In this post, I’ll discuss how any freelancer can define their ideal client/project – and why it’s important.
A Common Misstep for New Composers
When you’re trying to establish yourself within an industry, it’s very tempting to take any opportunity that comes your way. Gaining experience can be critical to building out your early portfolio, and the bills don’t pay themselves! Having said all that, it’s important to keep a clear idea of the kinds of projects you’d like to work on and who you’d like to work with.
One of the best ways to do that is by developing a customer persona or avatar to help focus your efforts. I’ve heard both terms used, but I prefer persona so we’ll use that one for sake of this post.
A customer persona is a fictional description of your ideal client, which contains details about who that person is, what their concerns and needs are, and where they spend their time. The idea is to actually have this stuff written down to get it out of your head and clear away any other ideas that may be muddling up your thinking or your day-to-day actions.
Is Defining My Customer Persona REALLY necessary?
Plenty of folks get by without doing this step, but I can tell you from experience that completing this step leads to a more effective business on all levels. Conversely, not committing to a focused approach will create several problems and waste lots of time/energy.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re a new composer fresh out of school and you’re trying to land your first game audio job. It is likely (and encouraged) that you will start smaller in terms of project scope until you feel more comfortable working on larger projects, so the first title you work on will likely be an independent game. This is important to know and be mindful of! If you have aspirations to write for a large game publisher someday, that’s great – but it isn’t the 80s anymore and nobody lands a big title game for their first gig. With this in mind, you can make a more deliberate decision to pursue smaller projects to gain experience and credits or pursuing an internship with an existing composer or studio.
In terms of your taste or skills, you may have a strong desire to work on a fantasy-style game – or perhaps you’ve become very skilled at composing chiptune music. Do an honest assessment of your current skills and specialties, and play to your strengths:
- What instrument are you most proficient with?
- Do you play multiple instruments well?
- Which styles are you most comfortable with based on your previous experience?
Know the answers to these questions, and lean into these strengths. I’ve never really composed for a full orchestra before, I don’t have a strong desire to dive into that right now, and none of my primary instruments are found in a traditional orchestra. As a result, any time I spend reaching out to game developers or studios looking for an orchestral soundtrack will probably end up being a waste of time for me and the people I reach out.
In my recent interview with Darren Korb (Audio Director & Composer for Transistor and Bastion), Darren explains that the style and instrumentation for both soundtracks were based on what he felt he could execute well: guitar-centric music with traditional song structures and solid vocals. You can listen to the interview by clicking the link below:
By combining these pieces of information and elaborating even further, you start to produce a sharper picture of who you’d like to be working with and you can start to think about where to find them.
How to use a Target Persona to Focus your Job Search
At the end of the day, the life of an Audio Director at Blizzard Entertainment is very different than that of the indie game developer working on his/her 2nd game. They spend their time doing different things, spending that time in different places, and have contrasting needs in terms of what they’d be looking for in an game audio composer.
The Mists of Pandaria expansion for World of Warcraft added ~7.5 hours of new music to WoW, bringing the game total up to 45 hours of music. Angry Birds, on the other hand, has a small handful of very short, non-repeating tunes and a small library of sound effects. If you have an idea on where you can/want to fit in on that spectrum, you can save yourself a lot of time and energy in your efforts to win new gigs and create a compelling demo reel catered to your target audience.
AAA studios don’t look on Craigslist for new talent and they probably aren’t showing up at your next Game Jam, but you may find indie developers in both of those spaces. Indie devs may not require an audition process, but several larger game companies often do and you’ll have to be ready to create a listenable audition track in a timely fashion when the time comes.
If you’re being specific about who you’re going after, you can be extremely deliberate with how and where you spend your finite time in every area of your music business.
Using Personas to Avoid Bad Fits
Another under-leveraged benefit of knowing who your ideal clients are is knowing who your ideal clients are not. If your strengths lie in writing ambient electronic music, you probably shouldn’t compose new tracks for Candy Crush Saga. Could you spend a lot of time making one lighter, puzzle-game type track for your demo to land a gig and subsequently write a passable soundtrack? Sure, you might be able to do that – and I’m willing to bet that plenty of indie developers wouldn’t know any better. However, producing a subpar video game soundtrack that doesn’t resonate with you, the client, or the players won’t win you any repeat business or referrals from that development team.
Additionally, having lackluster game audio can greatly affect a game’s ability to succeed in the market, get the Greenlight on Steam, or get funded for a Kickstarter campaign. Players may not be able to articulate why they don’t like a game trailer – but they’ll know, and you don’t want your hard work to go into the endless sea of games that never saw the light of day. To make matters worse, having a bunch of unfinished games or a games from too many different genres will hurt your portfolio’s chance of resonating with your ideal client: your Target Persona.
Next Step: Complete the Customer Persona Worksheet
Don’t just think about this stuff – take action to crystalize your thoughts and get them out into the open. If you’d like a free resource to help you with this step, I’ve created a Customer Persona Worksheet for video game composers.
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