Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lessons from another Blog.

I just discovered a great little tumblr blog called "Clients from Hell".  There are some really great stories on that site, and some of them remind me so much of things I've dealt with in the past... Everyone I know who freelances as a creative producer of any kind has tons of these experiences.

Most of my favorites start with someone claiming that if only the freelancer would be willing to work for equity, when X start-up "company" has it's IPO, they'll make millions!  Millions! That or they think you should work for "experience", or for "exposure".

"Well, I was hoping you wouldn’t just be interested in making money. I wanted you to understand how much you could learn from me, and how valuable that would be. That’s why I think $12/hr is a fair rate for you to produce the website. If you can’t work for this rate than you miss out."

But a lot of times crazy clients don't understand that what freelancers do - when done well - simply isn't something their nephews can do.

 "Oh my, that is more than what we want to pay. My nephew is in Vo-Tech and I can get him to do it for $100."

When you work in a creative field, no matter whether that's graphic & webdesign or film & music production, a lot of people simply don't understand what kind of time and knowledge freelance jobs actually take.  Take this one:

"Well, I have worked with a lot of designers in my day and I am of the opinion that if you are confident in your abilities to meet my expectations then being paid at the end would be fine with you. Ultimately you are paid for the end result, right? I shouldn’t have to pay you for ‘making the effort’." 

Everyone has a finite amount of time with which to work, and a lot of times clients will mistakenly believe that it's ok not to pay you for that time, believing that they're only paying you for whatever final result they eventually decide is correct.  It's important to recognize that the final result is usually the culmination of a long and difficult process.

"I briefed you yesterday, and you guys haven’t still given me the first cut? atleast e-mail me the copy. How much time does it take to write copy? 10 minutes to think + 10 minutes to write + 10 minutes to verify. I am expecting atleast 15-20 copy options for the time you’ve taken."

Take composing, for instance. It takes a great deal of knowledge and skill just to be able to run the technical equipment from recording technology like the gear shown in the previous post to professional software like ProTools, Nuendo, or any number of programs that synthesize the sound of instruments.   Beyond that, composers must understand the limitations of different instruments, be knowledgeable about music theory & arranging and understand a wide range of cultural musical styles - and that's all before we even talk about the skills needed to do the creative idea-work well.

(Yes... I do know what all this stuff means... And yes, it is complicated.)

Creating music that fits film & multimedia is hard work and has to take a lot of factors into account.  What's the mood of the scene?  What is the audience supposed to know about this character at this point in the movie? What energy level is appropriate? What's happening in the next scene?  What key did we come from and in which key do we want to arrive at the end of the sequence? What instrumentation and orchestration reflects the best choice? How should the themes sound, what instrument should have the lead lines?

All these questions are something that a pro will ask that a novice won't even understand.  Writing good film music simply isn't a job that can be done by incompetent people.  Unfortunately, like a lot of the design work that Clients from Hell discusses, a lot of people looking for music (and any multimedia production) aren't really very sure what they're looking for. 

"I want it to be small enough to not be too noticeable but bright enough to draw the eye."

It's sadly very common for people to not really know what they want out of a graphic of a piece of music.  So if you're a client of anyone in the creative services fields, here are the keys:

  1. Be as clear as possible about what you want to accomplish.  It doesn't matter that much if you don't know what you want something to sound like or look like - that's what we're here for - but it is crucial that you know what you want your audience or customers to experience.
  2. Don't undervalue the services you're getting - A mid-range price for just one of the software programs I use on an almost daily basis is $1500, the hardware I have is significantly more valuable and a Masters from NYU doesn't come cheaply either... A great deal of time, cost, knowledge and skill goes into what we do and haggling over a few hundred dollars is depressing. Getting told that our services are worth next to nothing (or nothing at all!) is just insulting.
  3. Don't try to act like you know more than you do.  Web 2.0 isn't the new release from Microsoft, audio engineering software doesn't have a generic "enhance" button like in CSI and no, in all likelihood, the violins shouldn't come in there.  It's ok to have ideas and opinions about the work, but like a good mechanic, we'll always know when you're just trying to make us think you're knowledgeable so we won't try to cheat you. We're not going to cheat you (in general)... Like most people, we just want to earn a living and do good work so we can feed ourselves and our families and feel good about ourselves at the end of the day.

So that's that... If you're a creative freelancer - I have no doubt that you'll find the blog to be hilarious and hopefully cathartic.  If you're going to hire a freelancer, like me, for example - I hope you'll learn from it (and also laugh). 

Check it out. 

No comments: