How To Handle A Project

As a freelancer, you are usually reliant on getting new projects to generate some income. This tutorial deals with some basic ideas on how to handle a big project once you’ve got hired.

Normally, getting a freelance job is a good thing. However, if you are tied up at the moment when a new client offers you a new job, you might lose a long-term project by turning it down. In fact, handling a project includes dealing with time management (deadlines), budget management (money), being a team-member and knowing your capacities and limitations (health).

Therefore, it might be a good idea to think about those topics before you run into any problems. Of course, this tutorial does not offer a complete manual about getting a project done (as every client and every project is different from each other), but it provides some relevant points to ponder.

An accurate/realistic offer

Before you get a freelance job, a client would normally ask for an offer. Since this offer is mandatory it is important to know your capacities. Here are some ideas about the first subject – time:

  • What deadlines do you need to be aware of?
  • What amount of time do you need to compose/produce/record the music?
  • Do you need assistance (co-composer)?
  • Are the musicians/sessions players/composers available during that time period?
  • Do you need to book a separate recording studio?
  • Don’t forget to include some work step buffer time (in case you fall ill or some technical problems with your machine occur)

Next, let us focus on money as the second subject here. It is obvious that both factors, time and money, are related to each other. It is harder to meet a very tight deadline because the whole production (and your creative work as well) needs to be finished at short notice. This includes more risks, such as the availability of your assistants, working on weekends, sleeping less or neglecting your family. Hence, shorter deadlines increase the costs. Here are some other things you may want to take into account:

  • What is the overall budget for the music?
  • What is your own fee?
  • What is the fee of your assistants/session players?
  • What is the fee of the recording studio?
  • Do you need a mixing/mastering engineer? If yes, what is his fee?
  • What rights of usage does the client need (non-exclusive, partial exclusive, exclusive worldwide)?

The last bullet point is very important. It determines whether or not you are allowed to use the song in other projects or as library music. If you need to give away the copyright, be sure to negotiate for the right price.

Note: There is always the option to refuse a project. Nobody forces you to say ‘yes’ and nobody became successful just by saying ‘yes’ to everything. If you are too busy to do the project by yourself maybe an assistant/co-composer will happily take care of that.

However, your life will become a lot easier if you wrote realistic offers in the first place. Since this offer is the foundation of your collaboration, it’s important to spend some time with it and take it seriously.

Get into a dialog with your client

Clients usually are not used to musical terms. They don’t know what a ‘major third’ is or what you need a counterpoint for. That means, you need to determine what kind of music the client asks you for. If it was a first-time client I would ask for some temp tracks. These tracks, along with his or her explanation will give you an idea to form a language the client understands.

A short story: Once I was asked to write some children’s songs. The client wanted me to compose some ‘cheerful/playful’ tunes. So, I incorporated many trills and many short but fast melody phrases. After I played that song to the client, he was totally unhappy with it. It turned out, he put ‘cheerful’ on a level with ‘wrong notes’. Without any doubt, this was a big misunderstanding, but I learned from it. So, it’s not always important what a client says, it’s important what he or she means!

Once you know how to talk to a client, it may be a good idea to get into an on-going dialog with him during the production process. Maybe provide some early sketches, some mock-ups or even musical ideas (like sounds or phrases) to be sure you hit the client’s flavor and ideas.

Important: Always try to support the client and his or her project as best as you can. This is professional and this is exactly what you’ve got hired for. And it does not mean to give up yourself in any way. Consider the client’s input as inspiration to create something fantastic. Although you work for hire, it’s still your very own work, your music, your passion.

Internal management

Sometimes the amount of work is too big to be done by one person only – meaning you. Therefore you want to consider bringing in some co-composers and splitting the work. Although clients talk to one reference person only, it’s often the case that many composers work on the same project behind the curtain. Be sure to keep track of internal deadlines your assistants have to meet. Always work with deadlines. Although it can be a bit stressful, they also set free ‘the magic’ you need to be innovative and creative!

Working as a composer in the industry can be very stressful since there are almost always very tight deadlines for projects. Working all day long (and additionally even at night) can become a high risk factor for your health. This subject is part of our “The Business – Part II” tutorial. Please check this out for deeper information.

Also, it’s important to keep track of different versions of a song as clients often change their ideas during a project.

Note: If the client asks for different versions of a song, it might be better to save (and backup) them in separate folders. Keep all versions until the job is done. Sometimes there are changes and edits in the final stage of a project and out of a sudden an older version supports the context much better than a newer one.

Handling a big project is a learning process (like everything). Make some notes about things which caused trouble during the project and try to get rid of them to improve your work and your service.


Each time you finish a project it’s a good situation to ask for feedback. Many freelancers don’t have the courage to ask for feedback because of their ego. They think it’s not appropriate and it reduces their prestige. The truth is that your client will gladly give you feedback, because this makes you a pro who is open-minded and self-critical. Those are the guys others like to collaborate with. If you care about your work and your relationship with your clients, it probably will give you more prestige, not less.

Some further thoughts

Most of the time, every new project gives you the opportunity to collaborate with new people. This keeps the daily routine fresh, gets you connected and gives you a lot of inspiration for new musical material. Besides, you never know who of those guys will become one of the most sought-after guys in the industry in the future. It is very likely that one of them will hire you for his own project one day.

Every project you start from a blank project window in your sequencer gives you a new template you can use for new pieces. You can use this setup to create new songs. In the best case you even don’t need to mix the single tracks because you’ve done that already in the first project. This way you save a big amount of time.

Don’t forget that most often you (as a composer) are brought into a project very late and other people have spent month of work – or even years – so far. They give you the responsibility to make the whole project better. That is an honor and should be answered with respect!

One job leads to another. The work you do now will be the reason for many other projects you will get hired for in the future. Keep this in mind and deliver the best work you are capable of – always.

Learn anything? Please share!