Lecture 10 – a freelance guide to survival


Some jokes first

Summarised nicely here:


Now to business…

Look at Creative Scotland’s recent strategy document ( submitted to the community for consultation and comment in 2015).

What can we see? A promise to support the businessifcation of the creative industries, yes, but no explicit support for the beleaguered artist though. Clearly, if you want to work in the arts, you’re now a small business so better get used to it.

Aside from the jargon, you’ll also notice that the word art is missing almost entirely. Creative Scotland’s mandate (in this creative-industries area) has shifted ground from supporting the arts, disbursing government funds to generate grass roots artistic activity that nurtures the body and soul of the populace, towards the sustainable business management of creativity. Fine(?), then we need to challenge the organisation to directly support the freelance artists, designers out there to become viable businesses, giving advice on business structures, making connections across the country, establishing networking events and so on. It’s likely that’s going to happen but it’s going to be slow going at best if you’re not already established, so, better get your business head on, whether you’re a composer, sound designer or acoustic music technologist.

It’s good to look at how Industry are being advised. You might  check out this white paper from media consultants Frost and Sullivan.
www.proaudio-central.com/files/2015-09/bringing-sanity-to-the-content-conundrum.pdf (it’s no longer available so I’ve uploaded it here: FrostAndSullivanWhitePaper). It’s maybe worth noting that the file is available via Avid’s site, let’s have a look there and see what’s being said: connect.avid.com/Frost-Sullivan-Report.html.

This white paper seems to support the notion of fragmentation and distribution of content production, outsourcing skills and tool kits but working within a constricted and very precise workflow management system much like that adopted by Avid. Fine(?), well maybe, but there is no mention of how to manage and sustain the creative development of the workforce itself. In fact, there is no mention here of the economic consequences of untethered and dislocated workers trying to devise creative solutions within the tight frameworks required for a sustainable profit in today’s evolving media landscape. We also see a tightening of the link between business and creativity, ergo, creativity shrinks or scales to fit the needs of the business.

Or does it?

At a recent talk hosted at the University of Edinburgh, Journalist researcher and teacher Mark Deuze gave a talk called: “Beyond Journalism: Entrepreneurial Journalism Around the World”. He described this area of activity as one that has inevitable links with new forms of business model.

Journalism is transitioning from a more or less coherent industry to a highly varied and diverse range of practices. As Anderson et al. (2012) write in a review of the profession at the start of the 21st century, ‘the journalism industry is dead but … journalism exists in many places’ (p. 76).
Deuze, Mark, and Tamara Witschge. “Beyond Journalism: Theorizing the Transformation of Journalism.” Journalism (2017): 1464884916688550. Print.
Mark’s perspective on Journalism can iterate through to our own domain, especially if you re-map the ethically charged elements of journalism to the concept of creative-endeavour.

What about in other countries…?

Let’s take Greece, a country whose financial situation is so dire, that the idea of working freelance is all but an impossible dream. It’s explained in distressing detail in the following post: medium.com/@cyberela/being-a-freelancer-in-greece-is-like-being-in-hell-140a688bba8b

What are things like in the US? In China? Ecuador, Columbia, India, England, Germany?

What is entrepreneurialism?

Broadly, it’s perhaps fair to say that society values and understands the term as something linked to financially successful business projects, all the more sucessful because of the risks taken to but there are other aspects to being entrpreneurial in the modern world.

human beings are at their best not when they are engaged in abstract reflection, but when they are intensely involved in changing the taken-for-granted, everyday practices in some domain of their culture—that is, when they are making history.

Spinosa, Charles, Fernando Flores, and Hubert L. Dreyfus. 1999. Disclosing New Worlds: Entrepreneurship, Democratic Action, and the Cultivation of Solidarity. MIT Press.

How do the political winds blow?

It’s worth being in the know about some of the other wider strategies being invoked at the top-level in your country:

Some companies have interesting ideas about their workforce

Valve developed a handbook for their new employees, there is a lot to learn from this:

Business models

What business models are out there and how might sound and sound experitse be applied in this domain?

Some basic rules of the road

  • Know your hourly rate
  • Talk to the the tax man
  • Do what you say you’ll do
  • Don’t promise to do things you can’t, or don’t want to do
  • Don’t believe you can’t do something because you’ve never done it before
  • Keep positive
  • Charge properly for your work and always show any discount you’re offering

Some more basic rules of the road

In order for people to want to work with you, some say that you need to foreground at least two of the following three things. I’m paraphrasing a recent graduate here, Michael Heins; www.michaelibrahimheins.com/.

  1. be likeable, approachable, decent
  2. be reliable, deliver on time and to the brief
  3. be brilliant at what you do


  • don’t be unpleasant, rude, dishonest
  • don’t be unreliable and chaotic
  • you can therefore get away with be junior in your field and people will work with you and probably help you along


  • be rude, arrogant and cheeky
  • but be sure to deliver on time, be where you say you’ll be
  • and make sure you’re at the top of your game – your work must be fantastic


  • be polite, approachable and decent
  • miss some deadlines, should be OK
  • provided you deliver something really impressive as a result

Any more than one out of the three and the phone is likely to stop ringing.

How do you calculate your hourly rate?

How many hours can you work?
What can you do in an hour?
Do you have a general perspective on whether you’re a fast worker (i.e. experienced and brilliant, well resourced), or a slow worker (novice, doing something new, not well kitted out/resourced?)?

What are your costs?

To remain in business there are costs you have to bear whether you are working or not,

  • insurance of gear and your work (public liability)
  • domain name and hosting
  • repair and maintainance of your gear
  • studio costs
  • scouting and pitching for new work


The costs of life itself

  • home
  • food
  • home insurance

Hourly rate calculator made in class

HMRC, Inland Revenue, IRS (in the US)

Filing your tax return is essential each year and by doing this you’ll get a UTR (Unique Tax Reference) which makes it easy for large companies who are obliged to follow the letter of law to pay you without taking tax off and making you an employee.
Often an accountant can be a good investment, but you’re looking at around £250 a year (this is of course a legitimate business expense so at least the services are tax-free). This can help you as you start off and make sure that you’re on the right side of the law but it’s quite possible to phone Inland Revenue and ask for advice and fill in your own self assessment online.

It’s probably quite important to read this as the tax return is being (optimistically) phased out by 2020:

National Insurance

National insurance contributions are a weekly amount that you pay no matter how much you earn if you want to eligible for state pension and benefits if things go wrong and you need to change your status.


To pay your tax bill, it’s generally advised to reserve at least 20% .40% if you’re earning over 50k a year.

If you’re invoicing net over £80k a year, then you need to check out whether you should register to join the VAT scheme; www.gov.uk/vat-registration-thresholds.

Setting up as a small trader with others

Depending upon who you live with and your earnings and other factors, it is possible to setup a business with more than one person, especially useful if your other half is also a freelancer.


is an essential part of any relationship where business and finance is concerned. Shared financial documents are a must! Aim for total transparency with employers and employees. Agree all details in advance.

Today’s tasks:

Create an invoice in 10 minutes, upload this invoice to the SDM folder.

Acoustics people, produce an itemised PDF invoice for making recommendations for analysing a small space that will become a studio and making recommendations. This is for a small studio concern that’s just starting up themselves.

Sound Designers, produce an itemised PDF invoice for work you did recording, editing and cataloguing 5000 assets for a computer game. This work took you and two colleagues a week in a hired studio and out in the field.

Composer/Performers, produce an itemised PDF invoice for a live concert performance you gave in Glasgow this weekend. You played a set for 30 minutes and bore all the costs of getting there, setting up and packing away and getting home yourself so also include an itemised list of your expenses.

Next, come up with a webname.

write a list of potential webnames/URLs for your small business/persona, discuss them with your nearest colleague. Share your top 3 URLs with the class.

Don’t check these URLs with URL checkers, if you want to purchase a URL, find a provider first whose rates you can live with, then start the hunt via their website. The danger is that the checking services notice that there is interest in an attractive URL and they buy it, and/or put up the rates.


Many domain and space sellers offer referrals. If many of you want to purchase URLs you can share the discounts around one another by passing on a referral to one another.

Circular Economies, Mates Rates and other fun

What do you charge a friend, colleague, friend of a friend?


Who are you? This is not something in an existential sense that you should be dealing with on your professional website – unless, somehow this is a dimension of your design persona that makes you attractive.

You can deal with these issues on your Facebook profile, but in general, it’s good practice to keep that philosophical worrying out of the way and use your site to show what you’re good at and what you’re able to bring to people’s projects. They want to work with a person (in most cases).
Becoming a personality – defining your passions, abilities and potential online is a way to show the world that you have something to offer that’s attractive, skilled and reliable.
Your website is your calling card. The URL should be professional-seeming, so no cheesy names, unless that’s part of the personae you’re projecting.

Yann Seznec: luckyframe.co.uk/about/
Varun Nair / Abesh Thakur : re-sounding.com/ | www.linkedin.com/in/abeshthakurtwobigears.com/
Andrew Spitz: www.andrew-spitz.com/
Udit Duseja: www.uditduseja.com/

What is being professional?


Tools to help you get organised

1 – time trackers
2 – mind mappers
3 – project management tools from the simple to the excruciatingly advanced and complex

4- timelines, calendars, alarms

Some tools to help you to promote yourself

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • A blog
  • Soundcloud
  • Bandcamp
  • youTube
  • google and intelligent use of metadata and tagging
  • the gift economy – give away to receive – why not start with your sound library and some useful PD abstractions that you’ve made
  • Mailchimp
  • A business card
  • Make good work

You’re not alone

there are 1000s of small businesses out there and plenty of support in Scotland at least for small business enterprises. The effectiveness of this support is dependent upon what you want to do, how large you want to grow and how small your network is at the start.

Support from the University of Edinburgh and elsewhere

What do you think of this?

A few briefs woefully under detail on the things that matter, like budget – when you’re there, you’re there I guess…


music-brief_fs tv_ad_sd_brief

Time management

let’s discuss some approaches to time management:

Time tracking software like harvest:

Future proofing your work

You might think of laying your clothes out the night before you get up as a fairly middle-aged thing to do, but it can also be likened to looking after your future-self. In your professional work, you want also to be thinking about your future self, thinking ahead about what things will come around again and again year after year.

Useful self help books:

Getting Things Done, David Allen

Allen, David. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Piatkus, 2015. Print.

Essentialism, Greg McKeown

McKeown, Greg. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Virgin Books, 2014. Print.

Deep Work, Cal Newport

Newport, Cal. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. London: Piatkus, 2016. Print.