Shedding some light on exactly what being a freelancer entails.
Ah, the wonderful world of freelancing. It’s a magical place, where you can roll out of bed every day at 1PM, shuffle over to your computer in your PJs, and not have a boss breathing down your neck to work. You can play videogames and screw around on Facebook whenever you want. You’ll have work just flying at you from all directions!
If this is what you think freelancing is, then you are dead freakin’ wrong.
So the reason why I wanted to write this article is because, well, I am a freelancer in the world of game audio. And if you are looking to make audio for video games, you are most likely going to get in as a freelancer. It’s where you will build your skills and portfolio. Eventually, you may want to transition to work at a studio, but most likely, you will work the freelance route to get there.
Now, freelancing has its upsides as well as its downsides. The upsides are great. You get the set your own hours. You’re your own boss. You don’t have to commute to work, if you choose to work at home.
It’s safe to assume that you’ve heard enough about the upsides. So let’s get real here with 5 points on freelancing that nobody tells you.
1- A Lot of Your Work Is Looking For Work
Ah yes, while you may be free from the confines of set hours, you will need to actually go out and find your work as a freelancer. No, it doesn’t just come to you. I tried making a blood sacrifice in my apartment to demand work come to me, but it didn’t work. Since then, I learned that you have to get yourself out to events, promote yourself on Twitter, follow up with contacts (and keep in contact with them) in order to start getting work.
If you’re not sure what to do at a meet-up, please check out my blog post on how to conduct yourself at a networking event.
Keep in mind that you will need to set aside time in your work week to look for more work, whether you are looking on forums/Twitter, going out to networking events, or emailing contacts. You can spend a little time doing this every day, or have one designated day that you spend doing this. And make sure you get out to local game development events too, as much as possible.
2- You Still Have To Keep A Schedule
Trust me, you are going to get nowhere if you think you can just get away with waking up at 1PM and working a few hours, then playing video games the rest of the night. Now, if you’re more productive in the afternoon, that’s okay. I have personally found that while I am freelancing, I still have to stick to general 10AM-6PM work hours, as I work with a lot of companies that keep that same work schedule. I also find that I am personally most productive at that time.
I do find that in the morning, I am better with answering work emails and planning my day, so I spend that time doing that. In the afternoon, after lunch, is when I feel ready to create music and sound effects. Towards the end of the day, I send my drafts/assets to my clients, along with any relevant invoices/emails. Then I go have dinner with my boyfriend, and the rest of my day is gaming time, mostly so I can hone my sweet Super Smash Bros 4 skills. That me-time and quality time with the bf is very important, by the way. You’ll find you need to schedule you-time as well.
Anyway, when you determine your working hours, it’s imperative you keep those working hours for work and work-related activities (such as meetings, calls and emails). That’s not to say you can’t give yourself a break here and there. I am actually a huge proponent of breaking down my work into smaller tasks and giving myself a 5-10 minute break in between each task. So I’ll record a bass guitar part, then take a 5 minute break away from my computer. I’ll come back, record the guitar part, then another small break. This personally helps me feel more productive, which is something I can delve into at a later time. I didn’t come up with this, by the way. It’s the Pomodoro Technique… which is something all you creative types should read about.
Point is, make a work schedule for yourself, and stick with it!
3- Take Time To Plan And Organize
Oh man, this one is huge. Eventually, your freelancing is going to take off. That’s great! But before it does, get in the habit of planning and organizing. What do I mean by this?
Every morning, before I start working, I write down the tasks I need to accomplish for the day. It usually looks something like this:
- Send invoice to Game Developer Person about Project X
- Make Sword Sound, Gun Blaster, Explosion Sound for Project Y
- Finish draft of battle theme for Project Z
It’s simple, and to the point. Just an outline of what I’m going to do that day.
I also plan on a weekly basis, usually on Sunday afternoons or Monday mornings. I look at everything I’m working on, and set goals for accomplishing what I need to do. This is where I’ll determine what days of the week I will dedicate to each project. Sometimes those days overlap, but I find it’s important to have an idea of how my week will pan out, too. I also incorporate scheduled events such as Skype calls, lunch meetings, gigs, teaching engagements, and events I want to attend, etc, into this, so I know when I will be working on each of my projects during the week.
You’re going to need to be organized, no matter what. Start now, so when you’re working on multiple projects as a busy and successful freelancer, you will STAY organized and not get derailed.
4- Track Your Finances
When you’re not earning a steady paycheck every two weeks, you really need to keep track of how much money you are making in your freelance career. How else are you going to know if you are making enough money to handle your rent and your other bills? Other than the fact that you’ve been eating nothing but dollar ramen every day for the past month, obviously.
In all seriousness, keeping track of your income is going to be something you’ll need to do if you want to measure your success as a freelancer. You’ll know exactly how much money you’re making. Plus, it will keep things tidy for tax time. I keep a spreadsheet that breaks down each job by title, company, and amount. I color in rows green if the client has paid me, and I also include the payment date. I color them in red if they owe me money. I also keep a year to date total of all the money I’ve made, which I further break down into a monthly and weekly average. This way, I can keep track of all of my cash flow. I am personally looking for positive trends in my cashflow, which is something we are all looking for. And this system helps me keep track of that.
So take an hour, gather up all your invoices, and set up a chart. You’ll thank yourself in the long run. Keep it updated; make sure you log in your payments as soon as you get paid. Track and record your average monthly and weekly earnings, so you can assure you are following a positive trend as you get more and more work.
5- It Doesn’t Come Easy
This is a tough one. But freelancing, and getting to sustain yourself off your work, doesn’t come easy. Building a client base is one of the most difficult aspects of freelancing. Finding the work isn’t the most difficult, but to keep the work flowing, you’ll need a set of repeat clients- clients that always come to you for their audio needs. I am fortunate to have a small set of repeat clients, but it took me about a year and a half, two years to get there. It requires developing strong relationships with your clients, something I will delve into in a future article.
If I had to impart any more advice, I would say make sure you have alternate cash flows set up as well. Teaching is my next biggest source of income, outside of creating audio for games. Currently, I offer instrumental and composition lessons, both in person and over Skype. I also accepted a position as a professor at Bloomfield College. Other freelancers I speak with, such as Rachel Presser of Sonic Toad, create and sell books through the Kindle store on Amazon.
Point is, you need more than one source of income if you’re going to make this whole crazy freelancing thing work. Anyone who freelances can tell you that it’s “feast or famine”. One month, you’re enjoying great success by working on one or two really well paid projects. Then a few weeks come with not much activity. But thankfully, if you’re planning everything (and keeping track of your finances), you’ll be able to be responsible with your income during the “feast times”, so you can have a safety net during your “famine” times.
So hopefully, this article gave you a little insight into what freelancing is all about. It’s not easy, and you sure as hell aren’t going to get anything done if you aren’t organized. But if you are organized, and you dedicate the time to finding work, freelancing will be a lot more rewarding to you. It’s been very rewarding to me- I get to work with all sorts of wonderful clients on a variety of different games. I have freedom and flexibility to travel, or take a day off if I need a mental break. Plus I get to constantly hone my compositional and audio skills.
Feel free to let me know what you think about this article via Twitter!