Am I slow, or spineless?

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by zemlin, Dec 1, 2011.

  1. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    I recently started doing some location work for a local radio station.
    Part of the deal is for me to record the shows and mix for broadcast.

    Like most things, it always takes longer to get the mix wrapped up than I expect, so I spend more time on the mixes than I quoted. If I'm charging a fair price for the work but am just slow, then I'm OK with that, but if my productivity is reasonable, then I should be quoting more time for the jobs.

    Just to set the scene - small venue - a restaraunt with no stage. The band is backed up against a brick wall in small area - acoustics aren't good. A band I've never heard of will come in and do a 1 hour, 1 set show. I usually provide all PA. My board is a Presonus 16.4.2 - I record all tracks to my laptop for mixing later. Most shows are standard rock band drums/keys/bass/guitars/vocals.

    For the last show I ended up with 20 tracks. 11 songs. The band did not ooze talent or great sound - but they did OK. My plan was to do a good-enough mix in about 5 hours - I probably ended up with 12 hours in the mixing and editing.

    So, assuming that the quality of my work meets their expectations, is it reasonable to spend 12 hours mixing a 20-track one hour show?

    One factor that will get better is that I've spent most of my time doing acoustic/bluegrass/choral stuff - so I'm having to learn the rock-band thing. I'd assume I'll get more efficient as I do more of this sort of work - but I'm still wondering what a fair price is for this sort of work.
  2. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    It's very difficult to put figures on this sort of thing, as different people's mixing speeds will have a wide variation. If you are relatively new at mixing rock bands, then some of your 12 hours will be a one-off learning exercise and you will be able to process the next similar band in a lot less time.

    However, the same argument should hold for the tracks within the band's session, at least the ones that are similar in instrumentation. So you might choose a typical track and spend an hour with it getting the levels, reverbs and other effects into shape. Then these will apply in much the same fashion to most of the other tracks, as you don't want the overall sound character of the band to change much over the session. This means that you might spend an average of only half and hour each on the other tracks; maybe a bit more on any problematic ones.

    So your original 5 hours estimate may have been a bit light, but you should be able to knock out future bands in considerably less than the 12 hours this one took. I would talk to the radio station and see if you can negotiate something like a 6-7 hour figure for the next one.
  3. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Word of advise.

    Most jobs or careers that are creative, don't work by the hour, never. Do your best to get out of that rut by becoming independent and confident that this is what you charge because you do not rush to finish something. You do not compromise your reputation.

    If it takes you longer to complete something, you never feel bad because that's what it took to do it right. No one is ever surprised by the cost either. IMHO, You learn your trade best this way because all the pressure is taken off. You also learn important skills that create wealth.
    I've been self employed for most of my 40 years working and every year gets better. There is no magic to this, you obviously have to be good, or exceptional at what you do but this is what I've learned and what others I know, whom are happy self employed artists say too.

    If you stay with the hourly rate, then accept it and learn to improve your timing and live with it being the way it is because that's all they will pay. Its a job.

    Remember this too. The clients you get, breed more of the same kind. Sometimes its better to not have certain clients.
  4. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    Better said indeed.
  5. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member


    You can choose them or they can choose you. The latter is on rep.....

    If you record in the same venue a lot, and your software can be automated for a fixed -in -place snapshot of basic settings, you'll save a LOT of time by simply using the same track numbers and arrangement and simply snap the new session into the basic settings as a starting point. The venue sound isnt going to change from act to act so having these templates in place speeds up your mix process. I find that wandering around the mix simply because things are in different spots for each session makes for wasted time.

    All the big touring PA guys have a template for every venue they're going to mix in. A simple CD master into the software and VOILA we're halfway home.
  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Live recordings are always unique. Spending 12 hours on 20 cuts I think it is quite reasonable. You're talking only 1/2 hour per song. That's fast if you are trying to finally hone each song. However, the other way you can approach it is more like doing a live FM/TV broadcast. You don't finely hone each song. You finely hone the first song and you ride with them through to the end. Sure, it will have its flaws, it's supposed to, it's real, it's organic. Plus, you really don't want to make anybody sound better than they actually are. That's fake, fraudulent and if that's not the way they actually sound in person, you may actually be doing them a disservice. You could actually damage their reputation of being the mediocre garage band they really are. A lot of my work has been large music festivals for FM broadcasts, where Murphy is the producer, I'm just the engineer. Are the mixes listenable? I think they are killer sounding if I do say so myself and I do. Could I do better? Sure, of course but it's already done. I can move on. I can be proud of what I've already produced. Nobody will hear my mistakes because they are not listening for my mistakes. Some make pretend you are a live broadcast guy with a background in recording in the studio.

    In situations where acoustics are felt to be problematic, this is where taking the phase and inverting them on some microphones can be used to successfully cause certain cancellations that can act to nearly completely eliminate many acoustical aberrations. But this has to be done carefully so as not to cause serious primary cancellation when the mix is collapsed to Mono. But if you take bad acoustics entering one microphone, combine that with similar bad acoustics entering an adjacent microphone, the phase cancellation can actually help to eliminate some of the acoustical problems magically by canceling them out. The instruments will continue to be picked up since they will be predominant & more isolated from each other. So less chance of those canceling out since there is a definite acoustic difference between different instruments while the acoustics generally remain the same. Phase inversion of 180° can cancel that which is common to both microphones, acoustical aberrations.

    This technique is similar to creating what is known as a " differential microphone ". To the best of my knowledge, there are no design for recording studio differential microphones that can be purchased. It's something you construct from 2 identical microphones literally duct taped together. Sometimes the capsules are directly next to each other. Other times, the capsules could be separated by the length of the microphone itself so that there is a capsule in the front and a capsule at the rear. Either way, this would be similar to utilizing an XY stereo microphone out of phase to each other. Collapsed to Mono, everything virtually disappears. The way the differential microphone works is by performing into one and only one of the two microphone capsules. The rest of the ambient sound hitting both capsules simultaneously are electrically eliminated. While the microphone being performed in creates a huge phase differential from the capsule which is not being directly performed in. This technique also causes an audible difference in the microphone's overall frequency response & tonality but that too can be dealt with with the program equalizers. This technique works best when you simply create an XLR Y connector. Where the second female XLR is wired out of phase. This will work with both condenser & dynamic microphones. In fact, I remember many years ago, after I had already utilize this technique on numerous occasions, to see a movie of the Grateful Dead with Jerry Garcia singing into what appeared to be 2 Sony tie tack/Lapel style Microphones, with 3 inch long sticks on the back of each microphones so as to be able to space the distance away from the microphone holder on the stand. These microphones were separated by a little block of wood. But Jerry was careful to only be singing very closely into one of the 2 capsules. Eh voilà, less feedback, virtually no Bleed pickup, Jerry highly isolated on a very noisy stage.

    Does this cord " load down " the impedance the microphones are designed to be plugged into? Yup, sure does but I can tell you even if you do this it SHURE does work anyhow with a slight difference in level & response but who cares if it works, fixes the problem and gets the job done.

    Now don't phase out on me. No, wait, please phase out on me.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  7. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the feedback, folks.
    Much of my work over the years has been for financially strapped organizations or groups that I wanted to support with my work, so I didn't charge much (or anything). I don't have much contact with other audio folks in the area, so I really don't have a feel for what others would charge for the work I'm doing. I have a good day job, so I don't have to live off my earnings.

    So working for a for-profit radio station I should be charging "the going rate" for my services ... but how does one find out what comparable businesses charge? I have a hunch I'm still low-balling the jobs, even though that's not my intent. I suppose I could up my price until they stop calling, but in the end, that would be a losing proposition.
  8. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    I would think you might want to inquire what the average going rate for an engineer is on a daily level at your local public broadcasting facility. Then add in some equipment rental that you deem appropriate. At least that's a jumping off point. I have done a lot of work just like you've described. Supporting nonprofit groups and organizations and anything I deem worthy of my talents. In the not-too-distant past my going rate at NBC was $250 per day, 10 years ago. I haven't very much from that in light of our economic situations. And for those jobs that are not gargantuan, light concert recording, small bands, I frequently included the use of my equipment for that fee. Certainly not a big moneymaker and generally some of these can be downright disappointing. Nevertheless, it supports the arts.

    Broken hearted, broken bankroll
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  9. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    You have a few options, and I don't think you're either spineless OR slow...just dedicated. (And if you're like me, you probably wish you didn't have to negotiate or work at pricing/biz at ALL. I find it almost painful, embarassing, and wish I just didn't have to do it! I wish I was big enough to have an agent, accountant, manager, etc. etc....but that's not MY life, indeed. ;-)

    Not to get off topic to your question, but this sort've applies here....I have learned over the years to build up a price sheet that I can email a client as soon as they start SERIOUSLY kicking the tires and want to know real-world pricing. (We don't always stick to it, but I have something to work with up front; I can cut deals that way, or I can at least show them what my time is worth, and what the ideal scenario is...)

    I have put these prices together over the last 24-25 years, based on what my competition is charging, or not. (I'm right about in the upper-middle, price-wise, between the really expensive guy across town, and the really really cheapo-rock'n'rollers who keep opening (and closing) their studios all around the place, literally giving their work away.) This way, it's my product and my expertise that gets the gigs, more than my cost. It may sound crazy, but it keeps me competitve, and I'm comfortable with it, at least for now. (And, I'm NOT looking to undercut the most expensive guy in town; everyone knows who he is, and this just gives them a choice....)

    It's also important to know your market, your clients, etc., and know what they can and can't afford. I'm in a fairly big, East-coast megalopolis area, with a lot of commercial & private venues, colleges and suburban music groups, and several public radio stations, so there's a lot of biz in general around here. It's a pretty big market, but even so, everyone still watches their bottom line. There's no free ride in this biz anymore, anywhere.

    If your client is a commercial radio station, they probably have a set budget for what they're airing. You just never know; they may be VERY happy that you're coming in UNDER said budget with each show you deliver. And, they probably won't tell you even if you do! You may have to find/ask someone you can trust inside the company and simply say: "Look, this is costing a lot more time & effort than I thought....can we re-negotiate, or work in a cost-of-living increase at some point? I don't want to drive you guys away, but I'm finding it was more than I originally thought, time-wise." It happens. Ugly surprises are one thing, but planned raises over time are normal, and it may help your sanity and keep everyone happy in the long run. (Who hired you? Can you talk to them first? The wors they can say is: "NO". Even if that happens, it's still a reference/bragging point for you, when you're looking for, or pricing out other, newer projects....all you have to do is point your new clients to your on-air work; you don't even need to give 'em a CD; just give them the time it airs.)

    If the station is a public broacasting faciltity (non-profit, College, NPR, etc.) they may have an "Underwriter" (Fancy word for sponsor in the non-profit world) who's "Paying" the broadcasts in toto. Here too, you are certainly within your rights to ask for a bit more over time. (As I write this, I am realizing I have been doing broadcasts for a certain radio client for nearly 10 years now, and all for the same $. Maybe it's time I tapped them for a little more as well, eh? ;-)

    As for your workflow, you will hopefully streamline things as you go; from the setup & mixing at the event itself, to the post-production you do in the studio. I am ALL ABOUT this, since I do a lot of remote recording that ends up on the radio, CD, or both. Time IS money, (your money, that is!) and the better you make your operation, the better off you'll be. I have basically three remote rigs: 8-10 track laptop system, 16 track laptop system, and 24 track hard disc recording sytem. All are interchangeable, all have mic kits and cable cases that I can grab and load my van in 10-15 time on my way out to the gigs. (after 20+ years of doing this, one DOES get tired of re-inventing the wheel each time out.) Snakes, stands, etc., are all stacked and ready to grab as needed, many of my gigs are repeat clients, so I usually know what I'm walking into. Some of my helpers are just that, while some are knowledgeable enough that they can run the systems if I have to go off on another conflicting remote. We adhere to the same system/approach for everything, from file names to project names, etc., so that it's easily sorted out in post-production.

    And last but not least, post production workflow is really what is going to make or break this for you. Hopefully, you've got a good software package that you can create templates (as already mentioned here) and plug-ins that will give you what you want, each time you reach for them. I use Samplitude/Sequioa for everything, and have set up my own limiters, multiband limiters/compressors, reverb settings, groupings, etc., that all come in handy each time I sit down to mix/edit a particular project. (I even have some HVAC noise sampled from one particular venue that's all ready to use on the clipboard for my noise reduction plug in. It probably only save 2-3 minutes in setting it up, but every little bit helps.)

    While it's not a "Cookie-cutter" mixing/edting system, I can often open pre-existing VIP projects (samp/sequoia's term for the global editing setup with all the wav files within), and get started much faster than beginning from scratch each time. For example, if I'm recording a 10-concert series in the same venue over a fall/winter/spring season, I can work from the same template each time, dropping in the wav files and going from there. Not only does it save tons of time, but it helps keep the basic sound the same; only the aritsts & their performances change.

    Anyway, hope all this rambling & advice from all of us helps you get things moving & streamlined. Sounds like a fun gig. Live sound/live recording is still one of my fav (and craziest!) jobs in this biz!

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