How to Set Your Game Audio Rates
Calculating your rates is as important a topic as any in the world of game audio freelancing.
That's why I'm appalled to see how many people have no idea how to do this.
I understand that, for most, working with games is not exclusively about money.
And yet being consistently underpaid is not sustainable and your business (and personal life) will suffer as a consequence.
Let's take a look at how to correctly calculate your rates so that you can charge what you're worth and build a career that has long-term potential.
P.S. There is a link at the end of this blog to my own personal rate calculator. Feel free to use it to help you do all the math quickly and easily!
The simple math of making money with your game audio services
You Know You Need to Make Money, But How Much?
The simplest way to figure out how much you need to charge for your time/work is to start subtracting from the year all the time that you don't work. One year is: 365 Days Subtract weekends and that's: 260 workdays
That's our starting point. Let's go!
1 | Holidays
If you're like me, you don't live to work and like to take vacations. Subtract four weeks of vacation and you have: 240 workdays
Need those sweet, sweet vacations
2 | Public Holidays
Every country has public holidays and most of us enjoy taking these days off to see family and friends. Subtract 10(ish) public holidays and you're left with: 230 workdays
3 | Sick Days
Unless your immune system's level is over 9000, you probably get sick. Subtract ten (hopefully not but who knows) sick days and you get: 220 workdays
What's worse than being sick? Knowing you can't afford to be sick because you didn't budget correctly!
As you can see, we've already shaved two months off of the calendar year. If you're a freelancer, paid vacation & paid sick days don't exist unless you factor them into your rate calculations! Following this logic, we need to earn in ten months what we actually want to have for the entire year. But we're not done yet....
Businesses Don't Run Themselves
If you run your own business, that means you have a huge list of tasks that no one is directly paying you for but that nonetheless need to get done. We're talking bookkeeping, answering email, invoicing, customer acquisition, etc...
I personally expect those tasks to take up at least 25% of my time. That suddenly leaves you with only 165 workdays!
165 workdays... only 7.5 months of actual "someone is paying me for what I'm doing right now" work.
Totally agree with her on this one
And that's a bare minimum in my book. That doesn't even include things like coaching, courses, or any other activities you might pursue to improve your skills and increase the value of your services. If you want to earn something like $30k a year, you need to be charging a minimum of $22.5/hr for your time. If you weren't considering these calculations, you might think $15/hr is totally fine. IT'S NOT! But wait, there's more...
Having a Business Costs Money
You're a business. You have expenses! 1 | Overhead
You probably pay for things like your website, an office or studio space, maybe a tax consultant because ew taxes...
Even if you're a lean, mean, business machine and work from home, $100/month could easily be flying out of your pocket for the various software and services that keep your business running. If you're like me, it's waaayy more than that. $100/month on top of that $30k you want to take home means: $31,200
2 | Your Gear
And what about your gear? Things break and need servicing. And, of course, you'd like to slowly improve your services with new tools. Add another $100/month minimum for taking care of and upgrading your setup (probably not enough but it's easy to calculate). Now you're at $32,400
That new plugin... Can't live with it, can't live without it
3 | Events/Marketing
Do you like events? I like events. They're a great place to meet new people, find potential clients, and stay up-to-date on the industry. But they can be expensive. If you go to just two that aren't amazingly cheap and located in your hometown, that can easily be $1000/year.
Now we're at $33,400 4 | Taxman This is hard to calculate for an international audience but, again, let's be suuuper generous and assume only 10% of what you earn goes to the government. That's something like $37,000 you need for the year.
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Your Bottom Line
Bounce back to our hourly calculation and suddenly you can't dip below $28/hr without hurting your bottom line. Since I've been very generous several steps of the way and probably forget something as well, I'd guess more like $30-$35/hr is a must.
With that, you can now estimate how long it takes you to finish that one minute of music or sound effect and go from there.
Don't forget, that's one finished minute of music/sound effect. That includes being introduced to the project, onboarded in the team, meetings, revisions and edits based on developer feedback, testing the gameplay, etc... With all those other project-related tasks in mind, I feel lucky to be done with just one sound effect in two hours (of total project work) or one min of music in two days. As you can see, if I charge less than $60/sound or $480/min of music, there goes my $30k a year.
If we're considering the USA as our standard for the salary calculation, $30k is not a lot of money, especially if you have a family, want to save for the future, etc...
“You must gain control over your money or the lack of it will forever control you.”
If you're like me, you love working in the game industry but you also love not being constantly broke and having what feels like no control over your financial situation.
Getting paid what you are worth (or at least what you need to get by) starts with understanding just how much you really need to charge to make your desired wage.
Don't shoot yourself in the foot by not considering the points discussed in this post when calculating your rates!
If you want a helpful tool to make this process easier, you're in luck! Here is my own personal rate calculator based on the points discussed in this post:
Simply make your own copy of this simple spreadsheet and find out exactly what you need to charge for your game audio services!
P.S. After you figure out what to charge for your work, find out How to Charge Customers for your Game Audio Work in this related post.
I created The Game Audio Pro with the goal of helping others understand the fundamental business skills that are often the difference between success and failure for freelancers.
If you're ready to take your game audio career to the next level, download my guide to The Most Important Mindset for Game Audio Success.