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I am relaunching my career as a game musician; previously I have done a little bit of licensed work and writing music for game jam-type games, after having written music as a secondary job duty for my full-time job at various game studios. As I am entering into the world of freelance game music composition, however, I am not sure what sort of license terms are common.

In particular, one developer I was in contact with wanted me to do the music entirely as a work-for-hire; I would retain the ability to showcase the music I do for him on my portfolio and the like, but I would not be allowed to, say, release a soundtrack album that contains the work, and he would retain the rights to re-license the music as he sees fit (including to other developers or for entirely different purposes). This doesn't seem to be in keeping with how I've seen other game music work, legally-speaking; if I do agree to these terms I would of course charge more than I would for music that is licensed, rather than sold.

I would, on the other hand, be totally fine with providing an exclusive game license for the music – that is, he would be the only one allowed to use my music within a game, but I would retain the rights for publication in other media. This seems to be how most indie game music is licensed, judging by how the original artists release their OSTs on Bandcamp and iTunes and the like.

Are there any standard contracts for game music licensing in various circumstances, or at least an explanation of the standard practices involved?

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    \$\begingroup\$ So, basically, the answer here is how much are they paying you? Because at some point it all comes down to, "my soul for a billion dollars? Sure." If the amount doesn't feel right (and keep in mind you're still fairly new, so your prices are going to be lower than a more seasoned musician), negotiate. Then there's this question: gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/139872/… from the other side of the equation that is relevant. I've paid $40 for a couple of tracks, I've paid more. It all depends. \$\endgroup\$ – Draco18s Apr 14 '17 at 13:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Draco18s Sure, and in this specific case the developer wasn't even willing to pay my minimum rate for a sync license (but wanted complete ownership of the IP), but I was hoping to get some "general practices" stuff. (Also if you've paid $40 for a couple tracks, I really hope that was just from a stock licensing pool and not you taking advantage of a musician, because holy hell.) \$\endgroup\$ – fluffy Apr 15 '17 at 5:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ The $40 I paid was to a friend for custom work, but the rights associated with it were minimalistic. i.e. I had the right to use the track in the one game I was working on, that's it. He named his price. But I would agree that the price was pretty low generally speaking. As for general practices, I am not sure. I vaguely recall some regarding written works, but even that varied widely. \$\endgroup\$ – Draco18s Apr 15 '17 at 14:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ And by "varied widely" I mean Reader's Digest would pay virtually nothing for a story (like, flat $50) and take all the rights at the one end, all the way up to $1/word novellas where they only wanted First Publication rights. \$\endgroup\$ – Draco18s Apr 15 '17 at 14:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RobCraig Yeah that's where I was leaning, just doing exclusive licensing as my standard thing unless the developer has a specifically good reason to use a different licensing scheme. Honestly I only opened this question on SE so that I could have something to point him to, but he ended up asking his own question as well and got the same answers even when he'd biased the asking severely in his favor. :) \$\endgroup\$ – fluffy Apr 27 '17 at 23:14
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Reposting this as a possible answer rather than a comment.

This is going to vary widely by publisher and whether you've created the music for the property (as opposed to licensing music you've already published), but I'd advise you strongly to go down the exclusive licensing route, and to be very specific about how your creative can be used (for this game and version on these platforms). Right off the bat licensing legally suggests a narrow usage.

Generally when you license music this way - beyond showcasing your work for self-promotion, and you should probably include a little language addressing that - you're giving up all rights to it and should expect to (e.g., they'll own soundtrack rights). Just make sure you'll get paid if it's used again in any way, or is derived for another platform or related work.

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I don't know if there is a one size fits all solution for this. Generally it should be developers who will offer you a contract, and you need to decide if that contract will suit you. Here's helpful article from a developer's point of view on this.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If the article is useful, please summarise the important notes, and quote the reference. As it is, this answer does not appear to offer anything useful apart from a link; we do not consider links, themselves, useful (as they can easily die or be redirected), and as such, link-only answers are deleted. \$\endgroup\$ – Gnemlock Apr 27 '17 at 7:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is it acceptable to just copy paste quote the whole page ? \$\endgroup\$ – aeroson Apr 27 '17 at 14:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @aeroson No, that would be plagiarism. The ideal would be to summarize the salient points, with occasional excerpts for things that are difficult to summarize. \$\endgroup\$ – fluffy Apr 27 '17 at 23:15

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