It is a New Orleans Tuesday in the latest year of change. People, the weather, the city… everything seems to be shifting, and questionably for the best. I spend my days working as a freelance creative, handling everything from website and logo design to naming bands, writing books and producing music.
Freelancing is an ideal life if you can make it work. There is success to be found, unless the industry you are in starts a steady downward turn like mine has for the past several years. I am feeling it in the pocketbook, but I manage to make it through because I do good work and have repeat clients that I am eternally thankful for.
I sleep in until 10:14 a.m. because work has been almost non-existent. Last night I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. working on an album of original songs I am producing in my home studio. In my spare time, I am teaching myself how to produce and mix music at a somewhat professional level. Last year I produced my first album of original music, “Bayou Wild,” in several professional studios. I had a blast working with some of my favorite local musicians who all jumped at the opportunity to help a local songwriter with cash in hand. I was thrilled when the album got a write-up in a local music magazine. Aside from that the record went nowhere fast and sold maybe thirty copies, most of those at the release party. Songwriting is not a lucrative business, at least not in New Orleans. But I don’t do this for the money, I do it as my main creative outlet to keep my sanity in check. The reason I work freelance is to give myself time to make music and to write short stories about rescuing my neighbor’s cat—but not before I get coffee into my system.
I swing my feet to the side of the bed, take my phone off airplane mode and make my first important decision of the day: where to get coffee. I didn’t make it to the store this weekend to stock my beans, so I decide to bike to the local coffee shop. My girlfriend Little j and I share a car and today the machine is hers. I step outside to check the weather. Yesterday it was ninety degrees. Today the temperature is fifty-five. Some entertain a conspiracy theory that our government is controlling the weather, and given the extreme conditions we are experiencing lately I am inclined to believe them. I give a grumbling acceptance that I have to pull out my winter clothing after having just put it all away two days ago—the scarf, wool hat, gloves and coat all come out to feed my caffeine addiction.
I put on my full gear but in the blaring sun the outfit is way too hot, so I go back inside and switch to a light jacket. As I unlock my bike I notice a strange cat in our courtyard, one I haven’t seen before. Upon closer inspection I realize it is my neighbor Lulu’s cat PeeWee, an inside cat who’s life goal is to jet out the front door when Lulu isn’t looking and disappear for hours, worrying her to no end and getting the entire neighborhood involved in the rescue effort. Lulu is leaving in an hour for a flight, after which I am charged with cat sitting the feline Houdini. This is a serious situation, so I try to woo PeeWee into my arms but there’s no way he’s going back inside now that he’s smelled the lantana. I chase him around my apartment building, across my neighbor’s yard to the next house, but he escapes behind a gate I don’t have access to.
And I haven’t even had coffee yet.
I go back upstairs to my apartment and text Lulu about PeeWee, telling her I have to run an important errand and will be back in twenty minutes to help find him. I bike to the coffee shop and order an Americano, handing the barista my reusable mug. This is my first human interaction of the day, and I try my best to hide the fact that I just woke up and ask how they are doing. Fine, they reply cheerfully, then they are on to the next customer. I add cream and honey to my brew then bike back to my apartment, thinking about the short but important list of work items I need to finish today.
I make it home and with coffee in hand send out a search party of one (me) to look for PeeWee. Lulu is on her porch putting out food to entice the cat. It is a beautiful day outside, so I really can’t blame PeeWee for not wanting to go back to the confines of the house. I chat with Lulu and report the cat is nowhere to be found, then head inside to get started on work.
I open my laptop and check my email. My first order of business is helping a friend update the graphic resume I put together for her a few months back. Edits made, new resume sent to her in PDF form. Next up is adjusting a series of branded logos for a baseball organization in Atlanta. I pull graphics from a stock website, adjust them to fit the new designs, then send a proof on to the client. The job is running a few days late because several of the client’s emails didn’t make it to me, probably because he misspelled my name in the email address. That’s what I get for having a weird first and last name. He is happy with the logos so far, and I expect the job to be finished soon.
I take a break and open my back door for some air. I trod down the fire escape and walk the block again looking for PeeWee only find Lulu, her taxi to the airport waiting, recruiting another neighbor, Marguerite, a fellow at-home worker, for the search. The taxi leaves and Marguerite and I come up with a plan which I am positive PeeWee will foil. Together we walk the block, talk to some neighbors, but PeeWee remains elusive. I head back inside to do more work.
My coffee is kicking in and I am getting hungry, so I pour myself a bowl of granola, picking out the dried raisins and cranberries. If there is a true threat to our species, aside from an elite cabal possibly controlling the weather, it is the proliferation of dried raisins. I consider that grape technology hit its peak with wine and think about how society would change for the better without these hard, dried annoyances in my breakfast cereal.
Next, I follow up with a few leads. I scour online job postings every day and apply for about five jobs a week. Every few months one of these job posters actually responds to me, and today is one of these lucky days. I hit reply to their email and send them samples of social media posts and graphic design work. Next, I respond to a lead I got from a former employer in Atlanta, a job I am sure I won’t get because I am several states away, but I send a very professional email with work samples and references. Click. Send. Done.
Next, I open up my music program and listen to a mix I made last night. One song in particular will not sound good no matter how I mix it. The song will be the opening track on my new album, tentatively titled “Heavy Records.” I try to remix the song but the mid-range frequencies are so off the chart the music sounds like it was recorded in a PVC pipe. I am distraught. I think about scrapping the song altogether. Or I might need to rerecord the whole thing. First I’ll ask my neighbor Mathis to listen to it. Together we are working on an EP of his original music, both learning how to record and mix our tracks for the same financial reasons—lack of funds. Maybe he can rescue my sanity later today with a critique on my PVC mix.
Frustrated and overly obsessed, I try my hand at two more mixes, taking away more and more mid frequencies until it sounds good, then compare it to a professional recording from on of my favorite bands from the 90s. My song still sounds like complete garbage. I nearly slam the laptop shut and stare out the back window. I promised myself I would finish this record by the end of Lent, but that is looking less and less likely, leaving me seriously depressed.
In the height of my misery PeeWee appears in the courtyard. I walk down the fire escape and try to woo him again but of course, he runs. I chase him under my apartment building, across the yard, under a car, around the back of LuLu’s house, around another house, then under my building again. PeeWee taunts me from ten feet under the shallow crawl space as I give up on catching him for now.
Mathis is outside as I come back to my office door, and I tell him to watch out for that cat. He puffs on a hand-rolled and says he’ll look out for it. We set up a time later for a mix session, then I head back upstairs and open the laptop again and attempt to rescue the mix myself. It is still way to heavy on the PVC. I consider giving up music production forever.
Back to work. The next job entails updating a few headlines on a sales consulting client’s website. I make the updates and email the client that the changes are done. I open my personal email, answer a few, delete a few, unsubscribe from a few newsletters, then open Instagram, a serious distraction now that my web browser has a one-click mobile version of the app on my laptop. I gaze helplessly at pictures of people with their happy filters on. I upload a picture of some new products I added to my online shop then log out.
I try to listen to the mix again. PVC all the way. Ugg. I try to listen to a few other mixes but am so dejected about this one song I can’t even think about the album in a positive light right now. I consider a few other songs I could use in place of this one, but this particular song is important to the overall concept of the record, and I can hear how it is supposed to sound so clearly in my head. I just can’t get there in the real world. I remind myself to give it time, that I am new at this, that Rome wasn’t built in a day, that sometimes common clichés ring truer than our expectations.
I have a date to go to my friend Tweeny’s jewelry studio today to work on ideas I have for a jewelry line, but someone needs to be here if PeeWee is found because I have the only key to LuLu’s house to put him back inside should he decide to show. I’ve been excited for months about making jewelry from a collection of old piano keys my piano repairman neighbor gave me. Maybe PeeWee hates jewelry. Or pianos. Or me.
I walk back to LuLu’s house and catch PeeWee skulking from the porch where he was eating the food she left out, then he scurries under the house. He did a classic dine and dash with no one there to catch him. I go back to my computer. I check my calendar. The only things left to do today are to send out invoices, pay my bills, and prepare my monthly email newsletter, another attempt to generate new business—I’m hustling, baby.
My phone rings, a local number. I get excited in hopes the caller is a client with a job, but it is just a robocall. I get more robocalls than client calls these days. I might need to find another line of work. I ponder calling a friend who is a professional psychologist to see if I can make any use of the four-year psychology degree I never did anything with. I’ve been told I am a good listener and have counseled countless clients when their designer skips town or their site gets hacked because their original designer didn’t know how to properly set up a secure server. Unfortunately, I don’t take insurance and no client could afford my full hourly rate for these counseling sessions.
I shut down the computer and head to LuLu’s porch, thinking I’ll write for a bit to take my mind off of my tanking business and the new album that is stuck in a PVC pipe. Maybe “Pipe Bomb” is a better title for the record.
I settle into LuLu’s comfortable screened-in porch, the door ajar, a bowl of wet food at the ready to entice PeeWee. He suddenly appears in my peripheral vision on the steps to the porch. I don’t look at him in fear I’ll spook him again. He walks closer, then actually walks onto the porch. If I get up, he’ll dart back out, so I wait, hoping he will walk another four feet to the food waiting for him, then I can get up and close the screen door. Instead, he looks around, sniffs the air, then walks right back out the door.
I text Tweeny and tell her why I haven’t made it over yet. Tweeny texts me back, saying it is supposed to rain all day tomorrow, maybe it would be better studio day. Today there isn’t a cloud in the sky, nor was there yesterday. Of course it will rain tomorrow. Maybe it will hail. Or snow. Or a plague of rain frogs from Africa will drop down on us, and the weather people will say it is yet another strange new weather anomaly we have to get used to, then they’ll make up a new name for it like “atmospheric amphibian deluge.”
Marguerite comes over to visit and we share in my lament about almost catching PeeWee. I go back to writing but am having trouble focusing. I really want to be making jewelry but I have to wait for PeeWee. I spot him again in the garden in front of the porch and decide to try and end this thing once and for all. He runs dangerously close to the road so I decide not to pursue him anymore. I realize patience is going to be my best weapon in catching this cat.
I sit on the porch and check my work email. Nothing new has come in so I work on the manuscript of my great American novel. I am two-thirds of the way into finishing this book, an espionage novel titled “The Pinnacle File.” This will be the second book I’ve finished in the past two years, the first being a comedic memoir about tinnitus that I’ve only shared with a few friends. I am more excited about the new novel, though. The characters are coming alive on the page and I can’t wait to write the final scene. Then to edit the book. Then to rewrite it. Then to let a few friends read it. Then to realize most of it doesn’t make any sense to them. Then to rewrite it again. Then to find a professional editor who will trade their services for my design work. Then to shop the book around to publishers. Then to get rejection letter after rejection letter. Then to shelve it because the book isn’t topical. Then to have the fact that I abhor the marketing end of being a creative reinforced. Then to do it all over again with the next project.
It looks like I won’t make it to the jewelry studio, but I’ll still see Tweeny and bask in her positive energy. She wants to take me and Little j out to dinner tonight in exchange for computer tech support I helped her with a month ago. I start a text chain between the three of us and we schedule for six. In the meantime I have no work, I am unhappy with the state of my music, and I can only manage to write an outline of the rest of the chapters in the spy novel. My mind is too distracted by the cagey PeeWee, the dastardly raisins, and the impending African frog rain to do any real creative work. I’ve been writing this article, though, so I am at least getting my word count in for the day.
Suddenly PeeWee appears at the edge of the porch, then disappears again when I look at him. I decide I’ve had enough—it is time for PeeWee to come in from the cold. I develop a plan, the first step of which involves me going back into the house and closing the front door. I walk to the back of the house and who should be sitting by the back screen door but PeeWee. I walk up to the door, open it, and he walks right in like nothing ever happened. I give him a gentle scowl, then pet him because he’s too cute not to. I text LuLu to say her cat is safe and pack up my things.
Back at my apartment I clean up a little and start to feel hungry. Little j is picking me up in one hour for dinner, so I munch on a few potato chips and a glass of water to stave off any hanger. I check in on my email—the logo client has approved the designs, the resume looks great, the Atlanta lead never responded. Another email comes in from a client needing newspaper ads updated with the new logo I designed for them last week. I’ll have work for tomorrow, as long as PeeWee decides not to bolt out the front door again.
A response finally comes in from one of the leads I emailed earlier, but I don’t get too excited—she is asking for spec work, which I do not do under any circumstance. Spec work involves doing a design upfront for someone, and if they like it they pay for it. Most of the time they say they don’t like it then steal the design anyway, so I stopped this practice long ago. Instead, I try to sell my professionalism to her, telling her of the hundreds of happy logo design clients I’ve helped over my twenty years as a designer, then click send, begging the digital spirits to sprinkle their magic on my email.
I perform my twice-daily check-in with Craigslist’s job postings, then with a local job listing website. Nothing of note comes up. I’ve applied for literally hundreds of jobs this year, had only five email responses, and only one interview. I did not get the job because I was too expensive. When times are slow I’ve gotten into the habit of lowering my rates just to have something to pay the bills with, and it always, always bites me in the butt. Now I have firm pricing and I stick to it, which makes getting any job harder because of competition from college students, overseas companies, and Bill’s friend’s cousin’s ten-year-old son Timmy who just opened a Squarespace account and is now a web designer. You’d be amazed—calling yourself a web designer is really all it takes to become a web designer. There is no accreditation needed, no certificate that clients ask to see before hiring you, and no coronation ceremony to make you feel like you are one designer in a long lineage of digital masters. It is sheer and utter madness. I spent four years and thousands of dollars on an art degree, paid my dues at several large advertising companies, then successfully opened my own business which is now drying up after ten successful years because Timmy loved that Godaddy ad during the Superbowl and his mom is now his best salesperson. Welcome to my world.
I have two big quotes out right now that have been out for a week and I am nervous neither will hire me. Nearly every quote for a website I have sent out in the past three years has come back with the client saying they can’t afford me. That is if they even respond to me at all. The proliferation of do-it-yourself website tools and the fact that everyone in New Orleans is a struggling artist who handles their own design is not benefiting me. And then there’s Timmy and his Squarespace account and his mom the superagent.
I go through my now daily consideration of applying for full-time employment, but that kind of job wouldn’t leave me any time to finish the record or the book. I consider getting a part-time service industry job or busking on the streets of the French Quarter to make some extra money. Luckily I have enough saved up to cover my bills for the next few months, and with Little j moving in soon my bills will be even lower. I put the daily money freak-out aside and try to focus on making art.
There is no more work to be done today, so I listen to the PVC mix and try to figure out what I can do to rescue it. I open Logic Pro, make a copy of the file and begin a remix from the ground up. I disable all effects and plugins, reset every level to zero and start completely fresh. I spend twenty minutes working on the drum mix, then ten minutes on guitars, ten on the bass, then tweak the vocals. I compare the mix to the professional recordings and, for the first time, the song sounds halfway decent. The problem was too much mid-range in the bass, so I brought up the guitars and faded the bass so it is barely audible and the track sounds massive—big drums and guitars perfectly evoking that 90s grunge feel I am going for on this album.
I am finally happy with the mix, which is good because Little j shows up to get me for dinner. When my art is on track I am in a great mood, but when my art suffers so does everyone around me. Being in a crappy mood around my partner makes me feel even worse, so I am thankful and look forward to having an enjoyable dinner with friends.
The restaurant is packed but Tweeny snagged a table before we arrived. Dinner is filled with great conversation, drinks, and food. I complain about the lack of work. Little j complains about the employer she just quit. Tweeny complains about a band she’s been rehearsing with. Then we move on to more positive topics—Tweeny’s jewelry, Little j’s perfume business, my new book. Life in New Orleans is filled with so much creativity I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t live here.
The waitress brings another round of drinks and I ponder how to end this article. I can’t decide if this is an article about a day in the life of a freelancer or just a glimpse into the mind of a crazy neurotic artist. Maybe I’ve inspired you to google government sponsored weather manipulation or to figure out a way to end raisin production once and for all.
Maybe it’s everything. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.
About Jon Hébert
Every day I help musicians, influencers, entrepreneurs, artists, businesses & other design agencies with their branding, websites, creative writing & more. I have tons of creative experience and I love to put that experience to work for my clients. Located in beautiful Bayou St. John in New Orleans, Louisiana, I work with clients locally and as far away as San Francisco and Australia.