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Sounding Off: Ben McAvoy

Working For Yourself
By Ben McAvoy

How can you build something from nothing when no one tells you anything?

There are a number of time-related phrases and clichés most of us will be familiar with — 'Time flies when you're having fun' and 'it'll only go quicker when you're older', to mention just a couple. Well, it's 2013 and I'm not entirely sure where the time has gone but it appears that I graduated from music college almost six years ago. The most important thing my course did for me was confirm what I really wanted to do in life, and when I left, I had a sense of excitement and urgency to 'make it', or, at the very least, give it a go. I'm sure I had a detailed list, at one point, of all the things I wanted to achieve after I left, and a timetable for achieving them. I no longer have a list like that!

One of the biggest problems I've encountered when trying to build a business that's bigger than just a one-man operation is that there's very little specific, expert, industry information to help you decide what to do when, or how to do it. And how do you know whether the choices you're making, such as how much to charge for services, are correct? How can you work out whether what you're doing is right, and whether it will ultimately lead to your business succeeding and expanding? I certainly don't have all the answers, but based on my experiences so far, here are a few things to think about if you're trying to build something from nothing when no one tells you anything.

Firstly, stay relentlessly positive. When you're pitching for a job, sometimes your music will be chosen and sometimes it won't. Sometimes you'll think your music will end up on a project and you'll be paid, but in the end it doesn't, and you don't. Winning a pitch has little to do with whether your music is good: it's about whether people like it. Maybe that's an over-simplification, but the bottom line is that it comes down to someone else's personal taste. Get used to it.

Understanding how you can improve your skills, services and business is important, but whatever happens, you just need to keep going, and going, and going. Pick yourself up after absolutely every lost pitch and failed project and try again. Self-belief, self-motivation and self-confidence are the absolute centre of trying to become, and ultimately becoming, successful in the music industry.

It's important to remember that there is a distinct difference between having a monthly wage-paying job where the money just keeps coming in as long as you turn up, and being self-employed, where you don't earn a penny if you don't fight for and win work. As a freelancer, it's important to constantly remind yourself why you chose this slightly more risky path. Those reasons can be the centre of your motivation. My motivation comes from the need to write better music all the time, an enjoyment of the process of improving, and a desire to share what I write with other people.

Secondly, everyone is on their own path. Although this industry is incredibly competitive and there are a lot of other companies and freelancers trying to win the same work with the same clients, in my experience most 'competitors' are actually really lovely people and can be very helpful and supportive too. They can be your friends, not your enemies! They're also on their own journey: they aren't you, they didn't set up like you did, they aren't writing the same music as you are, and they don't necessarily want the same things that you want.

Thirdly, learn from your mistakes. You're human, and you won't get everything right. When you do make a mistake, misquote for a job, miss a deadline or annoy someone, understand why it happened and learn from it. You can't guarantee you'll never fail again, but you can resolve to 'fail better' next time.

About The Author

Ben McAvoy is a composer and sound designer based in Leeds. He runs WMP (www.w-m-p.co.uk) creating bespoke compositions and sound design for moving-image projects.

Published May 2013