It’s difficult to get high quality people to work with you for free, but just because you don’t have money up front doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer. The classic arrangement can be to agree on a revenue/profit sharing percentage on the final product, or to arrange for a fixed rate of compensation based on the successful completion of a Kickstarter campaign (or other such crowd funding effort like Indiegogo, GoFundMe, etc.) Additionally, there’s always bartering arrangements. Less established folks might need help with website development, SEO, business card design, or any number of things that your company can do. You just have to ask what a contractor needs and you’ll be surprised. Sometimes you can work out triangular trades.
When you’re setting up a revenue/profit sharing arrangement, you want to demonstrate sales from your previous projects or sales from similar projects done by other people. At the very least you want to show that you have the ability to finish a project and bring it to market with some press mentions. This helps a contractor estimate what remuneration he or she might get and charge accordingly. Typically, people will increase their rate if the payoff is more uncertain or more delayed, or sometimes they might ask for a fee along the lines of “If the game isn’t brought to market by X date, contractor is paid X dollars” so at the very least the contractor is protected against a complete fizzle on the project, yet the developer isn’t taking all the risk as the project is moving forward.
There is an audio solution for any price. If your budget precludes up front payment, contracting live musicians is unlikely and original music will be formed from samples and synthesizers. It’s worth considering where you need music and where you don’t, as well as where you can settle for generic licensed music and where you need your game to have an original sonic signature. The same goes for sound effects. It’s easy to find free sound effects if you don’t mind sharing them with other games. I recommend at the very least having original themes for the important levels and the first screen, and getting by with licensed music for menus, less important levels, and credit screens, etc. Be prepared to say “how much music/sound effects can you do for X Kickstarter dollars, or X revshare, or X bartering assets” and use licensed music to fill in the gaps.
I’ve done revshare projects in the past. It’s a perfectly acceptable way to do business, and doesn’t put too much pressure on the developer, as long as he or she understands that there are limits to what can be offered for a delayed or uncertain payoff. While I prefer cold hard cash (who doesn’t?), or at least a delayed Kickstarter fee, bartering arrangements can be OK. For example, I’ve been thinking about building a small, one-screen HTML game to run off of my website as a demonstration of interactive music. Code and assets for something like that would have tremendous value to me. Perhaps your company can offer 2D art assets or coding for a contractor whose work you admire… (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) Who knows, maybe the code you write for audio implementation can be used in your own game or sold on the Unity Asset Store down the line?
Or perhaps you have a completely different idea for a bartering arrangement, like offering some sexy, sexy writing for someone’s blog. You won’t know unless you ask. Granted, a composer or sound designer’s receptiveness to alternative contract models is going to vary according to how busy he or she is or how he or she feels about your project, but knowing this helps you present your project to a contractor whose services you’re interested in.
I hope this gives you a few things to think about. While composing music or creating sound effects free any charge is something very few quality audio professionals can do, there are a number of things that people like me can often help out with: evaluating other musician’s music, offering feedback on choices of licensed music, and providing music style suggestions based on gameplay videos. Bottom line: there’s a broad range of options to consider when contracting with audio professionals. You can work out an arrangement even if you don’t have buckets of up-front money.