04 FEBRUARY 2017
written by Mike
Independent life or stable employment.
What do you prefer? Both choices have their merits and faults. First, let’s clarify the differences between the two.
Freelance means self-employment. You are a single man or woman company, and you hire your services out for different projects. Full-time contract means working for a company. Your typical nine to five kind of a job.
Why is this an important choice and is the choice necessary at all?
Well, yes and no. I have done both independent work and full time, and I would say trying out both is the best idea. Of course, there are many other factors that we need to look at too. Such as jobs availability. For sound, you may say full-time employment is scarce. And by comparison, with for example restaurant jobs, you would be probably right. And yet, I worked for a big film studio on nine to five basis as well as hundreds of other people who do the same.
But post production in somewhat different to production where they contract you for a fixed period e.g. until a game or a movie release. Today I want to share with you some of my insights, both good and bad, on these two choices.
I’m going to start with benefits of being independent first. Don’t want to ruin your mood just yet.
Generally speaking, it is true. But it is not as simple as that. Your pay as a freelancer will depend on your portfolio, completed projects, reputation in the industry, clients, equipment, services, standard of your work, marketing, and many, many, many more variables. You are your brand. Your last project is your calling card, and your reputation is everything. It can take years to build it up and one day to ruin it. I’m exaggerating of course. Remember that you can have the upper hand as you will negotiate your pay on a project to project basis. Salary does not restrict you.
They will come with your reputation. Remember Danny Elfman and Tim Burton? What about John Williams and Steven Spielberg? I know these are the most famous relationships. If you are lucky enough to work on a successful project, you can be almost sure that the director or a producer will want to keep the ‘dream team’ going. And you will be a part of it. Casefile True Crime Podcast is an example of that, I was there since pretty much the beginning and as the show grew, I stayed on to help in developing it. Even with smaller projects you can develop a meaningful relationship that will go on for years. One of my colleagues has been working on small commercial mixes for years. He is the first one to be called upon when the production company has something to do.
Big point for the independent team. You may not get as much choice when you are starting out. But as you will build you reputation, your skill set, and client base, you will get the power of choice. No one can force anything upon you, and you can say “no” to anything you want to.
I would say this is the biggest advantage of being a freelancer. Yes, you will have to answer to clients, but you can do it on your own time. No one will order you to get up at six in the morning or stay late. Do you want to go on holiday this week? You can. It’s on you, but you know it. Being your boss will give you tremendous satisfaction and freedom. It can take years of building the reputation for doing that, but I’m sure it’s worth it. Sounds good? I bet it does. Unfortunately, like with everything, there has to be a balance. Let’s have a look at some of the disadvantages of being independent.
It can be hard. More than likely it will be hard. For an extended period, you will have to do a lot of free work, a lot of “expenses paid only” projects. And you can consider yourself lucky if the so-called “expenses monies” will cover your petrol. If you still live with your parents, lucky you. For the rest of us, a weekend behind a bar or waiting tables is a standard practice. Of course, you can experiment. I used to set up student nights in local dance clubs four days a week. It paid bills when I was working on my portfolio during the day. Don’t give up and persevere. Also, remember that once you build up a reputation and skillset you must start asking for money. There is no shame in that. And people will pay if they see the value.
Sounds like common sense right? It is, but it takes a lot of smart work. You are judged on your last project so if you take one on you better give everything you got. Building a reputation also requires people skills. Persuasion, negotiation and diplomacy. A project from a month ago needs some extra work? No extra pay and you already moved on? Too bad. It’s better to stay a couple of nights late to do a “favor” than to say no. You never know when and how it will repay. And remember, word of mouth travels fast. Particularly on the internet.
You can go on holiday whenever you want. But it’s not as easy to relax. You will always be thinking of future. Future clients, future projects, future income. Where do I find it? How much can they pay? Is it worth it? Yes, regular clients are awesome, but you will have to remind them that you are still available. What if you commit to one job, and you miss even better one because of that? And there are money issues too. A month passed. Two. Three.
“Where is my money?” You may ask.
“It’s coming soon. We’ve just had a meeting with another investor. I’ve got a good feeling about this.”
Yes, it happens, and it’s not a cliché. You will have to understand and make peace with a fact that not everyone will be as organized as you are. Or as trustworthy.
A month passed in a flash. And then comes two weeks of nothing. Moments like that are rare for established freelancers. But in the beginning, it can be tough. Have something else ready. A backup plan. Thanks to the internet there are plenty opportunities waiting for you right now. They may not pay as well as production jobs, but they can help you to survive during dry periods.
I know I said you can get paid more being independent. But you will also have to take care of your accounting. At this means paying taxes, insurance, medical bills, pensions and everything in between. Looking to buy a house? I will tell you this. It’s not as easy to get a mortgage if you are freelancing. Even if you are making more than an “employee”. One of my teachers who was an industry professional told me once that taking a teaching job is a great way to stay in the system. “I only teach a couple of hours a week, but the info they need is there. I do whatever I want for the rest of the week.” A teaching job helped him to secure a mortgage. But it’s his freelance work that pays for it.
I hope you have a better understanding on freelancing and what comes with it.
In the future, we will have a look at good and bad sides of working as a full-time contractor for a big company.
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