The advantages of stock music
When it comes to the music for a game project, both the gamedeveloper and the musician have the exact same choice to make: Custom music or stock music?
The target platform doesn't matter. Whether it's a homebrew game for a classic 8-bit console, or a commercial game for a modern platform, it's still the same decision both parties has to make.
Having custom music tailored to the game obviously sounds tremendously appealing to the gamedeveloper. "What could possibly fit my game better than music that has been specifically written for it?"
But it's not always the holy grail you may think: The musician doesn't always live up to the gamedeveloper's vision and expectations, and sometimes it doesn't take more than that to make the whole project slowly crumble. On top of that, project work is also much more expensive for the gamedev than the stock music alternative.
Project work typically pays the musician a lot more than stock music usually does. But it also requires much more time to produce - and being instructed on how to do the music can often kill the passion for the musician, which can easily affect the quality of the end result.
These pitfalls doesn't automatically render project work completely useless of course. Lots of gamedevs and musicians manage to avoid these problems, and have a thriving teamwork for many years. I'm merely saying it's not always the optimal choice.
For me personally, as a musician, I basically wish for an approach that lets me stay passionate about my music, by earning a decent pay on creating exactly the style and mood I feel like, when and how I feel like it, in my own pace, for whatever platform I feel like, in whatever filetypes I find interesting at the time, and without having a stressing deadline to worry about. It's all about artistic freedom for me: I just want to make the music that I want to make, when I want to make it. And then gamedevs can take it or leave it.
While wanting all of those things for myself, I of course realise that the gamedev has a similar list of things he wants: Be able to acquire high quality music that fits his game perfectly, in the filetype that his platform and development environment requires, at a low cost and delivery before the deadline runs out.
So the question is: Is that even possible? Does such a model even exist? A single approach that makes both parties happy, despite each one having such opposite interests?
In my experience: Yes! That is exactly what stock music can do for both parties.
I've been composing music for over 30 years now, and for the past 10+ years, I've been offering my tracks to gamedevs via IndieGameMusic.com
I try to create different filetype formats of my tracks, in order to make them useful on many different platforms.
Here's what I've learned during the past 10 years doing that.
In reply to the most frequent statement I keep hearing in the "custom music vs stock music" debate: "Stock music will never fit the game as well as custom tailored music".
Well, apart from the already mentioned pitfalls with that approach, I've lost count on how many times I've put a stock track of mine online at IGM thinking "This doesn't sound like game music at all. No one will ever request this track", only to be contacted 6-12 months later by a gamedev with the words: "Wow! This track is literally perfect for my game!"
The first couple of times I experienced this, I was rather surprised, because I hadn't expected anyone to find that track usable - and definitely not decidedly "perfect". But over time it made more and more sense to me. Of course that track is perfect for his game. It makes all the sense in the world. The keyword being "world" here. Any track will of course be perfect for some game out there in the big world. It's merely a matter of how long it takes for the gamedev to decide to create this game, and subsequently how long it takes for him to find the track on IGM - which should be relatively easy to do with all the available search options.
And that is the short and simple explanation of how stock music becomes an equally good option for the gamedeveloper as custom music - except it often results in better tracks, because the musician doesn't lose the passion along the way. And on top of that, stock music is also cheaper than custom music - so in a way, it's actually a better option than custom music.
"But what if the gamedeveloper wants exclusive music then", I hear someone yell out in the back. "Yea! And how can the musician even earn a decent penny with this approach?", someone else adds.
The answer to both of those questions is: "Licenses".
Just because we're talking stock music doesn't mean the gamedev can't get exclusive tracks. IGM gives both parties plenty of options here:
If money is of no object to the gamedev, and if he insists on being the only one in the world using the track(s) for his game, then he can search for tracks available with an Exclusive Resale license. Tracks available with such a license hasn't been used for anything yet, and they will usually cost about half the fee he would have payed to acquire custom music.
Should the gamedev wish to pay even less, he can go for a Non-exclusive Resale license + a Platform Exclusive license for the target platform of his game. Depending on platform, this will typically cost him about 25% of the fee he would have payed to get custom music. And for the older classic platforms, it's typically less than 10%.
Buying the Platform Exclusive license prevents other gamedevs from using the same track on the same platform.
Finally the gamedev can settle for a Non-exclusive Resale license (without a Platform Exclusive license), which is typically just between € 5 EUR and € 20 EUR. Tracks sold with this license can be sold many times to many different gamedevs on any platform. That's what makes the price for this license so attractive.
Apart from those options, some musicians also offer their tracks with a Freeware license, which means gamedevs may request to use the track if their game is also free and they don't make money on it in any way.
So as you can see, there's a lot of flexibility with usage and prices.
"Ok ok, but how does the musician earn a decent penny on this then?"
Simple: By offering a Non-exclusive Resale license + several Platform Exclusive licenses for his tracks.
That way, the musician only needs to sell this combination of licenses 3-4 times in order to have earned the same he would have made on doing the same track as a paid project.
Or alternatively, sell the Non-exclusive Resale license alone 10-20 times.
To increase the chances of selling a track multiple times, it's a good idea for the musician to make the track available in a filetype that can actually be used on multiple platforms - and/or make it available in multiple different filetype formats.
Apart from rendering the track to a WAV, the musician should also encode it to both MP3 and OGG, in both 160 kbps 44100 Hz and 80 kbps 22050 Hz. And if possible, also consider offering the GM MIDI export for classic platforms.
If using oldschool trackers, obviously offer the MOD, XM, S3M or IT file as well as the WAV, MP3 and OGG renderings. And also consider looking into various converters to target more platforms.
In short; the musician should try to offer multiple different filetype versions of his tracks, to increase his chances of selling the track multiple times.
So to summarise: The musician creates a better track because of the creative freedom: He isn't restricted or instructed on how to create the track. The gamedev thus get a better track for a much lower expense than project work would have cost him, and the musician can potentially earn more on the track than he would have earned on project work. It really is a big win for both parties.
"Fine, but how often does the musician sell 3-4 Platform Exclusive licenses then? Or 10-20 Non-exlusive Resale licenses?", the sceptic continues.
I admit, it is something that requires a lot of waiting. But it does also depend on the track of course - and luck. I've sometimes sold a license 3 days after putting the track online. And at other times it took 2 years before I sold one.
This time span between sales is the only "cost" of the musician for choosing to do stock music instead of project work. But then again, I don't see how that differs a whole lot from the time the he would sit around waiting to get hired for project work.