Sound studio

Panel on sound for film and television examines the trend of sound mixers going independent – Below the Line

Jeff and Alicia Hannan, and moderator David Rieley/Paul Roman

Last week at Sound for film and television event produced by To mix together magazine, a panel focused on a growing trend – sound professionals leaving secure jobs in studios and audio facilities to start their own businesses.

Focusrite Group Professional Director David Riley, who moderated the panel, pointed to Netflix’s Post Partner program as “a harbinger of entertainment booming.” “With other streaming platforms, the need for post-production services has increased,” he said. “More talents have gone on their own to start their own businesses.”

To discuss this trend, the husband and wife team of Jeff and Alicia Hannan talked about quitting job security to form Rawr Productions, as the freelancer Alexandra Fehrman describes how she maintained relationships with the studios without being in their direct employ.

The first question Rieley asked was, “what has changed in the last five years to make indie more appealing?”

Fehrman had a simple answer.

“A lot of clients are working remotely now, so location isn’t as important as it used to be,” she said. “It’s important to have a reliable workflow that you can offer your clients.”

Alicia Hannan agreed, adding that “opening a business with my husband was a natural progression.” “I came into it from a client’s point of view,” she says. “I saw how customers grew tired of the corporate environment and waited months for plug-ins.” “I’ve been sitting in the room for 20 years seeing talent that’s compromised, overworked, underpaid, and not passionate about the job,” she continued, noting that she came from an ad agency. “It’s all about profit and overhead and less about me, the customer. We want to nurture the talent and the customer and fill the void that has rapidly grown over the past 10 years.

Fehrman’s freelance career works a little differently. She has a home studio but also works directly with studios.

“I really like working at Sony where I think the culture is great, but I also like working at other studios if my client wants to go somewhere else or if it’s better for the project,” she said. declared. “Working this way gives me more flexibility to make a choice about each project, its schedule and its logistics. When you work in one place, you have less autonomy.

Sound for film and television

Image via Paul Roman

Finally, Rieley opened the session to questions from the audience. The first came from someone who went freelance and asked about the issue of scaling a freelance business.

“Scaling is a big deal,” Jeff said. “Finding reliable talent is difficult.” Rawr Productions experienced this firsthand, as Alicia added that “Rawr was born out of the pandemic.” “As it was winding down, we realized people wanted to come in, so we decided to open the facility,” she said. “That’s when we grew from four salons to 14. Scaling is very difficult at first, but we continue to work with independent contractors rather than having staff. If you can find talent that shares your vision for what you’re working on, stick with them, pay them well, and they’ll stick with you so you can keep building your roster. Responding to a follow-up question about whether talent could work remotely, Jeff pointed out that “depending on the content, some content is allowed to leave the facility and some is not…so some contractors are remote and d others no. ”

Another participant asked Fehrman how she built her business as an independent contractor.

“A lot of my clients who have stayed with me the longest didn’t pay me at all at first, but have now developed their own careers and have feature films that I’m proud to work on,” she said. declared. “I’m not trying to promote the culture of agitation. But when I was a tech, I was doing a lot of ghost mixing, working after hours. I took whatever I could get my hands on to meet with producers and cut content on stage to show them that I had the ability to edit. My advice is to show your work to as many people as possible.

In building an independent business, the Hannans have emphasized the work habits they have developed over the years.

“When I think back to the 16-hour days, seven days a week in my 20s, 30s, 40s — that was the dedication you needed, because 20 guys behind you want it just as badly,” Jeff said. “And you have to be super nice to customers.”

Alicia added that “a strong work ethic” is necessary. “Everyone I promoted came up to me and asked what they could do to help,” she said. “If you’re doing a helper job and you get coffee and donuts, go get the coffee and donuts with a smile on your face.”

“And be nice to everyone,” Fehrman added. “People move around the world, so it’s important to get to know people, to know their interests, to offer help.”

Independent sound mixing panel

Alexandra Fehrman and Jeff and Alicia Hannan/Paul Roman

Someone then asked the Hannans how much money it takes to start an indie sound business. Although neither put a price tag on it, Alicia noted that she “refused to be in debt.” “We saved for a pool that I don’t have,” she said, adding that “it was a gamble, like any business starting up.” “We are lucky to have had to evolve so quickly, but there is no guarantee that it will continue.”

She also said that she and Jeff wore many hats; she continues to work for another company while Jeff “is 100% with clients, also answering phone calls and sending me budgets.” She built the website and launched the company’s Instagram feed. “But we have a great engineer,” she said. “If you want a post house, don’t do it without an engineer.”

Fehrman said she once hired a publicist when she was nominated for an Emmy. “It was a new experience, and I didn’t know what to do,” she says. “I think it was fun to share my craft and I had more opportunities to be interviewed. Did it help me in the direction of my career? Probably not, but I will after if I built my own studio.

To another question, she said she has the flexibility to negotiate a rate, which can change per project depending on budget and “how much I want to work on it.” “It took me a long time to get to this place,” she said. “I worked at Todd-AO for nine years and was happy to be employed by a reputable and well-known company. Now I do the same and take on a little less work.

Another participant asked them all if they worked with contracts. Fehrman replied that bidding on a project and being chosen is like winning an auction. When the indies own a facility — with equipment and personnel costs — the cash flow can get crunchy. For this reason, Alicia says, they recently hired an accountant to draft a contract for large-scale projects.

Based on questions and feedback from attendees, it appears that “going independent” is a trend that will continue, with a range of business models as evidenced by Fehrman and the Hannans.