Avatar Boogie: Acquiring Music For Indie Games

...the street cred of actually being able to ship a game outweighs the street cred of writing your own music.  Although on the street cred scale, they're both rated "mad street cred".  As they say on the streets.  Enter royalty-free music sites!

Why Buy?

A buddy, after frequently bearing witness to the fact I can’t dance , amusingly asked if Avatar Boogie’s dances were motion-captured from my own body.  If I had those dance capabilities, I would be battling evil breakdance gangs or hanging out with emaciated girls at the ballet studio instead of trying to stay awake long enough to finish this post.  Likewise, I wish I could take credit for Avatar Boogie’s awesome music, but I don’t quite have enough musical talent to crank out sixteen high-quality songs in different genres.

The 30 seconds of music in Barf and Beer took a few days to create, but even subtracting the time it took me to figure out the horrible, horrible CuBase software that Satan conjured into the box of my new MIDI keyboard, I decided that the street cred of actually being able to ship a game outweighs the street cred of writing your own music.  Although on the street cred scale, they’re both rated “mad street cred”.  As they say on the streets.  Enter royalty-free music sites!

Music Sites

I usually visit Shockwave Sound first.  They let you download a preview MP3 file for free, which is infinitely useful for testing.  The file has a sexy-but-unobtrusive female voice saying “Preview” over the top of it, precluding shenanigans.   The owner, Bjorn Lynne, is extremely helpful and responsive.  Because Bjorn was the main point of contact for the artists used in Avatar Boogie 1, I was able to get permission to name the dances after their respective songs, simplifying the UI.

If I can’t find what I want on Shockwave Sound, I visit MusicLoops for individual tracks.  If you’re looking for a collection of a specific music style, MusicLoops’ affiliate, PartnersInRhyme, sells these collections, which are a better deal than buying the tracks individually.  Conversely, if you are browsing collections on PartnersInRhyme and see a single track you want, you’ll probably find it for sale by its lonely self on MusicLoops.

Finally, I see a lot of Indie Games using music from Incompetech.   Unlike the above sites, much of their music is free!  And their name is funny.  Keep in mind though, that free music is more likely to show up in someone else’s crappy game and taint the awesomeness of your game.

[Update: March 2012 – I have used Kevin MacLeod’s music from Incompetech in Avatar Planking and plan to use it in Face Slapper.  Some of it is really good – you may not find a huge collection but I’ve had good luck finding quality, upbeat music in the piano and polka departments!]

It seems a bunch of other royalty-free music sites have popped up too, and I’m interested in hearing feedback on them.  The bottom line is there is tons of great music out there!

Licensing Terms

Royalty-Free doesn’t mean “free”, it means you pay money up front and can sell as many copies as you want of a product containing the music without paying any more “royalties”.   This is usually better than the model where you may be paying some company a check for $0.05 when you’re 70 years old because five more copies of your game sold that quarter.

That said, sometimes it’s not just pay-and-forget.  For example, some royalty-free license agreements state that once 5,000 people download your product, you pay an additional fee.

Summary: you must read the license agreements on the websites,  so you don’t miss an important detail.  For better or worse, the websites stuff their license agreements in your face so they’re easy to find.  Reading these sucks, but it only takes five minutes and is still better than spending years slogging over your music software.  And if you think they’re bad, try understanding royalty-free font agreements.  Yeah, welcome to the glamorous world of game development!  Where da ladies at?

About Danimal

Danimal is the resident code monkey, artisan, musical director, and PR shill for Highbrow Games. Enjoy his ironic mustache.