Life As a Freelance Musician: Part 5: Portfolios, Losing and How Not To Get Ripped Off

Making music for a living is only about 50% actually making music for a living. The rest of the time is marketing, not-so-exciting business stuff and training yourself. Today we’ll take a look at what you want to have on your portfolio, how to handle losing jobs and how not to get ripped off.


What To Put On Your Portfolio


Soundcloud is the best thing to use for your portfolio when you start out. It’s free, easy to use, has a nice mobile interface (you don’t want your page to show a broken flash icon on someone’s phone), and is pretty much the standard place.  I’d buy the basic membership which opens up the spotlight option and allows you to control what appears first on your page.


The best things to put on your portfolio are obviously finished pieces, properly mixed and mastered for different kinds of games and what the music might sound like. It’s best to try to show off the full range of your skillset. If you have three great songs in the same style, put the best one up.


It’s also a good idea to make a default “best of” set or use the spotlight option to make sure the first thing they hear is what you want them to hear. It’s also worth getting someone to make you a professional looking logo and also have links to other things like your facebook or website.


What Not To Put


You want to make a great first impression with your portfolio. It might be the only chance you get. Your portfolio is not the place to put work-in-progress songs or songs that you need help with. As I’ve said before, I’m a huge fan of third-party unbiased criticism of my tracks. I have a separate soundcloud just for posting “Does this sound good?” and “What’s wrong with this mix?” type tracks when I embed them in a forum post or send them to a trusted friend. All musicians need feedback and help, but you don’t need to show your clients that.


Live tracks, joke remixes and other things that don’t relate to your most professional material that someone would want in their game probably shouldn’t be on your main soundcloud profile either.


You Win Some, You Lose Some


One of the hardest things to accept when you start looking for clients is that you aren’t going to get them all. The good news is though, there’s tons of reasons someone won’t pick you that have nothing to do with your skills.


-Price – In some countries, $30 USD is a month’s rent, so folks in these countries might be willing to do $1000 USD of work for $200. You can’t beat their prices if you’re in the USA and have normal business expenses.



-Timing – Some of the people you’re up against might not have jobs at the moment or have more flexible schedules. They might honestly be able to deliver way faster than you.


-Niche Skills – If the person is looking for a jazzy spy sound track and you mostly do orchestral RPG songs, chances are, some jazz musician will get the job. You can’t be a master of everything, so don’t sweat it too much.


It’s always worth while to be gracious and polite when told you didn’t get the job. Even when some potential clients don’t even say thank you or anything – I just see the job assigned to someone else – I write them a nice email saying thanks for the chance and if they need anything in the future, I’d be happy to work with them.


It can be a blow to the ego to lose a job, especially if you can hear the person who got it and think it sounds crappy. But just be cool about it. I have initially lost three different jobs only to have the client come to me three months later and say their chosen artist disappeared off the face of the planet and they are now in a crunch to finish the game.  Help them out now, and you have a client for life.



How Not To Get Ripped Off


So when I first started, I was so eager for work I didn’t think twice about making someone a sample for free. Some guy had a posting for some Mario Bros. styled chiptune tracks, I threw together a chipsounds Mario brothers-theme ripoff and mailed it over to him all excited, sure I’d get the job. He never wrote to me again, but, I noticed a link to his company on Skype. I went to it and found my loop was in his game. He never paid me and I really had no way getting any kind of justice, we never signed a contract or anything.


I learned a valuable lesson right there. Some musicians won’t turn over a single bar of music until a contract is signed, but remember, clients are afraid of being ripped off by you too. I think giving samples is totally necessary, but, just make sure your sample isn’t usable in their game. Here’s some ways to do it without ruining the sample:


-Add a layer of sound effects over top of it. You can tell them its to help them visualize it in game. Trust me, they love this but they can never use it in game due to the sfx.


-Add a repeating loop of a voice recording saying “demo” or something every 10 seconds. Keep it low. They’d never put it in their game because it wouldn’t seem professional.


-Add fade-in/fade-outs at the start and end and even some random ones in the middle.


Here’s a sample where I put some simple ninja sound effects over the track, so make sure the client didn’t just run off with my sample (he didn’t).



As you can seem the client gets an idea of what he’d be getting, but this track could never be dropped into his game, effectively ‘stolen’ from me. There’s another way people will try to rip you off. You should never take a job posting like this:

Need twelve tracks in the style of the Inception soundtrack. Must have actual recorded guitar and use Vienna strings or EWQLSO Diamond edition tools. All tracks must be delivered within the next week. Will pay $50 upon completion and full delivery.

Here you have someone asking for thousands of dollars of work for $50. Accept this job and you set a precedent for getting ripped off by this guy. You also devalue the entire market for people making music and make it harder for other musicians to get paid what they deserve. Some work is just not worth accepting. Here’s another one:

Making a new game called Angry Temple Birds of Candy Friends Crush. Need three cool tracks and some sound effects tracks. Please contact me on Skype at thisname and we discuss the prices.

The first time I was contact by someone like this, I thought, sounds weird, but I’ll talk to him. I have seen like ten of these since then, not one has ever panned out to actual work or payment. I seriously have no idea where this stuff comes from, my guess is some scammer out there is selling a e-book called ‘how to make money off SEO on the app store’, which seriously can’t work that great. My experience is these people usually have poor communication skills, try to sidestep whatever site they are working through by contacting you on Skype and usually try to pressure you into delivering without paying and usually just disappear after wasting your time with long, confusing conversations. Just steer clear of this.

There’s a lot more that goes into the business end of things, and we’ll talk about that more next week.

6 thoughts on “Life As a Freelance Musician: Part 5: Portfolios, Losing and How Not To Get Ripped Off”

    1. The funny thing is when someone IS trying to rip you off, they are furious in the innocent, non-confrontal non-accusational passive way you totally destroy their plan >:D

  1. These blogs have been really great to read, very helpful and insightful. Always looking forward to the next one!

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