Life As a Freelance Musician: Part 4: The First Game


Getting started in any career is not easy. You need to get hired to get experience but most people are looking to hire those who already have it. Fortunately, it’s a little bit easier getting started as a freelance musician. A little upfront work for free will get you up and running with an impressive portfolio. Some of the quotes in the next few articles are based on actual posts I’ve seen or actual conversations I’ve had. The average post for a serious, commercial music job usually looks like this.


Need 5 songs created for an iOS game and also SFX. Please post at least 3 examples of published commercial work that you have worked on along with attached demo reel of similar sounds and music to this style of game.


Clearly, you won’t get the job if you haven’t done any commercial projects. Someone else will. But by doing a game for free, you can probably land a job you wouldn’t otherwise and then you can start applying to jobs like this.



Your First Game


I didn't make much off my first game, but I am quite proud of it and it has lead to tons of other work.
I didn’t make much off my first game, but I am quite proud of it and it has lead to tons of other work.

Your first game project is going to be stressful and full of surprises. One thing I was not used to is dealing with a group of outsider’s opinions on my music and my vision of how their game should sound. I was used to being the driver, now I was sort of a copilot with specific skills. You can lessen your stress and make things easier when you start looking for paying clients by making a game for free when starting out. Obviously, you’ll want to do this before you’re relying on freelancing for income.


Your first game doesn’t need to be a huge hit or even be on some major platform, it could be a little flash game or a game for a friend. My first game was Robo Hero, a game that I’m still immensely proud of. The founder of Bravado Waffle was a friend of mine and asked if I could help him out. Although I didn’t make much off the game, it was the foundation of my resume and gave me a great starting point for a decent portfolio. My skills have come a long way since then, but I am still proud of that little game.


If you don’t have a friend to hook you up, here’s a few great places to find your first pseudo-client: – Lots of indie gamers collaborate here. Find a game you like that needs music and email the team. Most are on tight budgets or no budget, so they’ll welcome the free assistance. – Keep an eye on these forums for anything from short indie film scores to new video games.


Machinima channels on YouTube – Machinima folks are usually not making any money of what they do but very passionate about it, they’re always looking for some composers to spice things up.


RPG Maker Forums – This is another group that creates some epic stuff and usually have little budget for anything paid for. They’re doing it for fun and looking for musicians who will too.


Who Not To Work For

Not everyone who is willing to give you work is worthy of it, even if it is free. You will see a lot of posts like this in the places I’ve recommended above:


Hi! I’ve got this great idea for a game, it’s like Zelda where you have this sword and go out to look for these diamonds. My friend Kyle from school got Photoshop on his laptop and we’re trying to come up with some art. We need 12 songs created right away for each of the game’s cities. We don’t have a whole list yet but you can start making one to get an idea. We’re still looking for a developer who will work for free to build this MMORPG.


This type of post is a red flag. A serious developer would not even be looking for a sound guy that this point. If the game doesn’t even exist and those involved has little experience, no clear vision of what the game is and most likely have zero budget to make it happen, you don’t want to attach yourself to the project. Most likely, it’ll never get finished. Your goal on your first project is to get your name on something that gets out there, be it in the app store, Youtube or even just a flash game. It needs to be something people can go and look at and see your work, even if it’s not super popular.


You might be surprised at how your first free game leads you to more work. Robo Hero has put me in contact with tons of other developers and artists who worked for Bravado Waffle. These artists get contracted into other projects and refer me to do the music and sound. These other developers move around to different companies and bring my name with them. Next time, we’ll look at how to build a great portfolio and how to avoid getting scammed.



3 thoughts on “Life As a Freelance Musician: Part 4: The First Game”

  1. Good article, kinda feels like where I’m at. I had one paying gig and I’ve got some friends in the industry but I think I need to expand my portfolio with some more variety, probably do some for free. Looking forward to the next article :)

    1. The odds are REALLY against you when you start. More so than any other industry, but there are up sides too, no government regulation, certifications, licenses…no set hours, no uniforms, etc…I’m doing a whole article on the upside later..

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