How to Charge for Your Sound Design Work
I simply must tell you about my favorite sport in the entire world.
It's got everything: Athleticism, thoughtfulness, planning, and it takes two lifetimes of study to master.
Allow me to introduce you to Chess Boxing.
Chess Boxing is exactly what it sounds like. It's boxing, mixed with chess. In between rounds of full-contact boxing, contestants have to stop, a chess board is brought out, and they need to play chess against one another. After a timer goes off, they get right back to punching the hell out of each other.
Even though this is probably the greatest sport ever created, I can't imagine what it's like to actually chessbox. Going from fighting, to chess, and back again would be endlessly confusing.
And speaking of endless confusion, pricing for our sound design work can feel just as chaotic and bewildering as being in a chess boxing match. Whether it be knowing what amount to charge, or even how we should get paid in the first place, all of this can get overwhelming.
So, in this article, we're going to dive into the various ways to charge for your work, and what the best options are for your situation. Note that all of this advice applies for freelancers, and not so much for anyone who is working as a full-time employee for a studio.
Here's what we're going to be covering today:
Part 1: The many ways to charge for your work
Part 2: My personal favorite method
Part 3: When to use alternate types
There are many many different ways to charge for our sound design work
Whether it be charging per sound effect, per hour of work, charging per day, per month, per quarter, a flat fee on a per-project basis, profit sharing, or any number of other ways to get paid for our work.
While there's no "best" way that works in every single situation, I do have a pretty strong preference for many of the games and projects you'll work on.
And that's to use a flat fee
This is basically one pre-determined price for the whole project.
So, maybe you'd be paid $1000 for an entire project. You'd discuss that with the developer up front, and get paid on a timeline that you both agree on. That could be 50% up front, and then 50% when you've finished your work, or it could be $250 a month for 4 months, or however you'd like to break it up.
This gives your client a sense of security
They know exactly how much they'll pay you for your work, which can get you paid a *lot* more than if you use a per-rate.
Think of it this way: if a client sees that your rate is $50 a sound, they might freak out and think "Oh god, what if I need 400000 sounds?! That's going to be fifty-four billion dollars!!" They effectively get "blank check syndrome" where they feel completely out of control of how much money they'll be giving you.
But, if they see your rate up front, they're far more likely to accept. Even if your flat rate equals out to more than what your per-sound rate would have been, they're far more likely to just say "yes." Using flat fees, I consistently see clients accepting higher rates both with myself, and with my students in my game industry professional course.
That sense of security helps you get paid fairly for your work much easier than per-rates typically allow for.
You can also pair flat fees with a profit share
While giant AAA companies don't often give freelancers profit share deals, indie game developers are far more open to them.
While some projects (especially at the beginning of your career) may only be able to pay you in profit shares, I like to blend the two - getting paid a flat fee for my work on a project, as well as getting a profit share after the game releases.
"But Akash you voluptuous puff of cacao-infused whipped cream floating decadently atop an ice cold mocha" you ask "What if the client keeps asking for more and more work? Wouldn't a flat fee keep me underpaid?!
This is indeed a danger of the flat fee, which is why I recommend you put a clear end date on your contracts. Or, barring that, an amount of work that, once you're done doing it, you'll start another round of work for another flat fee.
Whatever method you use, you want there to be some sort of clear agreed-upon end to your work, so that your work doesn't keep piling on without any extra payment.
But there will be times where your clients insist on paying you some other way
And that's fine! If a client prefers (and already has a system set up) for paying hourly, daily, or any other method and insists on using it, then you can go with that. While I prefer flat fees, I will still switch my method of payment up depending on the client from time to time.
So, let's cover what we talked about today:
1. There are a lot of different ways to charge for our work - particularly when it comes to freelance work
2. There is no one "right" way for every single situation, and you'll choose yours based on what works best for your client
3. Personally, I prefer flat fees - they give the client a sense of certainty, which makes it easier for them to pay us a fair rate
4. If you're using a flat fee, be sure to put some limit on your work, whether that be a number of assets, an amount of time, or something else so your work doesn't balloon out of control
5. I, one day, will become the world's greatest chess boxing champion
So, while being in a chess boxing match would be the most confusing thing ever
Choosing which way to charge is hopefully a little less confusing to you now. When in doubt, use a flat fee. You'll find clients feel far better and safer with them.
And if you'd like to keep learning more about pricing
Then I have a newsletter set up for you. You'll gain access to two free courses immediately upon signing up, as well as a free e-book that will help you when it comes to charging clients for your work.