How many of you have been asked to "touch up a mix" and the client hands you an OMF with no editing, effects or design? Or been asked to work on a project as a "sound editor" when the client meant a sound designer, foley artist, ADR recordist and mixer?

I've just finished school and one of the ways I'm trying to gain experience is by working on as many small projects as I can. It seems like everyone that needs sound work has no idea what they actually need and they ask and expect more than was initially agreed on. I don't feel comfortable "finishing" a project that is below my standards. For example when I'm asked to mix something that needs sound effects or foley. The bottom line is when I'm getting paid little-to-nothing I don't want to spend additional hours on something that wasn't brought up at the beginning. I've had conversations about this with directors and producers and it's always awkward, and I feel that it makes me look like I'm lazy and I don't know what I'm doing. I'm all for doing an amount of extra work to please the client and, no matter what, I never want to leave a client unhappy or unsatisfied.

My question here is how have some of you dealt with this problem? I've tried asking questions at the beginning of a project, anticipating the "can you also do this?" question but that doesn't always work.

3 Answers 3

  • Rene is right that you need to first estimate your work scope, then raise flags immediately and early if there are disconnects in expectations. Welcome to the world of Client Management, where 90% of all problems in this regard have to do specifically with expectations management. Stick by your guns, but don't be hostile. Stay collaborative. There's always give and take, but sounds like you're just about done giving...but be careful what battles you pick if you're pretty far down the rabbit hole already.

  • Contracts help a lot; what a "contract" is varies, but at the very least, I tell all my clients that I do absolutely no work without a signed statement of work (SOW). This at least defines scope and sets expectations, as well as sets out written procedures for handling scope changes. This way nothing is a surprise. Others here on SSD had a previous discussion around contracts you may want to read. I personally have been on six-figure projects (not sound design only, sadly :-p) with an SOW as the only real paperwork and they went fine.

  • Having an SOW arms you with one critical thing: The ability to point at it when a request comes in and say, "OK, you know, that idea is a great one! I think that'd be awesome! Our challenge is that this will probably take [N] days/hours, and that time wasn't allowed for in our SOW." Then you're being collaborative and enthusiastic while protecting yourself. Ask if other stuff that you've not yet finished to can come off the table (trade), if there's extra budget (ask), or to make the call yourself that this isn't the battle you should fight and that you should do this one request (buckle)...while telling them that you can't, from a business standpoint, easily accommodate future requests after doing this piece. Always offer professional estimates.

  • If the project if fraught with risk and unknowns, consider billing time & materials - i.e., hourly - instead of on a fixed fee. If the client resists, underscore the need for a well-defined scope and schedule before committing to a fixed fee gig. Track your profit margin like a business, because that's your "room to groove" on tackling requests for extra stuff. I swallow extra requests all the time, at least the small ones, to keep the relationship strong, but that's also because I expect this to happen and ensure my rates have the margin to not sweat the truly teensy things. But significant requests, of course, need to be subjects of serious conversations.

  • A lot of what we do is about client education, and that just comes with the territory, which I and other smart peeps spoke about in a previously-asked question, and it sounds like you're running into this yourself.

  • You're doing the right thing by coming here and asking good questions! Good luck!

  • 1
    WRT profit margins - Its important to know one's "loaded cost." That is, what it costs at the hourly rate to pay every single one of your bills every month - salary, rent, taxes, utilities, insurance, equipment upgrades, software, backups, etc. All of it.----------Once you know your annual costs, break that down into an hourly rate based on regular full working hours. Knowing your loaded costs of operation is very powerful when establishing how much you can adjust your rates without inherently losing money on the project. It's also great for measuring profit margin on the front end.
    – Rene
    Sep 24, 2010 at 0:35
  • Great addition, Rene. Thanks for bringing The Science! Sep 24, 2010 at 18:39

IMO the best way to deal with this situation is to do what you can to avoid it entirely, though that really comes with experience.

Here's how to avoid the situation:

  • do your homework on the project.

Always discuss deliverables before starting work on something. If you get question marks over heads when the topic comes up, then you need to be prepared for the amount of work in front of you, and make plans and decisions accordingly. Its fairly common for an inexperienced video producer to be in need of audio education even though he's already halfway through his project, and its your job as an audio guy to be as honest and straightforward as possible with what you are wiling/able to do given the price and what his project will require in order to ever make any money.

Even experienced video producers and film makers can be sometimes shockingly uneducated with regards to the amount and type of sound work required to make their projects marketable. They don't all have to be works of perfection, but you'll know as well as anyone what can pass muster and what can't, and what kind of effort it will take to get from A to B.

If you can anticipate any compromises that will need to be made in order to deliver the project on budget and on time you'll be able to set expectations and minimized the compromise effect accordingly.

All of this comes from the courting process though, and the red flags that people throw up will become more apparent with experience.

  • write a contract

I know, people hate signing contracts, but they also hate paying for audio work so you have to protect yourself. Contracts can be flexible by the way. You can specify a package rate for x deliverables and x hours, with an ability to continue work for a studio rate after those hours and deliverables are fulfilled. This way everyone knows what to expect, and it allows for a new entry point into the money conversation if new requirements appear as the project moves along.

contracts don't have to be all legalese and complex. In fact, the more straighforward and readable the better. Your goal with a contract is not to litigate it if your client wants other stuff - its to use it as a mutually agreed upon framework for the working relationship.

You don't need a signed contract for every job, but you should start considering it when the work looks like it will span more than a few days. Each situation is different so react accordingly.

also, a wise man once said that you should only have two prices - free and full pop. Anything in between devalues your work without diminishing expectations.

  • communicate immediately when surprises occur

When you initially take assets - if you expect one thing and find another, then stop down for a moment and reassess. Then talk to your client before moving forward. If you see a problem and begin work anyway, then you will miss the opportunity to head off trouble before it can multiply.

  • This is a lot of good information, thanks a lot. Not pricing between free and full pop is an interesting concept. I guess I have to figure out what my "full pop" rate is for every kind of project. "...they also hate paying for audio work..." made me laugh out loud because it's so true. Thanks again.
    – Dan2997
    Sep 24, 2010 at 0:18

It helps to go the extra mile but when you do so, make sure it's clearly indicated. Also a nice detail I learned from a man in a suit - always have them aware of the time you've spent, especially if you go "over budget" or have to put in extra time because of creep like that.

And sometimes drawing the line is what's needed.

People make a lot of assumptions. The more of those you try to find out early, the better?

  • Thanks a lot! Finding out early is always the goal but it can be tough!
    – Dan2997
    Sep 24, 2010 at 0:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.