A common question from people starting in the audio industry is, “should I have a full-time job or freelance?” Even veteran professionals may ask themselves that question throughout their careers. It is perfectly normal to want different things during different stages of our lives!
I lived a freelance life for a long time, and I eventually started applying for full-time positions for economic stability and professional development. After many applications and a few interviews, I eventually got a job at NPR! I have been there for almost three years now, and have discovered a few surprising benefits of working full-time along the way.
This one is perhaps the most obvious. Personally, I have been able to pay off debt, build savings, travel and have a wedding without going into debt. I have also been able to do basic things such as have health insurance and buy food and clothes without feeling guilty or worrying about whether any of it would set me back. All of this has been achieved through a combination of a steady paycheck and diligent budgeting.
This brings me to a bonus economic benefit. Through consistent work, I have had the time to learn about better financial practices. I have had the time to research different budgeting and saving methods, read stories about how others have paid off debt, developed budgets through spreadsheeting, read up about building better credit, and even began to understand investing. I should have made more time for such things when I freelanced, but I never got good at it because I was always flying by the seat of my pants and just focused on current expenses or saving for the next time I did not have a gig. A steady paycheck has enabled me to spend time learning about long-term financial well-being.
I was definitely prone to self-martyrdom in my freelance career. I was always pushing aside things like dentist and doctor’s appointments. To the rest of society, these things are non-negotiable. And they should also be priorities for those of us who work in production! My mental health and thus, my ability to perform at work has increased drastically because I have had the time and guarantee for basic needs.
By “basic needs,” I mean routine exams, sick time, psychotherapy, and vacation time. If you are or desire to become a parent, maternity/paternity leave is a must. Yes, time off is a basic need. Even when you love what you do – rest is necessary. Time with loved ones is essential. Time to rest up when you are sick (for yourself, and so you don’t infect others) is essential. People outside of production view these needs as non-negotiables, and we should too. As I said, I have seen my work performance and ability to interact with others in a productive and positive way drastically increase by having my basic needs met.
We get really good at things by working on them consistently. At my job, I have gotten really good at audio repair (de-noising, de-clicking, spectral editing, etc.), mixing the human voice, mixing to loudness standards, editing and mixing in ProTools, and routing connections for broadcast. I use my ears every day and have noticed improvements in my technical listening skills. When I freelanced, I was working on skills less consistently or using different skills day to day. Zeroing in on specific skills has allowed me to get really good at everything I mentioned above.
I also work with many other audio engineers! We swap tips and tricks all the time. Learning from other audio people is a huge benefit to a full-time job. It has also increased my self-esteem when I can share an effective audio strategy with someone else. As a freelancer, I was not always sure the way I did things was “right.” But now I am surrounded by people who validate my knowledge too. Being able to receive and exchange knowledge has been one of my favorite experiences.
This is the most surprising one, or at least it was for me! Having a full-time job in audio has allowed me to reflect on what my career has been and what I want it to be. In the past, I had positions where there were unreasonable expectations or they were unclear. And all of us have had to deal with the toxic, degrading boss or worked under other audio people who did not treat others with basic dignity and respect.
At NPR, I have seen how we can treat others with productive kindness. We can support one another and give constructive feedback while meeting deadlines, working under pressure, and producing high-end content. Now that such actions have been demonstrated to me, I know how I want to act throughout my career, and what I expect from the people I work with. I have boundaries now that I did not have in my previous work.
Besides general culture and attitudes, I have also reflected on the kind of work I want to do. I have been able to ask myself questions such as, what am I gaining from this job? What am I missing? What could I be doing differently? How can I do more work that aligns with my values? How can I do more creative work? What skills do I want to learn next? What is important to me outside of work? These questions are very necessary for career growth.
During these past three years, I have learned that a full-time job can provide economic stability; the importance of meeting primary health needs; an environment to consistently develop and exchange skills; and the time for personal reflection. I would like to close out by mentioning that taking a full-time position does not have to be a forever choice. You can have a job for a while, then go freelance, then go back to another job, and so on. Our field demands agility, and that includes making choices that will keep you working towards your goals and personal happiness.