When to go freelance?
I've been a staff engineer for about four years at a commercial studio. I'm starting to get a little bit of work outside of the studio and it's about to get to the point where the two are starting to interfere with each other. The staff position is great because I have a reasonable amount of security in knowing that I will be working on something at some point. The outside gigs are great because I really like the music better and I'm not dealing with the egos and attitudes of the people at the big studio. How do you know when the right time is to throw in the towel at the staff job and go freelance? I have a few projects I'm working on that could sustain me financially for a short while, but when those projects are done....? Any advice?
I can't tell you what is right for you, but I will tell you how I knew it was time to move on. I didn't enjoy my job at the studio anymore. Little things that never used to bug me were really beginning to annoy me. I could see that I had hit the ceiling of what I was able earn. I began to dislike the idea of staying in my studio position more than I feared going out on my own. I talked to my clients and to other engineers and producers and everyone thought that the time had come for me to move on.
Going freelance is the best business move I ever made. I am much happier and I make more money. I also do better work because I can move projects around to the places that are best suited for the style of music we are working on. The music is better. I love my job again, and I get to see my family on a regular basis.
When you have the work. If you're getting calls to do 'outside' gigs, and you're taking them, then you're already on the road to becoming "freelance" (or a Mercenary...as in one who is available to the highest bidder).
The key to making it work is to make sure that you are established within the community. If you have a good relationship with the bands, managers, clubs, press(!!!!!) in your area, you should do OK.
By the same token, you're only as good as your last gig...so you have to make sure that you attain a constant level of 'upper mediocrity'. You can even be "genius" every now and again as the situation permits, but you can never afford to "suck". This may mean telling a client to go fuck themselves...while being careful exactly who you're telling to go fuckoff.
You're now "running your own small business", so when you buy things like 'gear' or 'CD's, they're all tax deductable. Which means you need to get an accountant, and a lawyer. Not the lawyer that helped you "close" when you bought your house, or the lawyer that got you off that bogus "possession beef" in 1997...an "entertainment lawyer". Meet one, have one around, maybe throw them a bone gig from time to time so you'll know they're there if you need them...[keeping one on 'retainer' at this point is probably out of your immediate budget].
The accountant is going to help you deal with all the shit you aren't suited to deal with...like making sure your quarterly taxes are current, helping you budget to make sure your estimated quarterly's are paid, not to mention FICA and Social Security (you don't get the 50% contribution to those from your 'employer', because you are now your own employer.
On the bright side...you can do more work for "cash" until you get to the point of only working for labels. Cash is a beautiful thing, it's worth about a third more than money. You can fold the shit up and put it in your pocket, no taxes, no nothing...unless the people that gave you that cash "1099" you...in which case you have to declare it as income...in which case you have to pay taxes on it.
The bottom line is if you have the work, and feel like stretching out on your own...go for it. If you aren't sure about your "reputation in the community", find the bar where all the cool and trendy people from the local music community hang, and any night you're not gigging, have your ass there networking.
Best of luck!!!
What Fletcher said about getting an accountant and a lawyer are the truth. You must have them. Management is nice too, but you need some serious gold and platinum credits before you can get anyone to consider working with you.
How is the relationship with the bosses where you presently work?
Will they support your venture out as a freelancer?
Will they hire you as a freelancer?
Will you 'bring your own clients' in as a freelancer?
Have you thought of a studio rate for that ($400 studio $300 you etc...)
I found while I was not getting much money /respect at a facility where I interned.. I sure got it as a freelancer / customer.
Melange - please give us some insight into how you got the freelance work you got and where you expect to get more..
As a freelancer (and now as a small studio owner needing big studios at times) I battle constantly with having a WIDE SELECTION of studios that I can use AT A SPECIAL RATE. For example, my favorite tracking place in London is just being sold..At other times my patronage of studios has in some way assisted them to be become so popular that I CANT GET INTO THEM any more..
So if I can pass on one freelance tip, it is to keep special deals going at SEVERAL studios... You could do a tour of local studios and sit down PRIVATELY with the managers/owners to discuss rates you could get.
One trick I used for a period of 5 years was to have the STUDIO charge the clients, and I billed the studio for MY MONEY - even though it was MY custom coming through the doors!
This had two advantages
This 'overall charge' by the studio including my engineering / producer fee and the studio fee
Hid the studio charge (it was low)
Hid my fee (it was high in relation to the studio fee)
I would insist on a faxed confirmation and was an active 'team player' with the studio to help get 'our money' The bill would go out - as 2 x days studio time INCLUDING PRODUCER JULIAN STANDEN @ $700 per day
Simple, one bill.. this system makes 'trusted partners' out of your favored studios. Overall they like this, you become another guy 'holding a baseball bat' re bill collection! Not only they getting your business they are collecting your money - you become a valued and trusting friend to the studio.
Thanks for all the replies so far. Julian, to answer your questions, my relationship with the management at the studio is constantly like walking on eggshells. They do not know that I am trying to get work outside of the studio. If they did, I would most likely be fired. They are fine with me bringing in bands to work with, but there is a downside to this as well: If they see that I am using the studio for personal projects, they would assume that I am getting enough work on my own and they would quit booking me on sessions. It's double standards like this that make me want to get outta there. Not to mention a general lack of respect that I get from the management. If I wanted to get wrapped up in BS office politics, I would have gotten a straight job, but this place has more than it's fair share of that. I have to be careful, though, because I really love using the rooms, and I don't want to get into a situation where there are any burned bridges, although I already consider the studio to have burned a bridge with me!
This is sounding way too familiar. I went through the same thing about 2 years ago..Burned the bridge, then killed the workers trying to fix it. . . "Oh yea, well you're an ass hole" . . . that kind of thing.
Can you tell us what city you are in? How's the overall scene there?
My move to freelance was a long & bloody battle! I look forward to further discussions!