BY GARY BRUNCLIK
Over the years, I have been faced with making the conversion from freelancer to production company man and back to freelancer. This is a prospect that is common in all entertainment fields. Whether you are in music, TV, movies, reality TV show production, studios, whatever your chosen field may be—you had best get used to it.
A few times, I made this decision on my own weighing all the factors, considering what I would be giving up versus what I would be gaining, to solidify my decision. Sometimes this decision was made for me. In 2011 after paying years of dues for a company, I was thrown into the world of freelancing. I was not prepared for it. However, my intestinal fortitude, which has never failed me, did not let me down.
Truth is, in today’s entertainment business climate, nothing is secure. One can see this with the fluctuating culture, the financial aspects, and the political correctness pervading society today. When I started in this industry political correctness was not even a buzzword yet. Anyone who has lived in both worlds can attest to the fact sometimes you can feel like a commodity rather than a valued employee. To quote an impotent boss in my history “We’re just replaceable bodies.” Some who have lived in both worlds can also see the value in getting a regular steady paycheck vs. creating your own paycheck.
I have often read those quotes and meme’s about “all you get in life are because of the decisions you make, that you have a choice in everything you do.” I find this quote does not always apply and is somewhat a narcissistic view of life. Consumerism is built on this common and communal lie of “I can do anything I want and possess everything I desire if I only apply myself to it.” (copyright by Dr. Sam Vankan)
Every person on earth does not always get choices. You do not always get to make the decisions that impact your direction. Sometimes the decisions are made for you. However, when one is faced with making decisions (especially career decisions) in times of stress or traumatic upheavals, those decisions are mostly reactionary, and many times based on emotion and generally not grounded in logic and an analytical process.
Being in the audio business, whatever path you choose, and at different points in your career, you may be faced with the predicament of being the company guy and not always doing what you like to do, or striking out on your own and fulfilling your inner quests and riding the roller coaster ride of the feast and famine nature of the freelance side of the industry. If you are deep in the circle of freelancers, managers, and agents with well-established clients, it is not as scary. If you have been a company guy, you may not have a freelance network, or you may have let the one you did have dissolve. The prospect can be daunting but is certainly not insurmountable.
Both sides have their advantages and their disadvantages. It becomes a balancing act of personal fulfillment and a topsy-turvy roller coaster ride on the freelance side, versus stability on the company side in finance, home, family and perhaps less personal fulfillment.
For the enthusiastic newer guy who has not gotten to tour, wants to ride the silver tube, live the camaraderie of the road, and of course work bigger shows, you can make a decision to work at something you love to do. The roller coaster ride is not as acute when filling all those compartments of personal fulfillment, because you may not have some personal responsibilities that would preclude that lifestyle. Or you get lucky and find a steady gig that provides both. For most, that’s an exception to the rule.
For experienced veterans who have lived their bohemian gypsy life, that company gig probably looks pretty damn good. You still get to work in an industry you love, interact with the social circle you feel comfortable in, you get to enjoy the stability and sleeping at home every night. Plus, you get to travel some from time to time, which satisfies the “gypsy” jones. You also get to mentor which becomes a compartment to fill all by itself.
I have played both sides of the coin. I have made the decision to freelance. When I was in a position to facilitate that lifestyle, and fill those personal goals, it made the journey just as great as the destination. I made the decision. I also made the decision to settle into a company role. Either way, when you get to make the decision that makes life grand.
I have also have had the decision made for me. I had to jump back to freelancing from a company role. It is a different animal. Because when you did not get a choice, you get a choice of consequences. If you were unprepared the task is greater, you have to find a way to make the journey just as great as the destination. Again.
After settling into that company role, when you are faced with the prospect of freelancing and giving up the security that you built and planned the rest of your career on, life still goes on. So does your career. Perhaps it now appears as an overwhelming ambitious plan and goal, but not entirely outside the realm of possibility.
So regardless of the place in your career’s arc, whether young or old, the decision will come. For most of us, it happens more than once. If you live in LA, NYC, or Nashville the prospects may be a little more abundant on the freelance side. But what if you live somewhere else? What if you cannot just uproot your life and move to a music or entertainment capital? What if you have to re-establish yourself in a field populated by hundreds with the same goal as you? What if the choice is made for you at the later part of your career where younger and cheaper is the new norm?
You may have a fear that your touring resume is not populated with the who’s who of rock hierarchy. If you spent a lot of time in a company role, it is probably not glamorized with the Aerosmith’s, the Foo Fighters, or any other super group that anyone who listens to the radio would recognize. Or it may be inconsistent—a mixture of touring and company work that makes your history look like a patchwork quilt. Do not let that stop you.
This is where you have to rely on your own worth and put yourself out there for anything. I know tons of guys who are awesome engineers who never mixed a super group in their lives. Could they? Absolutely! Can they? That depends on their approach. That depends on their marketing of themselves. Most importantly, it depends on how much you believe in yourself.
Unless you are amongst the elite of sound engineers, a press darling a million times over who gets the call first for every high profile gig out there, the cold reality is, rejection is part of the industry. Rejection is part of life no matter who you are or what you have done. Get out there and start being rejected. It is all about the numbers.
In freelancing, for every gig post on Bobnet or industry boards there could be 100 freelancers, veterans and newbies, or company guys looking to break out, waiting for their chance, jumping on that one job lead. Truth is before it ever hits public it has been vetted quietly through the grapevine. The supply is greater than the demand. Someone more connected has seen it before you. Someone may be cheaper, someone maybe be less experienced and get the gig because of money, personal situation, or relationship. You have to keep a positive attitude and remain on top of your skills. Keeping that belief after the multitudes of “we will get back to you,” or more often than not, no response at all is not for the faint of heart.
In a world of one and done touring, or the cycle of touring, unless you have an established “name” you are competing with many people. Marketing yourself becomes a key component and developing a network becomes your task at hand. I once read from a well-respected engineer in the business that marketing yourself is part of the job. Indeed it is. Thank you Sir for the advice.
Having more than one qualification helps in today’s industry culture of multiple roles. Many of us tour manage, many of us production manage, many of us can stage-manage, be guitar or drum techs. The scale at which you can do that work, depends on you.
So, this comes back to the decisions thing.
If you have made the decision to freelance, give ‘em hell. It can be rewarding and frustrating at the same time. Mostly rewarding, but be ready for some not so great periods. You have some control over your schedule and workflow hence living out your bohemian gypsy. If you have been forced into freelancing, find a way to embrace it. Take the time to grieve the loss of security if that was your catalyst for the company role, and then pick yourself up and go racing down the speedway of freelancing.
Dig up old contacts and let them know you are available. Get a subscription to PollstarPro and center your freelance job quest to the appropriate avenue you know you will be good at, and whom you want to be good for.
Call up your old tour pals or industry acquaintances and have a talk. Make new connections wherever you go. Open the door to freelancing with the company that just let you go, or others in the same industry including their competitors. Many companies today are moving to freelance show / shop salaried. There are opportunities out there.
Consider moving to a music capital if you can swing it. Make yourself the financially attractive prospect (without cutting off your nose to spite your face), or develop some feature / benefit to your services that make sense.
I just did a gig this past weekend where I was, in a past incarnation, always the production company representative. Now as a freelancer, I have been approached about being the production manager for the annual event. Why? Because I am a freelancer and they want someone free of any outside alliances to look after their interests.
Use your education/experience to mentor others. Use your people skills to open doors. Start plying your craft and reap the rewards it can bring.
Accept that it is not always going to work out.
Accept that someone else may get a gig that you believe you are perfect for.
Learn to realize that something always turns up, sometimes when you least expect it.
Accept that as much as you may need a gig, there may not be one at this time.
Accept that sometimes who you know does play into it.
Accept that who you do not know may just be a relationship waiting to happen.
It happened to me recently with a well-respected engineer and blogger on SPLNetwork.com. Someone I had respect for before I ever met him. Within days of connecting, he sent me a lead. Because I was not in Nashville at the time, they opted for location based. However, it generated something.
I could be in Nashville, now that I am a freelancer again, I have some freedom of movement. I have accepted that changing locale may be a logical decision.
A decision that I would own, because, I will get to choose.