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'Understand your value' and more takeaways from High Score

Story Published Thursday 7 October 2021
High Score 2021 : Julie Buchanan

APRA AU hosted High Score over two days, featuring top audio game creators and developers.

You can still partake in the sessions on demand until 2 November 2021. Register to start or watch back.

Our theme was 'no game is an island' - we explored collaboration, teamwork and creativity.

Here's our super-condensed version of High Score: Composition and Sound Art for Gaming with a round-up of tips and sage advice from the guest speakers.

1. Early on in your career, invest in being creative.

Keynote speaker Julie Buchanan took everyone through her writing and digital production process, including her go-to plug-ins.

Her advice: "When you are starting out, you don't need to spend a lot on plug-ins. Spend money on things that help you be creative.

"Plug-ins are more about finding efficient ways to work."

2. "Understand the value of your time."

Freelance game audio composer Chel Wong delivered an encouraging and informative presentation 'From Surviving to Thriving: How to Make Money as a Freelancer', which is relevant to anyone composing music for clients. The goal? Making a sustainable income from making music.

Helpful tips:

  • It takes time to write, mix and master. Chel shared a simple fee equation:
    Hours of labour x your minimum hourly rate = lowest rate
  • Having rates help composers to not burn out!
  • Make connections through networking rather than freelance sites like Fiverr and Upwork.
  • Just because someone is looking to hire for as cheap as possible doesn't mean they don't care about the quality of the music - they might just care about being cheap.
  • Don't be too hard on yourself if you find out you are undercharged.
  • Ask the client, "Why is music important to the game?"
  • Always have a contract. It protects both parties.
  • Give the potential client a rate that scares you. All they can do is say that is out of their budget and then negotiation begins.

Watch Chel's composer soft skills industry tips on YouTube.

3. Game Jams are a great opportunity for audio talent to get involved.

A Game Jam is like a hackathon. In a short period of time (often 48 hours), you make a game with small teams. Generally, they are in-person, lately, they are virtual as well.

You don't need to have heaps of experience. Panelist Giselle Rosman said "Game Jams are very much a creative experience. 'Have you learned a new trick? Have you learned how to get a sound into a game or how to record a sound?'"

Panelist Matt Schenkel added that usually a team is very happy to get audio talent - but that your contribution might not be needed until near the end.

He said, "Sometimes there is an 'audio room' and in the jam you might work on sound for a bunch of teams."

4. Indie game constraints can help you be more creative.

The Tasmanian indie game Where the Snow Settles, was the part-time labour of love for the developers Myriad Games Studios as well as freelance composer and sound designer Adam Scott-McGuiness.

Alisha Stone of Myriad explained considerations that indie game makers make:

  • Budget
  • Is there a (games) publisher?
  • Does the studio and creatives have much of a say in the game's direction?
  • Is it self-funded or is there funding from other sources?

Additionally, this game had no voice acting and Adam set his own constraint of no synths.

The game's theme is one of liminality and fear of change with a tone that is bittersweet and calm. The studio and Adam's shared vision of minimalism was key to the successful collaboration.

"I believe the best creativity comes from working against limitations. It forces us to find outcomes we wouldn't normally," said Adam.

5. Australian games culture: truths

The 'Taste of Reality' panel delved into the (home) truths about the local industry. During his career as an animator and now focused on music and sound, Mighty Kingdom's Morgan Read said he has seen a lot of change for the better. "It's become a much more inclusive industry. It's more open and there are a lot more stories being told," he said.

Panelist Brendan Keogh agreed, and noted that while overseas, it can be a very competitive and secretive industry, Australia is recognised for being open, friendly and collaborative.

Related: be brave. Meredith Hall spoke about the importance of "visibility in the industry" and needing to network so you can build professional connections in the Australian industry.

It's a small industry, so Rad reminded everyone, "Don't be rude."

6. "Ambient sound builds the imagination in your player's mind."

Game composer and sound designer Zander Hulme kicks off his 'Creating Ambience' masterclass by explaining his environmental design philosophy. "It's not just whacking in some background ambience. It's about making a living world that kind of helps you sell your game and helps the player to suspend their belief when they enter into your little world."

"Without ambience, a game world can feel kind of empty and wrong."

Well-designed ambience "builds the imagination in your player's's actually quite efficient," says Zander.

If you want to learn more about the technical aspects of ambient sound, make sure to watch the entire masterclass.

High Score is presented by APRA AMCOS, in partnership with the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria, as part of Melbourne International Games Week.