay it all off, and it took a number of years.
Now that I am financially secure, I am back at it again. It took me several years to get back here, and I still hold down a job as I am working to get things going again and need the income to finance the operation to a point where it will support me and my family.
My suggestion, family is always first. Your family will support you and be there through the good times and the bad, but some times you have to be the one to make the difficult decisions to put off your passion for a bit until you can re-group. Find some income teaching students at a local music store so you have some regular income you can count on and begin building your client list for your passion to be a freelancer
I listened to the tracks on your site, you are very talented, you can do well, but it all takes time to establish.
As many others said, a lot of Indies have a shoestring budget, so they can be a tough nut to crack. However there are a number of Indies out there with budgets, at least the more successful ones, and there is money out there to be made. The critical thing is just finding the right parnter, which can be difficult.. I am not to slam anyone here, but there are also a number of indies out there looking for something for nothing. I understand that not everyone can afford expensive music. The trick is picking the right project to get your name out there.
Always review the project before signing on, because the final product is part yours and reflects you and your skills. Sometimes the no-budget projects are good ones, lets face it the big studios aren't doing the innovating, so it has to come from some where. Just choose carefully.
I like your work a lot, and was considering contacting you for my current project, but right now I am focused on art, and coding. Being a small operation I have to stay focused, and music although no less important than the art work, comes toward the end because I like the music to reflect the final mood of the game and at least for me, that is often a work in progress during development.
Just don't loose sight of your goal, and you ill be OK, overnight successes in this industry are rare.
Wow, great post. Thanks, man.
I've been telling myself that 2007 would be the year I go full time, because I know I'm at a point now where I just need to quit being a bitch and do it. The thought of no longer having regular income is scary as hell, but I have this feeling that when I finally do it I'll be pissed that I didn't do it earlier.
Hang in there Jesse. It is a brutal environment for composers, but good things can come.
Some good advice here. Jesse, It might be worth looking at expanding your skills as well. Maybe video editing, trailer production with custom music, or custom sound FX, that kind of thing. It might help pull in some extra business. Having a wider selection of skills to offer can help boost your business. Keep at it!
It's a very difficult environment for composers. In the AAA world it's about a) having very good chops b) being able to hit the game's style requirements, and c) knowing the right person who can throw you the right job at the right time. There are probably 10x more composers than jobs so it's really about having a network of connections.
I definitely agree with MrQ -- if you can expand into trailer/FMV sync music, low-cost sound effects, vocal recording/editing/talent direction, other areas, that'll help. Also, if you're in a major metropolitan area, contact the audio directors of any studios in town and introduce yourself and your services -- they might find use for you one day. When I was at Microsoft, our audio director would have a pool of 5-6 local contractors he would repeatedly draw from for last-minute/quick-turnaround audio work.
Obviously doing stuff for smaller indies is also an option, but I'm figuring it would be very hard to get enough work to support yourself given the very low development funds available to a lot of people here....
I dont know if this is correct, but I tend to get music for the games I develop early on in a project rather than at the end. Perhaps the majority of game developers leave this until the last, which can sometimes be a waiting game for you?
Originally I set out to startup two businesses and see which one made it. IT consultancy which then turned into Web Design and the other Game Development (that started out as retailing).
Money was running out fast, and it came to the point where my wife had to go back to work, and now I look after the kids while running the businesses - it is difficult to juggle them and tend to work mostly at night, sometimes to the early hours of the morning. Hopefully it will not always be like this, I'd love to work 9-5 and keep my weekends free for family.
I managed to secure a small investor for my game development which has helped over the past 6 months, and for a small percentage of the company which allows room for another investor, while still maintaining ownership.
I am now back at that stage again where I need to secure another investor, a bigger one at that to see me through the next 18-24 months worth of projects, with a team in an office and some external contractors, instead of doing the majority of work myself and calling on contractors to do the bits I cannot do.
If you are struggling, try everything you can, even if it means looking for an investor, or startup a small business that is totally different to what you are doing now, which can fill the gaps, and give you the freedom to work for yourself. You can only but try!
You would be a good contact to keep in mind, even though we already have a musician on board another one will not go amiss. Once we have the budget we will be in contact with you. Our aim is to get some projects of our own out of the way and then design games for other people which you could be a part of.