SAE Oxford grad Tom Smeeton on forging a freelance career in production

27 Nov 2019

We spoke to SAE Oxford Audio graduate Tom Smeeton who is a producer, who made the transition to freelance earlier this year after previously working as Head of Sound for Ampify. 

What sort of electronic projects did you work on with Novation? 

I was the Head of Sound for Ampify (part of Focusrite/Novation/Ampify/Adam). I built and ran ‘Ampify Sounds’, a sample label with over 600 releases that chiefly serves the Ampify Apps. I was with the company for seven years in total, and I resigned in March this year to go fully freelance. 

They’re now a big client of mine, but I’m focussed on production rather than management. I also do a lot of mixing and mastering for their marketing department (audio/music for videos etc.).

What production work have you done with the likes of Amplify, Loopmasters, Noiiz and Ninja Tune? 

I’ve made a whole bunch of sample packs and sounds for these people over various projects. I also do AR for Noiiz.

What does a regular day look like for you?

I usually move around between sample pack production for various clients, mixing and mastering for musicians, mixing and mastering videos for Novation, and being on location as a sound supervisor or sometimes presenter for marketing videos. Each day is different at the moment and I like that.

How did you find the process of trying to get a job after graduating? 

It was fine but I had to start at the bottom. Don’t expect that anyone is going to take a graduate seriously straight away, it’s a very competitive world in music and audio.

How have you found the transition to freelancing, and are there any mistakes you've made as a freelancer that could have been easily avoided?

The main thing is to make sure you have enough financial runway and to have enough clients that you can lose half of them in the first month and still survive. Apart from that, it's of course an attitude shift, as you're no longer cared for by things you become used to. No sick pay, no paid holiday, weekends become meaningless and you can end up spending a lot of time alone. But if you're aware of these things in advance and you prepare, then it's a great life if you can do it. 

What are your long term career goals and how do you hope to realise them? 

Right now I’m very much enjoying being a freelancer and making money from production work. Maybe one day I might get bored of this but I’m not looking that far ahead right now. I’ve got a huge amount of creative energy still and I plan on using it for as long as I can.

Do you have any advice to current Audio students about going down the production route? 

Just bear in mind that there’s a whole bunch of work out there outside of your standard music and sync stuff. More importantly though, the only way you get what you want is by actually trying to get it. You have to chase things. Send emails, show up to parties, go out of your way for people. No one is going to just give you the work, you have to look for it.