How I Combat Freelance Loneliness

It’s been about 4 months since I went freelance and I’ve found myself reflecting on what’s happened so far. This isn’t my first experience as a sole trader so I reckoned I wouldn’t have too much difficulty finding the self-employed rhythm again. For the most part, that’s been true. About 12 years ago I was a freelance sound engineer in London and during that time, I learned all the hard lessons about self-motivation and confidence so while I hope I never stop learning new things, I didn’t think that I would have too much ground to make up.  Naturally, friends and family ask how the business is going and rather than pretend everything is fine, I’m honest and share what’s been on my mind: freelancing is lonely.

On the whole, freelance life is brilliant. I work from home and that means I can start and stop my day when it suits me. I can work in sweatpants, if I want, and I appreciate taking the dog for his midday walk and getting us both some fresh air and exercise. On the whole, this is perfect for me and this framework is roughly the same as my last go at self-employment. However, loneliness distinguishes this experience from the last one and it has made more of an impact than I thought it would. Engineering is inherently a social profession. There’s others in the studio – any combination of artists, producers, managers, programmers and session musicians – and the engineer is rarely alone except for the wee hours after clients have left. Making music in the studio (and indeed in most other situations) is a social activity and I found this interaction important for offsetting the long hours. Research, however, does not share the same kind of sociability. I can co-author with other researchers but collaborative writing hardly ever happens in the same place. In addition, I have some local clients but I have more international ones. Research can be creative (I believe it is) but freelance research lacks an immediate, physical community and that’s what makes it lonely for me. So I’ve taken some steps to off set its impact. I can’t make freelance research more social unless I spend all my time working from coffee shops and I don’t want to disrupt a process that helps me work quickly and accurately. No, changing how I research won’t solve anything but I can change what I do when I’m not working.

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I’ve dedicated a part of my week to volunteering and while I’m only a couple weeks into it, it’s made 1 million % difference. There’s a lot of worthy places to volunteer but Glasgow is very lucky to have the long-running community radio station Sunny Govan and I’m very lucky it’s right down the road from me. I’ve tuned in many times but never thought to offer my help nor did I realise I needed theirs. From the moment I walked through Sunny G’s door, it was clear this unassuming storefront is a special place. It’s a radio station, yes, but it’s primary function is a community hub for Govan and Glasgow’s residents. In no way belittling Sunny G’s small, functional studio (I’ve always preferred studios without all that fancy glass and chrome), the equipment and the airwaves are means to an end. They are there to help educate, empower and lift up anyone who needs it. For example, Sunny G provides educational courses covering music technology, broadcasting and in late 2018 become a Skills Development Scotland ITA provider. Did I need lifting up? Yes, in my own way, and that’s exactly what I got. DJ and trainer Steg G gave me a lesson in how to use the studio and on my second day as a volunteer and brand spanking new DJ, I was entrusted with the driver’s seat; I was live on the air playing real music to real people! Holy Moly! This was easily one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in the last year and it was little more than 45 minutes of me messing around with a couple buttons and faders.

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Grinning from ear to ear, I agreed to get some more practice and on Wednesday I sat in with Andy for the breakfast show. I’m not fond of early mornings so that was how excited I was. Since, there’s been chat about me having my own show. Yes! Sunny G’s door is metaphorically open all the time so I’m already getting to know other volunteers and local residents as and when we cross paths. These introductions and casual chats would have been enough to chase away my loneliness but I got so much more. I got a whole city’s worth of listeners as company now and this is the perfect counter to my freelance solitariness. Trust me, when I have more details about when they’ll hand over the controls, you’ll be the first to know. In the meantime, have a listen to my fellow volunteer DJs (103.5 FM, the website or Sunny Govan Radio app) and show them some support. You won’t be sorry!