Curtains Clauses (or “every little character counts in a videogame contract”)
This morning I signed a contract.
If you get very close to the speakers, you can hear me cheering in the background.
Why am I so happy?
- It is a video game audio contact! (My inner child rejoices)
- … an Indie video game! (Experimentation, here we come!)
- It is my first time “going solo” #entireaudiodept #noexcuses #responsibilities #growingchild
- It took more than two months to sign (WHAT?!)
Yeah. Two months.
Actually, we started talking in November but we spent all December and January refining all sorts of different clauses.
Since it was a large volume of work, both sound design and music, I wanted to give it my full attention and avoided other gigs… for two months.
Don’t get me wrong, these people are amazing and I’m eager to put my hands on the keyboard and start to “penguin play” something!
The thing is… as trivial as it could be: videoGAME is not just a “game”, just like a contrACT is not just some sort of “act”.
There’s a team involved: lawyers, deliveries, deadlines, meetings and of course money and, on top of the cake, there is non-linearity. It’s not a fixed video. It’s interactive, every SFX and (almost) each instrument in a piece of music is a separate element, which is mixed on the fly.
If you’re familiar (or getting familiar by reading) with this workflow, you can easily understand how important it is to be precise about what they need and can ask from you.
In this blog, I will share my experience on workflow related clauses, which I think could save many composers a lot of time on their next AAA videogame contract (although, this isn’t legal advice – as I recommend you get that from a professional).
My Experience with Video Game Audio Clauses
Everything countable needs a number, full stop.
- Price: That was easy. I find that reaching an economic agreement early on is very important to understand the overall project and to schedule my time accordingly.
- Number of SFXs: I like to work in packs. I set a 20-50-100 increment for each SFX pack.
- Number of tracks: The client will usually give me a track list.
- Total minutes of music: With the client, we decide the maximum total amount of music and I use my experience to estimate how much is needed for each track.
- Number of Re-takes: It’s difficult to get it in one-take, so I set a total number of re-takes. Starting with 2x or 3x times the total is usually a nice rule of thumb.
The best description I can give of a re-take is “some extent of modifications” on a previous delivery, which the client is in charge to accept or refuse your proposal. This is different from the revision phase (see next section).
I’ve always felt the client should not be afraid of asking for re-takes, as they are paying and hopefully paying the right amount of cash. I will be happy to get my hands back on my Grammy award “snow footsteps” SFX (it’s not my personal project).
If you think “each delivery counts as a re-take”, I’m sure no one will accept this, unless you set a humongous number of attempts.
The reason is easy, because of non-linearity a piece of music can be made-up by dozens of different tracks and you can have a feedback on each one of those, and before you can say “Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz”… you’re out of re-takes.
At the same time, I’ve found that clients can drain out your joie de vivre if you don’t set boundaries. I always ask myself ‘if’ or ‘how much does that count’ before signing.
- If I send multiple versions of a track/SFX to speed up client’s decisions/feedback (this happens mostly at the beginning)?
- If I send separate stems of a track for Vertical Layering?
- If I send another version of the piece which has [insert amount of seconds] or more extra seconds?
- If I arrange the piece by adding [insert number] or more instruments?
- If I move the sync of elements in a SFX?
- If I change the samples in a SFX? (ex. a different explosion)
- Is Revision included in the amount of re-takes? (I strongly suggest no on this… see below)
3. Approval and Revision
During re-takes, I always accept each and every client’s suggestion. Even if I’m sure the sound design makes Diego Stocco envious and the melodies leaves Jeremy Soule in awe.
Client pays, client gets.
But when my efforts are approved, music could still change!
After I’ve delivered all of the assets, the developers will go through all the material with the big picture of my work before their eyes ears. It is normal that something will change again.
We have to deal with it.
But, differently from re-takes, it’s not all in the hands of the client. I’ve followed descriptions and briefings and even if they will ask for changes, those changes will be cosmetic and minimal. Since revision is separate from re-takes, I would suggest you make sure to write down that you agree to make those “cosmetic” changes but they can’t ask to change the full music.
Don’t get me wrong, diplomacy is always key here. They might have some other “re-take” attempts left, in which case I would suggest to comply, but sometimes they might ask to “revise” a piece of music from emotive to epic. Nope. Nope, nope and triple nope. Boundaries.
And here’s a little list of things to pay attention to in this phase.
- How many days before their final feedback.
- How many days you have to revise the material.
- The extent of those revision.
All departments are working in parallel. This means they will surely ask scattered deliveries.
Since I know I can slip into the lazy side of the force, I always push myself and ask for a feedback call / email / skype (written is better, if you like to chat ask for a written recap) every 1-2 or maximum 3 days, depending on how much work it is and how many projects I am working on and, of course, the final deadline.
This ensures that I’m on track, but at the same time pushes them to give me constant feedback and avoid drifting away from their vision of the game.
And now, a list of suggestions:
- Scattered deadlines, final deadlines.
- Feedback from client (if they don’t give feedback after X days, consider the take approved).
- Delivery system (Aspera, 5th Kind, FTP, Dropbox, WeTransfer).
6. NDA (non-disclosure agreement, or “keep your mouth shut”)
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. People sharing disclosed material. I watched lawyers’ pens glitter in the dark near the justice palace gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to eat.” – Roy Batty (sort of)
An NDA document is a “no-no” list of things. It mainly focuses on the use of material classified as confidential.
And believe me, they are very serious about it. It surely sounds fun to share something with friends, but don’t.
I follow every and each word in the NDA document and stick to it as if my life depends on it, because the contract and potentially my career really does.
“What happens in Bangkok, stays in Bangkok.” – Queen Elizabeth II (sort of)
My contract surely took a lot to write and I really hope yours doesn’t. It’s better for both parties to spend a little more on definitions rather than argue about it after you have signed.
And now, back to work…tomorrow I have my first delivery!
Disclaimer: This article is not, and shouldn’t be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding a contract, we suggest you contact a professional.
If you would like to learn more about selling your music as a business, why not check out our premium course, Music for the Media?