Trying to get ahead in the video game audio business? Get that college degree, pick up some freelance gigs on the side, and above all, network, network, network. Those aren’t just nuggets of advice, however—they’re facts, statistically proven by GameSoundCon’s 2017 Audio Industry Survey.
Released in early October as part of the run up to GameSoundCon, a conference for video game composers and sound designers held in Los Angeles, this year’s survey has some eye-opening stats. While the annual appraisal has always asked about work environments, job hunting, use of live musicians, gender inequalities and more, this edition added new questions to cull information on respondents’ education and to determine typical industry salaries for entry-level workers.
A full 89.2 percent of the 464 respondents provided answers on compensation; cumulatively, they revealed that the median pay for audio employees is $64,000, with salaried jobs grouping into two main peaks around $60,000 and $150,000. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the latter salaries tend to be tied to management titles, such as audio director.
The median pay for game audio employees is $64,000, with salaried jobs grouping into two main peaks around $60,000 and $150,000, with the latter salaries usually tied to management titles, such as audio director.
At the other end of the spectrum, employees brand new to the industry should expect considerably lower pay: The median game audio first-year salary is currently $33,276. It’s safe to say some of that will be used to pay back student loans, because 74 percent of game audio professionals have a Bachelor’s degree or higher.
The wage disparity that women experience in other fields is unfortunately present in game audio, too, where on average they earn 83 percent of what men do, despite typically having worked in the industry longer, with a median time of 8.5 years versus 8 years for men. Despite those distressing statistics, there appear to be more women entering the field than ever before. In 2015, the survey found that women represented only 7 percent of the game audio workforce. That number bounded in 2016 to 10.4 percent, and grew further this year, as 12.7 percent of the responding game composers and sound designers are female.
One thing that comes across from the string of statistics is that game audio pros have a considerable work ethic. A full 72 percent of game composers also deliver SFX, and it’s not uncommon for salaried game audio professionals to scrape up some extra freelance gigs on the side. In fact, 15 percent of those surveyed earn freelance money doing extra related work, and it tends to pay off: The average side income is $15,604. Still, audio pros working strictly freelance in the industry are common, making up 41 percent of those surveyed, versus 55 percent working as salaried employees of game or audio companies.
Whether you’re male or female, salaried or freelance, finding a new job is never easy, and in the game audio field, as with so many others, it often comes down to who you know. According to the survey, only 19 percent of respondents found their current gig via a job posting; instead, the vast majority—50.8 percent—were recruited or referred for their latest position. The key to making that happen, of course, is networking, whether through social media, events or conferences.
With that in mind, it’s worth noting that GameSoundCon will provide plenty of opportunities for face-to-face networking when it’s held November 7 and 8 at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Presenting the event’s keynote speech will be Becky Allen, audio lead at PopCap/Electronic Arts, and the conference will serve up two days of sessions and tracks covering music and sound for games, including a dedicated Virtual Reality Track. You can learn all about GameSoundCon and read the Game Audio Industry Survey 2017 in its entirety (there’s far more surprises and insights to be found in its pages) at gamesoundcon.com.