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Times are always "a-changing" but we are in the middle (or tail end) of big change with respect to digital/technology service-oriented companies.

I know from personal experience that this is a hot topic of debate. Companies, from sound effects library companies to audio post production have reluctantly been forced to slash prices in order to remain competitive. I myself have tried to respect my own time by standing by my rates and lost numerous projects because of it - someone will always do it cheaper.

Though I'm interested mainly in audio companies/freelancers, I think this question can be applied to any branch of the industry (animation/web design/games etc). The questions is, how do we deal with the low barrier to entry for people offering audio services - due mainly to the democratization of technology (i.e. you can run a robust Pro Tools system on your laptop for a few hundred dollars compared to ten years ago when you needed $10k to run PTHD with hardware).

Audio professionals are fighting an uphill battle against lower budgets and low barrier to entry for competition. There are few clients who still offer the budgets of the past.

Is it possible, however, that though rates have been decreasing, there is more work? Smaller companies who were not able to afford video marketing etc. now can; there is an entire new advertising platform (the web) that simply didn't exist a decade ago.

If you stand by your rates so as not to devalue your skills or product, are you helping the industry or hurting yourself? Are our standards lowered when it comes to art, music, media... is the "good enough revolution" inevitable? And if so, is that a problem?

In 1995, Steve Jobs said in an interview, "...the way we're going to ratchet up our species is to take the best and to spread it around to everybody so that everybody grows up with better things…" It feels unfortunate to the professionals who are impacted the most from this; I have friends who used to make a secure living who are out of work after their studios went out of business. However, I think there is as much if not more opportunity. The budgets may be lower, true. Perhaps if this work doesn't promise the salary one needs a change in career may be the best answer.

Thoughts?

  • This is a fantastic question, and one I have been pondering for some time. I look forward to reading everyone's opinion. – Steve Urban Dec 17 '12 at 23:49
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Film making (& any other technology based medium) is going through the same evolution that the music industry has gone through and continues to go through... and while fruity poops, protools and ableton LIVE have been a factor, that isn't the primary element of change in the music industry. The massive change has occurred due to effectively costless digital delivery - that is whats created the change. Its the democratization of delivery. And as with the music industry, the road will be bumpy for anyone who's business is based on the traditional delivery model, unless they too evolve.... So just as the big five record labels struggle to remain relevant, so too will the big film studios, and so too will anyone whos business is directly dependent on them.

The point of entry for creating is lowered for all mediums, so that means there will be a lot more low/no budget/self funded projects than ever before. And that is a great thing - that is the democratization of self expression. But as with music, it will be and already is a crowded market. Take the Sundance Film Festival, in 2011 there were 10,279 films submitted - 118 of which were selected to screen. Even though it is very likely the number of films submitted will grow each year, the number selected likely wont change very much.

As someone whos been participating in film making since before the start of digital, as a relevant example I saw all the hype about DV (as in DV video tape) back in the 90s - how it was going to revolutionize & democratize the film making process etc... Did it? A little, but it wasn't a revolution - it was just incremental evolution. Ten years later DSLRs were marketed with the same hype, but it takes a skilled cinematographer (and writer, director, actors etc) rather than a slightly better camera to make the difference. Again its just an incremental evolution. Same for RED cameras - in the wrong hands, a RED camera adds nothing. Same for a ProTools system.

I can (obviously) only speak for myself, but in terms of my own film work and in terms of the people I work with/hire, the most important factor remains unchanged and that factor is not based so much on technology. Even though the price of a ProTools system (or whatever) is much lower, buying Protools only enables you to start - i.e. to start gaining experience - the far bigger factor is the individual persons attitude, personality, creativity, experience etc... Even when considering interns, it is their experience that matters most - lots of people start, far fewer persevere. A lot of people don't get past how. Even less transcend the technology & learn how to emotionally engage in story telling....

With regards to earning a living, thats the challenge every person on the planet has to face. People with salary jobs are at a distinct disadvantage because familiarity breeds contempt - they often don't have to think too hard about where the next income is coming from, whereas every freelance does, every single day. So when that salary disappears those people tend to be very vocal, whereas every freelancer goes through that process at the end of every job.

Every project you work on is an investment, of your time, skills and resources, and as a freelancer you are free to choose how or if you participate. But one thing is sure, you aren't going to be paid more than the DOP or the picture editor. So having a preconceived idea of what your income is going to be, will eliminate you from some projects, for better or worse. So I don't think there is anything to be gained by becoming emotional about whether you are being paid your worth or not. Choose to participate or don't. But if you do choose to participate on projects that don't or cant pay a living wage, seriously consider the terms in which you work. Eg if you work on 20 no/low budget films in 10 years and one of them goes off at Sundance blair witch styles & is sold for a few million, I'd be wanting to have points in that project rather than just a thank you email from the Bahamas.

There are no conclusions to be made, its all evolution... We each have to choose how important each of the relevant factors are: job security vs creative expression vs learning vs earning a living vs freedom vs how we spend each day & the fixed amount of time we are each given on this planet....

  • Very well said! I agree on many levels with it. – Stavrosound Dec 18 '12 at 8:49
  • Everything you've said is pretty much spot on except your position towards salary people holds it's own level of contempt. Also, I disagree with your summary in that you have pinned everything against each other (this VS this). If your point is that everyone must find their own balance then I would agree but for example my salary and job security allows my creativity to flourish and builds freedom into my life and career. They are not competitors but rather partners. – Brad Dale Dec 18 '12 at 21:15
  • I think you might be being a bit literal with the "vs" - did you not read the line before it: "We each have to choose how important each of the relevant factors are" - each factor, not one factor to the exclusion of others... – user49 Dec 19 '12 at 1:17
  • Reading the sentence again doesn't change the context for me but it's all good. For me personally, early in my career I did actually hold the common belief that one must 'trade off this for that' in ones life and career but I've learned that the factors don't necessarily have to give and take from one another but can feed and nurture each other in a relationship. – Brad Dale Dec 19 '12 at 16:11
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IMO the work that we do is far less about the tools and far more about the talent.

To that end, the goal is to create a skillset that people value - regardless of the tools in use or the price thereof. If your clients value your skillset, they will pay for that. If they feel they can execute as well as you can, then they won't.

In the end, the challenge is to create value far beyond what your clients and their friends can execute - even with the same tools.

  • 1
    EXACTLY my sentiment, all about the talent and selling yourself (not to be confused with selling oneself OUT) and to finding an edge in the (at times) saturated market. It's what lays the foundation for solid work relationships and long-lasting client relationships who keep coming back because of what they value in you. – Stavrosound Dec 18 '12 at 6:23
0

"Shit happens" pretty much summarizes my opinion. One just needs to find a way to advance, whatever they're doing or offering in order to have a competitive edge. But in service-oriented positions and in the entertainment and media fields, the means to advance definitely are very different compared to say a technology field, where there really aren't many limitations. In a technology field a company goes and invents/produces a new technology or a product that's better than the existing ones (commonly in other aspects than just price) or that hasn't been seen before, but what does/can one do in the media field, especially in sound services, which is not the end that's inventing those new productions? When there's nothing else to compete with you slash the prices or e.g. shorten delivery times. Reliability, customer/social relationships and track records have obviously always played a big / the biggest part, but even for that it might become difficult to justify one's rates, if the client has seemingly many equal alternatives to pick from. Personal styles, specializations and brands play a part though, if you think of e.g. sound designers and especially composers that keep being hired specifically because of how they do stuff or what having their name on a production does to sales.

Competition is always good though, because it forces to innovate in order to stay relevant and interesting, and to offer something better. Innovation leads to better products and services, which serves everybody. There may be more mass in the market, but competition definitely doesn't lower quality or make things worse, vice versa, it drives those that are capable to produce better stuff and offer better services/products and makes those that can't leave the market. Not everyone are capable of doing those innovations that will end up being meaningful, and of course it isn't straightforward. Still it's the only way to do something about getting devalued by the competition. Leveraging to a different league.

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