I’ve been a game composer for many years, and it’s always been a platform I’ve really enjoyed working on.
However, a few months back I came across something unexpected:
I was listening to a track on Soundcloud with an embedded audio watermark from a stock music site – and it didn’t suck.
This is in no way meant to be disrespectful of stock music composers, I just hadn’t been paying attention to how much the quality of royalty-free music had gone up. I was expecting stock music to still be the cheesy, plasticky stuff I’d heard many years ago. This was not the case here, so I was puzzled.
If such great-sounding music is available to game developers at rock-bottom prices ($14-$70 per track, depending on the license), what does it mean to me as a game composer, and to game developers and the way they are finding and using music? And ultimately, is it a threat to my business as a composer?
In my view, the answer is a resounding NO, and in this two-part guide I’ll show you how royalty-free music can benefit both game developers and composers alike.
First off is a bunch of tips for game developers:
MAKING THE MOST OF ROYALTY-FREE MUSIC AS A GAME DEVELOPER
Let me start out by stressing that if you have the budget, I think you should go for having music custom-composed for your project. You’ll get high-quality, unique material that can be shaped and fitted to exactly match your project requirements. But if your budget is limited, or you’re in a real hurry, royalty-free music can be a great option.
A quick primer on what royalty-free music is:
Royalty-free music is music you buy on a non-exclusive basis, meaning that it can be used in your project – and since it’s non-exclusive, everyone else is free to license the music for their projects as well. So you won’t be getting unique, exclusive content for your game, but you’re getting music that’s extremely affordable and flexible.
You pay a one-time fee (often extremely low compared to having custom music composed for your game), and that’s it! There are no royalty-fees to be paid to the composer down the line, and no bonuses to be paid if your game is selling like hotcakes.
So it’s simple way to find, use and buy music for your game – and here’s how you can make the most of it:
* Quick, easy access to great game music
Royalty-free music sites offer you a way to get great, hugely affordable music for your game, fully-licensed and ready-to use. Some sites offer more than 50,000 tracks that are available in pretty much every style imaginable, so there’s loads to choose from.
There’s no waiting around for a composer to finish the music for your game – you can simply download the tracks instantly and start using them straight away.
It’s not all stellar material, of course – far from it, actually – but most sites employ reviewers to maintain a fair level of quality.
* What you hear is what you get
Having a composer do the music for your project has its pros and cons: You’re getting unique music content, and – if you’ve picked the right composer – high quality material as well. But you can’t be absolutely certain what you’re going to end up with.
With royalty-free music, you can preview the tracks in advance, so you know exactly what you’re getting. Don’t like a track? Don’t buy it.
* Finding the best game tracks
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to royalty-free music is finding the good stuff. As mentioned some sites have thousands and thousands of tracks of varying quality, and game music is not a top priority – at least not on the sites I’ve seen.
For instance, on Audiojungle, which is my current favorite for royalty-music, the biggest-selling category is motivational and uplifting corporate music – so that’s what a lot of composers are going for. Hardly the best music for a game.
But there’s lots of relevant music for game projects as well, and that’s why I’ve launched Great Game Music, where I feature tracks that specifically work well in a gaming context.
At the very top of this page, you’ll find an audio player where you can preview my selected tracks. Click the yellow buttons to change categories, and click the black BUY button on the player to go the purchasing page for the currently-playing track.
Navigate to the top of this page and have a look. You can use this page to find useful tracks for your game project, or as a starting point for further exploration.
A WORD OF ADVICE:
* Always check the license terms
Many sites offer tracks at incredible prices. Again using Audiojungle as an example, you can license a 3-minute track for $14 dollars. And believe me, that’s CHEAP for a three-minute track.
But beware: A Regular License only allows you use the music in a FREE game – so if you planning on selling your game (as I’m guessing most devs are), you’ll effectively be in violation of the license if you include that 14$ track in your paid game. An Extended License will cost you around $70 depending on the track length, and this allows you to freely use the track in the game you’re planning on selling. Other sites have similar terms, so be sure to check that you’re getting a license that fits with how you plan on distributing/selling your game. Otherwise it could end you in hot water down the road.
* Make royalty-free music a shortcut for unique music for your game
One of the tricky things with royalty-free music is getting a consistent sound for your game, as you’ll likely end up with tracks from many different composers in your final music package. And since each composer has his or her own sound, this might be noticeable in your soundtrack.
If that’s the case, I’d suggest a different approach.
Go exploring on stock music sites, and when you come across a composer who’s doing music with a style and sound that would be a great match for your game project, stop searching and get in touch with the composer. License the royalty-free tracks you want to use from the composer on the site, and ask him or her to compose some custom tracks to sort out your remaining music needs.
It’ll cost you more than just using royalty-free music, but a) you’re getting custom music for much of your game, b) you ensure that your game gets a consistent sound, and c) you’re still saving money compared to having everything custom-composed.
You also reap the benefits that custom music have to offer, such as tweaking if needed, unique content, and music that fits with the durations, timing and moods you want. And if it’s not important for you to have the music exclusively (which you won’t get with royalty-free music anyway), you may be able to negotiate a deal with the composer, where he or she creates custom tracks for you, but is allowed to sell the tracks as royalty-free music afterwards as well.
That way, you’ve effectively turned royalty-free music sites into massive music showcases that allow you to find the very best composer for your game – and save money doing it.
* Don’t use royalty-free music as an excuse to postpone your game audio
In general, I think one of the biggest mistakes when finding music for your game is doing it too late in the process. If you’re a week away from your deadline and you still haven’t found the right music, it’s going to be hectic. And that’s whether you work with a composer or use royalty-free music.
Getting a composer to create the right music for your game takes time and planning, and it ALSO takes time on stock music sites. Why? There’s simply so much content to choose from that finding stuff that fits with your project is not a one-day process. You’ll want to listen to a lot of tracks to find your direction, you’ll want to find a collection of tracks that go well together – and you want to try the music in your game to see if it really works in the context of your game.
So don’t make music for your game a last-minute decision, just because you’ve chosen to use royalty-free music. Bring it in early to make your game sound its very best.
I hope this has given you some ideas on how you can integrate royalty-free music in your game development process – and helped you decide whether it’s a direction you want to go in at all. I think that, if done right, it can be a valuable tool for finding the right music for your game.
In part two, I’ll show how royalty-free music can be a way for game composers to land new projects and keep their game developer clients happy at the same time. Read the guide for game composers right here.
Meanwhile, I’d love to hear how you’re using royalty-free music in your projects. Do share your comments and thoughts below.
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