Dubbing mixing as a freelancer…
We are very lucky to have some incredible talent under our roof at Epic Studios, including freelance Dubbing Mixer and Sound Designer Andrew Swallow. Last week he agreed to meet up for a chat about what he does and to offer some insights and advice to others hoping to get into a similar TV / audio role.
Could you tell me about your route in to dubbing mixing and how long it took you to get where you wanted to be?
I finished my music qualifications, left university and worked in London for 2 years before gaining an audio role (Mastering Engineer) at De Wolfe. I was with De Wolfe for 4 years before moving into sound in TV (Dubbing Mixer & Head of Sound) with Crow TV and Silverglade. A decade later I became an industry freelancer with an established reputation and regular work. I enjoy being freelance and am happy with where I am today.
- Age 14-17, 3 years in school bands and gigging locally
- Higher Education: BTEC ND Professional Audio Systems (University College Salford) & BTEC HND Electronics and Music Technology (University of Derby)
- Frozen pea pushing at Ross Frozen Vegetable Factory for 6 months!
- Assistant Branch Manager at Kings Cross HSS Tool Hire for 18 months
- 4 years as a Mastering Engineer at De Wolfe Music Ltd. (Library Production Music)
- 1 year as a Dubbing Assistant at Crow TV (Tracklays and VO then mixing)
- 10 years as Dubbing Mixer/Head of Sound at Silverglade
- Freelance from then on
What do you think are the most important qualities to have if pursuing a similar career?
- Patience and manners (the customer is always right in this industry too!)
- Technology/software transparency (learn your tools so you aren’t limited by lack of knowledge / experience)
- Good communication skills and interpretation of peoples’ ideas
What is your overall best tip / advice for a student hoping to get into this area of work?
- Build up a portfolio (work for free on student films/re-design existing material)
- Get work experience (production companies/post-houses are often happy to host you for a week)
- Ask lots of questions, it’s only way to get answers! (but remember that person also has a job to do)
- Approach music library sites with unsigned music – they may feature it and you could make money that way from your early production.
Where should students be looking and what kind of role should they aim for as a route in from Further Education?
Approach post-production companies and enquire about becoming a runner. Let them know that you have a specific interest in sound design and/or mixing. Accept that you have to start at the bottom and be willing to learn to use new software etc. This type of experience gives you a chance to gain free access to facilities and technology that can help you to further your skills, meet like-minded people and put yourself forward for various opportunities.
What are the best and worst things about this job – and working freelance, in your opinion?
The worst thing about this type of job is that sound is always overlooked in production but is the most noticeable thing. Because I am ‘last in the chain’ it often means that I have to work to tight deadlines and fulfill high expectations (note the often used phrase, “we’ll fix it in Post…”). The best thing about the job is making peoples’ ideas come to life, meeting famous people, seeing your name in the credits and using ridiculously expensive equipment..! What I enjoy least about freelancing is scheduling and dealing with finances. Bookings move around a lot so this can be stressful when working across multiple companies and it’s not unusual to experience a cash flow crisis whilst waiting for invoices to be paid. The best thing about freelancing is the flexibility it offers and the potential for higher earnings.
What is your work flow like? Is it at all consistent?
We normally work in a certain order but sometimes things overlap a bit. Here are some typical job timings:
- Prep/Tracklay; typical 9hrs per 1hr show.
- VO Record; typically 2-4hrs per 1hr show.
- Mix; typically 9hrs per 1hr show.
- Review with client and changes/tweaks; typically 2hrs per 1hr show.
- Deliverables: Print Masters, Audio Stems and Record Report.
How important is consideration of Continuing Personal Development and keeping skills updated etc.?
The job tends to stay the same (the audio is either right or wrong) but the software and hardware develops, so you need to keep up, and Technical Specifications change per channel.
What is the range of pay that a sound designer / dubbing mixer can earn, employed or self-employed?
Employed you could earn around 20K to 35K per annum. As a freelance Dubbing Mixer you can charge about £20 – £40 per hour, depending on the job. I have different rates for different clients (negotiated) but my flat rate is £35 per hour.
How do you manage taxes and marketing?
I use Waves Accounting package online and my mobile phone for invoicing and Credit Card payments. I also use an excel spreadsheet to keep record of all income and expenses which calculates the rough tax amount for mew.
Do you use marketing tools?
I’m on LinkedIn, which helps me to connect with people in the industry and advertise myself/availability. I’m also a member of ‘The Crewing Company’ agency in London.
Do you get the majority of your work via personal recommendations these days?
Yes, I get legacy clients from previous employment (Silverglade) but also from advertising myself as an ‘overspill’ to facilities (if a project runs out of people and/or rooms they may let me help). The Crewing Company are an agency who occasionally find me work. For example, they have sourced me a possible comedy series coming up with Freemantle in Oct/Nov).
How did you get your first sound design role?
It was for Crow TV, Tracklaying ‘Cash In The Attic’ (lots of auction hammers!)
Is there anything other than the obvious (practice) that should be done to maintain /improve sound design / dubbing mixing skills?
- Practice with your tools (software/shortcuts/plugins)
- Train your ears (watch TV subjectively – why is drama dialogue so quiet? etc.)
- Benchmarking (how do you sound compared to others?)
- Templates (build templates for familiar outcomes and guaranteed results – i.e. we build templates for different delivery specs and series’)
What has been your best ‘gig’ and why?
I have a few favourites! I recorded voice-over with The Archbishop of Canterbury for a documentary called ‘Leaving Canterbury’. The true voice of god..! Other jobs I really enjoyed working on would include:
- The Classic Car Show (Channel 5) – Big filmic mixes for beautiful car scenes.
- World’s Most Dangerous Roads (BBC2) – insane but beautiful locations around the world.
- Attacking The Devil – Harold Evans and the last Nazi war crime (Weinstein Company)
I enjoy working on all documentaries that matter.
What are you working on now?
- Nureyev: Orgy of One – 2½ hour documentary about life in the Soviet Union and Ballet Dancing (Frith Street Films for Sundance Festival)
- Ben Fogle: New Lives In The Wild S5 (Renegade Pictures for Channel 5) – see above
- Car SOS S4 (Renegade Pictures for Nat Geo (5.1) and Channel 4 (Stereo))
- The Triumph Games (ITN Productions for CBS Sport)
- Katy Prices Pony Club (ITV Production for TLC)
- Come Dine With Me (ITV Production for Channel 4)
- Shock Treatment (Working Title?) (Naked Entertainment for ITV)
Where could we check out some of your work?