Hi all,

I'm just in the middle of revising my business plan and one thing I've started to consider when planning ahead is just how many projects you tend to have in the pipeline at once.

Do you normally have a number of projects lined up at once, or do you have "dry spells" in between extremely busy periods? Do you pace yourselves and turn down projects if time constraints are too tough, or is it common to bite off more than you can chew as a contingency plan?

I'd be really interested to know. Thanks in advance for your advice!


Besides the day job at the studio, I generally have between 2 and 5 projects going on simultaneously. But they're not all big projects. Right now I have three stage shows going on, with staggered openings between October and April. Those are the big projects. Besides that I have to prep an M&E mix for an indie feature, put together a couple of sound effects packages, mix a couple of songs and plan for a location recording expedition in late April. Any "Down time" is usually the day after a show opens or a movie ships, when I try to take an evening off before jumping into the next thing on the list. Unlike Arnoud Traa, I do have to turn down stuff because I'm too busy. That's less of a boast than it sounds; I've just discovered I can't do as many projects simultaneously as I used to think I could. Part of this process is learning your own limits.

  • Wow, that's certainly a stringent window for downtime! Lots of respect for your work ethic! So, it looks like variety works well as a means to having your pipeline full of potential projects. Do you notice any seasonality to certain types of projects? E.g. more films in the summer, recording expeditions at a different time? – Will Tonna Aug 23 '13 at 12:17
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    Thanks! Variety is key, yeah. As far as seasonality: some of my major theatre clients are colleges, so their shows are pretty set as far as when they happen during the school year. Plus I do a big outdoor Shakespeare show every summer. Beyond that, though, there's not much predictability. Storefront theatre shows and indie films happen pretty much whenever. Since I'm in Chicago, there's generally not much location recording during the winter. – Joe Griffin Aug 26 '13 at 14:43

Seems like a simple question, but is tough to answer. My first response would be, it depends. Meaning that dry spells can last 1 week or 6 weeks. Pipe lines may be cut off or lengthened, anything is possible and you adapt as you go. But i can tell you this, I never say no to a client just because i'm to busy. If i do it is mostly because the project is not interesting, underpaid pr the client is not my type. Or i'm having vacation :)

These things are not easily planned if you're working solo. Have you considered working with other sound designers?

  • Thanks for the insight. So I guess you manage to make time for these extra projects then? Maybe work slightly longer hours or shave off time with other projects one way or another? I haven't considered working with other sound designers yet. However, I've always been open to idea of acting in an assistant role to an established designer, perhaps on metadata duties or something similar. I think in the future, this is something I would maybe farm out to others who were interested in order to free up some time for "solid" designing. – Will Tonna Aug 23 '13 at 12:12
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    Well to answer your question, i just work overtime (I don't have kids so it's easy for me) and 'farm out' if necessary. I decide on the go what's necessary and most of the time i have a hunch prior to big stress moments. Regarding 'farming' definitely a good idea, but have a standard process available for the assistants. You don't want them to 'just do something' and mess up your consistent metadata system. – Arnoud Traa Aug 25 '13 at 11:50

I have turned down projects in the past but I now very rarely do that (unless it's a project not worth doing, that is). I've found that it's much better to have a couple of sound editors that you can trust to ship on extra workloads too, if necessary. Plus, it's often great experience for younger sound guys. They do the groundwork and I can qc and final mix it. Has worked for me so far...

(p.s I'd be more than happy for you to ship extra work to me!)

Best, N

  • Thanks for the advice. Just as another point, how many projects would you consider the threshold before you start shipping work to others? – Will Tonna Aug 23 '13 at 12:13
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    Completely depends on the projects, the deadlines, importance etc. I try to keep 2 or 3 on the go at least. As I'm trying to expand the business, I try to get as much as possible and am currently using guys to the 'groundwork'. – Nicol J Craig Aug 26 '13 at 7:13

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