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Surviving The Overflow
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Surviving The Overflow

March 3, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 2 Next

[Originally printed in Game Developer magazine's August 2008 issue, this article tackles the tough topic on what to do when you have too many commitments and not enough time to handle them.] 

The guiding philosophy of all freelance audio work -- whether it's sound design, music, or voice work -- can be summed up with the simple mantra, "Always say yes."

Unfortunately, saying "yes" to everything sometimes means finding oneself with more work than a single person can actually tackle by all given deadlines. As everyone in the game industry knows, schedules slip, milestones push out, and deadlines have a way of floating around the calendar, anchorless, creating all manner of scheduling headaches.

Few things in the game industry are more stressful than juggling multiple creative projects simultaneously. Unfortunately for freelancers, it's an all too common occurrence and a risk that comes from successful networking. This flood of overlapping work can seem insurmountable at times.

Thankfully, two different lifejackets exist to help content creators stay afloat and survive the overflow.

Ghost of a Chance

Ghostwriting has had nearly as long a history as art itself. Even Mozart is known to have been a ghostwriter for Austrian nobility. These days, ghostwriting is a staple of freelance creative work for games, television, and film. However, because secrecy is the cornerstone of the gig, it's difficult to find information on the subject.

After some networking of my own, I found six different contractors -- those who have been ghostwriters and those who have hired ghostwriters -- willing to speak to me anonymously in order to give me a sense of the ins and outs of the work.

I started by asking about compensation. As with all freelance contractor work, fees are negotiable. Some ghostwriters charge a typical "per minute of music" fee. Others can charge by the day, week, or even month. Another approach is to hire a ghostwriter for a percentage of the total creative fee, the percentage being proportional to the amount of work the ghostwriter is doing for the project.

Ghostwriting is a gig born from stress and, as such, some ghostwriters recognize this and can take it as a means to negotiate higher fees. Taking too great an advantage of the situation, however, will likely destroy all hope at a second ghostwriting opportunity.

Giving people credit for their ghostwriting is a tricky situation. As one contractor stated, "Contracts generally grant complete ownership and control of the music to the publisher, yet saddle all of the liability on the contractor. In order to make the liability as binding as possible, there is usually legal language asking the contractor to warrant that all of the content delivered has been created entirely by the contract signatory."

Some contractors will offer anything from "additional music/sound design by" down to a simple "special thanks" in the credits.

Others aren't so generous. Some contractors hire ghostwriters as a matter of survival and regard crediting their ghostwriters as a potential threat to their professional personas. Even in these situations, permission to list the game on resumes, demos, or web sites may be given in lieu of actual in-game credit.

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