So a quite well-known and great sound designer has reached out so I would work without compensation on one small project, but with said promise of something else coming soon with "some" budget. He/She stormed in with very quick and vague information and I got a not so nice answer when I proposed some assurance such as a contract, or how he/she would do in these situations.

If it would have been anyone else, I would be laughing about it and already forgotten, but being this person in particular bugs me a little. Fortunately I have work constantly and make a decent living out of audio work, sometimes in really good national productions, other times not as exciting - but I am lucky that I haven´t had to take other jobs in recent times, and find no big reason to work for free.

Would I like to do that work and work for that person? Absolutely.

But the feeling that he/she regards me as a free asset almost hurts me a little. Does the fact that the person has a fantastic IMDB page makes it a reason all in itself for me to go in? Or does it become even more of a serious ethic issue when it comes from a nice place in the chain?

Is the argument that "the only way to know one´s work is to work for free" acceptable?

  • Let me add that the person in question says that is looking to build a crew and this was his/her initial approach.
    – Mgp
    Nov 23, 2015 at 18:44
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    I wonder if anyone can really answer this one besides you. One thing you don't mention but would be at the top of my mind is whether you think you can learn anything from this person. In other words, do you think they have a great IMDB because they are actually that good, and you might learn a lot from them, or do they just have good contacts, and working with them would get you into that network? Nov 23, 2015 at 19:24
  • Hi, thank you for your answer. The projects that person gets are very good, and a great sound designer. I am not sure of how much I can learn directly from her, though. What bugs me more is that almost feel some sort of blackmail and then throwing me the "I´ve got dozens of persons interested..."
    – Mgp
    Nov 23, 2015 at 19:36
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    Seeing as you work already full-time doing sound designing, it seems your colleague needs to compete with that. This should not be about "hurt feelings" involved. You only have so many hours during the week. Why put in that time on a free project? Just say you're interested in the project but that you need some funding to approach it seriously.
    – Brandin
    Dec 7, 2015 at 7:06
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    It can be appropriate to do a limited amount of cheap / free work when involved in launching a new company, where cash may not come in until the first backer funds and those may require proof-of-concept materials. However, in those cases you should probably be promised equity in exchange for risking your own resources, and there should be a contract promising that at specific funding milestones you will start receiving your "back pay" for that period, possibly plus interest. Otherwise, unless you will be working directly with and learning from them, it's just unpaid subcontract work.
    – keshlam
    Dec 7, 2015 at 14:58

5 Answers 5


There are very good answers in the comments. I would try to negotiate with the sound designer.

You are no amateur (as I have understood), so your time is valuable. It's no nice hobby for your spare time, it's business. Try to be as professional as possible when you speak to him. Tell him something along the lines of

"I would really like to work with you, as I am an admirer of your work. But because I am also an professional, I need some perspective."

If you are not dependent on the money, you may can get something else out of that project (some reference, or a new customer, I am not familiar with your field of business, so I don't know).

In general my advice would be that you shouldn't sell yourself below value. This can fire back at you.

  • Perfect answer. As soon as you sell yourself below your value, your value is going down. Not up. Keep in mind that as he's more known than you. Which means all the light is going to him, not you.
    – gazzz0x2z
    Dec 7, 2015 at 10:27

Many people work for "free" - but usually because there's some other form of compensation for your time. That may be the promise of future work, skills transfer, or just the marketing capabilities of being associated with someone/something, or sometimes just the altruistic warm feeling of having done something useful (eg charity work).

The question isn't a case of how much value you will get from this relationship - as it sounds like its not so much work for enough value to you to do it. The problem seems whether you are being "used".

Chances are, you are! Many high-profile artists don't think in terms of money, its all about their creative abilities and when things get in the way of that (eg not having enough money to pay you) they can get a bit defensive. They also tend not to have the best people skills and come across as very authoritarian and fractious.

So you have to understand him, and what he's asking for. If its a small job, and you can do it, and want to do it, then go for it. You'll learn a lot about him and his work. You'll be able to add it to your portfolio. You might even find that he's not so bad as you think once you get to know him.. or you might find he is a tyrant after all. Either way, you get some value from it, even if no future work comes directly your way from this.

I would try to get more information from him about the project. "Quick and vague" doesn't sound right, if he thought you were ready to work with him, you might find he opens up a lot more about it. It might be best to judge the work on this, and also best put a time limit on whatever involvement you have with him.


No job should be done for free.

Even if it happens for you to learn a lot, your time and your efforts should be rewarded (unless you are volunteering for an higher cause or you're doing a big favor to a friend, which doesn't seem the case), and no one should ask you to work for free because it's kind of disrespectful for your knowledge and experience.

As a musician i would add that doing work for free in this field is like not giving any value to what you do. If she is a great sound designer, does she really want not to encourage you by paying your work? If she is a great sound designer, does whe really want to giving no value to a world she should love?

Your time is precious, and so are your skills. And there's no big thing out there that is more important of what you do. Your work deserve respect, no matter who's asking you, this come first.


Work is generally an exchange of labour and generally people exchange their labour for money but that isn't always the case.

If essentially he wants to put together a proposal and needs you on the understanding that if it attracts a backer you'll be used for the full project, he is offering something in exchange for your effort.

If he's saying there is no promise but you'll have something great on your CV and my name carries weight, then equally you need to judge the value of this.

My point is essentially that you need to work out what value doing this work might have to your career and then weigh that value against what you would be earning doing regular work. If you come to the conclusion that what he is offering has very little value to you and he'll gain a lot from your high quality work then politely thank them for the offer and move on.

I would add that you will want him to put any commitments down in writing, especially if they are connected to money, further work or what he can use your work for.


So a quite well-known and great sound designer has a little project and no cash to pay for it, so he or she tries to use their name to bamboozle you into working for them for free.

I don't care how well-known and great they are if they don't have the cash to pay for your work. They probably try to tell you how great it would be for your reputation if you could say "I worked for this great sound designer". Now think how great it would be for your reputation if you could say "I worked for this great sound designer, and I got paid for my work!"

What's worse, there is probably plenty of cash to pay for you, but that sound designer has found mugs who work for free in the past; his reaction to your requests clearly show that this is not a person you want to work with.

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