• Daryl Barnes
  • Jun 22, 2020

Cold Emailing For Freelance Game Composers

If you’re running any kind of B2B business, cold contact is a necessary evil. But, as Chris Do (one of my favorite leaders in creative entrepreneurship) said, “Cold calling/emailing is intrusive, out-dated, and ineffective.”

Does that mean cold contact is dead for game composers? Let’s dive in and talk about it.

First, let’s define “cold contact” (or cold emailing, cold calling, cold DM-ing, etc) as the act of sending an unsolicited message to someone who doesn’t know you, and offering your services to them. That means we’re excluding instances where they’re expecting to hear from you (for example, if a game dev publicly puts out a call for composers to submit their portfolios).

Some Statistics

When I was new to game audio, I would cold email/cold DM dozens upon dozens of indie game devs every day, with unsolicited demo reels, asking the age old question: “Do you need a composer?”

I took some stats and found that only 3% of cold-contacted leads actively continued a conversation with me. And of that 3%, only 35% eventually converted into actual clients - in other words, 1.05% of cold-contacted leads will convert to a client. These numbers have stayed pretty consistent across different email structures, writing styles, the quality and content of my portfolio, etc.

This means that I’d need to send out 96 cold emails to get one client. Yikes!

Assuming it takes 20 minutes to find a potential client, get their contact info, put together a demo reel for them, and write a cold email, you’re looking at up to 32 hours of work just to sign on one client. Big yikes!!

Why Cold Contact Doesn't Work

It boils down to trust.

Cold contact doesn’t work because you haven’t established any trust with the developer.

I very recently started working on an indie game of my own. And in this short time, I’ve already gotten a handful of emails and DMs asking if I need a composer. Out of all those inquiries, only one said anything specific about my game (noting that it’s an anime game). Most were generic, impersonal template messages. Some of them made incorrect assumptions about what kind of game I’m making. One of them got the name of the game completely wrong!

Game devs see these as red flags signaling that you didn’t put in the time to research their game. And if they can’t trust you to do that, how can they trust you to compose their soundtrack?

Also, consider this: Reviewing a demo reel is a task that requires concentration, time, and energy. Double that when it’s unsolicited. What do we do with tasks that are too daunting or annoying to take care of in the immediate? Save it for later. And what do we do with things that we save for later?

we forget about them lololol ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

How To Make Cold Contacting Work

If you find a dev that you’d like to work with, don’t send them a DM with a demo reel link, asking to score their game. This is intrusive, impersonal, and it often makes the dev feel like you’re mostly interested in an opportunity for yourself, not an opportunity to help them out.

Here are some tips for “warming up” a lead:

  1. Set the stage for meaningful conversations.
    At the beginning, briefly introduce yourself - something quick and simple, like "Hey! I'm Daryl and I'm a composer." Then, tell them something you like about their game/screenshots/concept art/etc. Be nice and be specific, but be honest and genuine. Creatives can tell when you're trying to kiss ass, and that's a bad first impression that you don't want to make.
  2. Ask them something about their work.
    People generally like to talk about themselves. There's nothing wrong with this - it's human nature. Ask a dev how long they've been working on their game, or what inspired them to make it. Tell them that you'd love to learn more about their project - maybe a character's design stands out to you, and you want to know more about them. Maybe a piece of concept art depicting the game world is interesting to you, and you want to know more about the lore. Keep it generally positive, and avoid "grilling" questions like "What do you feel is your biggest game dev failure thus far?" (Yes, I've heard someone ask a dev that in real life lol!)
  3. Offer something of value.
    Give your new friend something valuable - something that would specifically help them with their current challenges. There are many ways to do this; some like to offer one free custom music track. Some like to share articles or blog posts they've written that are relevant to their prospective client. There's room for creativity here, so find a way to help your prospect - for free.

Notice how “drop a link to your website/portfolio/demo reel” isn’t listed here? If you’re asked about it, definitely link it - but your portfolio shouldn’t be what’s driving the conversation.

“Okay Daryl, this is nice and all,” I hear you say, “But how does that lead to me getting more paid composing work?”

The thing is, finding clients is a slow-burning process. By building more positive relationships and giving value to the indie dev community, you’re setting the stage for new clients to come to you.

While many leads won’t always convert into full-fledged clients (at least at first), they can and do become advocates for your services. They will eagerly recommend you to their dev friends and colleagues. They will listen to your demo reels with appreciation, and share your music with everyone they know.

Because creating and sharing value is ultimately what this whole industry should be about.

About The Author

Daryl Barnes makes custom game audio that tells a story. An advocate for constant learning, they are passionate about sharing their knowledge with game developers and composers alike.

When they aren't crafting kickass audio or mentoring newcomers to the industry, they indulge in making an edgy RPG about magical girls. Feel free to reach out if you want to chat about game audio!