Working with a sound engineer
So, you have done all the hard work in creating your video or stage performance and now it’s time to start recording or presenting it. The script has been tweaked to perfection, the actors/speakers have memorised their words so well they’ve started to repeat them in their sleep, and you’re really quite impressed with the set you’ve managed to construct on your limited budget. The only thing missing is somebody who understands the acoustics and can help you make sure the sound is crisp and clear.
What you’re missing is a freelance sound engineer. Fortunately, hiring a freelance sound engineer is easier and more cost-effective than it ever has been. Here, we’ll go through some tips on how to find and hire a reliable sound engineer – and some things to avoid.
What is a freelance sound engineer?
A freelance sound engineer will ensure that all aspects of the sound on your video are heard by your audience. Your sound engineer will balance the sounds and consider how each sound works in context with the scene and in conjunction with the other sounds that will be going on around them.
For a live performance, the sound engineer will be constantly listening out to ensure the sound is perfect and making live adjustments as required throughout the performance. For recorded videos, while it is still important that you employ the services of a sound engineer when setting up for optimum clarity, much of the sound can be cleaned up after recording.
What can a freelance sound engineer do for you?
A sound engineer will assume responsibility for the technical side of a recording or live performance. They will manage levels and outputs and manage the physical sound equipment such as amps and microphones.
Post recording, the sound engineer will edit, mix and master the sound to ensure it matches your vision:
Editing. This simply means arranging what's been recorded. For a recorded performance this may mean tweaking the sound to get the balance spot-on or cutting/moving parts of the sound to fit with other edits you make. Sometimes sound effects or music will be added to the footage and, again, this needs to balance with the rest of the sound.
Mixing. Mixing is the process of combining multiple sounds into one or more channels, giving consideration to volume, frequency, dynamics and ‘mixing’ them to create harmony and enhance the overall sound of the piece.
Mastering. This is the final piece of the post-production puzzle and includes the technical aspects of preparing a recording for distribution. Mastering is about finding consistency and quality in the sonic levels across the performance.
Why would you need a freelance sound engineer?
If you’re creating any type of performance piece, whether live or recorded, sound is crucial to providing a complete experience for your audience. A freelance sound engineer will ensure the sound is professional and elevates the performance.
What’s the difference between a sound engineer and a music producer?
A music producer will be involved in the decision making process to determine which sounds should be included in a recording or performance in order to achieve what the artist is looking for in terms of sound.
A sound engineer will take responsibility for the technical side of realising that sound in accordance with the requirements.
What should you pay your freelance engineer?
Most freelance sound engineers charge an hourly or daily rate. As with all creatives, they will charge what they think their time is worth and rates can vary massively.
You can expect to pay from $15-$500 USD per hour based on their experience and reputation. In developing countries, the rates could be much lower.
For small project on a budget you can expect to find a competent freelancer for an hourly rate in the region of $25-$60 per hour.
How to find the right sound engineer
This is a crucial part of the process. Finding the right sound engineer will ensure you get value for money. Let’s assume you’re working on a tight budget and want to find someone in the $25-$60 per hour range. You’re not dealing with world-renowned sound engineers here, but there are some simple steps you can take to ensure you get someone competent.
The internet has made searching for pretty much anything a simple process. And freelance sound engineers are no different.
Top tips are:
Do your research. Research is vital to allow you to compare different offerings, price points and reviews. Have a look at several freelancers and choose a shortlist of those whose portfolios you think best fit your project. Freelancer.com is a great place to find a large number of quality sound engineers without having to trawl through internet search engines.
Create a brief. Not only will this help you fully understand all aspects of your project, it will also mean that you are fully prepared when speaking to prospective sound engineers. You’ll have a clear idea of what you want from them which will make you appear professional and ensure that you receive an accurate quote for the job you want done so you won’t pay over the odds or end up having to renegotiate halfway through the project for extra tasks because of confusion between you and your freelancer.
Ask for bids and proposals. Send your brief to a few freelancers and ask them to describe how they’ll tackle the task, how long it will take and how much it will cost.
When looking over their proposals, the best ones should demonstrate a good understanding of your project and give you confidence that the freelancer will deliver on time and within budget.
The importance of a portfolio
A good quality sound engineer should have a public portfolio of their work available to view online. The level of effort they put into its presentation can often align with the level of effort they’ll put into their work with you.
A good portfolio should include:
Good navigation. A portfolio should make it easy for you to drill down their previous work to find those jobs most relevant to your project.
Wide range of work. Look for evidence of a range of different types of sound work to make sure you hire a sound engineer with breadth of experience.
Reviews and testimonials. A freelancer’s portfolio should show evidence of happy clients, such as testimonials. A site like Freelancer.com gives freelancers a star rating based on client feedback and has testimonials all in one place.
What to include in your contract with your sound engineer
After choosing your freelancer, draw up a contract describing the parameters you’ve both agreed on and make sure to describe what happens if certain conditions aren’t met. These should include, but are not necessarily limited to:
Deadline. What is the deadline and what happens if the sound engineer misses it?
Rate. How much will you be paying the sound engineer per hour, and how many hours did the freelancer estimate the project would take? How will the hourly rate change if you decide to extend the project or request the freelancer work overtime or late into the night?
Milestones. Are there milestones along the way to completion, where you’d like to see evidence of progress?
Communication process. What channels of communication do you expect the freelancer to use, and when do they need to be contactable?
Caveats. For example, What happens if the project runs over budget through no fault of the freelancer?
Revisions. How many revisions is the freelancer responsible for if you change your mind at any time?
Before the digital age, hiring a sound engineer could be a laborious task in which you might spend hours researching ads only to come up with no more than a handful of options, all of which had to be close by. These days, you can find sound engineers across the globe at the click of a button.