Life As a Freelance Musician: Part 7: The Pros of the Freelance Lifestyle
Freelancing definitely has its ups and downs. In some ways, it feels a lot less stable than a regular 9 to 5 job. However, there are some huge benefits to this lifestyle that I thought are worth mentioning. Here’s a few of the very real pros that can benefit you whether you make music, program, make art or whatever else as a freelancer.
I think the single biggest advantage of working for myself is no commute. I used to spend 2 hours a day commuting to downtown Chicago on the CTA train. I was forced to spend an hour with obnoxious, rude, loud and even very sick people. Nothing like hearing a 15 second clip of a Jay-Z song on a distorted cell phone speaker over and over at 5:30am in the morning. It was not a fun way to start my day. By the time I got home after 2 hours commuting and 8-10 hours working, I was exhausted.
Now, I get up and walk over to my living room. I can work a 10-hour day by 3pm and still have the rest of the day to do other stuff. The time and money I spent commuting more than make up for the slightly lower income I have when business isn’t booming. I’m not forced to be out in the rain or freezing cold just to go sit at a different computer.
As already mentioned, commuting in public transportation exposes you to a lot of germs. Between that and working with co-workers who refused to take a sick day even when they were near death, I usually got sick about 3 to 5 times a year when I worked downtown. So far, I’ve been sick twice in my almost two years as a freelancer and I recovered in a day or two instead of a week.
When I had an office job, I had to eat out almost every day. There were few healthy choices and I was steadily gaining weight. Add this to drinking way too much coffee to get through the rough days, and it was a downward spiral for my health.
Since leaving I’ve started working out each day. I do Insanity workout and go jogging in my neighborhood. It helps me clear my head, manage stress and sleep well. It gives me a chance to listen to my mixes on different speakers in different environments too. I also use the time to check out what my colleagues are doing by listening to other game soundtracks. I’ve lost weight and feel great.
As I mentioned before, my main reason for getting into this was more to do my volunteer work. The fact that it’s my ‘dream job’ also helps of course! Having essentially no set schedule opens a whole new world to what you can do. I’ve sometimes put in 40-50 hours by Wednesday and then had the rest of the week for volunteer work or whatever else. A 13-hour day doesn’t seem so bad when it’s just sitting in your living room. It also helps not to have to wear ties, dress clothes and all that other pointless office stuff.
I’ve noticed by reading blogs and tumblr of other (more successful) freelance composers, programmers and artists that they talk about their family, post pics with their kids way more than folks I used to work in offices with. Since my wife works from the house too, it’s been a totally awesome experience to spend more time together, cook together and not spend 80% of our time apart. I imagine if you have kids it’s even more useful to have a completely open schedule for doctor’s appointments, school and other stuff that doesn’t fit into a 9 to 5 schedule.
Is It Really Less Stable?
A while ago I was giving some serious thought to if it really is less stable to be working for yourself than to be working for a big company. Look at a comparison of two events that happen for an already-established company compared to the same event with an already-established freelancer.
A big company has 3 big clients and various little ones. The 3 big clients account for about $400,000 a year of income. During an economic downturn, they lose two of these clients. Because of this, they can’t pay the salary for half their employees and have to let them go. Despite the sales team working hard to land a new client, 9 people lose their jobs because of this.
A freelancer has 5 major clients. Each one brings in about $12,000 per year. One client goes out of business suddenly and the freelancer loses that income. Despite working hard to find another client, for a time he’s forced to deal with a 20% drop in income.
Which is more traumatic to the worker? Thinking you have a secure job and then one day you and all your coworkers are sent packing, probably with little warning? Or being in business for yourself and having a 20% drop in income? And this doesn’t even take into account things like office politics, being the scapegoat for failure or being the overworked slave that others use to get ahead. Also, you know you didn’t lose your job because the sales team was lazy, or your manager lacks vision, you know you are working for your own money and responsible for its success or failure. In a way, I think it’s validating to accept that and be less dependent on others to keep a business afloat.
Both scenarios are frustrating and sad, but they’re essentially the same. In a big company, you are one cog in the wheel, but essentially the company is just one big freelancing entity looking for clients, landing contracts, and doing work to get paid.
Unless you have some government job that never changes, working for most companies only “seems” more secure than working for yourself. Especially now that many companies are switching away from “traditional” insurance and retirement plans. I’m not saying there aren’t advantages. There clearly are some who have different health situations or larger families that this does not apply to, and there are some companies who will take better care of you than you could on your own as far as medical plans and insurance go, but the fact remains, you still can lose it pretty easily.
So, it freelancing for everyone? Probably not. It took me some time to adjust my thinking and not feel like I had zero security. But seeing what happens with many companies has made me think a lot about what is important in life and what the trade-offs are for having that supposedly secure job.
Next few weeks:
-When Is A Song Done?
-The Secret Arts of Coming Up With Melodies
-My Biggest Mistakes as a Freelancer