Thursday, July 24, 2008

Musings on Being a Freelance Recording Engineer - Turning Down Work Can Be a Real Bummer...

Living the Dream!
Right now I'm pretty lucky to be earning my living solely in voice over, especially considering that I rarely step up to the mic, LOL. I don't have a day job. I don't borrow money from my folks. I'm a freelance director and engineer, and I'm getting the rent paid doing it.
That said, being freelance in LA (and still fairly new to LA) means I'm pretty much covering EVERYTHING I can in relation to voice over. I direct auditions at a casting studio. I set up home recording equipment. I coach. I guest direct for work out groups and classes. I write, and I produce commercials and demos. The ULTIMATE dream is to eventually produce animation and video games full time, but right now, being this young in my career, it's all an exercise in generating momentum and refining my craft.

Referrals ROCK!
A lot of my current success comes directly from word of mouth. I've got some GREAT regular clients (knock on wood, I've yet to have any of those freelance horror story situations you can read about online), and they're fantastic about sending business my way. It's pretty exciting to look at how long I've been out here, look at how many incredible friends I've made, and what a crazy network of contacts I've started.

Producing Demos?
Recently I've been getting more requests to produce demos for people. These are almost always from the friends of clients. I take these jobs VERY seriously for several reasons.
  • Cutting a demo from scratch will probably pay my rent for the month. 
  • If I don't do a good job, I risk losing not one but TWO clients. 
  • Most importantly, this is someone's career I've got in my hands. It NEEDS to be right.
Never Let 'em See You Fail
I try to live my life by that mantra. Mistakes are fine, if not necessary sometimes, and it's how we recover from those mistakes that defines who we are. That said, failure is not an option, so I'm very careful to screen clients before working on their demos.
I need to understand them. I need to understand what they do, and I need to understand what their goals are, what they hope to accomplish. If I can't get a good idea of that, then I don't work on their demo. If I don't think I'll get along with them personally, I don't work on their demo. If I don't think their ready to record a demo, then I don't work on their demo.
That last one can be a little tricky. Eager actors always seem ready to charge in where angels fear to tread. Having worked at one of LA's largest VO talent agencies, and now for one of LA's oldest voice casting agencies, cutting your demo to early can be a disasterous career move. The current casting agent I work with has a nearly photographic memory of not only demos he's liked, but also demos he hasn't. You might only get that first listen, and it'll be a LONG time before he forgets.
This week alone I've had to turn down two demos from really green actors. Each screening resulted in multi-hour phone calls, as I explained my position on the matter, and offered advice on classes, workshops, signatures, and how to work out on their own. I figure I'm protecting their career and mine by not putting out a less than satisfactory demo.
I also hope it's an investment...

Will the Investment Pay Off? 
Man I hope so.
I know that there's a VERY good chance that the people I send away are just going to move on to some other source for their demo. I'm just not comfortable taking someone's money if I don't think it'll be a good move for them.
It's the business decision I need to make, but it can really burn turning down work.


  1. Wow, talent AND ethics?

    I can see why you have built a good quality network of contacts.

    Keep up the high moral standard and the good contracts and gigs will be certain to find you.

  2. LOL!
    Thanks Kyle!

    It's just so true that choosing to do what you SHOULD do can be a really hard choice to make.

  3. Hey there S.A.G., thanks for the post. Well done to you. I agree entirely with your thoughts and actions. I've been in a similar position having to turn down (in my case, VO) work because, in my opinion, to take it wouldn't have been the "right" thing to do and it hurt financially and socially. But we have to do what's right - what goes around, comes around. I enjoy your posts, please keep them coming.


  4. Thanks James.
    You're totally right. That's the way I HAVE to think about these situations. It's less "I'm turning down work", and more (hopefully) investing in future work.

    What goes around, comes around...

  5. don't know how i missed this post, as i do check in regularly.

    i wish i'd read it several days ago. 'would have saved me a whole lot of aggravation over the past few days with someone who called to get some guidance from me after he finished dictating his terms.

    keep up the good work!

  6. Rowell, don't be shy, you had a GREAT take on (not) working with someone. And fair is fair. I hit you with blog spam...

    Here's Rowell's unfortunate tale of (not) cutting someone's demo:
    “I Want You To Teach Me. Here’s What I Won’t Do.”

  7. Juan,

    Excellent post. I agree entirely with what Kyle said "Wow, talent AND ethics?"

    Be well,

  8. LOL!
    Alright guys. You're making me blush here.

    Thanks Bob!