Not everyone can earn top dollar and mix the latest Coldplay album or the next James Bond movie. We all start out somewhere near the bottom and try and climb that greasy pole and to attempt to reach the “summit of audio excellence”. Whilst we all try to earn enough pennies to feed our dogs (in this ‘ever harder to succeed creative world’) sometimes we need to work for free (or virtually free). Here are a few good reasons why not just beginners should think about this…
Everyone knows someone. When starting out, some of the fastest connections you can make in the industry will be through some of the low budget or gratis work. Sometimes, if you are good and persevere, the initial work may be for free, but it can put you out there in front of people who otherwise would never have heard of you. Perserverence pays off, but the abilty to network pays off more.
Almost nobody signs a contract with a pro-level sports team and winds up playing the same night – they need to be developed, their talent and ability worked on and honed. Working for free allows us the time to develop; to figure out what we want to do, how we want to do it, and how to go about getting the consistent results that’ll take us and our work to that next level. If the mix is good, great! You’ve done your job and have some cool sounds for your portfolio – start marketing yourself. If the mix/edit doesn’t work, well, it was a free….what did they expect? Go back and work on your craft until you deserve to get paid. Take time to figure out what it is that makes you unique and sharpen that until it’s perfect.
Build up that portfolio. More importantly, build up that portfolio in the direction you want to be working. It’s great getting paid to mix the local teenage band or to mix you tube skiing videos, but unless that’s the direction you want to go with your work (and both are directions - of sorts), you may be wasting your time. if your goal is something other than that, you most likely need to build that portfolio through a number of free sessions until your work is good enough to warrant being commissioned.
Paid or free, there is value in your work. But it’s not something that happens overnight and it’s not something that happens simply because you own a copy of Pro Tools. There are literally millions of other people walking around recording what you’re recording, or mixing what you are mixing. Free work, allows you the time to build that value (yes. I do realize how contradictory that sounds). Ask any successful person and they’ll most likely tell you that value is built over time – it’s an ongoing process. Build the value and the money will follow. I promise.
You should be using Pro Tools because you love sound. It’s a total cliche, but it’s also the truth. I sometimes mix for free because without it, I wouldn’t have a project with time to try new techniques and/or plug-ins on. I get better all the time because I dare to experiment. I believe in my work and believe there is value in it, beyond that of which I place upon it, and so do my clients - which is why they pay me for it. In a perfect world (read: I’m rich), I would do it for free (but ignore the tossers) . I honestly truly love what I do.
Food for thought…