In June of 2012, I finally opened my own commercial facility. Skyline Sound Studios was a meager effort, but it was mine. To attract artists, I offered a few specials. One of which was a full day black out, designed to give the artist all the time they would need without worrying about the clock ticking away and their bill increasing with each passing minute. It was offered at an intro rate of only $300. By Christmas, no one had purchased that package, and the realities of how much work I’d be committing myself to were setting in. So I removed it from the studio’s website.
Around this time I was also coming to the realization that I would need to close the studio as soon as I could get out of my lease on the property. This wasn’t because people thought I sucked and weren’t hiring me. Rather it was because I became needed much more at home in a caregiver capacity. I barely had time to prospect for new clients because I was very busy caring for my twin daughters, who were teenagers at the time living with severe impairments from autism. They still live at home, where I currently manage a team of caregivers who work with them. Each require 24/7/365 1-on-1 eye contact supervision, and (for reasons I won’t disclose) their amount of need had just increased by a large margin. So it was all hands on deck at home and we had limited respite staff at the time.
This left me too busy to fully utilize the earning power of the studio, which became a money pit as a result. No clients coming in, unable to get out of my lease, I had to pay out of pocket each month for the expenses against my failed attempt at opening my own facility. Thankfully I owned all of my gear outright, and the only liability against the business was the costs of rent and utilities. But even so, this put us in a very tight financial situation since I had little time to devote to growing the business. Instead, I was working part time caregiver jobs for other families in need so that I could pay our bills at home and at the studio.
I did take clients when I could, although they were rare. Being tight on money will make you accept projects you might not have otherwise due to needing to pay the bills. And that’s what happened around this time. A few weeks after removing the $300 blackout package from my website, someone called asking to book that package. I informed them that this was no longer available, and they told me it would really help them out if they could still get the $300 package. They promised to gladly tell people how awesome I was, and since I had little time to prospect for clients I decided to take them up on this.
Yup, you see it coming already. “Cut me a deal for exposure!” Normally, this would’ve made me turn down the project. If someone’s more concerned about the price of the project than anything else, that’s a red flag in my book. But I needed the money, very very badly, so I agreed to book it.
They came in at 5am. We ended the session after 11pm, and only because I was literally about to pass out from exhaustion. There were a few problems with this project, the main one being a lack of communication between myself and the client. That’s on me, but also on them. Live and learn. But communication is key to the longevity of every relationship you’ll ever have, so start now if you’re not doing so already and apply that to every area of your life that you remotely give a shit about.
Turns out they wanted to have finished (recorded, edited, mixed) 3 songs that had the quality of Metallica’s Black Album by the end of the day, yet they had a budget of $300 and we’re still trying to get the takes right at 11pm. I had made them no such promise of a completed end product, the only thing I knew was that they were going to try to record 3 songs. We weren’t anywhere close to mixing, there were takes still being recorded and heavy drum editing to be done. They seemed unhappy, feeling like they’d blown their budget and weren’t anywhere near being done. This made me worry about losing face with a group who had some followers in the area, which could hurt my reputation and impact the exposure I was trying to achieve by taking on the project in the first place. So being desperate to make a client happy, I made the mistake of offering to finish the editing and mixing for free in my own time. I can picture Glenn Fricker screaming at me “You Fucking Idiot!”, but you live and you learn.
And I tried to finish it for them. I tried hard. But increasing caregiver needs for my children coupled with me having just found a day job meant that I had little time to put toward this project. And since I knew I wasn’t going to earn any further money from the project when it was completed, I was forced to prioritize my newly attained day job as a caregiver to another family to keep the bills paid. Their project would have to be relegated to what little free time I had left. The band seemed to understand my predicament, and since we weren’t communicating effectively I was oblivious to their growing concern. Again, part of the communication blame is on them here as well as me. But then they cancelled the project, saying I was unable to deliver to their satisfaction, and were posting photos from a competing studio a week later. In the end, I spent a lot of time, lost the client, and had stressed myself out much more than it was worth. The exposure I was working for ended up being negative, as friends and clients were telling me that I was being talked badly about from some in that camp every time they’d go out for gigs.
Again, you live and you learn. I knew better than to book a session at the blackout rate, as my experience told me it was going to be way too much work for the amount of money I was going to be paid. I knew better than to let someone haggle me into undercutting my services. And I knew better than to offer to work for free for them after the date had finished. I was still learning through experience just how much communication is required on studio projects, and I learned the value of it as a result of this situation. But the common factor that made me override my own common sense and do all of that anyway was money. I needed it. I was in a very tough spot, and made poor decisions because I needed it. And in the end it wasn’t worth the time and stress.
In 2014, I finished my lease on the property, liquidated my meager studio gear, and became a stay at home dad and caregiver. During this time, I started this blog and focused my efforts on a few selective projects a year while focusing on my family. Now, 5 years later, I have no studio overhead, and I take freelance projects when they come up at local studios. I’m no longer panicking to earn whatever I can from audio work to keep the bills paid, largely because I have other income sources now from this blog’s affiliate links and from the gig economy.
As much as I’d love for all of my income to be from audio projects alone, I’m like many of you reading this. I’m not there yet, and there are responsibilities in my life that I must put first. Because of this, I drive for Uber and Lyft to supplement my income between paying projects. When a project comes my way that’s worth my time and effort, I do it. Between projects, I’m secure enough in my ability to provide for my family that I can ignore the low hanging fruit and wait for a project of real substance and quality to come my way.
Driving Uber and Lyft are what fit me, but there are a ton of gig economy jobs out there that will be right for whatever you might be interested in doing. I like driving, talking to people, listening to music, and having a flexible enough schedule to go home if it’s needed. Just last night, I needed to go home early due to a need with my children at home. Meanwhile, I’ve met a lot of musicians through this side hustle that I never would’ve met at shows. Some of those are in talks with me now about doing a record after hearing my work in my car as we drove to their destination. Business cards stay in the car now at all times. To put it another way, If I know I can earn $150 in an 8 hour day of driving for Lyft, why would I choose to work for a full day for less than that as my cut on someone’s record? Sure, that’s not much, but it keeps me from accepting jobs that aren’t worth the time based on the pay.
There are a ton of options for work in the gig economy. It doesn’t matter which one you do, as the main point is to find something you can do when you need to in order to prevent you from needing to take audio jobs under less than ideal circumstances. That gives you the power to be choosy, which keeps the low balling clients who aren’t prepared and cause you mountains of stress away from your door. In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting in a parking lot of a shopping center waiting for more Lyft and Uber rides. Meanwhile tomorrow night I have a session booked with a client I love working with to record vocals. I can go out driving on days I have nothing booked, and stay in to work in the studio on days when I have projects booked. That makes me appreciate the projects I do take even more, as I know they’re the right projects for me to take.