This article takes a look at the first year of life as a freelance composer.
This all started almost two years ago. I wanted to do more volunteer work with my church and also was growing more dissatisfied with my life in corporate America. I live in Chicago and had done programming/DBA work for the last 10 years. I spent 2 hours a day commuting, sitting in an office with a pointless dress code, doing a job I could easily be doing from home. The final straw was when they changed our traditional insurance to a Medical FSA, which means you might as well save your own money for your basic medial expenses. That and replacing our already-small cubicles with coffin-like rectangles you could only pull your chair in and out of were all wonderful reasons to try something new.
-3 Months To Freelance Life
I was formerly a roommate of the founder of Bravado Waffle, and he asked me to make some tunes for Robo Hero. It was a fun experience and the first time I tried to make music that I really wanted to sound good. I also helped with art and level design. I did everything in my power to make the game look and sound like Megaman! When one reviewer called Robo “the new blue bomber” I could not have been happier. The game was not a financial success but had a good little following, and reviewers always said great things about the music. One of my dreams was to make a living doing music, but, more importantly not to be chained down to a corporate job. I called my plan, “living off the internet”. I got inspiration from blogs like Wage Slave Rebel and reading other stories of people who just said No to a full time office job.
Month 1 of Freelance Life
I am not an irresponsible person. I didn’t decide to quit my job and just hope music would work out. I’d love to believe in ‘do what you love and the money will follow’ but I have bills to pay too. Music was actually Plan C for how I’d make a living off the Internet, my 3rd option out of about 7 (#8 is grilling burgers on the street!)
I set a plan to reach a certain $ of income each day. Plan A is my fill in the gaps between other plans, and at the start, that’s all I did. I write articles for Textbroker and a few other clients that I’ve built up over the years. It’s grueling work to reach my daily $ goal. I start at 4am and finish around 3pm and then spend 2 or 3 hours working on music for my portfolio, marketing myself as a composer and trying to make connections with clients. I spend one day during the week and the weekend doing volunteer work and occasionally I try that thing called sleep.
As far as music, I do some basic marketing, which doesn’t appear to pay off much at first and get a few small gigs for Podcast intros and things like that. Around the end of the first month, I land my first real client and do music for their iOS game. I take a gamble and buy some equipment on my credit card before being paid to make the music as good as possible. It’s worth it! The client loves me and becomes one of my most regular sources of income.
Month 3 of Freelance Life
The first three months were pretty hard, I realize I can’t write quality articles 8-10 hours a day and keep my sanity. Plan A is getting harder but, fortunately, my Plan B, doing programming and QA as a freelancer starts to take off. This gives me more breathing room for reaching my daily $ goal in just a few hours a day and now I’m spending serious time marketing my music stuff, trolling forums for work and trolling kickstarter for new projects. Plan C (The Music) is starting to pay some of the bills!
My Kickstarter trolling works out and gets me a job on the Rubicon soundtrack when it skyrockets past its goal. I get some good comments on the chiptune-inspired soundtrack in many reviews of the game and am starting to build a solid portfolio with different kinds of music.
Month 6 of Freelance Life
I’ve now completely quit all my Plan A writing in favor of…drumroll…MUSIC!..and some programming still. I have landed a few clients who give me regular work, including a massive orchestral soundtrack for a game that never ends up coming out (but later I do Cognitile for them). I’m able to purchase some more equipment, upgrade my system for a first time, and actually take my wife out to dinner sometimes. Some clients who could barely pay me for one song when they started their businesses are now ordering entire sets of sounds for games they have coming out each month.
I’m still doing my Plan B programming and continuing to market myself for music stuff. I take serious time out of doing actual work to learn about proper mastering, mixing and things that I’ve sort of been hacking my way through until now. I wish I could have done this sooner. I strip most of my soundcloud in embarrassment at my previous efforts, even some I got paid for.
Month 10 of Freelance Life
I’m insanely overwhelmed. I have 8 different LARGE game projects with tight deadlines on my work board. I realize for the first time that it’s almost impossible (for me anyways) to do music work the way I do programming work and other right-brained activities. You can’t force inspiration. I get headaches if I work more than 5 hours straight on music and especially sound effects. I also realize I need to raise my prices to make it worth my while. I take a small break in looking for new clients and do a little more programming just to clear my head. I decide I have to set limits on how much work I take on in the future.
I’ve found a good balance between my volunteer activities and doing music and some programming. The only writing I do is for this blog just for fun. I’m now collaborating with other musicians and even farming out some jobs or parts of jobs (guitar, vocals, violin solos) to keep from getting overwhelmed. I’ve been able to upgrade my systems some more and even take a vacation. I still feel like I have tons to learn so for the time being, I’ve eased off on marketing and looking for new clients and have been focusing on improving my overall skills and listening to what other artists are doing out there.
In the next part of the series, we’ll go into details on some of the things discussed here, like how to make those essential first connections, what to do when the client is not happy, how to enjoy life and focus on the advantages of this lifestyle, how to avoid getting scammed (did I mention I got scammed!?) and more stuff.