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How to succeed as a freelance creative

QUT Music alumnus Doug Clarke shares his experience working as a sound engineer and provides tips for creative industries professionals working freelance.

Starting a career as a freelancer can be a daunting task. Regular income and job security are tough obstacles to overcome. Especially in the beginning when work experience and contacts are minimal and clients are non-existent.

My advice to anyone starting out, is that it will take time. But slowly, year by year, contacts and clients will build and eventually the phone will start ringing and you won’t know how they got your number.

How to get work and build clients

The most common question I get asked is, “how do you find work?”. Most jobs in the creative industries are not advertised through traditional job searching sites and there are not a lot of permanent positions available.

For me, my first clients came through playing in bands. I recorded and mixed the band I was playing in and as I was playing shows, I was meeting and networking with other musicians at venues. Over time, that slowly built into my first network of contacts.

As my band became more and more successful, the bands I was producing started gaining success through label signings, national tours and national and international radio play. The word-of-mouth from those successes became another stream of work and instead of relying heavily on going out of my way to meet new clients, I was having new clients come to me.

Doug Clarke works in the studio alongside band members. Image by Tamara Gilliland.

Upskill and put your contacts to good use

My next stream has come from my work in Film and TV post-production. My sound engineering and mixing skills from music translated very easily into post-production. However, gaining work in this industry was trickier without any credits or experience in the field.

I got started through a friend who was working at a post-production studio. They they were very busy at the time and all of the current audio staff were working long hours and over the weekend. I offered my services as I saw this as an opportunity to learn some new skills and to gain some new contacts.

This expanded over the years from a few small jobs here and there to being booked as a mixer and being responsible for the audio post-production of an entire show.

Diversify your income

Diversifying your income is the key to having a busy schedule in any freelance field. A lot of musicians teach or play in cover bands when they are not on tour. Likewise artists sell art at galleries or commission work privately.

My freelance network extends from music producing and mixing, live sound and film/TV post-production. All of these fall under the ‘Audio/Sound Engineer’ title. The following areas of work are some that I can deliver for clients:

  • Producing/Mixing/Engineering Music
  • Live Sound Engineering for Artists and Musicians
  • Mixing for Television Post-Production
  • Dialogue and Effects Editing for Film Post-Production

While the majority of my work comes from producing/mixing/engineering music and mixing for television post-production, having the other avenues of work and contacts allows me to fill any gaps that I may have in my schedule. It is also incredibly surprising how all off these smaller fields have all fed work back into each other.

Key advice

  1. Always return calls and emails, even if you can’t do the gig. Referring a colleague is a great way to impress a new or existing client. It shows that you care about their project and are able to help in any capacity
  2. Make friends in the industry. The majority of my work has come through word of mouth. It’s all about who you know!
  3. Don’t get upset if an existing clients goes elsewhere. There’s nothing you can do about it. Making a big deal of it only ensures that they will never come back to you
  4. Having a busy schedule and being booked 6-7 months in advanced takes time. If you are open to new opportunities and always do great work, you’ll get there. It just takes time to build and develop those networks and contacts

Learn more about Doug’s career and expertise here