To free or not to free, that is the question! As a professional, do you ever work for free? A question that I see over and over again on social media chat sites and lounges. The answer of course is relative and I can only speak for myself. Do I ever do professional audio work for free? Yes. Do I do it often? No. Are there special conditions that apply? Yes, yes, oh yes!
It’s quite common when composers and sound designers are first starting out to work for free and the trade off is gaining much needed experience and credibility. I was relatively lucky in the early days as I usually got paid for every project that I took on with rare exception. Oh the sob stories that I’ve heard!
“ We spent all of our money on a boom shot and have nothing left for post production. “ Hmmm so much for foresight and pre-production!
“ This is a totally self funded labor or love and I don’t have much of a budget “ Do you have any money for sound? “ No “ Did you hire actors and rent gear? “ yes “ Hmmm…
“ We’re taking this film to all the festivals and you’ll get credit and a copy of the DVD. “ And which festivals have you submitted to already” “ well none “ Hmmm…
“ We’re offering you $ 10000 “ Really? “ on a deferred basis “ Hmmm…
I could go on and on but I have anecdotes to tell and their much more fun.
One time in my early career, I heard one of the above sob stories and thought the project was interesting enough and what really got me was the passion of the filmmaker. It was a short film the director wanted me to score so I said ok. We spotted the film; I composed the score and invited her over to hear the results. She hated it! I thought she was nuts! Seriously, it was a great underscore and moved her film up to the next level. She wouldn’t have any of it and wanted me to rescore it! So did I throw her out and slam the door in her face? No I didn’t have to as the next day I tore ligaments in my knee playing soccer and wasn’t able to sit up and work very well. Saved by the soccer ball!
So now I was a little hesitant to work for free again and so I didn’t for many, many years. Then one day I met a director for coffee and we hit it off on a spiritual paranormal level. He had a sob story but I decided to help him with his project which was whacky and I like whacky!!
So he came to my studio, we spotted the film and as I was about to show him out he asked if I had a train sound in my sfx library. I did and I edited it in per his instructions. Then he wanted me to put in another sound. I exclaimed, “ surely you don’t think that you’re going to look over my shoulder and backseat drive the whole time that I design and score your film? “ He whined, ‘ the editor let me “. Oh dear I thought! Oh dear, oh dear!
Finally I convinced him that my way was the way it was done and he reluctantly left me with his film like a mother leaves a child on the first day of kindergarten.
A week later he came over to hear the results. He thought it was a good start. Hmmm… For the next three hours he had me make changes, both big and small. Now I don’t want to give you the impression that I am so good with music and audio that my work is beyond reproach. Nothing could be further from the truth. What started to bother me was the idea of give an inch – take a mile. I had already spent a week of my time working on his film for free and now here he was messing with the audio as if my time was of no value.
So as we entered the 4th hour, I sat at my computer staring at the monitor and completely tuned him out which by the way didn’t stop him talking and making more suggestions. I sat there day dreaming about all the ways I could kill him and would I get caught if I did? But violence has never been my way. I wheeled around in my chair, pointed to the door and told him to “ GET OUT! “ He was stunned – unfortunately not into silence! “ But we aren’t finished yet! “, he balled. “ Oh yes we are! “ I roared gaining momentum. This went back and forth for some time and many expletives were uttered. He even threatened to go elsewhere to finish the sound and take my name off the credits. At this point I calmly said, “ I don’t care “. I literally had to shove him out the door as he babbled on about just one more fix.
Ironically, his film was screened at numerous film festivals and did quite well. And my name remained in the credits.
So after all that, would I ever score or sound design a film for free? Not very likely! I don’t want to leave you with a totally negative summary of my freebie experience. Why just this past fall a friend asked me to do a small soundscape for a DOXA film festival fundraising gala. I like DOXA and have had films I worked on screen there. A freebie but one for a good cause and I said yes. Now it took longer than expected but that wasn’t a big deal and my friend was very happy with the final result. I didn’t expect any payment but she came up with 2 tickets to the gala. Not only that – I won the door prize at the gala and scored two free passes to the festival. Not only that but at the gala, my girlfriend (at the time) and I had our fortunes read for $ 5 and the fortuneteller was amazingly accurate! So much in fact that I am changing my career path because of it. Now that’s a whole bunch of cool for some free sound design.
“ Real by reel Busy little bees recording everything you feel On real by reel You’re documented down like rats They’re catching up on every squeal On real by reel by, real by reel by, real by reel by “
Real by Reel – XTC
Great song by XTC, a band that really never got the airplay and credit they deserved. Head and shoulders above most of the dreck that’s out there and far more intelligent.
However, today’s blog is not about XTC, though that’s a good idea for the future, it’s about the demo reel. The demo reel has always been a difficult entity to nail down. There is much advice out there but no real consensus on what the make-up of said demo reel should be and what quality. Of course I am talking audio in this blog but the demo reel is a requirement now in most art forms and has even emerged in sports. Aging soccer stars (Michael Owen) who find themselves team less (Michael Owen) have resorted to the demo real to showcase their never quite lived up to their potential (Michael Owen) talents in the hopes that someone might sign them in their final days. But as usual I digress!
Anyway what do you put on your demo, how long do you make it and how much time, effort and money?
Time I think anything over 5 minutes is guaranteed to land your demo cd, DVD or email link in the trash bin. The amount of time producers and directors have to review such things diminishes every year and they are inundated. So short and sweet is the way to go.
Oh look, here’s my 2015 Composer Reel as an example. Now how did that get in here?
Short and sweet and good diversity showing that I am not a one trick pony. You can also tell that I have worked recently as none of the videos are in grainy black and white with Charlie Chaplin as the lead actor.
Professional And then there’s the “ just how professional does it have to be “. Well the quick answer is it had better look professional and that it was created in professional video editing software. As I mentioned, directors and producers don’t have a lot of time to look at reels and why not make yours stand out visually! When I see a slick looking demo, I think that that artist has made an effort to stand out and they also must think of themselves as professionals. Those are people I want to work with. If you cobble something together – what does that say about you?
A good demo is also consistent in that the fonts match and the description makes sense and is short and sweet. Hmmm just like my Sound Design Demo. Now how did that get here?
Content As I keep saying – you don’t have much time to “ wow “ a perspective client so put your best clip first and knock their socks off. In reality the first 30 seconds are all you’ve got. If you don’t make an impression in the first 30 seconds then the viewer will move on to your competitors reel. If you are a videographer or director and you really dislike working on anything corporate – then don’t include any corporate video you’ve done! Simple no? Unless of course that’s all you’ve done up until now and you want to get into dramatic film or video or docs. The again you should have at least shot something dramatic by now on your own even if it’s a spec piece and you made it for free – just because!!
As you can see in my Videography Reel (how did that get here?) I have docs and corporate clips. I eventually want to make dramatic shorts and features but for now my focus is docs, educational and corporate.
Don’t Shoot! There sure are a lot of songs about shooting people. And I’m not talking about rap music or any of the other darker genres of music. I think you will be very surprised at just who is doing the shooting and why.
So let’s dive right in with that righteous Rasta man, Bob Marley. I think you would agree that he was a great songwriter, performer and just before his death – the catalyst for peace in Jamaica. He was a man of peace and justice and some say he was killed because of that, as the details of his death remain sketchy. But what about his early years?
Freedom came my way one day And I started out of town, yeah! All of a sudden I saw sheriff John Brown Aiming to shoot me down, So I shot, I shot, I shot him down and I say: If I am guilty I will pay.
From Wikipedia… Marley explained his intention as follows: “I want to say ‘I shot the police’ but the government would have made a fuss so I said ‘I shot the sheriff’ instead… but it’s the same idea: justice.”
So the song really is a metaphor endorsing violence against the state. Now I’m no friend of the state and it’s evil and violent ways but I certainly draw the line at violent retribution. It’s well documented that law enforcement organization of all kinds over the past ten years have changed their hiring guidelines to recruit more aggressive and sadistic personnel. But using violence to fight back is not the answer. So Bob Marley’s “ A+ “ gets downgraded to a measly “ C “.
Next up is Canadian icon Neil Young! OMG! Chris, why that’s blasphemy! I’m sorry to be bursting bubbles left and right today but it’s the truth that will set you free.
Yeah, she could drag me over the rainbow, send me away Down by the river I shot my baby Down by the river, Dead, oh, shot her dead.
From Wikipedia… The lyrics are apparently about someone who kills his lover by shooting her, like a murder ballad, or in the tradition of the mid-60s song “Hey Joe.” The reason he gives for the killing is that she takes him to emotional heights from which he cannot bear to go on. Young has provided multiple explanations for the lyrics. In an interview with Robert Greenfield in 1970 Young claimed “there’s no real murder in it. It’s about blowing your thing with a chick. It’s a plea, a desperate cry.” Introducing the song in New Orleans on September 27, 1984 Young claimed that it depicts a man “who had a lot of trouble controlling himself” who catches his woman cheating on him, then meets her down by the river and shoots her. A few hours later the sheriff comes to his house and arrests him.
Well Neil, which is it? If you listen to the entire song and it’s super long guitar solo/jam thing, then you might decide for yourself. To me it sounds like he goes on a drug bender and kills his partner while on drugs. A pretty lame excuse for killing your partner, As if there would ever be a good reason to kill your partner. Ok maybe zombie or assisted suicide but that’s it! Seriously though, why so many songs about shooting and shooting women? I’m a huge proponent of non-censorship but why on earth would you write a song about killing your woman? I could see it if the song had remorse and the killer was sorry for what they had done but “ Down by the River “ is not remorseful. It’s just kind of your know – matter of fact. Neil Young “ D “
And now, perhaps the most famous of them all, “ Hey Joe “. Now as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, Jimi Hendrix did not write this song and it’s author is not clear. However, according to Wikipedia “Hey Joe” was registered for copyright in the U.S. in 1962 by Billy Roberts. And here is Charlotte Gainsbourg…
Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that gun in your hand? Hey Joe, I said where you goin’ with that gun in your hand? Alright. I’m goin down to shoot my old lady, you know I caught her messin’ ’round with another man. Yeah,! I’m goin’ down to shoot my old lady, you know I caught her messin’ ’round with another man. Huh! And that ain’t too cool.
No that ain’t cool at all! This time the author can’t even blame it on the drugs. He’s a cold calculating killer and obviously not a very good lover because she isn’t getting what she needs at home! We all know that men who like guns are impotent so I guess the guy in the song is really in a bad way like the members of the NRA. Musically this is a great song but I have to give Billy Roberts an “ F- “ for misogyny!