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Audio has always been a huge part of the storytelling and fun factor for games. No matter what platform or how much technology is poured into a game, there will always be a need for composers, musicians, sound designers, voice actors and audio engineers to help create the content that immerses players in a unique and entertaining world.
Some audio directors and sound designers work in-house for developers and publishers. Others provide their services on a project-by-project basis for a variety of clients on a contract basis. By contracting audio professionals (the way the film and television industries have done for decades), developers and publishers can get high quality work without the expense of hiring full time employees and equipping full-blown recording studios. There are advantages and disadvantages to both ways of acquiring audio for a game. But in this feature we are going to focus on the bond that ties the professional audio contractor to a project -- the Audio Contract.
The Anatomy of a Contract
The legal contract defines who, what, where, how, when and why. Everything needs to be spelled out in this document to ensure a win-win situation. Although there are variations, depending on who wrote it and the scope of the work, contracts include the following:
When to Get a Lawyer Involved
Creative types are not usually known for their legal prowess. Even if you have experience with reading and understanding contracts, laws change all the time. Remember that if it is not spelled out in the contract, it's not part of the agreement.
No matter how well-intentioned or nice the other party seems to be, it's good policy to have a lawyer that specializes in your specific field look it over and give you advice. Often, it's not what's in the contract that hurts you down the line. It's what is unspoken or assumed. Informality of this sort almost always favors the party with more power and resources. Generally, this is going to be the company, rather than the contractor.
Once you have found an attorney that fits your requirements, you will need to do some homework before talking to them. You are the person signing the contract, so you need to understand what you are signing. Following these simple steps should save you time and legal fees.
Spending the money on legal advice on contracts can potentially save you money in the long run, as well as protect your livelihood.
If both parties have signed a similar agreement that was previously reviewed, it may be tempting to go ahead and do it again without getting the new agreement reviewed. But it's a good idea to be cautious about doing that. It's not that it doesn't work out fine to do this, but laws change and so do relevant deal points.
Before you sign the same form contract again, it's always a good idea to really be sure that the contract is appropriate for the work you are doing on the project. If the contract and the work it covers are really pretty much the same as past work you have done for this client, you will likely incur minimal cost in having it briefly reviewed by counsel.
But in reviewing the contract, there is a good chance that counsel may point something out that you hadn't thought about. And it's much easier to bring up something like this (or walk away from the project) if you are aware of the issue before you start doing the work.
As creative people, we are trained to see situations through one lens. An attorney brings a different lens to the table, contributing insight that extends well beyond the nuts and bolts of the contract language.
All the advice we've given above is another way of stressing the importance of staying aware in the contract process. Your judgment is only as good as the awareness you have underlying it. If you turn off your brain and ignore this stuff, you will eventually find yourself in some unexpected and unhappy situations. On the other hand, if you learn the basic stuff that we've touched on here and you learn to ask for help when you're not sure, you can avoid most common problems.