If there's one thing most of us would like to know, it's how to make some extra money - and if we can do it through making music or producing audio, so much the better!
If you're like many Sound On Sound readers, you've spent a fair bit of time and money on creating a studio and learning how to use it. Most of us do this for the love of it, and for the ability to realise our musical projects that a studio and audio skills bring with them. But if you're not actually a professional musician or engineer (or at least, not yet), and you have a day job that's unrelated to music, have you ever thought of using your equipment and audio abilities boost your income?
Aside from the traditional routes to musical success that a few of us manage to negotiate (such as jobs in studio sound engineering, published songwriting, high-profile production, and, of course, becoming a world-famous pop mega-star), there are many more unusual ways for the enterprising studio musician to make some extra money, on a consistent and repeatable basis. We're focusing here on the kinds of activities you could pursue alongside a 'normal' nine-to-five job, but of course many of them could also be built up and expanded into careers. One or two of them will only be open to a very few individuals, but in those cases we're trying to make you think about some of the more off-the-wall uses the world might have for your talents!
John Walden: Library music (also called production music) is the term given to musical pieces, in a wide variety of styles, made available for use on TV, in commercials and films, and so on, by library music companies. It's not written to order, but chosen 'off-the-shelf' by the people who need it, from a large selection. Library music gets a certain amount of bad press, mainly from those who see it as bland 'elevator' music, but this image is, in the main, now well out of date. I'm lucky enough to write for a couple of libraries (in the UK and the USA) and the standard of the music and production values required are now very high. Like many aspects of the music business (and the creative industries in general), getting an initial break can be almost as much about who you know as what you know. I got my initial 'in' via two friends whom I discovered both wrote for the same library, and this gave me a point of reference when I made a cold call to the library manager. This may have been why they were prepared to give me some time and agree to listen to some material on spec.
I like doing library work for a number of reasons, perhaps the most significant of which is the flexibility. In most cases tight deadlines are not involved, so it's possible to fit library music writing around other musical activities or a day job. It also gives you the opportunity to work in a range of musical styles, which can be fun, although there are some specific skills that need to be developed, particularly the ability to write short cut-downs of pieces to precise lengths suitable for, say, advertising slots. No specialist equipment is needed beyond that found in any decent home or project studio: clean audio and good sound sources will get the job done.
Library music is not a get-rich-quick machine. Aside from getting library companies interested in the first place, it also takes time to build up a collection of published tracks and see a financial return. That said, with some perseverance and patience, money can be made. For example, a library piece that took me about a day to write from start to finish has recently been used in a KFC advert and, while I'm still waiting for some of the PRS income, it is likely to generate between two and three thousand pounds for that one 'sale'. Other tracks may, however, never earn a single penny!
Robin Bigwood: Over the years I've had the dubious pleasure of teaching Music Technology at various levels in schools and colleges. As with other bread-and-butter jobs, this can seem pretty mundane if you'd imagined your career was going to be jet-setting around top studios and working with the hottest talent. But a part-time position provides a useful, steady income that keeps you in touch with the theory and practice of recording, leaves evenings and other days free, and can also generate additional work through contact with instrumental teachers and aspirational student bands. It's increasingly common for state schools to require full-blown Qualified Teacher Status from their Music Tech teachers, but in the independent and FE
/HE sectors this is often overlooked in favour of practical experience and the ability to teach and communicate well. The place to look is the Times Educational Supplement, published each Friday, though you might also get 'casual' work through informal educational contacts. Pay is often salaried and is potentially comfortable, and there can be long holiday periods — but teaching isn't especially flexible, so you have to commit to it.
An altogether less reliable, but potentially more varied, possibility is individual teaching and tuition of general recording techniques or specific software packages. There are always people advertising this in SOS 's classifieds, but you could also try placing ads in music shops, 'gig' pubs and clubs, and in colleges and universities. You might be required to teach the basics, or to come in and troubleshoot a specific 'issue' — either way, you've got to know your stuff, be familiar with a wide range of computer types and software packages, and be able to find your way around a huge variety of unfamiliar audio and MIDI hardware that is often connected in astonishing 'Heath Robinson' arrangements. Hourly rates for this sort of thing can range from £20 for really general work to upwards of £70 for the most sought-after DAW 'gurus', and the work is generally short-lived. It also offers the chance to meet some great creative people and is wonderful for networking.
John Walden: Writing 'music for picture' actually covers a wide range of scenarios. It would, of course, be nice to earn mega-bucks for scoring a Hollywood blockbuster (and I'm open to offers!) but the reality for most aspiring film composers — myself included — is usually somewhat less glamorous. Like many composers, I've done my fair share of 'freebies', such as student films or other projects that are 'no budget'. These can be an excellent way to build up experience and to develop a showreel. There is also the chance that the person you work for might go on to bigger and better things and remember your phone number.
In my own case, the freebies generated a showreel and this, in turn, gave me a calling card when looking for paid work. This has led to a number of corporate video jobs, and while these tend to be relatively low-paid jobs (hundreds rather than thousands), there is work out there that can keep you occupied while you wait for the call from Steven Spielberg or George Lucas!
Again, personal contacts are significant here, and an ability to network is just as important as any musical skills you possess. There are some good on-line networking resources (for example, the Shooting People web site: www.shootingpeople.org), but local film schools and business organisations also organise events that can provide useful contacts. For example, via the latter route, I've recently established a working relationship with director Shehzad Afzal and scored his current documentary project Bo Kata (about the culture of kite flying in Pakistan). On the back of good reactions in festival competitions (the film was short-listed for the 2007 BAFTA/British Council Satyajit Ray Film Competition), Bo Kata is now getting cinema screenings and interest from broadcasters (at which point some money may well be generated), and I'm currently working on Shehzad's follow-up project.
Networking skills aside, writing to picture does require some technical skills in terms of composition — it can be very different from trying to write a three-minute pop song — and you have to leave your musical ego at the door and write what the client wants, rather than what you might like. And for paid jobs (even low-paid work such as corporate video) the deadlines can be tight. This can make this sort of work difficult to commit to if you also need a full-time day job to keep a roof over your head. However, where there's a will, there's usually a way.
Craig Anderton: I started doing audio for video as a sideline in the late 1980s for a company that specialised in industrial and kiosk videos. I found it fascinating. Several years later, I moved and my new neighbours (who were film distributors) found out I was involved in the music business and came to me with a problem: they were contractually obliged to deliver a movie, but the person who was slated to do the soundtrack had suddenly left to do a reunion tour with a band. They wondered if I knew anyone who could turn out a soundtrack in two weeks, and I said I could. It didn't bother me that the soundtrack involved, uh, shall we say, quite a few saxophone and wah-wah guitar parts! It was immensely educational, and it helped to pay the bills.
They were happy with what I did, which led to more work. In the process, I became familiar with digital video editing, which was completely different from the dual S-VHS tape decks I had worked with previously; in 2000 I felt confident enough in my video skills to cover trade shows for www.musicplayer.com. Afterwards, one manufacturer who saw the videos I did of their NAMM demos wondered why I got better results with my little camcorder and Sony Vegas-based studio than a video company they'd hired for a substantial fee. I believe it was because I paid serious attention to the audio and cut scenes to the beat, so there was a good musical as well as visual flow. That led to doing videos for that company, and one of the reasons www.harmony-central.com eventually hired me as a consultant was for my video abilities.
However, the key to any success I've had in audio-for-video is mostly due to my recording and musical background. I can generate soundtracks, clean up noisy or problematic audio, equalise narration properly, master the final audio for the web or other delivery media, and render for the best trade-off between quality and speed — sort of a one-stop shop. Video companies are seemingly desperate for people with audio skills, and this is a growing field where it can be easy to stake a claim, once you've made the right connections.
Simon Price: One of the most memorable jobs I've ever taken on was doing product demonstrations for Propellerhead Software at the LA NAMM show and the Frankfurt Musikmesse. Product demos generally fall into three categories. Instruments, synths, effects and so on are generally demo'd by a balding man with long hair at the back, playing irritating widdly solos too loudly for about 20 minutes at a time. DJ equipment demos are breakneck displays of turntablism performed by lanky 19-year-old hoodies with a few patches of facial hair, while a couple of tall girls in hot-pants totter around giving out flyers. The final category, which I fell into, is the software demo, which is always a presentation given by a 30-something man with glasses and a Madonna headset mic in front of a projector screen. The demo invariably comprises a contrived workflow using key product features to produce inoffensive non-genre-specific music. To get this kind of work, you need to know a product inside out, preferably have some musical ability, and win the trust of the manufacturer (as you may need to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement if you are learning about new features ahead of time).
These days, one of the best ways to develop a relationship with manufacturers is to get involved in their on-line community, if they have a user forum. The work may be fairly well paid, and you get to travel, but you will need to invest a lot of time developing the demo script, and rehearsing it over and over again. Obviously, you also need to be comfortable and confident talking in front of a crowd of people, some of whom will get up and walk off in the middle of what you are saying. The work can be tiring, and repetitive, as you usually need to perform the same presentation every hour or two, all day, for five days. In my days working for another well-known manufacturer, the product specialists developed ways to combat the tedium of demos, the most popular of which was to challenge one another to fit incongruous words or phrases into the script. On one triumphant occasion at AES in Munich, this culminated with a demonstrator pausing in the middle of his demonstration to announce, "excuse me, I've just come."
Craig Anderton: Sometimes a perceived disaster can end up being positive. I had a consistent 'gig' writing articles on musical electronics for a magazine called Popular Electronics, when unfortunately their editor died in a car accident. The new editor was no longer interested in music-related articles, so I looked for other potential markets. I decided to pitch Guitar Player magazine a DIY article about building a headphone amp for practicing.
They were very reluctant, fearing liability issues and also feeling that there simply weren't that many readers who would be interested. Eventually they relented (probably just to get me off their back) and ran the article, but insisted their art department draw up the schematic so that it would have a consistent look with the rest of the magazine.
When the issue appeared, the schematic had an error that meant the amp couldn't work, and I was devastated. However, the magazine received approximately 300 letters that ranged from 'I'm an engineer at National Semiconductor, and there's an error' to 'This is my first project, and I just can't get it to work.' Three hundred letters is a significant reader response, so Guitar Player decided that maybe there was something to this kind of article. They asked me to write a follow-up, which was also well received, so they assigned me a monthly column. Finally, they were starting a books division and wanted a book of projects. I had no idea how to write a book, but basically copied the format of John Muir's book on how to keep Volkswagens alive (I knew nothing about cars and it taught me how to service my car, so I figured the same approach could teach musicians who knew nothing about electronics to build their own projects).
From this exposure, I got more writing assignments, became editor of Polyphony magazine, licensed articles overseas, coined the term 'Electronic Musician' and co-founded the magazine of the same name and, of course, forged a close relationship with Sound On Sound that continues to this day. Now, 20 books and well over 1000 articles later, all I can say is that I was in the right place at the right time... and two of the best things that ever happened to me were getting dropped by Popular Electronics and having someone at Guitar Player make a mistake on a schematic!
If you want to try music journalism, editors are always thrilled with someone who meets deadlines, turns in clean copy that needs little editing, writes in the style of the magazine, thoroughly researches any facts for accuracy, and of course, pitches a compelling story that will appeal to the magazine's readership... and is willing to work for not that much money compared to the time required. However, writing opens up a lot of doors, as it gets your name out into the world, and that's important compensation on its own.
Simon Price: The first article I ever wrote for SOS was submitted 'on spec' and was my dissertation from the final year of my Music Technology degree. It was a whopping 12,500 words of research and discussion on the then-fledgling technology of audio streaming on the Internet. My tutor had been a regular SOS columnist, and suggested that the magazine might be interested in publishing the piece as a feature. The response from the mag was that, yes, they could use it — if I could cut it down to 2,000 words (ie. rewrite it). 'Radio Free Internet' was thus published in the August 1996 issue, full of crazy notions like subscription-based music stores, and musicians uploading their music for people to listen to in real time.
Jem Godfrey: Making radio station jingle packages is a very good extra line of work for me, as my other work as a songwriter and producer can be a bit... seasonal, shall we say. It's not something many musicians aspire to do, but it's interesting work, lucrative and very enjoyable. Mostly.
The briefs we get can be anything from lots of static effects and bleepy, high-energy music right over to jazz, orchestral and even comedy cuts, so you've got to be open-minded and flexible compositionally. An ability to work fast to seemingly impossible deadlines won't do you any harm either, as well as being calm under pressure and easy to work with generally.
A jingle package for a radio station might comprise up to 15 cuts — maybe three slow, medium and fast-paced cuts, then three 'transitional' cuts (fast to slow, medium to slow, slow to fast) and then news, travel and weather cuts. From this you might be required to make alternate mixes of the main cuts to allow for presenter names and differing station call signs, provide 30-second talk-over beds of each cut, a 'shotgun' three-second version after that, and then various mix-outs, including a capellas (with and without effects), instrumental mixes, drum-only mixes, and so on.
If you want to get into jingle work, the two best ways are to either join a radio station in the production department and work up to it, or go freelance. If you go freelance the risk is higher, but the rewards are greater. Either way, you'll have to produce a demo to show what you can do. Fees will vary depending on the type and size of job you're doing, but jingles are eligible for PRS in exactly the same way that songs are, so you will start to earn royalties if your work gets broadcast. It soon adds up.
Some people think that making jingles is very uncool, but I think any job where a musician actually gets to earn a living from making music on a professional basis is worth its weight in gold.
Daniel James: I was once approached by an audio hardware designer that I knew, for some help with an animatronics project. He'd been commissioned by a local theme park to upgrade the audio systems that were designed to be triggered by infra-red motion detection when a child approached the animatronic characters. The voices of these characters had originally been recorded onto analogue tape loops, but these wore out quite quickly in constant use. It was decided that there should be a solid-state audio system, with no moving parts, so MP3 players were adapted to accept a control signal and built into the animatronic characters.
Unfortunately for the theme park, the original master tapes of the voice-overs, recorded by an actor, had been lost. The hardware engineer knew I had a studio with a vocal booth nearby, so I was asked to do a session with the actor (or 'talent' as they are known in the voice-over world) to re-record the material. I selected an Audio Technica 4050 with a K&M pop shield for the session, which was a mic I had already used successfully for vocals on an indie folk album job.
On the day, the actor turned up with the theme park director, who wanted to supervise the recording. It took several takes to get the emphasis right for each character; then I processed the voice-overs to make them fit the character's personalities better — pitch-shifting the ogre's voice downwards, for instance. We also improvised some sound effects using a beer can, a few pebbles and some slimy water from a puddle outside the studio; time-stretched to slow the sound right down, the sound of an ogre's stomach was approved as being sufficiently nauseating!
It wasn't a lengthy project, only lasting half a day, but I was paid the rate I asked for. Later, the theme park director asked me to produce voice-overs and sound effects for their new rollercoaster.
Chris Mayes-Wright: Local community arts co-ordinators can prove to be a valuable source of income for studio musicians. The amount of work that they can involve you in will vary depending on your location. In highly populated areas, co-ordinators may well already have relationships with contacts who have the necessary experience in audio (in which case you can still offer your services). However, if you're out in the sticks there's a good chance that you'll be just what they're looking for, and they can throw work at you whenever a project comes along that requires some kind of 'sound person'.
I think I still hold the title of 'the only sound engineer in the village', and I still get requests to do the odd job, even though they know I've been working full-time for over a year now. I've done a number of very interesting projects as a result of affiliation with my local arts development team — from recording orchestras in cathedrals to taping interviews in art galleries. The most lucrative one was recording kids in Shrewsbury and central London for a sound installation in the Royal Albert Hall.
On all of these projects, part of the budget was set aside for audio services, so the money was fairly good. However, you may find that audio-related services have not been accounted for on many projects so, even though an arts co-ordinator may be keen to involve you and your skills, they may not be able to. Setting up your own projects with a local group can be a good way round this obstacle. Get in touch with local bands, dance groups and youth clubs and submit a project idea to a funding organisation (see below for some of these). Remember that these groups may not be well versed in what can be done with audio, so a simple, inspirational pitch may be what they need. Bear in mind that running your own project will involve some 'project management' duties, which can become time-consuming.
- Arts Council of England: www.artscouncil.org.uk
- Scottish Arts Council: www.sac.org.uk
- The British Council: www.britishcouncil.org
- The Big Lottery Fund: www.biglotteryfund.org.uk
- Department for Culture, Media and Sport: www.lottery.culture.gov.uk
If you're struggling to get work in your area and you don't fancy going through the rigmarole of applying for your own funding, the network of Arts Council organisations (usually your local council's arts development office) may know of jobs further afield. Sometimes this work will be for a set amount of money — say, £3000 for two months in Derby — so you may not be able to fit it around your schedule. But if the dates suit you, it can be very worthwhile.
Daniel James: Many towns and villages have a community-owned venue that hosts music events, as well as bingo, amateur dramatics and the like. These venues usually have a stage and a basic PA system, but they often need help with running, maintaining and updating the equipment, which may have been set up without expert knowledge. An enterprising sound engineer can offer to put that right. For example, in the case of my local venue, a rather good JBL speaker system had been purchased by the charity that manages the building, but then wired up with about sixty metres of unshielded mains flex, presumably as a cost-saving measure. When the faders were pushed up, the whole speaker system hummed like a swarm of angry bees.
This kind of work won't pay a great deal, but you may be able to come to an arrangement to use the hall as a live room for your own projects (when the bingo isn't on). If you're currently working from a bedroom studio, this sort of deal could open up a whole range of new possibilities, especially if the venue has a full entertainment licence for live gigs. There may be a lighting booth at first-floor level, or a back-stage room that you could convert into a studio control room, providing the venue with both recording and live Internet streaming facilities. At my local venue I have converted a former dressing room at the back of the building, recently only used for junk storage. I've installed a 24-way multicore (which was sponsored by a local company, the UK division of Neutrik) and acoustically treated the new control room using Broadband Bass Traps bought from Ready Traps in the USA. This type of upgrade project can often attract funding from the National Lottery or the Arts Council, so the venue could afford to pay for your consultancy, and the necessary hardware too.
Large, low-cost recording spaces could be harder to find in future, as property prices rise and gentrification force musicians out from rented rooms. Making friends with your local community venue operators could be the answer. Start by visiting the venues in your area, listen to the sound of the rooms (as some of them will have severe acoustic problems) and take a note of the facilities. Then put together a proposal document for the venue's managing committee, go along for a few meetings, and you may well land yourself the gig.
Craig Anderton: This is something I never expected to do, but over the years several companies have called on me to become involved in patent litigation involving patents related to music technology. In some cases, the assignment is simple: a company being sued by another company for patent infringement wants evidence of 'prior art' — in other words, work that shows the patent wasn't an original concept, thereby invalidating it. If the evidence is compelling enough, that often ends the suit, or they settle out of court.
In some cases, though, it's not clear-cut, and whether or not the prior art invalidates a patent may be a matter of interpretation. I've also been on the side of a company that sued another company for infringement, whereupon the burden is on the plaintiff to show that any examples of prior art didn't really anticipate the invention, and to defeat any claims of 'obviousness'. (If something is considered to have been obvious to someone 'versed in the state of the art' at that time, then the patent can be overturned.)
Being an expert witness is extremely stressful. It involves wading through thousands of pages of legal documents where you can't afford to miss a single detail, becoming more familiar than you'd like with the complexities of patent law, participating in seemingly endless conference calls, and often extensive travel. You have to be able to hold up under intense questioning by the opposing side's attorneys, as well as displaying proper courtroom protocol. As a result, even though being an expert witness pays very well, I agree to be an expert witness only if I believe 100 percent that the case has merit and the side I'm a witness for should prevail — because if not, I would be destroyed on the witness stand.
Then again, it does have some amusing moments, like when I did a DJ remix in a court in Virginia, in front of a judge who looked like he might have been born before sound itself was invented... while the court reporter nodded to the beat. But that's another story, for another time.
Debbie Poyser: If you really know your stuff when it comes to music technology and you're also a good writer, who is capable of explaining concepts clearly and creating simple examples to illustrate your points, you might want to consider producing a music technology book. There are now lots of publishers active in this area so there's no shortage of people to approach with your idea or manuscript. (You could, alternatively, self-publish.) New music software is produced and updated constantly, so this is a particularly fertile area to explore: however, you will need to be or become an expert user of the software you choose to focus on! You'll also need examples of your work if you're going to pitch to a publisher before starting a book, and you'll find it easier if you have some track record in, for example, magazine writing. Having myself co-written an instructional software book that was well received (Fast Guide To Propellerhead Reason, from PC Publishing), I can tell you that it can be a very satisfying thing to do but that it's also much harder work than you might imagine. In addition, you'll do best if you're able to write quickly, because if you take too long over it, the financial rewards boil down to a pretty low 'per hour' rate, as books in this area don't sell in vast quantities.
Matt Houghton: Instead of letting your equipment sit idle when you don't need it, you could consider loaning it, for a fee, to other people who can't afford to buy it, or who can't justify the purchase for only a day or two's work. The demand for the sort of equipment we all use is pretty high, be it multi-channel preamps, ADAT expansion units, esoteric outboard, nice guitars, amps and effect pedals, hi-res location recorders, or even full laptop recording rigs. You name it, somebody near you probably has a need for it. In your local area, small-scale informal hire such as this is will usually be done via word of mouth, so make sure you're part of your local music scene. Bear in mind that you will probably need to amend the type of insurance cover you have for your gear, and that if this costs extra you'll want that overhead to be covered by anything you earn.
Nick Magnus: Many people I know get corporate work by actively touting themselves, but such jobs have only ever arisen for me by word of mouth — chance meetings, personal introductions and unsolicited phone calls! Corporate work can take the form of music for product launches, infomercials, exhibitions and telephone answering systems, for example. In many cases it may involve doing music to picture, which these days is much easier than in the past and requires a lot less financial investment. Most modern DAWs can host video clips that run in perfect sync within the program, making that aspect of the task a breeze.
A screenshot of Sonar 6 showing a loaded corporate project and inset video window. This project was for a real-estate development called Liberty Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
Given that many people now have video-hosting DAWs, the most important (but non-material) thing required for this sort of work is the ability to interpret the client's brief, however vague, and provide them with exactly what they need. This is a whole skill-set in itself, so I won't attempt to cover it here! However, it's not always a test of patience. One of my clients, based in California, for whom I recently did a series of projects for various US realtors (estate agents), is a 'model' example. They email me Quicktime videos of the projects, more often than not as final cuts. They also give concise and detailed briefs, usually with musically useful suggestions (the CEO is an accomplished musician, so is able to communicate his ideas well). As a result, I can usually get it right on the first attempt. This is in stark contrast to another client wanting music for an online gaming web site, whose brief amounted to 'just try some stuff'. It took me four attempts (three of which were not taken into account in the budget) before I hit the mark. However, corporate work can be amongst the most lucrative — the budget for a 60-second spot can amount to more than the entire budget for a commissioned album of cover versions!
Daniel James: A colleague and myself set up a company to produce software for embedded Linux multimedia products, which are basically a PC-compatible processor and motherboard inside a custom case, the shape of which depends on the use the particular device is designed for. The product could be as small as an iPod or as big as a mixing desk, but the underlying technology is the same.
Our first commission was from a start-up manufacturing a new kind of synth, which looked like a digital stage piano with a touchscreen in the centre and a bank of assignable controls either side. (This synth was actually launched some time before the better-known Korg OASYS, which is also an embedded Linux system.) The manufacturer found us through our web site, we agreed a price to produce a complete software bundle, and we began work — it was all done over the Internet. Within a few months we had a working version, then continued to tweak the software as feature requests came in from distributors and early adopters.
This kind of work is a fairly new field, potentially open to anyone with the right combination of skills in music technology, programming and operating systems. There is a great deal of open source code available which innovative people are using to build new designs with, some of them for new products and some just to further their art. There's a lot to learn, but if you're prepared to put in the study, all you need to know to get started is available for free on-line, at sites like www.linuxaudio.org.
Daniel James: I was once asked to sound-engineer a funeral, which was quite a technical challenge; it's not as though you can stick the mixing desk right in the central aisle of the church! I did the live mix and then had to produce a CD of the service within a couple of days. The idea was that relatives of the deceased could take the CD home with them, as they lived abroad. I think it was well received; to have had video cameras during the service would have been much more intrusive.
The church had a basic mono PA and standing room for about 200 people. The problem was that about 600 people were expected to attend the service. I went to the church in advance and figured out that I could set up another mono PA system in the church hall, relaying the service to those people who couldn't physically fit in the church itself. Once the service was under way, I ran into problems, including feedback caused by the church people all wanting their levels to be turned up (no different from rock stars, then) as well as a mis-wired cassette deck and a hearing-aid loop that seemed to be causing induction on a small Marshall amp I had set up as an acoustic guitar monitor! My laptop wouldn't work for the recording, because I'd just upgraded it and had forgotten to check that the USB audio driver still functioned correctly before setting off for the church. I abandoned the digital recording, hastily re-connected the cassette deck and got the service down on an SA90 tape.
Afterwards, I took the tape and my old hi-fi cassette deck to the studio, played the tape live into Ardour, using an M-Audio interface, edited out the coughs and clatter, and burned the CD. It turns out that churches have a lot of demand for audio services, including PA, live relays, and now Podcasting — or Godcasting, as they call it!
Craig Anderton: I never planned to write manuals, but I started doing them when some manufacturers read my product reviews in magazines and felt I had explained their products better than they had. So they asked if I did manuals, and with hunger and a mortgage as powerful motivating factors, I said 'yes'.
Writing manuals doesn't really pay that well, but I look on them as education for which I get paid. For example, I didn't have a clue about how MIDI worked initially, but was writing the Emulator II manual at the time and had full access to Emu's engineers so that I could document the EII's MIDI functions. They ended up educating me about MIDI to the point where shortly thereafter, I was able to write the book MIDI for Musicians. (Regarding the manual itself, when I asked for a deadline and budget, I was told 'Whatever it costs and however long it takes to make the best possible manual'. Those days are long gone.)
I rarely do manuals any more, but will still write them occasionally if I want to learn about something in depth. I do, however, make an agreement that I retain the rights to use background material and tutorials I write for the manual. These are sometimes re-edited to serve as more general tutorial articles for magazines. Also, more and more I'm urging companies to have someone in-house to do documentation, as changes happen so fast with software-based products that companies really need someone on staff who can react quickly to those changes.
If you want to approach a company about writing manuals, the best calling card is a manual you've done for someone else. If you don't have that, find a company whose products have lousy manuals and write a chapter of a better one. Write a covering letter that explains why you think you can do a better job for them, and prove it with your sample chapter.
Also, get to know people who write manuals on a consistent basis, as sometimes projects hit all at once. Rather than turn down a job, they might collaborate with you or hand it over to you outright. Just remember that manuals require ruthless editing skills: you have to make them as short as possible, while still presenting all the needed information, with a logical flow.
If you're looking for ways to make some extra money:
- Get a good music business directory and/or make full use of web searches. They can suggest ideas you never would have thought of.
- Make sure that your personal contacts, at whatever level, know that you're a musician/audio person: although contacts are not the only way to pick up work, something that comes up again and again in the stories here is that they can be very valuable.
- Be an active part of your local music scene and keep your ear to the ground for talk of work opportunities.
- Be flexible, pleasant, professional and accommodating when you do land some work.
- Consider your tax situation: you will have to declare any extra income, so also keep decent records of expenditure you've had to make to do the work. Consider consulting an accountant if the world of tax is alien to you.
Mike Thornton: This is where I started, when I was an apprentice at Marconi in Essex, more years ago than I'm happy to own up to! I developed my initial skills by providing audio facilities to the surprisingly large number of amateur dramatic and operatic societies there were in my local area. I was also on the tech crew for the Marconi social club, through which we had a wide range of entertainment on most Friday and Saturday nights. When I later moved to Manchester, my live sound skills were turned to assisting the group my wife and I had become involved in. From these smaller gigs I got opportunities to handle rigs in larger venues and people started approaching me because they liked what I was doing. As with my location recording work, where I initially hired most gear in, I now have a good small rig of my own, which makes life easier; except for finding space to store it all at home!
Craig Anderton: In the process of recording my CD Forward Motion, back in the late-'80s, I had developed a bunch of sounds for the Ensoniq EPS synth. I asked Ensoniq if they knew of any good companies that sold third-party EPS sounds, and they said they were thinking of creating and marketing some high-end sound libraries themselves. I suggested the name ' Signature Series ', and it stuck.
The initial Signature Series had samples from several industry stalwarts, including Genesis's producer and Niles Rodgers, yet, for whatever reason, my set sold the best. This put me on the map for a second Signature Series set for Ensoniq, and got the attention of Peavey, Digitech, Yamaha and several other companies for whom I later did sounds.
In the late '90s and early 2000s, I started playing regularly in Germany with Rei$$dorf Force and Air Liquide, but being located in the USA, I couldn't make all their gigs. So I developed a sample CD with loops of the kind of guitar parts I played for them, so that they could 'replace' me for lower-profile gigs. At the time, Wizoo were coming out with content for Halion, so the original CD grew into the double CD-set Technoid Guitars. I also did an Acid ised loop version of similar material for M-Audio, based on the AdrenaLinn guitar processor. Again, for my own personal use, I created a remix of the Discrete Drums Series 1 set for hardcore/industrial music. When Discrete Drums heard it, instead of suing me they asked if they could distribute it... and when they made a distribution deal with M-Audio, M-Audio picked up the sounds as well. All these CDs are still currently available. I've also Acid ised sample CDs for others, as the process of doing this properly is neither simple nor obvious. Although I'm currently working on a couple of new sample CDs, I hope to move into doing library music next.
The best way to pitch a sample CD is to go ahead and make one, so that you can deliver a completed project to the company. While you run the risk of rejection and wasting the time you took to make it, if they're interested you're in an extremely strong position because you have something they want — and something they can turn into a finished product fast, because the work has already been done.
Also remember that with any kind of product a lot of the burden of promotion falls on you. To a company, you're just the author of another product of dozens, perhaps hundreds. To stand out, I often write press releases they can put into their own PR machine, and write personalised cover letters to accompany products sent for review. I'll mention the products in bios for my articles, and see if I can get quotes from famous users, which I then pass along to the company. The more work you're willing to do, and the more you 'partner' the company, the better the odds of success.
- Most of my work comes from personal recommendation or repeat business, but can be traced back to being prepared to work on small projects where I was able to refine my techniques and develop a reputation.
- Don't bullshit: it may work for a while but sooner or later it will come back to haunt you. One crappy job will be remembered for at least 10 times longer than the best job you do — if not forever.
- Be careful about working for free. I have only done it occasionally, usually to prove to a doubtful client that I could deliver the goods, but more often than not I ended up with a good amount of real paid work out of it. So sometimes it's worth doing, but in general I believe that a good workman is worth his fee, and by working for free I think you not only devalue yourself but for other people in the business.
- I always try to quote a fair price but I won't undercut my prices simply to get a job; otherwise you can easily find yourself working long hours for very little return. I have resisted rate cards, as in my experience every job is different and people will hold you to the rate card or, more often than not, try to negotiate down from your published rate card. If people aren't prepared to pay a fair price for a job, it may be in your best interests to walk away.
- Don't cut corners with equipment unless you know exactly what you are doing, as cheap gear has a habit of letting you down at the most inconvenient moment possible. Mike Thornton
Nick Magnus: Although the idea of producing low-budget albums of cover versions may seem slightly un-cool, such commissions do arise from time to time when the music industry sees a market for them, and can be a source of ongoing income if the albums in question are promoted and marketed efficiently, and if you can negotiate a sales royalty. Such albums are also highly likely to fall flat on their faces at the starting gate, so your production fee needs to realistically reflect what you are prepared to accept for doing the work in the event that the finished product doesn't even make it to the shelves of a motorway service area!
Two successful cover version albums (Pan Pipe Moods and Celtic Dreams) and one that got away (Blockbuster Movie Themes). The last is conspicuous by its failure to even show up at motorway services!
Major labels don't currently seem interested in this line of marketing, so one possible stratagem for sourcing such work nowadays is to visit service stations, garden centres and similar outlets that stock these sorts of products. Make a note of the companies that have released them, and get in touch; a demo showcasing what you can do may well work in your favour. Giving your project idea an 'angle', such as 16 Greatest Movie Love Themes performed on washboard and spoons, might just tickle their fancy.
I was lucky enough to subsidise my main musical income fairly well throughout the '90s doing this sort of work, until demand dropped off and budgets began to fall below acceptable levels. Successful projects included Pan Pipe Moods, which inexplicably managed to reach number two in the national charts in 1995 (mea culpa, I confess it was me — I now constantly wear a hair shirt as penance), and Celtic Dreams, both of which are fairly self-explanatory titles. Whatever you turn your hand to, the general philosophy is: do the best job you can possibly do for the money, but be realistic with the budget. Accept that you'll have to play everything yourself, as there's unlikely to be sufficient money to pay other musicians!
Mike Thornton: Most of the location recording work I do is tracking for album projects where the client wants to work in a particular venue for cost and/or logistical reasons. I got into this as I became the resident engineer for a band and started recording and producing their albums. Then other people liked what I had done and asked me to work on their projects. The early albums were recorded on Tascam one-inch 24-track machines and mixed on fairly basic desks, but since I have had a Pro Tools rig all subsequent albums have been recorded and mixed 'in the box'.
Most of the time I take my Pro Tools HD rig out. I have the main components flightcased and I add the necessary outboard gear to the core rig as required for each project. In the early days I ended up hiring in most of the other gear, such as mics, preamps and headphones, but over the years I've built up my own gear list so that more of the fee ends up in my bank account. For example, I now have enough cans to handle a 16-piece string section, including several single-ear headphones for the cellists, who find normal headphones get in the way of the cello. I don't know how competitive I am, but I base my charges on my normal daily rate as an engineer and then charge for the gear based around hire company rates. I was told that hire companies base their rates on around 20 weeks hire paying for the piece of equipment, although that definitely didn't work for cans, as I could buy a new pair for around 12 days hire.
I also have a Pro Tools LE rig with M Box and 002R interfaces and I have used these when I want to travel light, including flying out to a studio in Northern Ireland to track some sessions for a client. At other times I have used the LE rig to record albums for classical singers and choir projects.
Robin Bigwood: If you're happy working with classical music, and the 'purist' recording techniques that tend to go along with it, location recording can be very rewarding. Whilst each job is unique in terms of recording setup, the basic 'pattern' of the work is often the same. You travel to a good-sounding venue that's also quiet (often a rural church), record for anything up to about four days, then go home and start the editing — which, for some jobs, can take weeks. On the session you might also be 'producing' — encouraging and motivating the musicians, keeping to schedule, and ensuring you have good 'editable' takes of every bar of every piece.
There's a small but persistent demand for sound recordists who can do this work, especially at the lower end of the market. As with most things, word-of-mouth and personal recommendation is your passport to continued work, but if you're starting out from fresh you could try contacting schools and music colleges (students are often in need of decent 'demos' of their talents) in the first instance, or even targeting local musicians using something like the British Music Yearbook.
Pay is variable, and you must reckon in the unglamorous editing and finishing time. As a guide, I've recently done a two-hour 'demo' session with minimal editing for about £100, and a three-day orchestral recording with over a week of subsequent editing for £1200. While good results could be obtained with carefully chosen budget kit, this really is the domain of expensive mics, preamps and A-D converters, capable of the utmost clarity and low noise operation. If your own budget can't stretch to the likes of Schoeps, Avalon and Apogee, this sort of equipment can be readily hired, and the costs passed on to the artists.
Robin Bigwood: Right up there in the 'least glamorous job I've ever done' category, I was commissioned to produce several versions of a school's song — a hymn-like, self-congratulatory little number from the 1930s. I got the work through a friend who'd actually attended that school. The requirements were these: produce an audio version of the song scored for piano and trumpet, and also a MIDI file of the same that could be embedded in a web page. From the point of view of the man in the street this is an unimaginably skilled job, but with a DAW application, a decent sampled sound source and a modicum of piano technique it's about 20 minutes work — for which I was paid £75. Not the kind of job you'd want to make a living from(!), but sometimes these little things are crucial in helping to pay the rent.
Joe Silva: With the future of radio and the music industry vague at best, I began to take to heart the articles I'd read about diversifying my production efforts. With my own weekly radio show (www.justofftheradar.com) and the occasional news reports I'd put together for on-air broadcast, I had all the kit on hand that I would need to move into any sort of production work my burgeoning skills could manage. It occurred to me one day when I opened iTunes that the number of podcasts being featured on the home page was growing... exponentially.
That's all it took. I began getting in touch with some of my editorial contacts who I thought might want to have an audio component to their world, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Most of the organisations I contacted had already been contemplating a move into Podcasting, but either didn't have time or lacked the skills to put something together that they felt was of reasonable quality. That's where I came in. By building my Podcasting venture from existing relationships with people who knew and trusted my work, I was then able to strike out and find new work.
Having no idea, however, who else was already out there in the professional Podcasting arena, there were few standards for me to emulate. It turns out that at my level this mattered very little. I took a stab at creating my own pricing, my own standards for delivery and my own marketing model. My biggest challenge to date has largely been time. With more opportunities than one man can possibly juggle, growth is already an issue. Training mates who are somewhat audio-savvy and coming up with a reasonable production schedule seems to be the key to expanding my clientele and maintaining the quality of our work.
Joe Silva's QRM Productions are responsible for the VeloNews.com podcast, on-line at: http://feeds.feedburner.com/VelonewsAudioPodcast.
Mike Thornton: This is a spin-off from the main core of my work, which is broadcast audio post-production. I have a large sound effect library and I'm always going out and acquiring sound effects to cover shortfalls in my 25,000-sound collection. I've had a range of portable recorders over the years, from Marantz portable cassette machines through the Casio DA7 DAT and Denon Minidisc, to a selection of flash-card recorders including the Marantz PMD660, and now the new Fostex FR2 LE. Once the sounds are recorded, I go through and tidy up the recordings and catalogue them accurately.
I approached www.sound-effects-library.com and entered into a contract with them whereby they sell my sound effects on-line for a commission. This is great, as I don't then have to set up an on-line retail outlet of my own. They take care of everything and send regular reports of what effects people are buying. In addition, because the site has a large 'pull' in the industry I know that as many potential customers as possible are going to be offered my effects.