Written by Rebecca Parnell, photo courtesy of Rebecca Parnell
Going freelance is a bold and exciting step in one’s career that can be hugely rewarding. It can also be very demanding, and despite the dream of freedom away from the office, designing sound on a beach in Thailand, the reality often requires perseverance, commitment and work infringing on personal time and home space… With that said in quiet times, there is the wonderful possibility to pack up the recording kit and go exploring!
If you are considering making the move to freelance or have just embarked on this journey, here are some top tips to making it a success!
A significant part of designing audio in interactive media is the implementation. No matter how amazing your thoughtfully crafted sound is, if it is implemented badly, it can sound really bad.
Having the experience of working in-house throughout the development of a game will enable you to communicate and work more effectively remotely
You need to be equipped to know how the game developers operate, what the different roles in the team are, how your work overlaps and how you can help each other. There is so much to learn! Having the experience of working in-house throughout the development of a game will enable you to communicate and work more effectively remotely. I still very much enjoy in-house contracts from time to time.
There is no better way to find work than to be recommended. Working in-house is a great way to build your network. If a previous colleague remembers your awesome sounds on a project and that you are thoroughly nice person to have on the team, they might recommend you in the future. If you build a good relationship with your clients, they’ll come back to you for their next project. Attending conferences, exhibitions and networking events are also great ways to meet others in the industry, share opinions, stories and meet like-minded people.
There are various ways in which you can operate as a freelancer: a sole trader or a director of a limited company, whether registered for VAT or not. Each country has their guidelines, rules and rates. It’s worth doing your research and getting this established from the start. If you are to make a limited company, you’ll need a company number on your quotes and invoices, the same with VAT if you are to register. Also consider whether you require an accountant, they might seem expensive but they might know how to best to manage accounts that frees up more cash to invest in your company.
This is really important as you’ll be spending a lot of time there.
Wherever possible have a room that you enter to work and close at the end of the day, making a clear division between work and personal space
Whether you hire a room at a studio, build your own home studio, or adapt a space in your home, it needs to be quiet, without distractions and comfortable. Wherever possible have a room that you enter to work and close at the end of the day, making a clear division between work and personal space.
Of course we want all the wonderful toys in the shop, but what do we really need and how much can we afford? It takes time to establish a network of clients and contracts might be patchy in the earlier years, it’s good to have a financial buffer to keep you going. I would recommend starting with a decent workstation (computer and DAW), a good versatile microphone, a good listening environment (headphones or speakers with sound panels), and a handful of trusted plugins (my absolute musts are compression, EQ, reverb and delay). When new contracts come in, or invoices paid, you can slowly build on the plugins, libraries and other equipment.
How would you like to present yourself? What is your market, who is potential clients? If you have a company what will you call it? What will the logo be like?
What’s your unique identity that makes you stand out?
Whether to be corporate or creative, broad in services or specialised, where best has your experience been and how can you expand on this? What’s your unique identity that makes you stand out? Questions, questions! All of this is worth thinking about when you design your website and branding, to represent your personality and skills. What best to present in your showreel that captures your audience before they click away. Social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook are great ways to share your latest news and gently remind people you’re available. Endorsements and recommendations are a great way to validate your services to people who come across you for the first time.
There is something very satisfying about crossing off a task from the list, especially if it’s the later part of a long list! Multiple projects and fast approaching deadlines can be stressful. Know what needs to be done and when, and don’t put it off, especially the boring stuff! There are plenty of free applications you can use – Google apps are fantastic: calendars, documents, spreadsheets can help you organise and keep track of your work and progress. Also, log your work and how much time you spent on it.
Know what needs to be done and when, and don’t put it off, especially the boring stuff
This helps with reporting back to your clients and detailing work on invoices. Keeping a record is great reference for when quoting for a new project, developing a better understanding of time required.
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Think about how you would like to charge for a project, your clients may wish you to charge on a per SFX basis but if you are overseeing implementation too, how is that worked in? Most audio professionals now prefer to opt for a day rate. Be careful when working out your day rate, some “useful” on-line calculators just divide your current salary by 365 days! Think about tax, in the UK, employers part pay their employee’s tax.
Be careful when working out your day rate, some “useful” on-line calculators just divide your current salary by 365 days
Think about sick days, holidays, expenses (equipment, rent and rates), and your availability (without employment security it is a reasonable expectation for you to build a financial buffer for the quiet periods between contracts). Do your research, have a look at what agencies are offering for similar roles and compare. Once you’re comfortable with a figure – be confident! If you are in talks with potential client, they’re likely to be impressed with the examples of your work and recommendations they have seen. If they do want to work with you but find your figure too high, they’re likely to negotiate to find a compromise. If you are turned down, ask for feedback, always better than second guessing.
Unfortunately with the nature of game development, audio can be forgotten. The team is working together in an open plan office, when checking their work the in-game the sound might be off. In reviews the team might talk enthusiastically over the game audio. If there is not an in-house audio person/team present they might not know the powerful use of audio, the aesthetics approaches that can be taken to bring the experience more to life. It’s your job to show them what can be done, get them excited and on board with your ideas, ask them for feedback! You are however also reliant on them, without their help you might have difficulty getting some or all of your sounds implemented correctly. Unfortunately at times a producer or project manager has to prioritise tasks to reach a release date, and need to juggle resource with requirements across the team. Understand this and prioritise yours, think how best to work effectively and pick your battles.
It is wonderful, to establish a career doing what we love, every day something to look forward it, and even the boring tasks are satisfying because they are our own – masters of our destiny! However take heed, it’s easy for work to take priority and can become all too consuming.
However take heed, it’s easy for work to take priority and can become all too consuming
Don’t be afraid to book a holiday, it might sound daft but it can be easy to put off to a more convenient time. Take time off; spend it with family, friends, get away from the screen and to the great outdoors! Exercise, travel, read, learn, listen and enjoy the arts. All this wealth of experience and from the stuff of life makes your creative output all the richer when back at in the studio.
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Rebecca Parnell is a BAFTA Award-winning Sound Designer, having worked in sound for 19 years on 50+ titles, covering the most popular platforms of the time.
Rebecca started her career in game audio as a Sound Designer for Richard Joseph’s audio outsource company Audio Interactive at Pinewood Studios, working with many developers including Sensible Software, Codemasters and EA/Bullfrog. She moved to work in-house at VIS entertainment, Criterion Games and Outerlight before going freelance in 2007, and in 2009 launcher her company Magicbrew, working with developers NaturalMotion, Hello Games, Wonderstruck, Space Ape, Microsoft Lift and more.
Rebecca has judged for the prestigious BAFTA Game Awards and the Music and Sound Awards, and guest lectured at the National Film and Television School.
Rebecca has also branched out to work in film, having edited sounds for several shorts and a feature, most notably Babak Anvari’s BAFTA nominated short Two and Two.
When Rebecca is not working she is often out exploring with her recording kit collecting inspiring sounds. Whether that’s in the streets of her home city London, in Brazilian jungles, the markets of Marrakesh or visiting a hill top tribe in Laos to identify bird calls, she is always keen to explore the aural world.
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