Should you work for free in sound Asbjoern Andersen


Should you do free work in sound? In this post, Doug Siebum shares his story and experiences working for free, highlights the pros and cons - and shares his personal take on whether you should do free work in the first place. Doug Siebum has been involved in the entertainment industry since the late 90's, has worked in a variety of positions over the years, and is a voting member of both the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences and the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Written by Doug Siebum
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INTRODUCTION

I want to approach a topic that is uncomfortable for many and even taboo to talk about for some. The topic is “working for free”. Should we do it? What are the benefits and consequences of it? Why is it so common in our industry? I’ll be addressing these and other questions. I know that this is uncomfortable, but I’ve learned that if you want things to get better, you have to confront the uncomfortable stuff. Don’t lean away from it, lean into it. This topic came to mind because I’ve seen a number of posts lately about people being asked to work for fee. I thought I would start by sharing my story, which is something that I’ve done many times, but this time I’m going to do it with more emphasis on all of the free work that I have done. It is a good representation of what many people go through in this industry. I’ll also be sharing some of my personal thoughts and opinions on working for free.



 

 

MY HISTORY AND EXPERIENCE OF WORKING FOR FREE

My path in the entertainment industry has been a long one. If you want to know how long, I was helping bands load in gear for live shows back in 1997. I was a teenager and yes, I was working for free. At the time, getting into a show for free sounded great. I didn’t have much money and the prospect of going to a show for free was very enticing. I thought I was getting something out of it and maybe I was. I was getting experience and making connections to the band. They were in their teens and early twenties themselves. It’s not like they had money either. In the late 90’s I also did work for free setting up and striking the gear for electronic music events. Again, I was getting experience and I got into the show for free. I don’t regret doing it.

Around the same time, I spent a good amount of time hanging out with friends who were musicians, at recording studios. One of the studios asked me to hand out flyers for them and basically be their street team. I took the “job” seriously and handed out a ton of flyers over a period of a few years. Again, I did it all for free.

I had a mentor at the time that was about 10 years older than me, who had done some work in Hollywood. He encouraged me to work for free as a way to get skills and experience.

Fast forward a little and I was working on my Associate’s degree. The first of three degrees that I would receive in audio. While doing that, I thought I should look for work in the industry. I found a live sound gig that was once a week. I was thrilled to find out that it paid. Then I found out that it paid a “stipend” which was less than the minimum wage. I worked for one evening each week and received a grand total of $20 for the night. In addition to working my regular job as an assistant to a database administrator, I worked this gig in live sound, and went to school. I had a mentor at the time that was about 10 years older than me, who had done some work in Hollywood. He encouraged me to work for free as a way to get skills and experience. Growing up in the city of Sacramento, I was happy to receive advice from someone who had actually worked in Hollywood. My college professors also encouraged me to intern and work for free.

Later I moved from Sacramento to Los Angeles as a transfer student and recent graduate, working towards a Bachelor’s degree. I interned for free at a small recording studio during that time, while also working a restaurant job, and working towards my college degree. On top of that, I hosted a radio show on the college radio station. It’s a common story for people in our industry. Many of us are encouraged to work for free to get experience, and we juggle multiple jobs to do it.

My second year in LA, things were looking up. As a result of my radio show experience at the college radio station, I landed a job working at a small online radio station called PerreoRadio.com. It played reggaeton music. I was editing the live shows down to an hour and uploading them as podcasts. I worked a few days a week and even got paid more than minimum wage. I thought things were really happening at this point. I was able to keep this part-time gig until about a year after college. While working this job, I worked on a feature film for free and got a credit at the end of the film. I was getting some great experience learning about editing and mixing. I was learning from professionals. This was different than working on student films. It was at that point that I knew I wanted to work on films.


I found paid work at a pro sports stadium

Then the 2008 recession hit. In December 2008, they decided to let me go and close the radio station. I held my head high. I was ready to take on the world. After all, I had all this experience AND two college degrees in audio. I had to have a leg up on a lot of people. I sent my resume out to every studio that I could find in LA. It must have been a great year for crickets because they were chirping pretty loudly. Luckily about 6 months before I was laid off from the radio station, a former classmate from CSU Dominguez Hills, Tommy Suarez helped me land a gig working at a pro sports stadium on the weekends. As soon as I was laid off from the radio station, I let them know that I was available for as much work as they could give me. The problem is that the work was only gig work. We worked on the days that there was a sporting event. How many games does a pro sports team have each year? Not enough to keep the calendar full. On occasion, we would get a day to set up for the event, but it was mostly events only. To top that off, the work was divided by however many audio engineers the stadium had. On average there would be two of us working for any given event. Things also slowed down at the stadium as the recession dragged on.

Dropping a hard drive off at Cartoon Network when I was an intern

Time went on and I wasn’t finding anything. I continued to reach out to studios, reply to posts online about jobs (there weren’t any for post sound for TV/Film), and do whatever I could to try to move my career forward. I finally responded to an online posting for an internship on another feature film. They had me work on set as a PA for a couple of days (for free). Then they were on to post production. They asked if I wanted to stay on as an assistant sound editor. That way they could give me a better credit on the film. I agreed and worked for free for a couple of days a week for about a year. I learned a little on this film, not as much as I thought I would. It was great networking with the composer and music supervisor though. I sat in several meetings with them and still keep in touch to this day. Eventually the composer, Penka Kouneva took pity on me and opened up her Rolodex. She sent out several emails introducing me to people in post production. I was sure that this was my break and in some ways it was. I didn’t get any paid work out of it, but it led to two internships in post. The longer one being 3 days a week for about a year. The other one was 2 days a week for a few months. Although I learned skills from both places, it was the longer one where I really got to know people and learned to edit sound effects.

After these internships were up, I made another round of looking for work in post. I sent my resume out everywhere. Nothing. I decided I would take whatever work I could find in audio while still focusing on finding work in post production sound for television/film. During this time, I had built up my skills in live sound and focused more on that because I was getting some paid work. One club said they had work. They had me come in for “a few days of unpaid training”. Several people commented on how good I was at live sound. Of course, I already had some experience from working at the pro sports stadium and I was freelancing on corporate AV gigs at that point as well. That club kept me “in training” (unpaid) for 6 months before they ever gave me paid work. I did get a lot of skills and experience out of it, but they also used it to train someone on mixing Front of House while I ran monitors for free. Then I started getting paid at another club and another. I worked in the clubs for a few years, while still taking on some short films. A couple of them even paid a couple hundred dollars.


Finding paid work in clubs

I still wasn’t working in post production like I wanted to be. The demanding schedule of Broadcast TV and Live Sound was wearing me out. It was all gig work, so I tried to live by the saying “never say no”. It was common for the club to close at 2 AM, after striking the stage and driving home, it would be 3 AM. I would shower (I always felt dirty after live sound gigs) and maybe eat something and finally fall asleep by 4 AM. I would often have to wake up by 5:30 AM or 6 AM for a broadcast TV gig that paid a lot better than the club gigs. Nothing like working a 14 + hour day and being in high-pressure situations with less than 2 hours of sleep. That was a regular occurrence for me. Several of the companies that I freelanced for in live sound, stagehand work, AV work, or broadcast TV had me come in for “a few days of unpaid training” before I started. During this time I started editing audio books on the side. Luckily that was a paid gig, but the training wasn’t.

MOVING TO THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA

Not knowing what to do, I signed up for grad school at San Francisco State University. During my time there I refocused my career towards post production. I took on several student films for free and took as many classes as I could that focused on post production. I also interned (for free) for a semester at a post house in San Francisco. During grad school, I freelanced in a variety of positions in sound.


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Immediately upon graduating from grad school at SFSU with my third degree in audio, I landed a job as an adjunct professor. By this time there had been several newspaper articles and even a chapter in the book Beyond Sound published by Oxford University Press about my career in audio. I thought that I finally had some stability, but I didn’t. Adjuncts are treated like second class citizens compared to full-time professors. Also, our schedules and workload would change every semester. It could go from being just under full time one semester to hardly working the next. Then back to just under full time. I taught for 3 years (4 years if you include me teaching as a grad student), It was during this time that I started working as an assistant at a post house in San Francisco. I did that for 2 years, but there was no upward mobility there. While I was working at this post house, I started writing articles and doing interviews for a website that was 100% volunteer-based and not monetized in any way, shape, or form. So I was working for free.


San Francisco

One of the colleges where I taught offered an externship in which the college would pay for me to go work somewhere part-time over the summer and bring back the skills and experience to teach. It was a program designed to help keep teachers relevant to their industry. Luckily not many people applied for the externship, so I was selected. During this externship, I learned some things from the editors and mixers and they learned that I had some skills in post production sound. Working relationships developed and I got to work on some films. Later they would give me some freelance work on more films.

This was the catalyst for me being a full-time freelancer in post production. Between audio books, television shows, commercials, and films I somehow manage to stay busy.

As the externship ended, I learned that there were budget cuts at the college where I was teaching and that they would be taking my classes and giving them to a full-time teacher, as they were running less classes that semester. The budget has continued to be cut even further in subsequent years. This was the catalyst for me being a full-time freelancer in post production. Between audio books, television shows, commercials, and films I somehow manage to stay busy. A few of the people for whom I worked on their projects or student films for free ended up giving me paid work later. That’s how some ongoing business relationships developed for me. My story is long and it changes each time I tell it because I’ll remember some other detail, some other company that I worked for, or some silly anecdote.


Going to my externship

The point is that I didn’t find my way into post production by chance. It didn’t happen easily for me. I didn’t just “get lucky”. I spent several thousand hours working for free. More than you want to know about. Before someone says it, no, I didn’t have my parents supporting me the whole time. I have lived on my own and supported myself since I was 18 years old. I really didn’t have the resources to do all that free work, but I did it anyway. I ate a lot of Top Ramen over the years. There were times when I felt lucky. A friend helped me get a job or whatever, but there was effort put forth in developing those relationships and friendships. What I didn’t have, was the nepotism in the film industry and I didn’t simply fall into my dream job right away. It does happen that way for some people, but they are the lucky few.

My last year in LA, in one night, I was contacted by Shakira’s manager and John Cale’s (Velvet Underground) manager about touring gigs. I thought it was really happening.

I made it to where I am by being ridiculously determined and persistent. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I have often thought to myself, when young people tell me they want to get into this industry that “the cruel joke of it all is that by the time you get to the position that you want, you’ll be so burnt out that you won’t be able to enjoy it. Not in the starry-eyed youthful enthusiastic way that you wanted to enjoy it”. That was my experience in live sound. By the time I started to be considered for bigger live sound gigs, I was burnt toast and looking to get out before I completely sacrificed my health for my career. My last year in LA, in one night, I was contacted by Shakira’s manager and John Cale’s (Velvet Underground) manager about touring gigs. I thought it was really happening. Both gigs decided to go with someone else. I was thankful that my name was even in the hat for those gigs. A lot of people are never considered for gigs like that. I also knew that it was time for me to transition into post production.

WHY IS THE INDUSTRY LIKE THIS AND SHOULD WE WORK FOR FREE?

Our industry isn’t easy. Where sound is 50% of a film, it is often less than 2.5% of the budget. I would argue that this percentage of the budget is lower than it should be. Great sound can really make a film. I would also argue that the culture of working for free is unfair. I don’t know of any other industry that wants you to have a college-level understanding of physics, electronics, and sound, and then spend several years working for free or at a low wage before making a decent living. I’m bringing this up, not to complain about it, but to start the conversation so that the culture might change a little. I also want to help educate people and give them some perspective on when they should and should not work for free. I’ve learned a few things over the years. I still want people to work hard, but maybe have it a little bit easier than I did.

I’m bringing this up, not to complain about it, but to start the conversation so that the culture might change a little and to help educate people on when they should and should work for free.

I remember reading an article about the movie Sausage Party and how animators were being asked to work long hours and even overtime without being paid time and a half. I immediately thought that “they’re still being treated better than sound is in many cases.” That probably wasn’t the right reaction, but it’s the one that I had. I don’t mean that to be a dig at animators. They work long hours and are often underappreciated as well.

This brings me to another instance where people work for free. If you’re working overtime and not getting paid your time and a half or double time like you are supposed to, you’re working for free or at least at a discounted rate. Also, as budgets get smaller and schedules get tighter, some people are working some hours off the clock as a way to keep up with everyone else. That only makes the problem worse because now they can point the finger and say “well so and so can keep up with it” when in reality that’s not really true. What’s the point of having unions and setting wages and rules if people are working off the clock and not really getting those wages or following those rules?

It’s not uncommon for filmmakers to claim that they are “out of budget” or “went over budget in production” so they need post sound to work for free or at a heavily discounted rate. If it’s a short film and they’ve given me lots of paid work in the past, I may consider doing them a favor. I don’t know if that’s the right move or not. I’ve also flat out told people “no”.

I don’t hear of that same conversation happening in color correction or VFX. No, this isn’t a jab at color correction or VFX. They work very hard and are often underappreciated as well. Maybe it does happen with color correction and VFX and I just don’t hear about it. But if it does happen, I don’t think it happens nearly as often as with sound. If not, we should ask ourselves why? Part of it has to do with the saturation in our industry and that there are lots of new people willing to undercut us just to get their names out there. I think some of that saturation comes from Napster and the fall of the music industry. Jaron Lanier talks about it in his lectures, where he says that the model of the music industry giving away music for free and musicians would somehow find a way to make a living off of it was a very worthy experiment, but it’s time to acknowledge that the experiment failed. We need to continue to explore new models for making money in the music industry. I couldn’t find the exact lecture that I’m thinking of, but he talks about the music industry in several of his lectures. One example is at 6 minutes and 40 seconds in this clip.



Who Owns the Future?


Jaron Lanier talks about the music industry

This fall of the music industry moved a lot of people that were making money in music recording and mixing in large format studios, into other areas such as post production for television, film, and games. Suddenly people that were applying their skills in one sector of the industry switched to another sector.

[tweet_box]Should people in our industry work for free?[/tweet_box]

Another reason that I think that sound is asked to work for free is that most people tend to favor their vision over other senses. The sad truth of it is “sound is invisible”. Not only is sound not visible, but sound as a department often seems to be invisible as well. As a community, I think we need to change how we talk about sound to help people see how important it is. This is the convergence of art and science! We need to talk about sound like it is rocket science and not “cool man, I did a whole album in a weekend”. I know that for most directors, it wouldn’t go so well if you sat them in front of a bunch of audio equipment and told them to do their own sound. It’s a highly specialized skill and we need to talk about it as such. People should look at sound with a sense of awe, wonder, excitement, and not with the attitude of “oh sound, that just gets slapped on at the end of the process”.

This brings me to another point. It’s currently popular to roll credits as if a film is an assembly line process. Production rolls first and then towards the end of the credits you have animation, VFX, and sound. The problem is that a film is not an assembly-line process. Conversations about sound design can and should start early on in the film making process. People can start recording sounds from day 1. It also puts some positions such as production assistants and catering higher up on the credit list than sound. To people that don’t know any better, this can create the feeling that a production assistant is somehow above a supervising sound editor. There have been recent strides taken by Cinema Audio Society, Motion Picture Sound Editors, and Association of Motion Picture Sound to change this situation. I encourage people to do what they can to make sure sound people get their proper credits and to support the recent efforts of CAS, MPSE, and AMPS. I have also heard that other organizations such as the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences have been making their own efforts to ensure that artists and engineers get proper credits.

As a community, I think we need to change how we talk about sound.

When I was in grad school, I worked on a number of student shorts. One of them, I agreed to do for free. I later found out that they had almost $9,000 in budget from their Kickstarter and they were paying for the composer and color correction. One of them even made the comment that “they can’t imagine anyone doing color correction for free”. I’m not mad at them. I actually think that college is the time when you can ask people to work for free. However, it did feel a little insulting. They should have had enough tact not to have those conversations in front of me when I was working for free.

I also think college is one of the places where the attitude that sound should be free starts. I have heard college professors in film departments tell students that when they are starting out, they can “find someone to do the sound for free”. That’s fine when they are a student. Maybe even for one film after college. They might be able to do it all based on favors as a “help me get started” thing. After that, they shouldn’t expect anyone in any position to work for them for free. It’s not fair to anyone and it brings the whole industry down. If anyone continuously asks you to work for free on their films after their out of college, I recommend you say no. One freebie at the maximum, if you even decide to give them that. I also think college professors should be discouraged from telling students that they can find someone to do sound for free. Especially when those same colleges have a sound department full of students that are going to need work later. I wonder if the colleges know that this attitude exists. If so, they should address the issue. If you are a student and you see this attitude in a college department, you should bring it to the attention of the administration.

When I started out, a lot of people told me that I should intern and work for free. That was the way to get into the industry. I came from that school of thought. It was several years later when I heard another school of thought. I had one composer who’s worked on a lot of blockbuster features tell me working for free “is a mistake”. Now I’ve heard both perspectives from several people, but it took a lot of time before I heard this other perspective. In many ways working for free is a mistake, at least from an economic perspective. People that work for free or at a reduced rate hoping to get paid work later are called “loss leaders”. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of working for free.
 

A LOOK AT THE PROS AND CONS


 
 

The Pros:

  • Gain experience
  • Networking/Meeting people
  • Learning skills
  • Getting paid work from the same person in the future
  • Earning credits
  • Building a resume
  • Feeling like you deserve the higher pay when they get it

While working for free, you will gain experience. Absolutely you will. If you’re not gaining experience, leave. I believe that everyone starting out should intern while in school. It’s a good way to learn skills, gain experience, meet people, and see how the social interactions between the engineers and clients work. I learned a lot from my internships and met my mentors by working for free. People that to this day I can call and ask for advice. I’ve also had people that I met during internships recommend me for work. However, if you are doing an internship, they should be actively teaching you. If they are just having you do lunch and coffee runs with no time for learning or sitting in on sessions, you should leave. They should be paying a runner to do that work for them.

If you are doing an internship, they should be actively teaching you. If they are just having you do lunch and coffee runs with no time for learning or sitting in on sessions, you should leave. They should be paying a runner to do that work for them.

My longest internship in post was the most valuable and where I learned the most. It took the editors and mixer about three to four months of getting to know me before they actively started teaching me. I think they wanted to know if I was serious or not. Maybe they just needed to warm up to me. Before that, they pretty much told me to sit in the chair, watch what they were doing, and try not to talk too much. Unfortunately, a lot of it was over my head at the time, but I still learned a lot. Learning is one of the advantages of internships. When you are hired for a paid position, you’re supposed to know how to do the work. You can’t expect people to spend too much time teaching you. Chances are that they’re pretty busy themselves. It’s always nice to get on the job training when it happens. You should definitely feel lucky if you find yourself in that situation.

You may end up getting paid for work by the same person or company in the future. That’s happened for me a couple of times. One of the people that I regularly work for now, I first met while in grad school. We had a class together and I did a couple of his short films for free. As this director started building his business and getting work, he called me to do the sound. I’ve had this experience with a few directors. It’s nice when they remember you and reward your hard work with future work. I wish more people showed this kind of loyalty! Unfortunately, not everyone shows this kind of loyalty and appreciation in exchange for the work that you do for free.


Mixing pro boxing

Earning credits and building a resume go hand in hand. If you want people to pay you for work, they have to know that you can do the work. Working for free can help you to build that body of work. People probably aren’t going to give you work if you don’t have any experience.

When doing work, remember that it is your skills, experience, and expertise on top of your time that they are paying for, not just your time.

Someone once told me a story about a painter. I’m not sure where the story originated, but it goes like this. The painter was a great artist and someone asked him to paint a specific painting. He got out his paints and did the painting in five minutes. The person said that it was beautiful. Then they asked how much he wanted for the painting. The painter said “five thousand dollars”. The person said “you want five thousand dollars for that? But it only took you five minutes.” To that, the painter replied “but it took me a lifetime to learn how to do it in five minutes.” When doing work, remember that it is your skills, experience, and expertise on top of your time that they are paying for, not just your time. Having done a lot of work for free, I have no problem telling someone that I want union scale or just below union scale. Sometimes even more. If someone pays me $100/hour, I deserve it. If they pay me $200/hour or more, I deserve it. I’ve invested a lot of time and energy plus three college degrees into developing myself. I deserve to be compensated for that time.
 

The Cons:

  • Time is money
  • Spending your own money on travel, food, parking to work for free
  • Being taken advantage of
  • Not every project finishes/You don’t always get credit
  • Undercutting working professionals

Time is money. There’s no getting around that. Every time you work for free you could be spending that time somewhere else, working at a job that pays you. Even if it is a minimum wage job. Some money is better than no money. You have to spend your own money on travel whether you are taking the bus, subway, or driving. I’ve had to pay for parking to work for free. Most places expected me to buy or bring my own lunch. I have seen places that buy lunch for their interns, so if you find yourself in that situation, be thankful. You are one of the lucky ones.

I think we all develop a sense of when people are taking advantage of us. My eight years in Los Angeles helped to hone my snake oil gauge that goes off whenever some slick-talking hustler tries to take advantage of me. If you really feel like you’re being taken advantage of, you should probably leave.

At some point in the last year that I was in Los Angeles before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, I was working as a stagehand for a music festival. I think it was Culture Collide Festival. There was this young adult there, by the stage with a small video camera. He was in his late teens or early 20’s and had just moved to LA from somewhere in the Midwest. He asked me if I was a roadie and I told him I haven’t spent much time on the road, but I have been on tour. He told me about this film he was working on and how it was a new business model. He didn’t think a film had ever been made like this. There was no money involved in the project. He wasn’t getting paid. The director wasn’t getting paid. Everyone on the whole project was working for free. For some reason, he was very enthusiastic about it. [Facepalm] They were taking advantage of him. The words he was reciting to me were like a well-rehearsed story. Every fiber of my being, every single cell in my body was screaming at me “they’re taking advantage of him.” It was all I could do to not react. I took a deep breath and controlled my emotions. A part of me wanted to warn him. A part of me didn’t want to crush his enthusiasm and his spirit. I wished him well and walked off, returning to my work. It’s easy to walk off when you have an all access pass. They can’t follow you. Maybe I should have warned him, but I didn’t. I’ve often joked that if I wasn’t so naïve in the beginning, I wouldn’t have made it as far as I have. Maybe that’s true.


I found paid work at music festivals

Having taught at four different colleges and gone through three audio programs, I’m very familiar with the stories of people new to the industry. If you are new to the industry and you are getting paid at all, be thankful. I’ve seen it several times where people thought that because they went through an audio program, they were above getting coffee or doing the lunch runs. My response is always “you better go get that coffee and do those lunch runs with a smile on your face. The rest of us did.” Having an attitude like you are too good to do the grunt work when you are new, probably isn’t going to get you very far. Especially when you are surrounded by people that did that same grunt work when they were starting out. I’ve heard of some very big names in the industry that started as interns and runners.

Not every project finishes. Especially when there is no budget. I’ve worked on several projects that simply never finished because there wasn’t budget. The director runs out of time, money, patience, and it gets put on the shelf. When people have a crew work for free and then don’t finish the project, they are letting all of those people down who invested hours of hard work in their project. The whole point is for the project to get out there and hopefully someone sees their name and notices their work.

I’ve also worked on student projects where they promised it would be on IMDb and be in festivals, and then they finished the class and got their grade and that was it. They never did anything with it. That’s tough when you’re trying to build your resume and get some credits.


I found paid work in corporate AV

I’ll never forget the first album that I worked on that was actually released on a label. This was back in 2003 or 2004. I was a student at community college. A musician was looking for students to work on his album for free. He told us that he had a contract with a record label and the album would be released on that label. This musician was also a teacher at the college that I was going to, so it had to be a good deal, right? I volunteered and mixed several songs for him and spent quite a bit of time on them. The musician was pleased and asked for my name and email to go in the liner notes. When the album was released, he gave me a copy of the album and walked off. I enthusiastically but carefully opened the packaging and read through the liner notes. Then I read through them a second time. My name wasn’t there. I later asked him about it. He told me that he sent the liner notes out with my name in them and when the album was printed, my name had somehow mysteriously been removed by the record label.

Every time you work for free, you are undercutting working professionals. This is a tough call because you want to establish yourself, but you don’t want to bring down prices in the whole industry. It’s hard enough for the non-union guys to get enough work at less than union scale to support themselves. Having lots of young and enthusiastic sound people undercut them doesn’t make it any easier. A lot of the union workers aren’t full time either. They work project to project. That can be tough. I think part of the way to prevent people from working for free and becoming loss leaders is to establish avenues for people to work their way into the industry. That may mean making runner positions and apprentice positions available. That can be hard to do as budgets have become tighter, but we should search for ways to keep those positions around.

If you are out of college and considering working for free, you might want to consider going back to school. That gives you the opportunity to intern again and work on student projects for free, in a way that’s not undercutting working professionals. That’s part of why I went back to school. There are plenty of advanced degrees programs out there and if you aren’t feeling that, or want to do it cheaper, there are plenty of community colleges.

I feel better about people working for free when it’s on student projects.

To work for free or not to work for free? That is the question. I think everyone should do at least one internship while in school. Also, I do think people should go to school for this. It gives people time to explore and see if this is for them. It also allows people time to make some mistakes without real-world consequences to their careers and reputation. Besides that, I think it’s a personal decision, but one that you should weigh carefully. Do you have the time, energy, motivation, drive, etc, to do the project for free and take it through to completion? For me, if someone is a close friend that’s just starting out, I may do them a favor. If someone gives me a lot of work and asks me to do them a favor, I might do it. If a friend in the industry that’s more established than me asks me to do them a favor, I might.

Other than that, I find myself turning down free work these days. I’m busy and time is money and I’d really hate to be undercutting someone that needs the work. If people are going to work for free, I feel better about people working for free when it’s on student projects. In general, favors should be reserved for family and close friends and maybe on occasion for people that have sent plenty of paid work your way. Those favors should be handed out sparingly. Favors are not for random strangers who are looking to take advantage of people that are new to the industry. The one exception may be if your college professors recommend you for an opportunity to work for free. Chances are that they [hopefully] have already felt it out and feel that it’s a good opportunity to pass on to a student. At that point, it’s basically an informal internship or externship. I had a good experience with a situation like that when I was fresh out of school.


I found paid work mixing sports on TV trucks

Due to multiple lawsuits in the last several years, more internships are paid than when I was coming up and new rules have been put in place around unpaid internships. If that is something that you are concerned about, I suggest that you research the rules to make sure you are getting a fair deal.

Having gone through all of that, I will say that this is a wonderful industry that I am very passionate about. I’ve had experiences that many people only dream about. I love the industry and there are some absolutely amazing people here. I’ve worked with some of the most talented people in the world and I continue to meet new amazing and talented people. If you have some pros and cons that you want to share, or even just thoughts about this article, feel free to drop them in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

I want to thank you, the reader for taking the time to read this article. You can find me on IMDb here and on Twitter here.

 

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2 thoughts on “Sound Opinion: Should people in the sound industry work for free?

  1. wow- so much to say on this-

    I guess the first point is do we consider ourselves artists, or craftspeople, or both?

    As artists, we must accept that we have no obligation to get good jobs and success- our success is based entirely on both our effort, and our skills. If someone has the book knowledge of the job, without the people skills that our interactions are based on we cannot expect success in a broad manner-

    As for unpaid, or paid internships, those are not as present as we might like to think- and it is somewhat common, and not necessarily outrageous, that people will need to do free work to prove their skills to those who might hire them- We might also look at the issue of Union control of a good deal of the top tier audio post world.

    these are topics which do need to be considered in the trek to overnight success that on average takes at least 10 years of very hard work to achieve.

    if we look at the Music and even the recording industry, we see very few job seats at the upper tiers of the fields. We must be both expert in our craft and sensibilities, AND be creating insightful contributions to our collaborators. If we look at every big band in the music industry, we must also recognize that there are thousands of bands and artists which do not have an audience to support them. In Post, we have an easier go of things becuase we dont have to deal with the perfommance side of things quite so much- we can function more like studio musicians who dont have to go and do compelling stage performances to sustain our audience attraction.

    This is a big deal- as we have essentially created a pipeline that is not restricted by demand- anyone can go to Full Sail, USC Film or any other institution, and the best we can hope for is that if we bust our asses to be the premier performers in our classes, we can at best expect to gain introductions to the facilities that might be willing to take a risk on hiring us versus hiring the numerous people already with industry experience that are vying for those same jobs-

    in the post production industry, we have a few cities where the majority of the creative work is happening as well- and the present state of COVID is making those inroads even more difficult, as most are working at home presently. (in the music world, we also see a disadvantage with bands not being able to do live performance in venues where the pipeline for live music performers tends to begin).

  2. Thanks Charles Maynes. You make some good points. Personally I feel like I’m both artist and craftsperson, but other people may feel differently.

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