We were joined by an all-star panel during our last Wwise Interactive Music Symposium to discuss the business side of interactive audio, which is as important as the work itself. Offering expert perspective, the panel is moderated by Richard Ludlow, Audio Director and Owner of Hexany Audio. Have you built a network for success? Brian Schmidt, GameSoundCon Founder and Executive Director, Sarah Kovacs, Agent at Kraft-Engel Management, Jeff W. Rose, Attorney and Sebastian Wolff, CEO/Founder at Materia Collective LLC group together to answer this question.
Why an attorney should be a part of your composing journey
Why would a composer need an Attorney? On our panel, Attorney Jeff W. Rose has been helping composers for game audio navigate their business for most of his career. When asked when a composer should speak to a lawyer, Jeff answered “As soon as you see a contract. As soon as you start doing business.” It may feel intimidating but Jeff affirms that lawyers are there to help you set up your business, to understand what your goals are and to ensure that you are heading down the right path. Jeff emphasizes to not be afraid to speak to a lawyer right away - even if you’re not ready to hire one. It is business after all and the panel agrees that the best way to ensure success is to have a team of advisors on your side. A lawyer is a member of that team.
Outside of offering you council, your Attorney will help you set up a corporation if needed, assist you with contracts for employees, and support you in the acquisition of your content and licensing out that content to your customers. By having a dedicated advisor who understands your needs from a strategic perspective you then allow yourself the freedom to create great music and to have a successful business.
How an agent supports every cent
Sarah Kovacs presented how an agent can be of help to a game audio composer.. When choosing which deals to accept, agents are licensed to broker that deal for you. Your agent can make the deals, discuss the numbers, the rights, and the percentages for any residuals on your behalf. Though the details of the deals are important, it is only a small part of what the agent does for their client, Sarah explained. The majority of an agent's time is actually spent guiding decision making for continued success. How to choose the deals to accept when there are many on the table?
Sarah highlights three buckets of consideration she uses to help her clients when choosing a deal:
1. Is this good for your career?
2. Is this good for your bank account?
3. Is this good for your soul?
Sarah elaborates that depending on where you are in your career you’ll use one to all three of these considerations in order to choose a deal. An agent will support you in selecting what to say yes to. As a composer, you are investing in your own career, and the agent can work with you strategically to choose where to best place your limited resources.
Sarah further discusses the details of how the contracts are negotiated and how the agent’s job is to ensure that the composer can maintain their music rights within the deal. On the discussion of rights, contract negotiations are a part of what your rights will be on the project. In the discussion, she mentions an important note for budding composers: it doesn’t cost a company anything to allow the composer the rights to public performance income. There are no cookie cutter formats to any deal, so consider having an agent in your corner to help negotiate through it.
How does a Work-For-Hire Agreement impact your rights?
A work-for-hire agreement is the contractual equivalent to ‘I am doing this on behalf of someone else’ and this gives ownership of what you’ve created to the person or company who hired you. If you are an employee of a company, everything that you do is automatically work-for-hire. The copyright law has to do with who owns the work you created under the specific agreement.
In a work-for-hire situation, the details are written in the agreement. There are a few tiers to this law - and the panel agrees that it’s prudent to look at these contracts with a lawyer if you can. The actual agreement is important for publishers because they need this definitive answer as to who owns it as they go out to exploit that work.
What can a record label or music publisher do for a composer?
Now-a-days it’s easy to publish, distribute and manage all your rights yourself. However, as an entrepreneur you only have so much time in a day to dedicate yourself to all aspects of your business. Working with a publisher removes that task as they manage this part of your business with full dedication and expertise. Though it is a seemingly small part of your business, this is a publisher's entire business.
A publisher will take care of the music rights administration, music distribution, print physical media. They approach it as a team member - helping you take advantage of opportunities. There are hundreds of avenues for video game composers to get royalties and residuals. It is your legacy. There is the potential for an entire lifetime of royalties that you could receive.
How has copyright changed over the years?
Copyright has been surprisingly unchanged, states Brian Schmidt. When Brian started his career, everything was work-for-hire as everyone was an employee in the 80s. Freelancing wasn’t yet a thing. The way people work in the industry has greatly evolved, but copyright laws have not.
What surprises composers who work outside the video game industry is that in the normal course of someone buying and playing a video game, there is no “performance” occurring from a legal perspective and therefore no performing rights payments are accrued. So they are surprised to not receive PRO’s (Performing Rights Organization) income from their game music.
Video game industry lawyers often don’t know what PRO’s are. From Brian’s experience, the hiring company would rather keep these out of the contracts as including a PRO clause and educating the legal team writing the contracts would be far more complex. Jeffrey Rose mentioned that he has seen some movement in this area from game developers he has negotiated with, however.
How are Composers compensated for Soundtrack sales?
Deals vary and revenue from game soundtrack sales can be divided in many ways. The amount of compensation is truly based upon the individual deal. There isn’t an industry standard - the music world is filled with edge cases and exceptions. Sarah explains percentages based on her experience, but none of these are standard. A composer can receive anywhere from 8-9% as an artist, and 3-4% as a producer.
What we are seeing is that there is no standard deal. Each client will have different needs and concerns. As your career evolves, the way in which you can leverage your work will also evolve, and having a team of experienced advisors will certainly be useful in many ways. Watch the full panel discussion to learn more about how you can have a network of professionals in your corner and how they can support your career growth and opportunities.