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Surviving Unemployment

This post is going to talk about an unpleasant topic: unemployment. Better yet, how to survive unemployment. I’ve gone through this ugly phase twice in my life so far but both situations were very different from each other. The first time I was laid off myself and the second time (which happened earlier this year) my wife was laid off. Since I was a full time freelancer at the time, it impacted both of us very strongly. I’m not a pro at this type of thing but I have noticed a few things that helped me cope while doing the dreaded job hunt and I’ll list them out below:

Don’t go it alone.

This is not a time for the lone wolf approach. Yes, you might feel embarrassed and angry about your situation and the temptation may be to hide away from friends and family. Sometimes answering their questions of “are you okay?” “how are you doing?” “what’s your plan?” can be overwhelming. But this is the time when you’re going to need to lean on friends and family. If you’re a member of a church, lean on that community as well! This network of people will not only help give support in various ways, they may even help generate job leads! More on that in a bit.

Pace yourself.

The two times my family faced unemployment it felt very much like a marathon. It feels like a race where you have no idea where the finish line is or where you are on the track. Perhaps it’s a guy thing but I wanted to get the problem fixed in 2-3 weeks time. Heck, I sorta expected it! But the reality is most people find work in about 3 months or so. In my family’s experiences, the first job hunt took about four months and this last time it took three months. Don’t expect everything to be fixed by a certain date. You cannot throw everything you have at this problem 100% of the time. You’ll burn yourself out. You also can’t avoid it completely and pretend it will go away. So pace yourself by working on the job hunt for chunks at a time then relax by watching some of your favorite DVDs or playing a video game/board game/etc with a friend or family member. Trust me, you’re going to need some down time.

Cast a wide net.

Job hunting, especially in a flooded market, is very hard. So you might have to look at fields that orbit your skill set or look at moving to locations you’ve not considered before. Consider new options that otherwise might have gone unnoticed. If you have the time and resources, also consider adding new skills or certifications to your resume. Depending on your situation you might have to cast a wide net right away or you could search for your ideal job fit for a while. More on that later.

Keep a balance.

When my wife and I were facing unemployment the last time, our initial reaction was to cancel everything that wasn’t essential to our lives. We were, basically, in full on freak out mode. But after speaking with our financial advisor (strongly recommend you get one if you don’t already have one!) we realized some of those “extras” could really help us look for work. For example, our gym membership was going to be cut because we felt it was an extra thing. But as members we had 2 hour daily child care for our son at no extra cost. We realized that if we wanted to, we could drop him off at the gym daycare then use the free WiFi to surf for jobs and network in the gym’s cafe area. Plus we found going and working out to be a GREAT way to deal with the physical side of all of the stress unemployment brings into your life!

Pick your battles.

One way I deal with stress is by eating, honestly. And I told my wife that while we were looking for work, I wouldn’t police myself as strictly as I normally would. Now I’m not advocating just letting yourself go and gain a ton of weight. But I am saying the routine of your normal life when you were working probably can’t exist while you’re in unemployment. I knew that I would be stressed enough as is, so a few cookies here and there helped me cope some. Again, not advocating super poor health but let’s be realistic. When people are stressed they seek comfort and, to a extent, I think that’s okay to let some things slide when searching for work.

Maybe your thing was having a super clean house? It might be that only 2/3 of the rooms are spotless and one gets chaotic. Maybe the whole house does! Maybe you fall behind on some of your other chores. It could be anything! My point is to give yourself some extra grace during the period – you’re going through a lot.

Be careful with social media.

Just know that people ARE watching what you do. If you have a meltdown or a rant session, keep it with someone you trust and away from “printed” social media. That stuff follows you everywhere. Talk with someone who knows you and won’t think less of you if you’re letting off some steam. Too often I’ve seen people completely lose it on social media and this doesn’t help attract the kind of positive attention you want from possible employers/recruiters/peers.

Find fun things to do at little to no costs.

The web is filled with great lists of free or really cheap things to do! Give yourself some days off with your spouse/family and go do some fun things. This will really help get you refocused on the tasks at hand later.

Make a plan.

Earlier I mentioned getting with a financial advisor. When my wife was laid off, the first thing we did was meet with him and he talked us through our budget. This showed us our timeframe. He was excellent at giving us the large picture while also helping us see the tiny tasks we could do right then to help with immediate needs. We made a plan that for X amount of time we’d look for ideal jobs (i.e. jobs that were directly in our career paths and/or in locations we really wanted to live in). Then after that time, we’d expand our search out to include other jobs somewhat similar to our careers and additional locations. If nothing worked out in that time period, then we’d take whatever we could find just to make ends meet. All of these milestones were mapped out according to what our savings and resources could manage. Without a plan, you feel so hopeless and might make foolish decisions.

Ask, ask, ask!

In both instances where we were unemployed, the jobs we ended up getting were from friends in our network. Remember that earlier point about leaning on your friends and family during this time? It really does help. Don’t harass your friends and family daily but let them know about your situation. Ask around to see if they know of any openings.

Closing – Unemployment Sucks!

Unemployment is super scary and stressful. It sucks! But you can and will make it through. It may not be in the manner or timeframe you’d want but literally everyone I’ve seen go through unemployment has made it out alive to the other side. These tips above have really helped us and perhaps they’ll help you. Best of luck! Keep your chin up. Good hunting!

Bio:
Nate is an established composer/sound designer, based in Austin, TX. Aside from making various kinds of noises and music, he also teaches private lessons (saxophone and piano) and performs with live bands. On the weekends he likes to sit and watch the grass grow.

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You’ll never know….

…. if you never ask.

A good friend of mine says that ALL of the time and she’s right! We freelancers can sometimes forget that! Especially when we’re feeling the pressure to win a gig. While talking with a client about a contract today, I was reminded of this. One of the contract clauses stated that all work would be owned by the client for all time. In other words, exclusive rights or ownership. I get requests like this for music all of the time but sound effects are a bit unique. Exclusive ownership can be (and should be!) expensive because it’s the only time a freelancer is able to sell their work, depending on the terms. Clients will pay a premium rate for content they can own, and therefore use, forever. But clients should be smart about this – and freelancers can win points by looking out for client’s budgets and the well being of the project.

Purchasing exclusive rights for something like music or main character artwork, makes perfect sense for many brands and projects. It can (and does!) identify your product. Even unique sound effects (think of the blaster or the light saber from Star Wars) can become instant hooks for fans to recognize IP. But for simple sound effects like a footstep sound or a short button click sound, it doesn’t make sense to purchase exclusive rights at a premium rate. Unless this IS a Star Wars game or something with a similar sized budget and amount of resources. Then you can go out and buy almost all of the content you want at the highest rates. Most of my clients are indie so the pockets and resources are not nearly as deep. So I explain this to the client and offer them a few solutions along with some observations:

1) I CAN sell you all of these sounds at premium rates but I don’t feel it’s the best use of your funds. Not many people can hear a generic wind whoosh or footstep in grass foley and say “That’s from video game X!” But they CAN hear the main theme riff or see even just a fraction of the main character’s face and identify the game! I suggest we save some of the budget for those items that give us bigger returns on brand recognition.

2) We CAN work together and identify key sound effects that you want to identify your brand (again, think of Star War’s lightsaber). Pay a premium rate for just those key sounds and leave the less important sounds (which still help to fill the universe and make your game come alive) at a lower rate and non-exclusive rights. Many clients like this approach.

3) We CAN make all sounds nonexclusive if budget is tight and you simply want to make sure you can have all of the sounds you need/want in your game.

(Side note: notice the word can in all caps, repeatedly? I learned a while back that clients react much better to someone saying what they can do instead of what they cannot.)

I asked the client to look over my options/observations and see if there was any flexibility on this point. A few hours later I got an email that said, basically, “this sounds more than fair. I’ll strike that bit of the contract and we’ll keep it at nonexclusive.”

Now, you might be wondering why I opted for a situation where I charge the client less. Simple – it wasn’t the best solution for the game or the client. Sure my wallet would’ve been a bit thicker but I’d rather build long term relationships with repeat clients than have one higher paying job. BUT all of this was to lead up to this main point of the article: (dramatic pause) you’ll never know if you don’t ask. So the next time you run across a clause or point that makes you feel uncomfortable (either because it’s not good for you or not good for the client/project) REACH OUT! Ask! Talk about it with them. Most of the time, the client will be quite understanding and help resolve it with you. Then you can go about your happy way – making audio for them with a clear conscience.

Go forth and create decibels.

Bio:
Nate is an established composer/sound designer, based in Austin, TX. Aside from making various kinds of noises and music, he also teaches private lessons (saxophone and piano) and performs with live bands.

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It matters…

I recently landed a new audio project, which is always a good thing! But what’s most interesting about this particular situation is the client talked to me about WHY I was picked, especially considering that some of the other candidates had way more experience than I did. Aside from the obivous things like matching style needs, scheduling, cost, etc, it came down to simple, common respect. Respect for the client hiring and respect for the application process itself. And, again, this is all according to what my client told me:

*One applicant was late to the interview and didn’t even apologize or awknowledge being late.

*One applicant came off as uninterested or somewhat distant/distracted during the interview (which was held via Skype).

*Another didn’t fit all of the requirements and wanted to bring in extra people adding to the costs, overall.

*Here’s one more from another interview experience I had years ago for an in-house position: The other applicant literally smelled like “old cheese.”

Interviewing can be a hard thing. It’s stressful! You’re on the spot and want to make a good impression. You might be nervous! I’ve heard tips on how to interview well most of my life but this recent experience reminded me that they actually DO apply! So don’t dismiss them!

*Be early to an interview.

*Be prepared.

*Be engaged. This is critical during phone or webcam interviews where it can become much easier to multi-task.

*Be yourself.

*Be presentable. Have good hygiene and take pride in your appearance!

You may or may not get the gig but don’t sabotage yourself by missing out on the easy things. Give yourself the best odds possible!

Good luck!

Once you land the gig…

 
Many of my articles have focused on how best to network, promote yourself, negotiate and interact with potential clients. In this article I’m going to share a few pointers to help after you’ve landed the job. As with anything, nothing is a fix-all solution so always take these suggestions with a grain of salt. Carefully evaluate each situation, each client and if one of these tips seems to be a good fit then by all means use it! So let’s get right to it:
 
 

Don’t begin work until you have something to work to.

 
Sounds like simple common sense, doesn’t it? But in my experience it’s been rather surprising how often less(er) experienced clients expect me to begin work right away without any art or visual references. Usually more experienced teams already understand that audio is one of the last elements to be placed into a video game. Less experienced teams, however, tend to get excited and also not be aware of the common and more effective pipeline. Even for more simplistic sounds (like a generic button click) if a game isn’t there yet, so much can change during the production cycle that any sounds created early on could end up not fitting or matching the game’s vibe and feel. So if a team doesn’t have anything ready for you to work to – they’re not ready for audio yet.
 

Balance your workload – especially when extra tasks pop up.

 
Several times I’ve had clients expect me to capture video of the game when it was never part of the assigned tasks set up in the contract. These clients didn’t offer any kind of payment for my time or use of my equipment. Instead of getting upset or simply saying “no” I told them I would be happy to assist but we’d need to first figure out an appropriate cost for this extra service and the time it would take. Every time I’ve used this approach the team, which previously was too busy to capture video or didn’t have the needed tools, suddenly had the time and resources to provide those videos. So remember – unless a task is specified in the contract, it is extra work and as such you could require additional payment.

In some situations you can choose to take on some extra tasks to help the team out – which can really help your reputation with the team! This is usually when your work load is very light and you don’t have other projects also demanding your time. But be careful. Always explain if you’re making a concession. Something as simple as “well I usually charge for X but I had some extra time and wanted to help the team out.” The key here is balance. Don’t allow a team to repeatedly throw extra tasks at you which were not set up in the contract without added pay for your time and efforts but don’t nickel and dime your clients to death either. It’s a fine line but remember: it’s YOUR choice.
 

“Just play the game and create sounds from watching the game.”

 
While more rare, I’ve had a few clients give me a build of their game and expect me to just play it and then make sounds or music to that game build. When I asked for animations to “score” directly to they tell me to just play the game. I’ve even had a few clients push back after I explained my workflow process (placing animations directly in my DAW and creating sounds directly to that file). What usually convinces the client is this simple question: Do you want the sounds of the game to be estimates and guesses are do you want your sounds to be precisely synced to all animations?
 

Not all feedback is useful feedback.

 
I once had a client give me one-word feedback for about 20-25 sounds I had delivered: “Rework.” I explained that with that kind of vague feedback, I didn’t have enough information to know what direction or changes needed to happen. I didn’t know what the team didn’t like, I didn’t know what the team did like. It didn’t even specify what sounds needed to be reworked. After asking for more detailed feedback I found out there was only one sound they wanted reworked and the changes requested were minimal. The initial feedback was so vague, it gave me nothing to work with. Don’t accept vague feedback like this or you’ll end up running in circles and wasting a good deal of time. Asking for specific feedback isn’t challenging or rude when done in the right way. It shows how invested you are in making sure the sounds are the perfect fit for the game.
 

Iteration for the sake of iteration is crap.

 
I once worked on a team where the culture was to iterate just to see what would happen – without any clear goal or direction. In my frank and honest opinion it was a crappy attempt to cover up a clear lack of vision on the project. So teams just started iterating and making content, remaking content, scrapping content, going back to previous content, creating new content all in the name of iteration. And it was crap.

I’m ALL for iterating and adding polish to make something better. To achieve that end goal. To push the limits. But if a team wants you to iterate just to see “what happens” or “what comes out” then inform them that it raises audio costs and slows down the production time table as you’re stuck iterating on level 4 over and over again. Side note: this is why I have a revision limit on my rates. If a client feels they can have unlimited revisions at no extra cost then, by God, they’re going to use them! So make sure your rates allot for those situations where you’re drafting 15 versions of a game theme and explain those costs and limitations upfront to the client.
 

Play the game when mixing/implementing audio but push for alternate testing methods as well.

 
Once I was trying to test a sound I had created in a client’s build of their video game. The certain sound was on a stage that was so buggy and the game event so rare that it literally took me an hour to just hear the sound. Once! Then I made the needed changes and still had to fight the game to make that sound event happen again. It ended up taking much more time than it should have and made me quite frustrated. For those harder, more rare game events push for an alternate testing method. Perhaps a virtual soundboard of some sort or slash commands (if it is similar to a MMO-type game). Anything that can help you speed up mixing/implementation time. Some clients will push back on this but if you charge for your mixing/implementation time (which you should) then this can help speed up these tasks and lower the cost to that client. This is usually enough rationale to help convince the client that it is worth their energy and time.
 

Setting the right expectations.

 
As with many things in business, this is all about setting the right expectations and then fulfilling them. Even exceeding them. Explain to your clients what you need and why. Show them how by providing these items it will help you do a better job for them, make their product’s audio that much better and help you keep audio costs down and on schedule. So the final tip is really all about communication. I strive to have fluid, frequent communication with all of my clients and I have yet to hear a single complaint about it. The better you communicate, the better everyone understands their tasks, their roles and the needs of the project.

Get out there and make some noise!