Working in-house vs freelancing

My name is Rowan and I’m studying a MSc in Audio and Music Technology. As I’m on a one year course, I’m currently working out where I want to be come September. I have ruled out doing a PhD (at least for a few years), so my path seems pretty clear: go into some kind of work. I have a passion to work in the creative industry, so there are a few different options that I could take. It seems, at least for the moment, that I can either work for a company in-house, or become a freelancer. I’ve started to lean a little towards freelancing, but I’d also like to experience working for a larger company.

I had a taste of both of these areas by visiting a company and attending a creative freelancing event last term. While I still haven’t made up my mind, I did get a clearer view of what my experience would be like going down each path.

In-house work experience

Thanks to my professional practice module, I was able to visit a company called Music Tribe. If I’m honest, I didn’t have much idea about the inner workings of large companies. What I found changed my expectations of what it might mean to work for one.

I did worry that working in a large company would limit my freedom. It might have been easy to get stuck doing something that I didn’t enjoy that much. Yet the Music Tribe employees seemed to have lots of freedom on what they worked on.

I was actually able to speak with an employee who was able to realise his own addition to an existing product. This was encouraging to see, and reassured me that there could be less limitations than I initially thought.


On the other hand, being a freelancer would allow me to work for whoever I wanted. However, one of the panelists at the networking event said this was only true to an extent. She spoke about how there would be a lot of work that you would have to do early on to get yourself established. It’s only later on in your career that you’d be able to pick and choose a bit more.

I like interacting with people on a day to day basis. If I decided to freelance, I could be spending my working days on my own. Even now, I prefer do my university work in a public place, with the hope that I will bump into someone I know. This wouldn’t be an issue if I was going into an office each day. I would have other people to bounce ideas off, and stop me feeling lonely.

Of course, for freelance work you can rent shared office spaces, but if I was starting out it’d be less likely.

Despite this, I still want to give freelance work a go. For a while I’ve wanted to do music and sound for games. This role is not usually hired in-house, so it’s quite likely I would have to start out by freelancing.

Creative freelancing network event

The Ron Cooke Hub, where the creative freelancing event was held

The freelancers at the networking event warned that starting out is the difficult part. A lot of career success seems to come from the networks you are part of and in other words, who you know.

But if anything, the event gave me the courage to go out and try to network more. This is something I know I am not good at, but is vital to find work – especially in the creative industries.

The pros and cons

Panelists highlighted the expectation of freelancers to have a wide range of skills. For example, if I wanted to compose music for an indie game, I’d have to do sound design and implementation too.

In a large company it’d be much more likely that you only took on a few specialist tasks. For example, at Music Tribe there were employees who only tested products.

One freelancer, who had started a games company, had to take days to learn skills that would get him better jobs. This could be good in the long term, but you could lose days of potential work.

Working in a company wouldn’t have this issue. Required tasks would still need doing, but learning new skills would not equate to money lost.

I now feel more prepared after attending these events, but where I’ll end up? Only time will tell. However, I can’t recommend enough how important it is to go out and explore your options. Get a real feel for what it is you might like to do. You’ll then be able to make better decisions in the long run, whether it’s working in-house or freelancing.

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I'm Rowan, a MSc Audio and Music Technology student at the University of York.

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