So you're as indie as it gets, making a game with a super tight budget. But you need music.
Here are your options:
Usually, this is your best option - a pro composer will ensure your game ends up with the soundtrack it deserves. This will make your game sell and earn more, so you can see this as an investment rather than an expense.
Don't underestimate the peace of mind of leaving your game in good hands. If you're like most game developers I know, you already have enough things to worry about!
When it comes to prices, a pro music composer can easily cost ~$500 upwards per track. But here's a secret: there's NO industry standard rate for game music. And because there's no industry standard, the price can vary wildly from composer to composer. So you should always ask at least a couple of composers before assuming you don't have the budget for one.
If their prices are too high for you, you can offer them a % of your game profits. They'll likely still ask for an upfront fee but a reduced one. Remember, your game will do better and earn you more with a good soundtrack. You're most likely to earn more from your game even if you give away a % of it to a composer.
If you have trouble finding a pro composer, ask me - even if we're not a good match, I'll point you to a trustable composer that will fit you.
But let's suppose you have a near-zero budget.
Less experienced composers are cheaper than pro composers. Now, a less experienced composer can potentially make an outstanding soundtrack for your game - many times, excellent composers simply haven't had the opportunity to show their talent.
But this is more of a gamble: what you save on money, you lose in the peace of mind and assurance that the composer can deliver. Also, inexperienced composers are less familiar with the crucial process of understanding your ideas and communicating theirs.
If the lower price of an inexperienced composer is still too much for your current situation, you can offer them a % of your game profits.
The cheapest alternative is using stock music, also called "Royalty Free" music, library music, or production music. This is premade music you can download from the many online music libraries.
Its main advantage is clear: It's cheap. In some cases even completely free.
Now on to the negative side.
Artistically speaking, the biggest drawback of using stock music is that your game soundtrack will be all over the place - that's bad. A tailor-made soundtrack has a certain consistency that gives personality to your game. Think of great soundtracks like those from "Ori and the Blind Forest" or "The Binding of Isaac": you could listen to any track of the game and tell it's from that game.
Conversely, with stock music, every track is from a different artist, none made with your game in mind - likely resulting in an incoherent collage of tracks. If a tailor-made soundtrack is the personality of your game, a bunch of stock music is like a multiple personality disorder.
There are a few other caveats to using stock music:
A dire financial reality can make stock music the only option. That's ok - it's still better than no music! The only thing I'd ask you is to talk to a few composers first; don't assume you can't afford them before asking them.
Even if you're an introvert and reaching out feels daunting, practically all the game composers I know are reachable and easy to talk to. When having this conversation, a good composer will likely ask you many questions before giving you a fair price. Music is an essential part of your game; it's worth going through this process!
If you don't know where to start looking for a composer, ask me, and I'll be happy to point you to a composer that's a good fit for you.
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