5/5 Small Business Interview: Do Things Better, Not Cheaper
At Hiveage, we’re continually surprised at how diverse our client base is, and Marius Masalar is a perfect example of that! A born musician, Marius is that rare freelancer who has managed to make his passion his career. A very successful musician, he has composed the music for games such as Star Command, and most notably, Plague Inc., the 5th most downloaded iPhone game of 2013 (over 25 million downloads).
Want to know how he took what he loved and made it his livelihood? Read on!
What is your first music related memory? When did you realize that you wanted to be a composer?
I’m told that I had an ear for music even as a child, and while I don’t know what my very first musical memory was, I recall very clearly the one that led to my career.
I was raised with video games in my life, but it wasn’t until The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that the significance and potential staying power of a game’s music hit me. The ocarina tunes were so expertly crafted, not only musically but also as contributions to the gameplay…
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One day, it occurred to me that someone had written those tunes, that it was someone’s job to write music that would make a game more immersive, more involving, and more memorable, and as soon as I made that connection I realized that I wanted to be that person when I grew up!
Out of all the niches you could have gone into as a composer, why game music? What is it about the medium that draws you to it?
Game music has the unique characteristic of being non-linear in an other- wise linear medium. Concert music is linear: it’s always performed beginning to end in the same fashion. Film music is linear: the film plays the same no matter how many times you watch it, and the music always hits the emotional beats in exactly the same way.
In a sense, the music itself is part of the world building.
Because games are interactive, no playthrough is the same as another—each person experiences a game’s narrative at their own pace, forging their own unique path within the confines of that world and its storytelling.
For the composer, this means that the challenge is more nuanced; instead of knowing exactly what will be on screen at any given moment, we are left with a broader set of parameters and tasked with making sure that no matter what a player does within that environment, the music will support them, follow them, and enrich their experience.
In a sense, the music itself is part of the world building. It takes on a life of its own and becomes alive, ambitious, engaging. More than sonic wallpaper. In the most obvious cases, it becomes almost a character unto itself.
But even where it stays out of the way, a subtle game score will adapt and change to follow the player’s actions—what we call interactive music—and this manner of breaking out of the strict confines of traditional structure makes game music the most exciting creative endeavour I know of!
What are some of the challenges you face as a small business that offers a very unique selection of services (sound design, as well as lessons, for example)?
Both for myself and for my clients, it’s better to focus on value than time.
As with any creative freelancing, the biggest challenge is often finding a good way to price your work. The hourly rate model feels mismatched because as you grow and learn to work faster, you end up charging for fewer and fewer hours and have to raise your prices.
What I’ve found is that, both for myself and for my clients, it’s better to focus on value than time. How much is a minute of my music worth? It’s not the client’s problem to know how long it takes me, they just need great music!
These days most of my negotiations are approached from the perspective espoused by Mike McDerment in his terrific book Breaking the Time Barrier. I consider it a must-read for creative freelancers, as it explains how and why to shift the focus from how much I think my time is worth to how much my product is worth to my clients. It’s a much healthier and much more sustainable system.
In other words, the biggest challenge isn’t balancing a diverse portfolio of services, it’s figuring out how to make it as easy as possible for clients to evaluate and understand what I can contribute to their projects and how much those contributions are worth.
What advice would you give an aspiring young composer who wants to begin marketing his or her musical skills?
The answer is in the question here—it’s all about marketing!
Sure, it requires skill and dedication and patience and curiosity… but those aspects only matter if you have an audience to appreciate them. Building that audience is a tremendous ongoing challenge, and one for which I have not discovered any shortcuts.
A website is a must, as is a diverse portfolio that’s easy to access and listen to from any device.
Don’t compete on price, compete on quality.
To every young composer who’s ever asked me this question, I give a similar answer: a game composer needs to wear many hats at once; we have to know a ton about music in all genres, we need to know some programming and game theory to understand implementation, we need to know some psychology to be able to provoke the right reactions through our music, we need to be very tech savvy to wield all the tools at our disposal, and we need to be endlessly willing to learn and improve.
Perhaps most importantly: there will always be someone willing to do it cheaper. Always. So instead of focusing on doing things cheaper than them, focus on doing things better. Don’t compete on price, compete on quality, which means not only quality of music but also of service.
You’ll get better clients and forge better working relationships with them.
How did you find out about Hiveage, and why did you select it as your online invoicing tool of choice?
Since I have several services on offer, some with unique billing requirements, I needed a system that was flexible enough to cater to my needs while also being affordable, simple to use, and attractive for my clients.
This goes back to providing quality service. I wanted to make sure that even the process of paying my invoices was delightful and professional to those I work for.
After browsing through many different options, I landed on CurdBee, which soon blossomed into Hiveage. I knew I had made the right choice from day one — everything from the modular nature of the pricing to the exquisite design made it a pleasure to use, both for me and for my clients.
Watching Hiveage grow in response to feedback and experiencing the incredibly helpful and personal support has made it clear that this is a product built by good people who understand the needs of their customers.
5/5 is your chance to get to know awesome Hiveage users from all around the world. In each issue, expect five questions, five answers, and a load of insight from freelancers and small businesses just like you!
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