August 21st at 5:54pm
How Much do Video Game Music Composers and Sound Designers Make?
Game Audio Industry Survey 2016
August 18, 2016
The Game Audio Industry Survey tracks compensation, working conditions, contact terms and production information for the video game music and sound industry. Originally designed to provide a more detailed look into the industry than Gamasutra’s annual salary survey, the Game Audio Industry Survey has grown into the most comprehensive analysis of game audio business and production issues. The goals of the survey are to collect information which:
- Reflects both the freelancer and employee aspects of our industry
- Covers the range of games produced, from AAA to Indy.
- Is relevant to the industry
The 2016 survey ran from May 15 to June 30, 2016 and was promoted via social media and other game or music industry web sites. We received 587 responses. In addition to compensation numbers, we wanted to see what some of the business terms and creative issues were current in game music and sound design. This year, we provided greater breakdown for professional status, with 4% reporting they were “hobbyist or aspirational.” These results have been excluded from the calculation of median and mean compensation, except where as noted.
New for 2016 are questions covering
- Income Breakdown by Gender
- Total Compensation for Freelancers
- Correlation with experience/years in the industry
- Use of Union musicians and voice actors
A Difficult to Define Industry:
Because the game industry (and therefor game audio) is such a wide and diverse business, we broke things down into three main categories:
- Large Budget Games. These are your typical console or well-funded PC titles. These games are available at retail, and also may be downloadable. Think “HALO”
- Professionally produced casual games. These are smaller scale; smaller budget games than the “AAA” large budget games, but nonetheless are professionally developed, produced and marketed. Think “Plants vs Zombies”
- Indie games. These are smaller scale games, which are often self-financed or financed through non-traditional means such as kickstarter.
Of course it is impossible to draw a sharp line between the three categories outlined above. Nevertheless, we believe it serves as a useful distinction so that we’re not comparing the compensation from a blockbuster like Call of Duty with that of a part-time, 2-person dev company making an iPhone game in their basement.
Game Audio is a highly diverse field, and as a result has a lot of variation in compensation. Although it is convenient to talk about “average” game audio compensation (and we will report that as the “mean”), the median and compensation distribution may be more meaningful, which we present in graphic histogram form. Note that all compensation numbers are guaranteed compensation, do not include any kind of bonuses, royalties, stock awards, etc, which are reported on separately.
In order to maximize participation in other areas of the survey, the question on compensation, which some are hesitant to report in a survey, was optional. 106 of the 587 respondents (18%) declined to answer the question on compensation.
To calculate compensation, we broke respondents into three categories:
- Salaried Employees companies
- Salaried employees who do freelance work on the side
We further broke freelancer Work for Hire projects into:
- Large-budget Game Work for Hire
- Casual/Indie Work for Hire
Respondents who listed compensation numbers of 0 were filtered out of all compensation charts, as were entries we determined to be obviously anomalous. For compensation questions, those who reported they were “hobbyists or aspirational” were also filtered out.
For salaried employees, we report the annual salary, not including bonuses or other compensation (health plan, retirement, stock purchase/options, etc.)
For freelance/contractors, in addition to total annual income from games, we asked respondents to give us what their compensation is on a per-project basis, not including any potential or realized bonuses/royalties, etc.
All compensation information is in U.S. Dollars. Note that not all numbers add to 100% due to rounding and because some apparently anomalous respondent data was filtered out.
 “Mean” is the average: the sum of all numbers divided by the number of entries. “Median” is the ‘middle number’. There are as many salaries higher than the median as there are lower. The mean can be skewed by a small number of very high or very low values.
Annual Income: Salaried Employees (non-freelancer):
Average (Mean) Yearly Salary: $71,838
Median Yearly Salary: $64,434
Average (Mean) Years in Industry: 8.6
Median Years in Industry: 10
Salaries again in 2016 have two main peaks, one at around 60,000, and one around 150,000. Higher salaries tended to be correlated with descriptions such as “management” or “Audio Director.”
Annual Income vs Experience for Salaried Employees
As expected, those working in the industry longer generally receive a higher total income, with the highest salaries (> $150,000) going to those with at least 8-12 years experience in the industry.
Salaried Employees with Freelance Income on the side
Almost 25% of Salaried employees reported earning additional freelance income on the side
- Average “On the side” income: $9,430
- Median “On the side” income: $4,309
Note that “On the side” income is NOT included in the graphs above
Annual Income: Freelancers:
- Average Yearly Salary: $42,117 (58,291 > 50%)
- Median Yearly Salary: $9000 (20,000 > 50%)
- Average Years in Industry: 7.25
- Median Years in Industry: 5
Freelancers reported a lower average and median annual income than salaried employees. However, the very highest salaries were obtained by freelancers.
Average annual income from a game audio freelancer was $42,117; $58,291 when excluding people who made more than half their income from non-audio activities (“day job”).
Annual Income vs Experience for Freelancers
As with salaried employees, freelancers working in the industry longer generally receive a higher total income. However the range of income varies much more than for salaried employees. The highest annual incomes were reported by freelancers.
Salaried Employees by Gender
The average and median salaries reported overall different by gender significantly. For salaried game audio professionals, average salaries for women were 73% that of mens’ salaries; the median was 69% that of mens’. It should be noted, however that the average and median number of years in the industry also differed. As noted earlier, there is a clear correlation between compensation and number of years in the industry. It should also be noted that women represented approximately 10% of those reporting; the smaller sampling of women’s salaries may cause less accurate results. However, those issues notwithstanding, these results prompted us to look into the data more deeply, which will be presented in a followup posting.
Salaries (Employees of Companies) for Game Audio by Gender
Compensation: Freelance “Per Project” fee
Per project fees varied tremendously, from a low of zero, to a high of over 250,000. Large budget games of course dominate at the higher end, with Indie games clustered toward the low end. However, there are significant number of Indie games (self-funded, kickstarter, etc.) with per project fees rivaling those of Professionally Produced small scale/casual games.
Freelance Per Project Fee (USD) by game type
Compensation: “Per Minute” rates for Composers:
62% of respondents who provided income information also provided their “most typical” per-minute rate for music. Many of the respondents said they did not charge or calculate on a ‘per minute’ basis, or declined to provide their rate.
As seen below, “per minute” music composition rates by freelancers varied with the scope of the game developed:
2/ Work and Environment
Game Audio professionals are evenly split between freelancers and employees
41% replied that they were pure freelancers. However, 16% of those who worked as employees (either at a game company or an audio production house) reported earning additional freelance income on the side.
¾ of game composers also do sound design
The chart below shows what percentage of people who compose also provide other services for games.
Integration & Programming by Composers