How to become a freelance sound engineerMark Ellis
The freelancing economy in the UK is booming. Since 2009, it has grown by 25% and now generates an estimated £109 billion every year.
Some industries have been well attuned to freelance workers for some time, and nowhere is that more true than in the field of pro audio, where freelance sound engineers regularly rub shoulders with lighting techs, roadies and tour managers who have all shunned regular employment for their own mini enterprises.
If you’re determined to make it as a freelance sound engineer, we’ll start by saying that it isn’t an easy path, but it is one that anyone can tread – providing you know how to do so.
With that in mind, here’s how to succeed as a freelance sound engineer:
1. Bear in mind it doesn’t work like it used to
Back in the day, you started life as an intern either out on the road or in a studio environment. From there, you’d work your way up to become an assistant engineer before eventually being given control of the desk (supervised, of course) and, after a few years of mentoring, becoming a full-blown sound engineer capable of working on their own.
Unfortunately, while that path still works for some, it isn’t the way most freelance sound engineers ‘make it’ in the modern industry.
2. Don’t expect people to come to you
During the period we just described, it wasn’t uncommon for people to come looking for you, be it as a client or mentor – you just had to mix in the right circles.
These days, freelancers are on their own – literally. You have to be proactive in finding mentors (if you feel you need one) and clients. Equally, you need to forge your own path and learn skills by yourself.
Thankfully, we live in a rich digital world, full of learning opportunities, therefore if you’re willing to put your best foot forward and speak to people already ensconced in the industry and spend a significant amount of time self-learning your craft, you will get somewhere.
3. Focus on inner success
As you make your way into the world of freelance audio engineering, you’ll come across plenty of people who will try and knock you off course.
They won’t do it purposefully, but the odd, ill-conceived comment (“you don’t want to get into this game, mate”), or discovery that other freelancers are charging at least five times your going rate, will do their level best to force you into early retirement.
Avoid this by focusing on your own inner success. Set yourself goals and never take your eyes off them, no matter what other people say. You define your own success – no one else.
4. The first clients will be the toughest
Bagging that first client is a brilliant feeling, but it’ll be among the hardest you ever have to work for. As will the second, third, fourth… you get the idea!
Again, the initial experience of working directly for clients will do all it can to make you feel out of place and inadequate, but if you accept that they’ll be some of the hardest hours you spend on your career, you’ll come through the other end smiling.
You’ll learn so much in during those early years, so suck it up and take a (literal) pounding!
5. Remember the artist is (nearly) always right
Artists are, on the whole, great to work with, but on the night they can be rather temperamental. Learning to deal with the vast array of characters that take to the stage will be key to your success.
Don’t take things personally and remember that the artist is always right – unless their request will result in a bad night for them, in which case you have every right to say something.
You can absolutely make it as a sound engineer. You just need grit, determination, humility and the desire to take chances.
A thick skin will certainly help, too, but the more you build your skill level and gain confidence, the less you’ll stress about dealing with the trickier side of the industry.
The best of luck – go find that freelancing sound engineer career!