To describe the last week as busy would be the understatement of the decade. Late Monday evening one of the many fantastic clients I'm privileged to work with called asking for a miracle. The said magic meant me not only pulling a rabbit out of a hat but several long days to ensure I delivered three high-quality projects on time, which was yesterday.
This week was possible because I applied the five rules of building a healthy creative business, here they are.
1. Make Sure You Can Keep Your Promise...And Some
When you get a call, especially from a valued client, your first response can be to say yes. It's natural to want to please people, especially those who pay the bills. However, if you make a promise you need to be able to keep it... and some.
I recently had a conversation with someone who is enormously talented and knowledgeable, in fact in what they do, one of the best on the planet. The problem is this same person doesn't deliver things in a consistent and timely manner. They have moments of genius, but that's not enough.
A bit like bands, I'd rather have four average players who turn up for every gig than someone who can do magic and one of those tricks is to disappear at critical moments.
The one thing that links all the people I know who are doing well in this industry, be they mixers, producers, editors, ADR etc. is that they all work incredibly hard, are professional and deliver excellence every time.
It doesn't matter how brilliant you are, moments of genius are not enough and certainly won't keep you working or get you a reputation for being the one to call, it won't be the case if you make a promise and can't keep it. Clients rely on you on hitting deadlines with excellent work.
Which leads me to my second point.
2. Don't Compromise On Quality... Exceed It
Quality is your calling card and the thing potential clients will judge you on if you compromise when under pressure you are heading for trouble and may have a short-lived career.
There are two reasons that quality matters in all your creative efforts. The first is your client's reputation; they are looking for someone who makes them look and sound amazing, is that you?
Compromise, and their name or brand will suffer so if you can't deliver work that will make heads turn and people smile, then don't take the job. This value is even more essential to consider with high-pressure deadlines as they involve long hours, stress and very little wriggle room. You might thrive under pressure when the adrenaline kicks in, but that doesn't last long and can lead to you running out of ideas when you most need them and you making silly mistakes. It's irrelevant how incredible the mix is if all people hear is the click just before the chorus or see a stupid typo.
The second reason for maintaining quality is that you are only as good as your last job. Every track, album, video, movie or TV show you work on is going to be used to judge you, treat every job you do as another entry on your resume. It doesn't matter how small the budget was or how severe the deadline when people listen or watch your work they don't know the story behind the project, in fact, they couldn't care less, the listener or viewer judge it at face value, as they should.
Make sure every job you do stands on its own merits without you having to say things like you had no budget, no time, you had a bad cold, or the cat had died.
3. Surround Yourself With Bodyguards... You'll Need Them
Part of the reason I was able to meet such challenging deadlines this week was simple; I had great people around me who watched my back. Without the ability to rely on people like Henrik, Peter, and Jed at Sociatech and Mike, Dan, Julian, and James on the Expert team then this week would have been impossible.
These people had to pick up the slack on other stuff, so I did not have to worry about it. They had to tolerate my stress and unavailability and get on with things with either little or no help from me.
You need to have these bodyguards in your life you can trust. You also need to be ready to be their bodyguard too when the time comes.
These particular people have to be top of their game, reliable and trustworthy, they may not take a literal bullet for you, but they are there blocking the fire, hence my term bodyguards.
I have lost count of the number of times I got emails and PMs from them asking if I needed any help - the emotional part of the work requires supporting too.
I only managed to get this work done because people like James shipped something from his studio when he promised. Marcus delivered a great voice over on time, and right first time, in fact, he sent me several reads including name pronunciation options to cover the bases. Henrik checked for mistakes. The list goes on, but it goes to show that winning a match takes more than a striker, it requires an entire team of professionals.
4. Work Hard... But Eat, Sleep And Breathe
I learned a long time ago, partly through my period of depression many years ago that nothing is worth sacrificing your health, you can read more about my struggle with depression here.
Hard work doesn't kill us; it's not taking the time to recharge and recover that does. So irrespective of the long hours a job can take to complete, you HAVE TO (intentional caps) take time to eat, sleep and breathe.
When I finished the first of the three projects and got approval, I went into the garden and chopped a load of wood, it's what is referred to as 'alternate stress' and helps you recover. For you, that might be running or taking a long ride. I still took the time to cook a couple of meals for the family. I made sure I bathed my baby daughter and put her to bed every night; nothing is more important.
One of the most important things I did was to sleep as much as I could. I went to bed almost as soon as I had finished the work and slept for at least 7 hours before getting up and starting again. The days went from about 6:00 am to 10:00 pm then bed. So yes most of my week I was either in the studio or bed sleeping. Of course, this is unsustainable over an extended period, but anyone working in this industry will know there are also periods when you can have a few days downtime and recharge your batteries walking up a mountain or watching a pile of catch up movies and TV.
It's a case of taking the rough with the smooth, knowing there will be times of stress and restoration, use both wisely.
5. The Right Gear Pays For Itself... Many Times Over
Finally, I want to talk about gear, both hardware, and software, which we often glamourise in this industry but when push comes to shove are essential tools.
A few weeks ago I saw a comment where someone had taken offence to me saying that my Mac had paid for itself hundreds of times over. It has, and I make no apology again for restating that fact, it delivered the goods this week again, just sitting there humming away as it churned through edits, mixes, renders and more. I'm somewhat bemused as to why someone would take exception when a professional says the gear they own pays for itself. My investment story should be the rule, not the exception.
Return on investment is the reason why buying the right hardware and software for your work is essential unless you do this as a hobby. I made a couple of software purchases this week to get the job done and to make it look and sound perfect.
Buying gear for the sake of it is vanity, buying it to help you run a profitable studio is sanity. I know that every reviewer on the sites hopes their reviews will help you in that task.
I was only able to deliver these projects this week because I had the right hardware and software tools, stuff I can rely on, I know what these tools are capable of and that they will help me get the work done. Some tools dig me out of holes while other take something and make it sparkle.
One final point to make here, you might not use the same gear as me, you may not even like or approve of my choices, but that's not important, choose the equipment you are happy working with and that helps you do your work to the best of your ability.
The right gear pays for itself, often many, many times over.
I Got It Wrong First
It is said that wisdom comes from making good judgments and that comes from having made bad ones.
I hope my five rules are useful; developed over a couple of decades of making many mistakes, breaking promises I should not have made in the first place, missing deadlines, delivering substandard work, trying to do things on my own, ruining my health and family and lastly making poor gear investment decisions. I hope my failures and the lessons learned from them can help you.
I'll close with a quote my Dad once gave me about running a business which is this 'reputation is tomorrow's profit.' Experience tells me he's right.