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Working with Sound. It’s not all Pink

I take a deep breath and let the air out: "Working with sound, it's not all rosy," but rather at times it turns dark blue or furious red. Yes, of the fury and discontent of not being paid on time or not being paid at all.

If you are in the world of sound and you are freelance (even if you work for some studio) this happens constantly.

The sound environment is undervalued, knowing that at least 50% of the audiovisual product (whatever this product is, regardless of the platform or quality) is still the last link in the chain.

The industry knows this, but as professionals we stick our necks out and keep working quietly. From time to time you come across an interview that talks about the subject, otherwise most people exalt the goodness of working on something they like.

I am not talking about products only, workshops, talks, congresses, festivals, even awards, are handled almost entirely by the «good vibes» of the organizers/producers appealing to the patience and good will of those who do the work.

But this article is not about complaints but about sharing experiences

In my work experience I have gone through all the instances, from mere bartering to working for studios, giving workshops and talks for institutions, independently for productions, receiving awards and commissions. Each work is different but they all share something in common, the difficult task of getting paid for the work done.

I have gone through not collecting, collecting inadequately (i.e. means of collection other than those agreed), collecting in installments, late, in advance, partially, not collecting and also investing money, collecting in time and form.

Whether you do it independently, or work for a studio or an institution, no one assures you that you will get paid for your work. The only person who can do it is you.

Some Things I Learned on the Road:

  • From the beginning make it clear how much the work to be done costs and that you do not work for free.
    Whether the work you do is for a presentation or festival or for an audiovisual medium, try as far as possible not to give your work away, always agree to pay a fee.
    In the first instance this is detrimental to all workers in the media, because if you give away your work or do not put a price on it, you will be setting a precedent and detracting from the importance of the work itself.
    Although sound is 50% of the product (in the case of audiovisuals) and 100% for festivals and presentations, the audio and sound industry today is undervalued.
  • I set standard rates for the different works you do.
    Whether you are doing a collaboration, a presentation, a specific sound design, an audio edition, a workshop or a talk, have your rates for each of the works set in advance. Remember, not all tasks are the same.
    The standard rates will allow you to better perform a budget, as it makes it clear that less than the standard rate you cannot charge.
    It often happens that by not losing a job we lower the price below our standard rate, this only makes that in addition to work, such work is not paid accordingly.
    It is preferable to let a job go, if you know beforehand that the person who is asking you to do so is not willing to pay the corresponding amount.
    This is why it is important to set standard rates that are consistent with our work and our studies (you don’t want to be paid like a professional if you are just starting out, you don’t want to be paid like a student if you are already a professional).
  • Have clear terms and conditions.
    Just as you should set a standard rate for each of the jobs, set clear terms and conditions for delivery and payment.
    On the one hand, it is necessary to set clear terms for the people involved in the work, but most importantly, to have them clear for yourself.
    Some examples:
    ■ If a payment is withheld, know in advance how you should act.
    ■ If you are not being sent the payment, to whom, how and how often you should press to receive it.
    ■ If you are required to make last-minute changes after the work is done, know how to deal with the situation.
    ■ If a job is cancelled, how to claim your time, etc.

Even if you don’t like it, getting paid is the most important part of your business and your head will tell you to leave this job for later, as you will have clear guidelines on how to deal with each of these situations, it will be quicker and less distressing. For this reason, I recommend that you write down some specific situations (that have already happened to you) and what are the ways in which you should proceed in each of the situations.

  • Be clear about how to relate to each other.
    Just as you must know your rates and terms and conditions beforehand, you must also take into account how you will relate to the job.

    In this field, many come from friends or acquaintances. An important aspect is being able to separate friendship from work. If you commit to a job with an acquaintance and/or friend, you must make the commitment yourself and the other party and know that the same terms and conditions, the same rates and the same procedures will apply as for jobs where there is no friendship involved.
    Assuming yourself as a professional implies trying to have the same respect and commitment to the work in all cases and this implies the commitment with oneself to make your work respected.
  • Exceptions are disappointments.
    This item is very personal, but when I have made exceptions and stopped following my work rules, it went wrong. I allowed myself to be paid out of hand «for understanding» or «because I knew the person», or I allowed myself to be paid irregularly i.e. by other means than those that corresponded. On each of these occasions I did not get paid, or I got paid and the budget was devalued when I got paid, or the fees were paid halfway, i.e. on all occasions what happened was that I lost money.
  • Not speaking out costs money.
    In the industry, many people know me and know that I don’t mess around. If I have to say what I think, I say it clearly, mainly when it comes to my work.

    At first, speaking out loud, writing an e-mail demanding or making clear guidelines was something that made me feel shy, something that when I did it I regretted because of «what they will think of me».

    You could say that I got a reputation for being difficult, mainly because if something seems wrong to me, I don’t keep quiet. After a while I understood that this reputation of «difficult person» was not something I had to worry about, on the contrary it benefits me because the people who hire me know in advance who they are hiring and that as I demand, I am demanding with my own work and also with my responsibilities.

    Before I have terms and conditions for others, I have them for my work. It is a fundamental part of this that we do, it is the commitment that one has, it is important to comply with the delivery times, to comply with the quality and to adapt (whenever possible) to each one of the projects as they require it.

    Maintaining quality standards in what one does is closely related to the compensation one receives.
  • When you work in a team or for others, you must take others into consideration.

    You can make the best composition or sound design of your life. But if this work doesn’t fit with what the team requires, you must be open enough to adapt to the needs of the job.

    It is not wrong to defend a job, but always taking into consideration, that one is doing it for others and that they should be satisfied with what one presents. In this case the feedback is always the best ally, it will help you to grow, to improve and to evaluate from another point of view, even it will help you to create new things and to put new goals to your labor objectives.

    Any roundtrip is good, even those that we know are malicious or made without interest, this type of feedback helps us to evaluate the way we communicate our work, not our work.

    On the other hand, taking into consideration the other people involved in the project is the first step in opening a path in your work. This aspect is always remembered.

    For example: knowing that if I design a sound for a video game, I have to be in touch with and understand the intentions of the programmer, who in turn will be aware of the other part of the team that makes the video game. We are one and we must move as a whole body, if one leg stops it is useless for the other to keep walking.
  • Contests, festivals and commissions are no exception.
    When you win a contest, are called to a festival or receive a commission, you are usually flattered, lucky because you don’t always receive these recognitions.

    However, this type of recognition is not exempt from being fulfilled according to the agreed guidelines. That is to say, if one has to receive the prize, invitation or commission, one has to sign the subsequent contract to receive it (with the announcement alone we do nothing, most of the time the announcements are given well in advance of receiving the prize and incentives, with much fanfare by the broadcasting entity, but until the agreements are actually made, it usually takes more than a considerable amount of time).

    For this reason it is important to emphasize that in these situations it is also necessary to demand that what has been agreed upon is fulfilled, to also make sure that, before the announcement is given, one is sent all the terms of the agreement – here it is a commitment of one to read the fine print before accepting anything – since no matter how flattered we feel, nothing is free in this life, and even if they are giving us a prize for a work already done (which took their time and commitment to do so) as a future commission, any of the two opportunities, all of them, suppose hours of our work.

    If we must be clear and always understand, in these cases the institution and the organization is not doing a charitable act for us but they, in turn, receive direct and indirect benefits for carrying out such activities by calling us, so it is important to take the same precautions.

Work with sound/audio requires commitment, both at the time of performing such work and when receiving remuneration for it. Constant communication and being clear about the terms on which we do the work will ultimately benefit both those who produce and the client or beneficiaries.

To put all one’s dedication into a job one has to be freed from all the other ties, a job will not come out with quality if one has to be overly concerned with the remuneration of the job.


Author: Sol Rezza
Editor | Corrector: Franco Falistoco
@ 2019

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