- Brian Schmidt, GameSoundCon
Game Audio Industry Survey 2019
Updated: Mar 11, 2020
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 2019 survey ran from May 30 to July 30, 2019 and was promoted via social media and other game or music industry web sites. We received 391 usable 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.
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 title. These games are available at retail, and also may be downloadable.
Professionally produced smaller games. These are smaller scale; smaller budget games than the “AAA” large budget games, but nonetheless are professionally developed, produced and marketed. These games are sometims called Mid-core or Casual-core games.
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.
Format of Survey Reporting
Salary by Geographic Region Freelancers By Gender
2/ Work and Environment
Entry level income/degrees
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.
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/Indy 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 most of the 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.
Annual Income: Salaried Employees:
Mean Yearly Salary: $80,837
Median Yearly Salary: $68,125
Mean Years in Industry: 8.9
 “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. Median is reported because the mean can be skewed by a small number of very high or very low values.
Salaries again in 2019 have two main peaks, one at around 60,000, and one around 125,000. Higher salaries tended to be correlated with descriptions such as “Management” or “Audio Director” and are more likely to be from US based employees.
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 10 years experience in the industry.
Salaried Employees: Salary by Geographic Region
Reporting only on salaried employees (no freelance income), there is a significant difference between both median and mean (average) salaries between the United States and the rest of the world. NOTE: salaries are not normalized for region-based cost of living. For example, 69% of US respondents live in California or Washington State and include the highest cost of living areas in the country (LA/Orange County & Seattle), which may skew numbers high for US.
Salaried Employees with Freelance Income on the side
Almost 25% of Salaried employees reported earning additional freelance income on the side. Of those who did, their reported freelance income was
Mean “On the side” income: $13,666
Median “On the side” income: $7,360
Note that “On the side” income is NOT included in the salary graphs above
Salaried Employees by Gender
The average and median salaries reported overall different by gender significantly. However, the average and median number of years in the industry also differed; as seen above, there is a clear correlation between compensation and number of years in the industry. It should also be noted that women represented approximately 12.6% of those reporting; the smaller sample size may cause less accurate results.
As in previous years, game audio is heavily male dominated. Men make up 17 in 20 of the industry. Breaking that down further, however, shows that Audio companies are much more likely to have non-male employees than game companies, with "only" 3 in 4 audio company salaried employees reporting as male. (note: no salaried employees taking the survey identified as other/non-binary)
Considering only salaried employees, greaking down gender makeup by region shows that that in the US, the gender imbalance is significantly worse than in UK or the EU (not counting UK). Better than 9 in 10 US employees overall reported they were male.
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 $63,548.
Mean Yearly Income: $63,548
Median Yearly Salary: $28,750
Mean Years in Industry: 9.5
Median Years in Industry: 5
Below, we break down mean and median income by game size/type (AAA, Mid-core, Indie)
Freelancer: Experience's impact on income
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.
In order to show more detail at the lower income ranges, the chart below has removed incomes above $200,000. It should be noted that the chart below is NOT illustrative of the entirety of the survey respondents. However, seeing the data while excluding a small number of extremely high earning freelancers is useful
Freelance Compensation/Per Project Fees
Per project fees varied tremendously, from a low of zero, to a high of over 300,000. 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.
Note that in some cases this may refer to music only, while for others it may represent a "full package" (music & sound design)
Freelance Compensation/Per Minute rates for Composers:
55% of responders who provided income information also provided their “most typical” per-minute rate for music. Many of the responders 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.
Additional Contract Terms
For all composers, additional compensation above and beyond any fees or salaries they receive are listed below.
Note that any game music may be registered withi the PRO, if the owner of the music (often the game developer or publisher) so desires.
Work for Hire for Freelance Composers
The majority of work i the game industry is "Work for Hire" where the end product is owned by the game developer or publisher. The smaller the game, the more likely it is for a composer to keep ownership of their music. For large budget games, virtually all freelance composition work is "Work for hire," fully owned by the game developer.
Note that if a composer is a salaried employee, any music they compose for their employer is also considered a "Work for Hire." Those numbers are not represented in the table above.
2/ Work and Environment:
Game Audio professionals are split between freelancers and employees
37% replied that they were pure freelancers, compared with 41% who were employees of either a game company or an audio production house. However, 18% of those who worked as employees (either at a game company or an audio production house) reported earning additional freelance income on the side.
Roles of salaried employees For employees of game companies, Sound Design and using Wwise/FMOD (or similar) are the most common job functions. Approximately one in three employees at game companies compose music. However, only 1.7 % of game company employees sole job is to compose music; 3.5% compose music and serve as “audio director” as their only roles.
Around 5% of game company employees reported performing dialogue.
Among employees of audio companies, sound design and integration using audio middleware such as Wwise/FMOD were the most common roles, as well as managing and implementing dialogue. Approximately 18% compose music, with 0% having music composition as their only role
Roles of freelancers
Among all freelancers, the most common role is composer, with close to 80% of respondents reporting that they compose music. Of the all composers, approximately 35% report music composition as their only job, or 28% of all freelancers.
More than 4 in 10 freelancers use audio middleware such as Wwise/FMOD, and more than 6 in 10 freelancers do sound design. Just over 20% of freelancers said their roles included dialogue management and implementation.
Audio Middleware usage
The use of 3rd party middleware for games is common, with large budget games more likely to use it than smaller budget games. Of significant note is that many large budget games use their own custom audio engine.
Other responses included SCREAM, Master Audio, Haxe, and SECTR
Almost 8 in 10 of respondents reported having a bachelor’s degree or higher, just under 1 in 5 reported having had some college or an associate’s degree; Slightly more than 1 in 5 reported one or more graduate degrees.
Comparing all respondents with all respondents, marginally more audio professionals have bachelors degrees (63.4% for salaried employees vs 58.8% for all respondents)
Among salaried employees who have a degree (2 year, 4 year or graduate degree) 3 in 4 have a music degree
Salaries and Education Levels of Recent Hires
We define “recent hire” as an employee with 2 or fewer years experience. Recent hire is an proxy for entry level employees
Recent Hire Salaries:
Mean Salary: $47,720
Median Salary: $42,500
Recent Hire Education
A large majority (93%) of recently hired employees in game audio have received a college degree, with the significant majority (81.5%) holding a degree in music or a music-related field. 3.5% of new employees reported having both a music and a computer or other technical degree.
Percentage of Income & “Part time” game audio workers
We also asked respondents what percentage of their annual income they make directly from working in the game industry vs traditional media or music production or other income sources. Of the respondents, 71% reported games as 90% or more of their income, with another 12% reporting it is at least half. 43% of respondents also reported additional income from audio for traditional media.
23% of respondents stated that 25% or more of their income is derived from a non-content audio-related business they own, while 9.6% stated that they derive 25% or more of their income from a non-audio related “day job.”
A bit on statistical validity
While this survey attempts to gather and analyze data from the industry in as neutral a fashion as possible, it is not a rigorous MIT-PhD-thesis level report! The 2019 Game Audio Survey, like any survey, has inherent limits and biases. These may include, but are not limited to:
The survey was publicized via social media and email networks and known audio groups and via some major music industry web sites. This biases results towards the ‘more connected’ composers and sound designers in the industry, which likely biases numbers a bit high
A small number of very anomalous looking responses were all or in part discarded. This may result in pre-conception bias.
A very small number of responses were not self-consistent. These were analyzed manually to determine intent. This may result in pre-conception bias.
In order to increase participation, survey questions directly related to compensation were optional.
Some number of participants may have misrepresented their data.
Thank you to the Game Audio Network Guild
For assisting in the survey.
Executive Director, GameSoundCon