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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!

 

Before I took the plunge into full time freelancing I had a romanticized view of what the job would be like. In some ways my expectations were pretty much on the mark and in other ways I was completely mistaken! Now, after nearly 15 months of being a full time freelancer, I thought I’d share some of my perceptions and how they did or did not match up with reality, along with some tips to help avoid some common pitfalls.

 

Perception: I’d be 100% productive 100% of the time.

Reality: I needed consistent periods of time away from the creative parts of my job to stay fresh and inspired.

 

I wasn’t naive enough to think that I’d constantly be busy with clients. I knew that freelancing would require a good bit of effort but I did expect to at least have a steady stream of new music flowing out of my studio. That wasn’t the case. I didn’t realize how much of my time and energy would be spent on other business and non-related business items. If I had to estimate, about 30 to 40% of my time is spent looking for my next gig while the remaining time is doing the actual work. Of course there are periods when I’m super busy and lucky enough to land multiple projects at one time and remain booked solid for a chunk of time. I’m in one of those periods right now where I’ve consistently had work to fill up my workday since May and it’s been great! But I also know that dry spells happen to everyone. The important thing is to know what to do when those deserts show up. More on that in another article.

One thing I do when I’m feeling less than inspired is focus on the administrative sides of the job. They have to be done anyway and can provide a nice break from the creative process. I’ll send out a slew of networking emails looking for new clients and more work. I’ll write articles about audio production (much like I’m doing now!) or research new hardware/software solutions to keep my gear up to par. Other times I’ll do some house chores or exercise. And to be totally honest sometimes I’ll just tune out with a great movie or video game.

 

Perception: I’d wake up every single morning excited to be able to work from home.

Reality: Sometimes you just HAVE to get out of the house.

 

Ask anyone who works from home and they’ll probably tell you that it can make you a bit stir crazy at times. This wasn’t something I anticipated at all but found myself suddenly just dying to get out of the house even though I had work to do. So I went out for a few hours, got a Starbucks and when I came home I felt better. You’re not a robot and even though your home is (hopefully) a warm and comfortable place for you – a change of scenery can really work miracles! Side note: a similar issue is always having work’s siren call when you’re supposed to be off of work. It’s very easy to slip back into your office and do a “few more things” and end up working very long hours. When crunching this is pretty much expected but when you’re not crunching do yourself (and your spouse/significant other/friends) a favor leave it until the next day. Working too much can just stress you out – even if you don’t feel the physical symptoms. Doing something outside of work for a while is really good for you. You’ll come back to your work more rested and excited to tackle the next issue.

 

Perception: Working in your PJs would be awesome and completely liberating!

Reality: While working in your PJs certainly is glorious, showering and dressing like a grown adult can be a nice change and make you feel more professional.

 

When you’re freelancing you ARE the company, right? You want to come off professional and taken seriously, right? Part of feeling like a professional is dressing like one. There were times I’d start to feel like I didn’t have a “real” job – that I wasn’t a true professional. Call it shallow but waking up, getting ready and dressing like I was actually going into an office environment instead of another room in my house helped! Suddenly it felt less like a random weekend day and more like a productive week day with work to be done. It can set the tone for the day. I know, odd. But it’s a small mental trick that I’ve found works sometimes.

 

Perception: Every single client would be highly professional and pay me right when the work was completed, delivered and approved.

Reality: Most of the time clients will pay you but it takes effort and, in many cases, time to get them to pay you. Even with a set pay date in a signed contract.

 

Alright, I’ll come clean. This wasn’t exactly a perception I had before plunging into full time freelance work. It’s more a talking point that is very important to me, especially given some recent events. Before going full time freelance, I moonlighted (freelancing on the side for those that don’t know that term) for several years and learned about clients and payment the hard way. But I’m often reminded how vital it is to keep everything legit, documented and within a contract, even when it’s a friend contracting you for work. Business is business. Keep it that way! Save yourself from the trouble later. Trust me. And when it comes time for collecting payment remember that you ARE the company. Just as you’re responsible for fixing or providing IT solutions when your hardware/software go bust and belly up and responsible behind the branding of your company, you’re the accounts receivable dept for your company. It’s up to you to follow up with clients and ensure that you get paid. We can talk in more detail about HOW to do this the right way in another article but for now the point’s been made – you’re gonna wear all kinds of hats when freelancing and being a one man company.

 

I think that about does it for now. Freelancing is a state of mind and it takes a great deal of discipline to be able to do well. Just as with many other things in life, listen to your body, follow your heart and give yourself plenty of opportunities to recharge. When you’re facing a hard situation, talk to other freelancers. Not only can this give you a compassionate ear of someone who’s been there, it can often provide new solutions and methods to help resolve the issue you’re having. Until next time have fun creating audio (or whatever it is that you do) and enjoy life!