Five Tips for Freelance Sound Engineers
To become a freelance sound engineer, you need to build positive word of mouth – and that means being on top of your game. Here are a few tips for staying ahead of the pack and getting work in the industry.
1. The ups and downs of freelancing
It’s important to know that being a freelancer means you are responsible for getting yourself work. You don’t have a fixed employer and you don’t have a fixed workplace. You’re a gun for hire, and you find your own work and do a variety of jobs. To guarantee a steady income as a freelance sound engineer, you have to sell yourself, build up a network, and build a reputation as someone who is reliable and knows their way around a PA.
2. Getting live work
As a freelancer, you’ll need to be flexible enough to walk into a live situation and know how to control feedback and get that all-important foldback mix right. Bands often forget about the PA until the last minute, so you should have a few options up your sleeve to save the day. From a portable powered speaker system and a small mixer for a pub back room, to a more powerful combination for halls, you need to be able to offer bands options they can afford.
3. In the studio
Here’s where you need to know your way around a DAW (digital audio workstation). If you don’t already have one, you need to invest now. There’s no substitute for hands-on experience in an environment (your bedroom!) where it doesn’t matter if you stuff up a mix. At the heart of any digital recording system is a computer running a program like Pro Tools, Cubase or good old Fruity Loops (rebranded as FL Studio). If you’re using non-digital instruments or recording vocals, you’ll also need an interface that converts the analogue signal to digital, such as the M-Audio M-Track range.
4. Midi keyboard controllers
Even if you’re not a keyboard player, you need to learn about midi keyboard controllers. Don’t be confused by the word ‘keyboard’. These controllers can trigger drums, bass, trumpets – whatever samples or loops you have installed on your computer. Many musicians who can’t play bass or guitar or drums will lay these tracks down by inputting through a keyboard. If you don’t understand how that process works, you will lose your client’s confidence.
M-Audio’s Axiom Air Mini 32 USB midi keyboard comes with Ignite recording software and Ableton Live Lite so you can use it to trigger sounds and for controlling recording.
With its cut-down keyboard, drum pads and ability through the software to export tracks as MP3, WAV or MIDI files, it’s typical of the kind of midi keyboard that’s at the heart of EDM and progressive pop/rock.
5. Owning your own PA
You might be asked to mix sound on an existing PA, but some clients will expect you to be able to provide them with equipment as well. Consider buying your own portable powered speaker system and mixer for gigs where you can’t just walk in and use the house equipment. Even if it’s a small, portable system, being able to provide your own PA will help you get work initially, then you can upgrade. Don’t forget to include lights in your arsenal. If a band mistakenly believes the venue is supplying stage lights, you could be asked at the last minute if you know someone who can get hold of some. It’s nice to be able to say: “Yes – me!”