Composing : Have you ever worked for free and regretted that decision? by Chris Hind

Chris Hind

Have you ever worked for free and regretted that decision?

My blog post about the pitfalls of working for free with anecdotes. http://www.chrishind.com/2015/06/work-for-free/

Brian Gaber

Chris, Thanks for the great post. I certainly have been there. I once got the advice: Work for what you deserve or for free. Never work for cheap.

Jeffrey Gold

Every day. LOL There are many opportunities to work for free. I classify the worst ones as negative opportunities (or nopportunities, for short). Intrinsically, there shouldn't be a problem working for free as long as the recipient is making similar sacrifices, but if they come to devalue you because you are doing it for free, then that is a problem (with them). One of the tricks of the charlatans is that they usually dangle the metaphorical carrot in front of you that sounds like a future opportunity (fopportunity); what they fail to mention—by engaging in the fallacy of half-truth—is that it is only an opportunity for them. Stated another way, they always have large bills in their wallets but strangely can't ever make change, or are always able to make their BMW payments but not much else. Another trick they use: Anytime you bring up the subject of payment, they will say something to the effect, "I'm glad you called. I was just going to talk to you about another project." They are so good at redirection, you forget the original intent of your query. After all, you just walked away with another fopportunity. Hilarious. (I say this after two decades of working for "free".) Jeffrey

Chris Hind

thanks for the comments Gents! Jeffrey love your new word - nopportunities! lol

Jeffrey Gold

Brandi is right. You don't need that contract for yourself; but you need it for that other guy. LOL

Joel Irwin

I have a different take on this. When I collaborate with other people, I do so because we have created a relationship of trust. Sure there are people out there that want to take advantage of me/you but in a smaller 'community' like here in Houston, those people get 'known' pretty quickly since they would tend to do similar things to others in the crew. So my criteria has been, to work for free on shorts - both the competitive and non-competitive ones. Competitive shorts by definition have to be free - every competition I have been in has rules that state as such. For the non-competitive ones, I look/try to find out what is happening with the rest of the crew. If they are not being paid - I don't want to get paid either - I am part of a team and do not want to be singled out. Keep also in mind that shorts have little to no budget. The ones I have worked on which are non-competitive from what I know, the filmmaker spends under $1,000 - sometimes up to $3,000. Shorts are supposed to be practice and used a demo reels for larger budget films. I personally judge it 'silly' to ask say $100 or something like that for a score. The last short film I scored about 30 minutes of music. If I charged the approximate 'custom rate' for this project, I would have doubled to tripled his budget (i.e., my charge would have exceeded everything else combined). Shorts hopefully lead to collaboration on features with the same people. That is what I and others strive for. Also, contracts for shorts for me do not make sense - they are too costly and emails and verbal agreements seem to work. Again - for non-competitive shorts. There are contracts defined by the competitive bodies for the competitive shorts. Every short I do whether it is competitive or not, we have an agreement that the music copyright and publishing rights is left with me and they have the music for non-exclusive use. Not a single short film I have scored has ever seen a dollar of revenue. So here in Texas, we trust each other generally and our word and our handshake is our contract. I just finished a third and fourth short with a filmmaker. I trust him implicitly. He is a wonderful person and treats everyone fairly. He even pays for crew parties and functions. We all aim for features. I am on a crew for one right now. The problem with features is regular and consistent funding. The last one I was on, I started and it ran out of money and was shelved. We all on the crew want to get paid and the producers want to see the film show and get out to market. It is a fine balancing act. We all need a bit of give and take. I am willing for a feature to start working on my score without money and without a contract but somewhere during the project, I contract needs to be signed and the money needs to be 'fair' relative to both of our expectations of where we anticipate the film will 'head' and the expected revenue generation model. Just like real estate prices have certain expectations, they also vary by region and are priced relative to the competition. Filmmaking in Houston will have different pricing models than LA though some of the prices are fixed and similar. When I price my work for a feature, I look at two criteria: (1) what other local composers are currently getting and (2) what the prices should be for a composer with my background and credits.

Brian Gaber

Brandi is absolutely correct. In my opinion having the expectations of both the director and composer spelled out can save a lot of headaches.

Brian Gaber

Jeffrey, I love your perspective. The dumbest thing I have done (when I was young and foolish) was to compose a score for a children's record. I did it on the promise of royalty sharing. A record deal was in place, the recording sessions went well. The author/producer loved it. Unfortunately before it was released, he got bored with it and shelved it. I was left with 45 minutes of music that I have never been able to use.

Jeffrey Gold

I just emended (variant spelling of amended) my original post to say that my comments come on the heels of having worked for free for nearly two decades. LOL The lesson is: make sure the other people asking you to do work for free are also working for free. If they are putting money in their pockets (at your expense): walk away. Ask them for $50 just to see what their reaction is. If there is that noticeably awkward hesitation and you can feel the gears grinding in their heads trying to calculate the minimum amount they need to offer to keep you talking: walk away. If they open the door to their Maserati to pull out a $1000 bill and complain how difficult it is to make change: walk away. LOL But if they say, "I think I can get you a hundred and lunch," you may have found a friend.

Alessandro Marafioti

It depends on the situation . when i was working on the therapeutic field I always called the activity director and would offer a free demonstration. ( that was my resume , since part of the job was interaction with the residents and patients ). I would do a free show or session and I would wind up getting hired. ( not always as some establishments would make the norm out of bringing in freebies, but i didnt care ) I got hiref anywhere between 3 times a year to monthly . I wound up working a schedule most musicians dream ov. Early morning shows and afternoon shows with weekends off and vacation when I wanted, i did 45 minutes but I would always play an extra fifteen minutes. I wound up within a few years with over 450 gigs . Not bad . later I got disabled do to unfortunate events and with my dad passed I had to scale back and spend more time helping my mom. Now i decided to start my production company and my approach isn't any different .There is a difference between helping someone for promotional purpose and getting used .You just have love what you do and know when others try to take advantage of you.

Matt Milne

only when taken advantage of. Good directors will ensure you can benefit in other ways such as additional contacts, future paid work, album sales etc.

Shelley Aldred

We have worked for free but only when the bills are paid and if it is a project we can really engage with and feel it will benefit our creative development. With music and art it is sometimes hard to define the word 'work'.

Timothy Andrew Edwards

You can always add a credit to IMDb yourself if you truly worked on a project. If you are not listed in the actual film/short credits, you can still put yourself up on IMDb with (uncredited) after the credit. That should not be considered a part of any negotiation. If you worked on it, you worked on it.

Timothy Andrew Edwards

BTW, this will be one of the topics I'll be addressing in my webinar on July 18th!

Jeffrey Gold

@Vincent True. It's a very strange phenomenon. Gratitude is a rare thing. At the same time, the majority of people I have worked with have been great, but there have been a few cases that were less than ideal. On a related note, Harry Beckwith's book, "Selling the Invisible" (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0446520942/), is a worthwhile read for composers (too).

Timothy Andrew Edwards

I have never worked for free. There is rarely a good reason too.

Timothy Andrew Edwards

A friend of mine told me when he is offered a project for little or no money with promises of him scoring their NEXT project, his response is "How about you pay me my rate on this one and the NEXT project I'll do for little or no money...?". His other response is "How about I NOT score your film and make the same amount?". Of course there are always exceptions but I found these to be funny things we would never say but you know we are all thinking it. :-) Cheers!

Matt Milne

I haven't been as lucky Tim, had to accommodate a wide range of budgets, with virtually all in the shoestring end of things. I rarely have the luxury of rejecting a project due to lack of funds, alas.

Gary D Henry

Every time I write a book I feel as if I'm working for free...LOL

Timothy Andrew Edwards

Matt, Everyone has to accommodate for budgets, especially these days. I was talking along the lines of doing completely free work. Hope that's not your case... Wishing you the best!

Timothy Andrew Edwards

Hahaha, Gary! True, but that's an investment more than a freebie? No?

Sharon Yusop

Wow! And here I thought this only happens in Asia. Been down that road on more than one occasion. But here's the difference. As I was starting out as a freelance PA/AP, all the projects that I got involved with were contracted jobs. And yet, I still got screwed over because they start telling me sob stories of how they dont have any money to pay me or that they've gone bankrupt AFTER the whole project is done. That's basically working for free even under contract. These guys still owes me almost 5 thousand dollars combined and I will never see a cent of it. So, in a way, yes, I have worked for "free" and have regretted it. But it's a learning experience.

Anthony Varon

Yes I have but I have not regretted it because of the amazingly valuable connections and learning opportunities that were on set. Sometimes the sets were not as professional but it worked out in the end!

Ramzy Sweis

I was doing free-lance at the Arab Daily News for 15 months. My bi-weekly column reached 4,000 readers on average. My last column "Dog is God" made Reddit Top 5. I was fired on Easter, sadly; perhaps because they feared for my safety as I lured 380K readers? We garnered 1.2 million readers monthly yet started out only at 300K monthly. Once I launched my personal website I practically handed in my resignation as they took it personal. Essentially I was fired for the reason that I was hired!

Arhynn Descy

I have done free work for the experience. One really good experience I've had is I did a little bit of music for a very low budget feature for deferred payment if the film got distribution. In the contract the director unusually stated she would do everything in her power to make this happen....it was a signal of her intent which I thought was rather honourable. To date she has done everything she said she would and I have since made a little money from it. There are good people out there....and she is a Stage 32 connection!!

Alessandro Marafioti

interesting topic. im in the early stages when it comes to film scoring i tell producers and directors if they use my songs for a particular scene (example : like a background instrumental for club scene ecc) i won't charge them since is also going to hopefully help with music sales and plant a seed for future . when it comes to theme i offer my service as a freelancer or company, as a freelancer i do because i never know what the project is going to require, plus im learning and building up my software.as a company if i have to to do pre and post production i then have to charge as i partner with others who have better software and score credits . Just want to learn , its a process. Good thing is all the previous hardwork payed off , im well situated financially and have the time.

Justin Crosby - Music Composer

I personally won't. IMO the more composers that agree to work for free the greater the expectation industry wide that music should be cheap or free. As the saying goes it's a race to the bottom... and that ultimately ruins it for everyone. Some articles that i personally think EVERY composer should read... http://8dio.com/#blog/how-to-ruin-your-career-and-bring-down-the-music-i... http://www.shouldiworkforfree.com/ http://www.nospec.com/

Timothy Andrew Edwards

Thank you for that Justin! You are spot on. It hurts everyone industry wide. On a singular level... doing it for free means you become the "free" composer. Why would they pay you on future projects when they haven't paid for it in the past? They will simply move on to another person who will do it for free. There are extremely rare exceptions but that is true with anything.

Jeffrey Gold

@Justin Agreed. Who is guilty? The industry itself. The establishment did not respond in time to dispatch Napster. We've also had a major recession since 2008—the same one we're still in. The Arts took a major hit. Ask (non-digital) Theatre, who went from ensemble pieces to one-person monologues to where playwrights pay to put on a play (a form of pay-to-play, if I ever heard one). @Timothy I give my music to filmmakers who can't afford original music but want to put their films on YouTube since I am able to recoup some revenues from advertising. It works out well (certainly much better than the puny, tip-of-the-long-tail revenue from the streaming services). It will be interesting to see if Apple Music changes the landscape or serves as a prolegomenon signalling further erosion. If we're lucky, when we look back on this time in that imagined glorious future, the Napster reversal may have started somewhere between Steve Jobs' launch of iTunes and when Taylor Swift shot across the bow of Spotify. Only time will tell. Right now, Paul Williams at ASCAP is trying to change the game for us in Congress.

Justin Crosby - Music Composer

Thanks Timothy! Much appreciated... Jeffrey, I understand what you're getting at but the problem is bigger than that (from my perspective.) Yes, Napster is a great place to put your finger on a map and say this moment in time marks an important shift in the music industry. But small film makers and graphic designers are facing the same difficulties. I personally think the real source of the issue has two parts. 1. The availability of affordable broadband internet happened at the same time Napster arrived. I personally think that solely blaming Napster and record labels is the like treating the symptoms of a disease and ignoring the source of the disease. Napster is the side effect of the monolithic media companies like TW, and now Comcast, making fast internet a household product. In my opinion they've avoided any liability which is ridiculous if you think about it. Without connectivity to the web there is NO ACCESS to piracy. No one has attempted to really go after them and lay the blame at their feet. (And with good reason; they have political sway that goes billions of dollars beyond the recording and film industries.) 2. There has been a growing acceptance of "the culture of free", or as one blog puts it; "The Illusion of More". A belief that because the internet is "free" in so many ways, it perpetuates a culture-wide belief that anything online should be free. Youtube is the perfect example. Google uses it to perpetuate an illusion that because the media on it is free to watch, it's monetary value is therefore nil… I feel that this is even harder to put an end to than going after media or technology companies. At least with a company there is a legal precedent… When the general cultural attitude is that you are entitled to anything online for free simply because "you can" has gotten its roots as deeply embedded as it has, unfortunately I don't know if there's a solution for that… And as far as PROs go… well … I'd ask the question that: why were they busy running around trying to monetize performances in restaurants, small venues, etc when they should have been making policy for media and technology companies the whole time? I could say so much more on this! But basically this issue arrises in all forms of media not just the music industry - journalism is dying, graphic designers and web developers are expected to work on spec for startups, fine art photography has been battered by google images etc. I feel now more than ever it's vital to stand your ground and stick up for the value of your work. The more people that are allowed to continue believing they're entitled to your work for free the more it brings down all of these industries as a whole… This is a fantastic blog … http://illusionofmore.com/about-2/ And a fantastic talk about exploring the larger issues of the drop in the value of music… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dHpovXGfoM EDIT: Apparently there's auto formatting with numbering. the numbering above should be 1. and 2. Carry on! :)

Jeffrey Gold

@Justin My post was not meant to be an exhaustive exploration of the issue. LOL What you are asking for is equivalent of everyone in the world simultaneously opening their eyes at the same time. As long as that doesn't happen, you won't see much of a change. You can ask for whatever amount you want, but if the filmmakers can't afford it, there are ten composers trying to get a foot in the door who will do it for free. They will take no payment in exchange for getting a credit, which may or may not pan out to something more valuable in the future. (I think someone recently made an argument that the logic of the marketplace is not necessarily rational at all times. Some of us have suspected that for a long time.) GoogleTube is used by everyone to gain attention. It's quite the coup, because the provider without content (Google) can generate revenue based on the labors of others 'in exchange' for providing the platform that potentially gets someone noticed—lottery style. A free service that would have been great for un(der)funded long tail content providers is now flooded by content providers with seemingly limitless resources. Still, it's better than the way things were. I think the correction will eventually happen.

Alessandro Marafioti

networking : I have been harvesting my compositions , writings for thirty years while playing music. yet when it comes to actual composing score credits I have none, zip , zero . I think and I may or not be right but networking with other seasoned and established composers is one of the keys in getting a foot in the door , make some money and establish some credits .

Timothy Andrew Edwards

Credits are important. What kind (of credits) is more important.

Timothy Andrew Edwards

That is one avenue, Alessandro.

Arhynn Descy

I entirely agree that composers should be paid for their work. I think the reason its assumed it will be given away for free is because its not a tangible product and I also believe most non-musicians don't understand quite how much work goes into producing a track and how difficult it is...adding to the reasoning that it shouldn't be paid for. Having said that, there is the reality of 'right now'...of trying to break into the industry while this mindset still exists and one has to decide on an individual basis whether or not to do free. There is a fine line between paying it forward and being taken advantage of. I am happy to help out if I have the time and its a genuine case of no budget, no one is being paid and we all help out.

Timothy Andrew Edwards

I've noticed a common thread that marries the idea that "breaking in" means "working for free". It doesn't and I will be addressing this in my webinar on July 18th.

Dawn Murrell

Hi Timothy this is such a great topic! I am hoping if you can also discuss how much a new music composer should charge for different projects. I have a flash mob business and I am always wondering how much to charge my customers. It takes 3 months of work for 3 minutes of product. Musicians, dancers and composers can appear "greedy" or apologetic to others when we try to tell people what we're worth.

Timothy Andrew Edwards

Hi Dawn, First thanks for connecting! Ever been to the Louisville Film Festival? I was a panelist there two years ago and had an incredible time! For composers, there are so many variables like the film's budget, cast, distribution prospects, etc that can help you determine what you would like to charge that it is hard to typeall of it here, however, I will be addressing that in the webinar I am doing on the 18th of this month. When you say "Musicians, dancers and composers can appear "greedy" or apologetic to others..." my answer is, if you can actually pinpoint a value to what you do based on the work you must put in and what the person hiring will gain from it (along with what may be the usual and customary rate) then you should have no problem telling them your price. If they flat out dismiss it, who's being greedy then? The old expression "Time is money..." is true. What will you bring to that project? Will it make it better? More sellable? There are all kind of exceptions for taking less, HOWEVER, you will likely have a gut feeling to which projects are worth doing for less or not. It's all about navigating your course. Helpful? :)

Dawn Murrell

Yes very helpful thank you! As a new artist/music composer, I find it easy to underestimate my work compared to someone with more experience. (maybe it is just me with that problem) Your experience and your list of credits is mind boggling so I am honored to learn from you! My friend Emily Carroll worked with the Louisville Film Festival before she moved to LA. There is a lot of talent in this city! Come back anytime! :)

Timothy Andrew Edwards

I loved it and would love to come back! I discovered Bulleitt Bourbon there! You're right! A lot of great talent in your town too!

Timothy Andrew Edwards

Isn't "WORK for FREE" an oxymoron?

Justin Crosby - Music Composer

Right to the point Timothy. Short and sweet. Thanks for that :)

Mark Ashworth

On a few occasions but my most memorable one was when I was traveling to set (which was over an hour away),for a night shoot when I called the Director to let him know that somebody should be getting a shot of how full,low and beautiful the moon was that evening, for the show. He told me that the shoot had been postponed due to conflicts and had asked had "...*.", not called me ? I was furious because to me, someone who usually works night, I had sacrificed not only my work but a possible chance to spend time with my wife. I told them ALLL where to go ! If you don't have communication at the base level when you work for free,you have nothing !!!

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