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Old September 6th, 2017, 10:48 AM   #1
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Considering My Audio Guy Future

Hi, all. I am in the process of trying to decide how to continue in the business as my career winds down. Like many of you, through the years I have done a little bit of everything - shooting, lighting, editing, graphics, and audio. Last year I left my full time job and "semi-retired", planning to accept freelance gigs. I decided to specialize in audio-for-video as there are fewer people who specialize in that part of the business, and I have always had more knowledge in audio than your typical video person. The last year has gone pretty well, but several of my freelance gigs have been as camera person and editor. The audio jobs seem to be getting fewer and farther between. I know the business has been moving this way for a while now, with budgets getting lower and with both clients and people new to the industry putting less importance on separation of duties and hiring specialists.

So... not to start a whole discussion about "the good ol' days" vs. today, or the merits of an actual crew to accomplish what so many expect one person to do nowadays, I just thought I would ask what all of you think about where we are headed and help me decide where to put my energy.

To help narrow the focus here, I work primarily in the corporate and commercial arena, with training and promotional projects, as well as on a regional/national level as crew when news organizations, tv magazine shows, etc. need production done in my area. And I am not in NYC or LA where I presume jobs would be more plentiful.

Do you see "sound person" as a diminishing role in the business?

Are there other avenues of freelancing I would be better off pursuing?

Thanks in advance for your input.

Rob
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Old September 6th, 2017, 11:58 AM   #2
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Re: Considering My Audio Guy Future

Just some random thoughts, which your post seems to recognize already:

Large market means more jobs/opportunities - and more people seeking those jobs. Also, should be more potential clients with larger budgets that in theory at least can afford jobs that have specialists. A proven performer can develop a work reputation and be in demand.

A small market is not the same. Just look at production quality of most of the local TV ads on a small market station vs. a large market station. Low budgets, fewer opportunities. Top talents has to have other reasons to keep them in the area.

The question boils down to, for the market in question is, "How good is good enough?" A skilled audio person is in demand in markets that want, and are willing to pay for, high quality audio.

What to freelance in your neighborhood, or your ultimate retirement area? I have no idea, but networking with local folks in the business, and related businesses to try identify unmet needs (that have some money behind them) may be a start.

With pressure on budgets, and in many cases video seen as an overhead cost to be managed (content is king so audio quality need not be primo in a visual product). With the technological improvements in gear (e.g., dynamic range, S/N, distortion, etc) and software for cleanup in post, the demand for a skilled crews will likely continue to diminish over time.

(Not unlike cell phones, digital cameras, and texting have largely eliminated with pay phones and letter writing, and killed a most photo processing labs.)
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Old September 6th, 2017, 12:43 PM   #3
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Re: Considering My Audio Guy Future

While general comments and concerns about market directions seem to be a focus for these types of discussions, I think the essential questions are *very* local to you, your market, and your network.

Individual opportunity, IMHO, is not so related to "there were 65 projects employing an audio guy last year, and it looks like 48 this year", but, more importantly, "I have consistent calls on 5 crews, will it be fewer this year? Can I get consistent on a couple more?"

You have an advantage of longevity in your market - do people in your extended network know that your seasoned skills are available for sound? Are you talking to the newer producers, directors, production managers in your market? Are you making yourself available (perhaps at lower rate) to other sound engineers as an A2 or boomer?

I too am well seasoned, to say the least! My takeaway is that there is *always* somebody working plenty, and *always* somebody who wishes they were working more. This doesn't have so much to do with the overall state of the market, but rather, the state and consistency of your networking and reputation.
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Old September 6th, 2017, 04:55 PM   #4
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Re: Considering My Audio Guy Future

Firstly do a business course and then do the figures.... Take the 'audio dream' out of it, look at your investments v return. Use actual figures not just what you think it might be.
People often get sucked in by the dream and ignore the numbers.... most of those go broke.
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Old September 7th, 2017, 08:58 AM   #5
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Re: Considering My Audio Guy Future

Well said Seth. It is a combination of things.

Rob, You don;t say if your previous day job was in the industry or not? Regardless you obviously have some working experience or you would not be expecting to get hired your first year out freelancing.

I too have been at this for a while. Long enough that I round years of experience off of the the total number instead of rounding them up ;-)

The topic of business development fascinates me. I have often though about creating a blog or something about it. Why? To get the conversation started. Successful freelancers will talk tech with you till your blue in the face. But just ask one of them how they got all of their work and they shut up immediately. Some of them act as though they know the one big secret to the magic sauce. They look at you as though they COULD shake your hand and invite you into a secret society but they act as though if they did a grand master would appear and cut their hand off for shaking yours.

I have news for everyone out there trying to make it in this business. That is pure BS...there is no secret sauce, there is no single answer to success, their is no secret fraternal order of video pros you have never been invited to join. The truth is it takes a lot of hard work, talent, good business sense, and amazing communications skills and more. The secret lies in the difficulty of putting all the ingredients into a bowl of slop and ending up with an amazing baked chocolate cake. It aint easy folks because no one has ever been able to write the recipe down.

There will always be that group of professionals in every market that are always working. They will be the ones that keep working through economic, environmental, and technological changes. They are not keeping a secret. They may not even be super talented but their work will always be of a professional standard. They may not even be able to explain how it works for them. There are a lot of ingredients in the secret sauce. Chocolate cake is chocolate cake but everyone of them tastes different.

I have eaten a lot of cake and repeatedly gone through Top Ramon days over the years. I don't have a secret but I suppose I have some experience to share. More than I can put in a single forum post. Some of you know I do try to share all of my experiences, the good, bad, and ugly.

Kind Regards,

Steve
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Old September 7th, 2017, 11:29 AM   #6
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Re: Considering My Audio Guy Future

Thanks to all who have responded. Just to give a little more insight, I have spent most of my roughly 30-year video/audio career as an independent, with a 5 year stint with Sony (video and DVD production) and a 7 year stint with a first aid/emergency medical services training company (all phases of production) along the way. So I am quite familiar with freelancing and networking to get jobs. I am also quite familiar with the up and down nature of the business and therefore the associated income (or lack thereof!)

I guess I am just musing about the changes in the industry and where people see it going. Again I don't want to sound like an old codger (though I AM 61), but the industry has definitely changed in all the years I have been slogging along. I used to know pretty much all the production people in town, now most of them are much younger (which is a proper and good thing) and I find it more difficult now to get them to consider hiring a separate sound person. Most of them seem to just have the camera people hook up a mic to the camera. I see some incredible work being done, though most of it seems to rely on the visual side of things. It is harder and harder to justify the Sound Devices, Lectrosonics and Schoeps, etc. gear I have acquired over the years.

Anyway, I guess I have already violated my own rule about not ranting about the good ol' days. I'm happy working only occasionally now. I just didn't think it would be THIS occasionally! :>)

Thanks again!

Rob (now you kids get off my lawn!)
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Old September 7th, 2017, 02:24 PM   #7
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Re: Considering My Audio Guy Future

(now you kids get off my lawn) That is funny Rob!

What should be important is not trips down memory lane, it is what we learned on that path that still applies. Here, we talk a lot about rapidly changing technology. Both the joy and the difficulty in keeping up with it. Just as you said in your OP, things change. Everything changes. Sometimes the business environment changes as fast as the tech. You keep up or die. I can't even remember how many different models my business has evolved through. I do believe it is harder to become profitable and stable today than it used to be. But there are advantages and disadvantages to every cycle. You have to do what works best for you in your market.

By the way, I'm sure you know Lectro and Sound Devices gear does not grow moldy quickly. If you loose your hearing and have a fire sale let me know!

Kind Regards,

Steve
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Old September 7th, 2017, 03:45 PM   #8
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Re: Considering My Audio Guy Future

Lots of good insight here. Just north of you up in Seattle we are the only "Big" audio dealer so I get to talk shop with a lot of sound guys/gals. The ones that I see that are the busiest usually have a set camera op that they work with. Others are just known by reputation for good, solid work and "Get the call" when an out of town production comes in. And yes, we're also a big Microsoft/Amazon town so I see/hear of those gravy gigs of 10 minutes to record and get a full day rate, home by noon.
The cool thing around here is being in that top 20 realm of mixers as when one is booked they pass the work to the next guy down. I hate to say it, but yes, there are some "Secret" Facebook groups where we do chat about who pays on time, upcoming gigs, and what rate to hold at. Friend me and I'll dial you in.
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Old September 7th, 2017, 06:09 PM   #9
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Re: Considering My Audio Guy Future

The easiest new business sale is to a satisfied current or prior client.

The second most difficult is a cold call sale to someone who is well satisfied with his current service provider.

The most difficult of course is to a dissatisfied prior client who has other options.

Referrals by satisfied clients are great - it is a form of networking.

Referrals by peers who are already booked (the secret society connection) are good too, but you have to remember to return the favor.

And referrals from within the related business community are a good source; e.g., within the world of event work, get to know and commune with DJs, wedding planners, photographers, venue managers, etc.

Perhaps appropriate to one in a retired status but still wanting to do something. At the low end, one-man-band level, who is doing the recording, marketing, and CD production for church and school recitals/concerts in you area? Dance and theater call for video, but music only (orchestra, band, and choral) may be content with audio recordings only. Not a way to get rich, but chance to keep a hand in around people who will appreciate the effort.
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Old September 11th, 2017, 06:00 AM   #10
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Re: Considering My Audio Guy Future

Sometimes what we perceive as market conditions changing (and they do) also has to do with our relationship with the market, even if we don't realize it.

The saying goes 'people hire people they trust'. I would venture that the vast majority of hires goes to people they have hired before, gotten referrals to, or have met through other means. A cold hire is the absolute last resort.

Therefore all focus should be on being on enough people's radar for the right reasons. Maybe more focus should not be on how much the industry has changed, but how the world has changed in terms of people interactions, and whether you still show up on the radar. That is a much more likely factor.

When I traced my business a year ago to understand where my leads are coming from, over 95% had some social media component. And no, this is not people finding my FB page (I don't have one). But it's my network being aware what I'm doing, and me being more aware what they're doing and when they might be looking for a job. I've gotten good paying work via FB, Twitter, and Instagram. All from people who I already knew, but who were not thinking about me at that very moment were it not for social media.

The other element is that there is always a dip when your circumstances change. When I moved from Seattle to NYC it took about 4 years before my network was back to the same level and then better. When I changed careers from corporate to independent, it took many years before I was back to normal.

Is it possible that during your first year some of your gigs were left over connections from your last job, that have now decayed? And your independent network is still re-establishing? Does your network really know you as an audio guy or do they know you more for video and editing? Would they refer you as an audio guy if they didn't know you that way?

Finally watch out for which genre you work in and how you will be categorized. I once turned down a client request to help cover an event because they would have forever known me as the event guy, rather than think of me for catalog or commercial work. I told her, that once they hired me for full paying gigs, if they needed a quick favor for an event, I would be happy to oblige. But not the other way around. You will be categorized. Try to be thoughtful about which bucket you sit in.

And I still regularly hire audio guys whenever the budget allows it, and I always suggest the client that the budget should allow it....
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Old September 11th, 2017, 05:23 PM   #11
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Re: Considering My Audio Guy Future

What Jan said is spot on....I am currently looking at that myself.

Guy, you should be looking over your shoulder for offering the secret handshake ;-) :-) :-)

Steve
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