Sound designer-for-hire Joe Brammall, gives you advice on what to be mindful of as a freelancer
After spending three years on the University of Surrey’s Creative Music Technology programme, I set up my freelance audio business in August 2011. It was the start of a journey that was both daunting and exciting in equal measure and whilst I’d learned a great deal of the creative skills that I’d need to succeed in my chosen field, I knew comparatively little about how to put those skills into practice and run a business on my own.
From the outset I made it a priority to build up a portfolio of published work. One of the great things about the games industry at the moment is that due to the huge amount of growth in mobile development over the last few years, there are a lot of opportunities for young freelancers like myself to get work under their belts – you just have to go out and find it.
I was fortunate enough to get my first break composing the music for a mobile title called Tongue Tracer, which was developed by Extra Mile Studios and produced by BBC Worldwide. I learned a lot from that first job, in terms of how to deal with workflow as part of a team and managing the inevitable tweaks and changes that would have to be done, all whilst making sure that I would be able to submit on time.
The main thing that I found really challenging at first was learning how to deal with the strict space limitations that come with mobile games. Throughout my education I’d always had full creative control over every piece of work and then all of a sudden I had to provide music that was 10 to 30 seconds in length but at the same wouldn’t make the player want to rip their own eyes out after five minutes of listening to it on a loop! Understanding how to deal with that issue is a skill that takes a lot of practice but it’s an essential part of writing music for games.
Having that first piece of published work was a great help as there is a big difference between showing a potential client a university portfolio and showing them a title that I’d actually worked on. I then made sure that I had proper online exposure through my own website and social media, so that it was easier for people to find and hear my work.
Working with small teams is fantastic, as each game is different to the next and it provides me with a wealth of creative challenges, such as Mayan jungle music, Japanese, electronic and heavy metal to name just a few. However, it didn’t take me long to realise that most small development teams can’t afford to have more than one person dealing with all of the audio in the game, so if I was going to be successful it was going to be necessary to branch out into areas other than music.
I can now offer sound design and voiceover solutions to clients and I constantly try and expand my skill set as ultimately that is going to open up more opportunities.
The most important thing I’ve learnt over the last 18 months or so is that communication with a client is absolutely key. It became clear to me fairly early on that working on games is different to other forms of entertainment in that the projects are very personal to their developers and that, for the most part, they have a clear idea of what they want their game to sound like.
Therefore it’s important to me that I really try and get to know the developer and their game and try and get as much information out of them as possible. However, at least musically speaking, there is almost always a language barrier involved as a lot of the people I’ve worked with understandably don’t know a great deal of music terminology. To try and get around this problem I like to constantly send ideas back and forth and usually get through several drafts of a piece of music before finalising= it. Incorporating this approach into my working method has really helped me provide better music and almost always speeds up the process at both ends.
I really love what I do, a sentiment I’m sure I share with most, if not all of those who work in games. It seems a long time since I started out in my career and I’m fortunate to have worked on a number of exciting projects thus far. I hope that these experiences will help me get towards my goal of a long‐term career in the industry and working with developers of all shapes and sizes.
To see other articles in our Audio Special series, visit our archive