Freelance or Full-Time Employee? Sound Designer Edition

Freelance or full-time employee?

This question has been coming up a lot more these days. People have a lot more options for their work life than ever before. While some love the stability and routine of working for someone else, others are finding that the standard 9-to-5 just doesn’t appeal to them.

When it comes to people in the Sound Design industry, sometimes it’s not even a question of what is appealing, but what is available.

For this blog post, I reached out to four Sound Designers and asked them the same series of questions to try to see how they came to their decision.

Sound Designers Interviewed:

Freelance

Jenn Lewis – Maple Syrup Sound

Yarron Katz – Sonic Brilliance Studios

Full-Time Employee

Bill Mueller – Zenimax Online Studios

Alex Previty – Insomniac Games


Alex Previty's Workspace
Alex Previty’s Workspace.

Did you consider working as a Freelancer/Full-Time Employee (whichever is opposite to your current status)?

 

Yarron (Freelance): “Very briefly. And by briefly I mean I find every way to reject it. It’s an absolute last resort. My character is very independent. I opened my first business at 21, for example as an importer. I only really worked for someone else during dire situations (such as during the major US recession).”

Bill (F/T Employee): “I did Freelance work when I was between jobs after 38 Studios shut down.  While searching for full-time employment it helped bridge the gap a bit.”

YarronKatz-Desert-Recording
Yarron Katz recording in the desert. The Solitude of freelancing is not for everyone.

Did you have a process to make your decision (Ex. Pros/Cons list)?

 

Jenn (Freelance): “Pros-Cons list for sure but also a lot of discussions with colleagues and friends.  I did a lot of networking as well, as a way to assess feasibility of freelancing.”

Bill (F/T Employee): “When I made the decision to keep looking for full-time employment I made a list.  I focused not only on the pros and cons of doing either, but also needed to be really honest with myself.  I had a kid on the way and a mortgage, so I knew I would need a steady income and fast.  At that time, I hadn’t really done enough reaching out to enough companies to get my name out there to help ensure a steady paycheck to help with that.  I knew I was getting into a saturated market, and with the kid on the way the fear of finishing a project and maybe not having enough contacts at the ready to nab a second one was frightening to me.  I didn’t want that stress, so for me personally, full-time work was the way to go.”

YarronKatz-Studio
Benefits of freelancing – You can be yourself at work, as Yarron Katz proves at his home studio.

What are some of the challenges you face in your current role?

 

Yarron (Freelance): “When you are a freelancer, you basically take on a lot of positions: Negotiator, Manager, Human Resources (when outsourcing), Accounting (in my specific case) come to mind. Each one is a world of its own with its own challenges. When you work for someone, the structure enables you to focus on simply doing your job… Sound Design. As a Freelancer, you don’t get that luxury. If you are a poor negotiator… no money at the end of the month. Lousy at Accounting… Fines from the government.”

Alex (F/T Employee): “Learning new tools, tackling very complex creative and implementation challenges, learning the different dynamics of a large staff and how to prioritize a large amount of different tasks”

Bill ( F/T Employee): “It is very hard to “pick” your projects.  Often you are looking for that job and you will take what you can get, and once you are in, being able to move to another project is very difficult.  No one wants to hire someone full-time that keeps quitting jobs every year or so right? So once you are in a company, you tend to stay and that is the project you are working on. Hopefully you like it!”

BillMueller_Studio
Bill Mueller’s Studio.

What are some of the best benefits of your current role?

 

Jenn (Freelance): “For me the biggest benefit is flexibility.  I can choose to take on a diversity of project types, travel for work, take time off, explore other paths within sound, including an art practice.”

Yarron (Freelance): “I work the hours I want to work. I feel the fruits of my labor to a greater degree rather than being a cog in the machine.”

Bill (F/T Employee): “Being surrounded by talented people on a daily basis really pushes your own creative talent. You see what amazing things people are doing and it really pushes you to be on top of your game.  And to be invested 100% in a project to give ideas, and see those ideas come to life, not just in an audio aspect, but to be talking to a vfx artist about how something might look and to see it all come together is an amazing thing to be a part of.”

Alex (F/T Employee): “Working on awesome AAA games, great pay, benefits, paid time off, stability in finances and living situation.”

Office Job
Some people thrive in a full-time office environment, while others don’t.

Best advice for people considering both options?

 

Jenn (Freelance): “Give yourself time to adjust.  Being freelance can lead to a sense of less camaraderie / collaboration.  Doesn’t mean that there is less, it’s different.  Some people like that space while others find it less inspiring.  Departing a company that you’ve been at for a while can be a shock, even if it’s what you want.”

Yarron (Freelance): “Don’t mess up your hours sleeping too badly!!!!! With the freedom it [freelance] allows and the strange hours and deadlines, you will absolutely damage your circadian rhythm. But the bottom line is being a freelancer is taxing, and it will affect everyone differently.”

Bill (F/T Employee): “In this line of work, no matter how you do the work whether it’s freelance or full-time you need to ask yourself, “do I love this”.  Either path is going to test you mentally; you need to be invested 100% in your craft, and willing to push yourself hard to be successful. Take the opportunities as they come.  I make video games.  It’s a niche industry.  Doing audio in games, is a niche within a niche.  So don’t limit yourself to just 1 line of work, because again, if you love it, it shouldn’t really matter.”

Alex (F/T Employee): “If you plan to go freelance, study up on good financial/business planning options. Get good at networking and have a great circle of clients and peers that will keep coming back to hire you for more work. You will not only be working alone but also be running a business, so be prepared to juggle a lot! If you’re going full-time, try to network and familiarize yourself with people in the industry. When someone is hiring, they will always favor people who are a known quantity to them. Take all the opportunities you can get – you never know where they may lead.”


There’s never going to be a definite right or wrong answer to the question of whether you should work as a freelancer or as a full-time employee. It’s such a personal decision, with so many factors to take into consideration. And whichever decision you make today may not be right for you in 5 or 10 years down the road.

Luckily, the Sound Design industry is packed full of people willing to help out by sharing their own experiences. So if you are stuck trying to make a decision on which career path is going to work for you, or are looking for a change, reach out to your community and start a conversation.

What’s your best advice for someone considering both options? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Written by: Erin Dunt (@ErinAmber_D)

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