I recently turned free work into a paid 3k (usd) gig.
I hear a lot of engineers in the music industry talk about how it’s bad to work for free. Industry leaders like Tony Maserati, “I would never recommend anyone to work for free, ever, for anything.” – from a Mix With The Masters interview.
But there’s always something you could be paid with that’s not necessarily monetary. It could be education. It could be future money. It could be a foot in the door that leads to paid gigs.
I’ve had great success working for free. I understand the secret key component that only top performers understand: You’re paid based on the results you create for helping people get what they want.
Now I’m not standing on a street corner flipping a sign up in the air telling everybody and their momma that I’m giving away free labor. Thats just ludicrous. There’s a strategy to it all.
The strategy is this:
What will I be paid now or in the future if I do this gig for free?
When you internalize this framework into your business it opens up golden doors that you would’ve never stepped into had you not did the gig.
And when you do a REALLY GOOD job and impress the client with not just your audio skills and the end product or mix, but you impress them with how well you communicate, how fast you worked, how easy it is to work with you, a lot of times they will be so happy with the level of service you provided, they will have no choice but to pay you.
People pay for good service.
Think about the cost difference between a first class ticket and a coach ticket from the US to the UK. It’s like 5x more money!
Why the hell would someone pay 5x more to ride the exact same plane and get there the exact same time? It’s the level and quality of service you get. You pay more to get treated like a VIP. They call you by your name, they give you better drinks and food, your seat is more comfortable, you get free cashmere pajamas.
So if you approach your free gig and ask yourself, what will I be paid now or in the future for this? And you provide first-class level service and do the job like you were getting paid you’re basically guaranteed to get some amazing results out of it.
Here’s what happened with my free-to-3k gig I just did.
A pop artist from Trinidad was referred to me by a friend of mine to mix some songs for a project he was working on. After we get through the initial meet and greet via email, I figure out what he needed with his songs and what his ultimate goals and dreams were for his project.
I quoted him my price.
He gets back to me with hesitation and concerns because he’s not sure I’m the right guy to mix it and asks if I would do a free mix just to hear a sample of what I could do. (In my mind I’m like fuck that, I know I’m a badass and can get the job done, lol!)
Now I have to make my next move. Freelancing and landing gigs is like a chess game. You have to complete strategic steps before you go for the game winning kill shot.
My options are:
- Say, nah bruh, I don’t work for free.
- Say, nah bruh, I can do the job, just listen to some samples of previous work I did and hurry up and hire me already.
- Say, yeh bruh, I’ll do it. (Asking myself, *What can I get paid for now or in the future? I could have some Trinidad music experience I can use to shop around for similar work. He might say yes and pay me. He might refer me to another paying gig.) These are the futures I’m looking to get paid for, other opportunities, foots in the door.
I chose yeh bruh. And did the mix. And he loved it and paid me!
Behind the scenes though, it was one of the hardest jobs I’ve done recently. Not mix wise, but logistics wise and communications wise.
First, he lived in a land far far away from me. Second, English was not his native tongue. There was a communication barrier. His email’s to me didn’t make any sense and I had a hard time deciphering what he was saying. Third, his session files were confusing and didn’t work in my rig. I had to get different versions of files and setting up the session in my Pro Tools rig was just a complete nightmare.
All in all, this first tester mix took 3 weeks to complete with all the back and forth confused emails, 5 revisions, multiple session version downloads, and miscellaneous crap I had to deal with. I did all of this in between my other paid gigs I was working on at the time. It was super stressful.
Most people would’ve said fuck it and just quit on him but not me. I provide first class service to all of my clients, paid or not, and I’m doing my best and giving my all to serve him well to ensure he hires me.
Because I was patient, reliable, on-time, and did my best to communicate swiftly with this client, I was able to land the gig and mix the entire project. (most engineers suck at this)
Was I the best mixer technically for the gig? Maybe not, there are other mixers that specialize in this type of genre and are way better than me. But I won because I accepted the challenge of a try-before-you-buy-deal. I worked for free, and I didn’t devalue my level and quality of service. I provided first class service even with the risk of not getting paid jack shit.
And when the job got tough and everything that could suck started sucking, I persevered by making a mental shift in my mind that this is the way it is, it’s out of my control, just do the best damn job I can with what I have in front of me.
When you use this free-to-paid-work strategy and integrate the mental framework of simply provide first class service you will find yourself always getting paid. Even if it’s just getting paid in tacos, which I consider, to be a big win 🙂
Remember this, ask yourself this question when assessing free or spec work:
What will I be paid now or in the future?
I hope this has helped and you learned something new.
Anthony Navarro – free taco eater
P.S. Have you done anything similar or did you try this strategy and it worked for you? Please comment below and let me know. 🙂