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Day in the Life of… Stewart Barnes

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London, UK
Next up in the series from the Creative Circle, Stewart Barnes delves into his role as Director & Founding Member of GuiltFree
Day in the Life of… is a series from the Creative Circle, celebrating and championing the diversity of talent across Britain’s creative community. Encompassing creatives from all areas of the advertising and creative spectrum, each edition will focus on an individual and their role within our exciting community.   

From making music in his dad’s home studio, to supporting Paul Weller and setting up shop himself, Stewart Barnes is up next in the series to delve into the roles and responsibilities involved in his role as Director & Founding Member of GuiltFree…

My role…

I’m the director and one of the two founding members of GuiltFree. Originally, my main role was a post-production sound engineer, occasionally composing music when the opportunity arose. However, as the company has grown and developed, I've increasingly moved into a music consulting capacity, composing music for various adverts and sound libraries, helping clients to realise their brief. 

How I got here…

My first work experience job, when I was 14, was at an audio post facility. The engineer at that studio would later be the first head engineer I worked under as a runner when I started in the industry aged 23. A composer and family friend worked in an adjoining room at that first studio; he became my first boss and mentor.

Most of my early working life was spent chasing success with the band I was in. We ended up playing a few big gigs – supporting Paul Weller in Hyde Park was a particular high – but never ‘broke’ the industry. I have nothing but great memories of this period in my life: I got a great insight into that side of the music industry and met a lot of talented and influential people along the way. Those band members were instrumental in shaping the type of music I wanted to make, and being a musician as a full time job was a privilege. My band, along with my father (who is also a musician) have, by far, had the greatest impact on my own musical development. 

As a 13-year-old, I’d started making my own music in my dad's home studio. Being in a band gave me a proper outlet for this creative drive but once the band was over, I returned to the home studio where I wrote endlessly. As enjoyable and productive as this period was, career wise, it was going nowhere so I eventually got a job ‘running’ in a post facility through a friend of the family. I stayed there for a number of years and this is where I really learned the techniques and skills I use in my current role. Eventually, I became a senior engineer but my role was mainly as a post-production engineer and, whilst I was getting to dabble in composing, it wasn’t enough to fulfil my artistic drive. I wanted to focus more on this side of the business so I eventually left and started GuiltFree with Chris.

When we started, we were sharing and working alongside each other on most work - both post production jobs and music briefs but, as the company’s success and reputation has grown, we've shifted towards more separate roles to cater for the amount of work and number of clients we serve. The partnership is a strong one - we still collaborate on everything we do but Chris now handles the majority of post work while I focus on the music side of the business.

My typical day…

Every day is different at GuiltFree; that's the best thing about the work we do. It never gets boring or repetitive. The first thing I do most mornings is grab a coffee and listen to whatever track I was working on the day before to see if it's as great as I thought or if, as suspected, it still needs a lot of work. The general rule for me seems to be that if I've struggled all the previous day with a track, the chances are it will actually sound pretty good when I come back to it. Similarly, if something came together really easily and I thought it was sounding great then the next day I'll wonder what on earth I was so excited about!

When this is the case, I’ll go back over the client’s brief to check that I’m on the right track for fulfilling their vision and seek Chris’ opinion. If the composition is for a television advert or a visual piece, I’ll watch the footage a few times to see where the tempo could highlight the particular selling points of a product. Sometimes, ideas come quicker than others. Where time allows, I like to compose a number of tracks for the same job, giving the company options so that the client has their ideas realised for them but is also offered an alternative – GuiltFree’s creative input – giving them the opportunity to experience the brand from someone ‘outside’ of the company. 

Hardest part of my job…

Chris and I are relative new boys when it comes to owning and running this type of business but, in the short time we have been doing it, the budgets have definitely become smaller yet expectations are a lot greater. 

It's a constantly changing industry. From the continual updating of software and kit to the ever-developing music scene which dictates the briefs you receive, running a business is relentless and you’re also aware that there’s no end game where that's concerned. Change is progress and it will never stop. Either you jump in with both feet or fall behind. That being said, I consider myself extremely lucky to be making a living doing something I love; if making music wasn't my job, I would be doing it outside of work as a hobby anyway.

What I enjoy the most about my work…

Those early moments when you're working on a track or a piece of sound design, where you add that element that pulls it all together and you know you're onto something. This is probably the element that a creative will ask to be removed somewhere down the line but, for that moment, the discovery and the track is yours and you begin to feel like everything you add just makes it sound better still. This doesn't happen all the time but, when it does, it's very easy to get lost in what you're doing.

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