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UD x Maria Hanlon… Guide To Freelancing In The Music Industry

Going freelance can seem scary and exciting at the same time. You have much more flexibility with your working hours and the work you take on, however, you need to make sure you have enough work and income to pay the bills. DJ, radio presenter and music writer, Maria Hanlon, shares some of the best lessons she’s learnt since going freelance a couple of years ago…

Photo: Benedict Priddy

I moved to London after lockdown and got a job in a bar for a few weeks, whilst I found my feet, and began to pursue a career in the music industry. I started hosting a show on Voices Radio, then began to get paid work there as a radio producer whilst also learning to DJ. Soon after I got DJ bookings and began writing for the wonderful UD! A few months later I got a job at BBC Introducing in London and also began hosting a podcast with Kiosk N1C. Now I’m a full-time freelancer, splitting my week between my different jobs.

Let me take you through some things to consider that I found really useful, and hopefully you will too…

When Is The Right Time To Go Freelance?

The million dollar question and the best place to start. I can’t answer this for you as it depends on so many different things, but I knew it was time to go freelance when I had enough work to fill up my week. At first, I didn’t earn much at all, which was tough, however over time and with experience I’ve been able to increase my fee and eventually my annual income. A good starting point is to break down your working week and see what consistent work you have and how much you’ll earn from that, and if that’s sustainable. 

Photo: Lydia Garnett for Office

Organisation Is Key

If you are taking on different jobs and bookings throughout the week, it’s important that you plan your week ahead and factor in enough time for each piece of work. Often, if you’re self employed and a multihyphenate (someone who does several different jobs), you’ll be wearing many different hats – break down your week so it’s manageable and as productive as possible. I use the calendar app on my phone for everything; inputting deadlines, meetings, what I’m working on each day etc. It means I can plan ahead and see how much time and work I have on that month. You’ll also be responsible for sending your own invoices, so it’s important to keep on top of that so you’re paid on time.  

How Much Should I Charge?

This is different for every job but starting out as a DJ, for example, I’d say £50 per hour is a good starting fee. Review every few months as you gain more experience & build up your clientele as over time you’ll be able to increase your fee to £75, £100 and more per hour.

A good tip: if you’re not sure what to charge, ask the potential client what budget they’re working with as then that’ll give you a rough gauge of your fee. 

Photo: Benedict Priddy

Networking In The Music Industry

Love it or hate it, networking is really helpful in any industry and can help you find work. Let’s take DJing for example, go out to events, ask if you could grab a coffee with DJs you admire, connect on social media. Having a few key contacts in the industry can really help. Once you build up your network you can share advice, collaborate and recommend each other to clients.  Also a lot of freelance work can be done flexibly and remotely, which can be isolating at times, so make sure if you work from home you make time to meet other creatives or attend events.

Tip: You could also work from a co-working space. Find out more about ud’s TALENT HOUSE in stratford, east london, here. UD’s membership programme is re-launching in january 2024 – keep your eyes peeled!

Getting The Balance Right

In the creative industry the lines can be blurred between work-life balance. A lot of my DJ bookings come through Instagram or WhatsApp which means I’m on my phone a lot so it can be hard to fully switch off. Try and get the balance right and set yourself working hours. Don’t feel like you need to reply instantly every time an email comes in. Setting boundaries is really important so you don’t feel overwhelmed and burnt out. 

Taking Time Off

There are both pros and cons with taking time off. If you’re freelance you’re essentially your own boss, so if you need to pop to the shops or dare I say get your nails done during the day, no one will tell you off! Although when you take holiday, you won’t get paid annual leave so you won’t earn whilst you’re away. The same with sick leave: I recently had Covid and had to take a week off which meant I had to cancel three DJ bookings – stressful!

When To Turn Down Work

When starting out as self-employed you often feel the need to say YES to everything that comes your way, which can be brilliant as it means you’ll have as much work on as possible, you’re meeting new people and gaining plenty of experience. However, it’s important to remember not every job or booking that comes in might be a good fit for you. For example, I was once asked to present a video for a vape brand but as I don’t vape, it didn’t feel authentic or something I wanted to do, so I politely turned it down and told the company I’d love to be kept in mind for other opportunities that were more suited. Sometimes it’s better to decide if the work aligns with your own personal brand rather than just saying yes to everything.  

It’s Not For Everyone

Many people enjoy focusing on one job and find the inconsistency of freelance life stressful, which is understandable. When you’re employed you know exactly how much you’ll earn at the end of the month and also when you’ll be paid. Although, just because you’re employed it doesn’t mean you can’t take on freelance work (check your contract). I know so many incredible DJs that work full time in other industries but still DJ on the weekend or in their spare time. In fact, if you’re hoping to go freelance in the future but are currently holding down a full time job, you could slowly build up your freelance contacts and clients over time and then go fully freelance once you’re ready. Think about your lifestyle and which option would work best for you, there’s no right or wrong! 

Photo: Lydia Garnett for Office

Final Thoughts

One other thing to remember – if you’re earning over £1,000 a year, you’ll need register yourself as Self Employed with HMRC. Find out more about the process HERE.

I really hope sharing my thoughts was helpful. I’m still learning as I go along so you’ll have to see what works for you but best of luck if you do decide to take the plunge & become freelance. 

Words: Maria Hanlon @mariahanlon

Listen to The Voices Breakfast Show with Maria Hanlon on the 1st Friday of the month 9-11am on voicesradio.co.uk.

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