In the spirit of New Years Resolutions and all of that, I thought I would share with you some of the tips I’ve gathered as a freelance entrepreneur. If you are an “indie artist” or a songwriter, a producer or engineer, running a music teaching studio, or operating your own business in any way, this is for you.
The thought of not having a boss or working for a corporate entity sounds pretty sweet, right? Well, it is. But it’s also really REALLY hard sometimes. I worked for financial institutions for 18 years while I built my music business part-time so I fully understand both worlds. As a matter of fact, I still have days when the security of the day job lures me into pulling up the “careers” page of my local credit union. These tips and habits are things I’ve figured out over the 12 years I’ve been a full-time freelancer, all based on my own experience. I can’t say for sure that I have it all figured out yet. I’m still a work in progress However, I hope some of this will be helpful to someone. If you have other pointers or a different perspective, I’d love to hear about it.
Set a work schedule
It would be easy to sleep in, stay up late, wear PJ’s all day, show up at your computer whenever the heck you want, not take a lunch break, etc. Based on your current situation, set a time that is your “go to work” time, a “punch out for lunch” time and “leave work” time. For me, since I have a family and a husband who is a crazy morning person, I really had to adjust my work schedule to fit his (more on that in number 2).
So, I have my morning routine that includes a dog walk, meditation and scripture study and the gym (which I’ve learned in 2020 that those last two have to be a priority or my brain doesn’t function). After all of that, the soonest I can get to my computer for “work” realistically is 9:15-9:30 a.m. Then I have to take my dog on another walk in the afternoon (she is spoiled), which forces me to take a little breather and get some fresh air (very good for freelancers who are on a computer most of the time). Then I like to stop working when my husband gets home so I can make dinner and he can play the drums. My schedule follows that flow Monday through Friday with only an occasional exception. I also take the weekends off so I have time to clean my house, grocery shop, spend time with family and keep my life feeling balanced.
When we are not in a pandemic, my Sundays and Thursdays (and sometimes more) are busy with the Tabernacle Choir rehearsals and performances. It’s a volunteer part-time job and if I don’t properly balance it all, I start to feel overwhelmed very quickly.
When I started my business I was single and basically had no life. I had also just moved to a new town and had to build my business and brand awareness from scratch. It felt like I had no choice but to work constantly, as late as I had to, on weekends (when I wasn’t out of town on a gig with the band No Limits) and holidays in order to turn projects over quickly. I also accepted every project that came my way at whatever budget the artist could afford. I was working constantly and barely making enough to stay afloat. Not a good strategy but at the time, it felt like the only way.
When I got married to my J-Dub in 2013, just a few months into our marriage, his teenagers started moving in with us. Quite suddenly I became a full-time mom with demands on my schedule I wasn’t used to. Driving kids places, parent-teacher conferences, dinner every freaking night (?!) Not only could I not handle the same work schedule but I needed to create a home that felt like a “home”. Family meals at a set time at the dinner table, being available to help with homework or just conversation with the kids, cleaning the house (OMG cleaning the house). I had to make changes. I had to create boundaries. It. Was. Hard. I had to learn to say “I’m sorry, I don’t record after 6 pm.” Or, “I’m sorry, I don’t work on the weekends.” I was sure all of my business would leave and I would have to start applying for jobs at neighborhood financial institutions. But, alas…my clients respected that and worked with my new schedule. Thankfully!!
Create a schedule for yourself; daily, weekly, monthly and annual. An exercise I have started doing and am now having my artists do is create a daily and weekly schedule. First, determine your priorities in each of these categories:
Mental health – What needs to be part of your daily routine to keep you sane? Meditation in the morning? Turn your phone off an hour before bed?
Spiritual health – Set aside a day to turn it all off and connect with whatever it is you connect within the universe. Nature, family, God, whatever. Disconnect from technology at least one day a week if you can and be sure to schedule it so that it will happen.
Physical health – If you need to adjust your schedule to fit in 30 minutes at the gym or a walk with the dog or whatever, do it. Getting the blood pumping, eating right and taking care of your body will spill into every other category. Remember, as a vocalist your body is your instrument. Just like you wouldn’t leave your acoustic guitar in the trunk of your car overnight, you should feel protective of your health in the same way. And if you smoke, I strongly suggest trying to quit.
Creative health – As an artist, developing the necessary skills won’t just happen. Be sure to carve out the time you need for vocal work, songwriting/creative writing exercises, collaborating and co-writing sessions with other artists, work on your instrument, practicing your setlist, etc.
Now create a daily and weekly schedule that you will follow. Adjust as needed!
Here’s a free printable to An Artist’s Weekly Schedule for you.
Create goals as projects
It’s easy to write those goals down on January 1st but I found a “project worksheet” and started to use it for all of my goals this year and I actually love it. It helps me keep track of the steps needed to accomplish the goals and create checkpoints along the way. I extracted what I loved from that worksheet and made my own. Here’s another free printable for you! Project Worksheet
One “bold” action a week/month This is a new action for me that I started taking in 2020. Business was good but the vision I had in my mind wasn’t quite there yet. It began to feel that if I didn’t make a drastic move once in a while, things would stay the same. Was it ok if things stayed the same? Yes, but that was the problem. The safe-zone wasn’t the goal aka dream I had in my mind, but it was safe. Even as unpredictable as it feels as a freelance creative, I had found my groove and was scared to disrupt that groove. Therefore it was tempting to stay there. So I set the goal of making one bold action once a month. I picked once a month to start, but you can try once a week or even once a quarter.
Whatever feels right for you. A bold action for me might be messaging an artist that I’ve always wanted to work with but has never reached out to me (Big time limiting belief voices in my head are always telling me that I’m not good enough so why would so and so artist reach out to me, right? So this is also a way for me to battle against those limiting beliefs.) Another big move I made this year was doing a total rebrand so that my business actually looked like what I wanted it to be rather than waiting for it to gradually happen. This included hiring TEA Creative on a continual basis to handle graphic design, website design and some social media work instead of trying to just do it all myself (and not very well, I might add).
That big move includes actual money going out the door to pay professionals to do something that will elevate what my business looks like online. I don’t know why that one was scary for me, but it was. It’s as if the statement “yes, I have a graphic designer” felt like I thought I was thinking I was a bigger deal than I actually was. ANOTHER LIMITING BELIEF WHAT THE HECK??? Another reason why this step is such a good one.
What is a BOLD action for you? Could that be finally finishing that song you’ve been sitting on that’s half done? Or actually, jumping in with both feet and working with a mentor (like me!) to help you build your business? Reaching out to an artist you admire to see about a collab writing session? Taking a mixing course or a songwriting course? DO IT!
Expand your network
Freelance generally means working with a variety of people but also working very much alone. It can feel isolating and overwhelming. Networking is often thought of when we’re trying to “build our business” or “make connections” to climb up our own entrepreneurial ladder. But what I am talking about here is expanding your network so that you can work with others who can do some of what you do, maybe even better. What if you outsourced one element of the project? If you are a producer, what if you had someone else mix it? What if you regularly hired musicians instead of trying to shoulder the load all yourself project after project?
This leads us to the next one…
If you have been in your “freelance groove” for a year or two, think about what some of your tasks are that you do regularly, especially tasks that feel mundane or like an interruption to your “real” work. Is it something you can take 30 minutes to explain to someone with basic computer skills? Then it might be something you can train someone on and outsource. There are high school students or even virtual assistants who can do this work for you. It might mean taking an hour to type up a step-by-step guide or an afternoon to put together a tutorial video. But if it removes a task that someone else can do for you so that you can do the “meat and potatoes” work, then it’s worth that small investment.
Set financial goals and boundaries
One of the downsides of being a freelancer can definitely be the fluctuating income. Not to mention, an annual tax bill if you aren’t careful, more expensive healthcare, etc. It definitely took me a while to wrangle all of the craziness into something that didn’t feel like a wild roller coaster ride financially. It requires saving a percentage each month for taxes, medical expenses, unexpected expenses and regular savings. If you aren’t disciplined with money, then find an accountability partner (perhaps an accountant) that will hold you to these goals.
Creative brains at times have a difficult time staying on course. So for me, putting bumper pads on the lane of my life has helped me stay focused. Then knowing when to move them, expand them, or completely obliterate them has taken years of trial and error. I hope these guidelines can be helpful to you.
Becky Willard is a Warm Audio featured artist, a music producer, recording engineer, songwriter, composer, vocalist and mentor. She began working with artists almost 30 years ago as a vocal and songwriting coach. It was a natural transition from coach to producer as she guided singers searching for their sound and began recording them in her home studio.
In 2010, Becky founded Vox Fox Studios and has become the go-to producer for many Utah artists as well as artists from all over the world. These artists go to Becky to produce their music because they know they will get their best vocal performances, modern production sounds and mixes that are “radio-ready”. As a songwriter herself and session vocalist, her songs and voice can be heard in dozens of TV shows and movies. As a woman in a male-dominated field, Becky is actively engaged in educating and inspiring young women in her community and worldwide to pursue music production and engineering.