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Producing as well as Engineering

Discussion in 'Composing / Producing / Arranging' started by DavidSpearritt, Jan 22, 2005.

  1. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Interested in how much of your session work is producing as well as pure engineering. By producing I mean,

    1. Following the score and marking dud notes phrases etc.
    2. Deciding on takes after the session.
    3. Making the important descision that you have that piece in the can before moving on to the next piece. (Big responsibility)
    4. Booking the hall, arranging piano tuner, wet nursing the arrangements etc

    We do a lot of this and love it when an external producer is employed, so we can concentrate on the audio.

    I think its essential that all engineers can read a score and this is an often overlooked skill in people starting out in this work.
  2. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    We're primarily hired to record, and then how much postproduction depends on what the client is asking for. We can do as little as possible or all of it, depending on what they've got budgeted.

    Some projects we're the producer from top to bottom (Usually broadcasts of operas and concerts per se.) Some projects we're more hand in hand with the client (session recordings, etc.) We try to qualify each session or concert as much as possible ahead of time. All "new" clients get a production agreement, so there's no confusion of who does what.

    Sometimes the decision to "keep it" and move on is more in the hands of the conductor/music director, or the composer, but I've developed a gentle, respectful approach to getting my point across. Sometimes it involves a private word with the director, other times it's a feignt, with something like: "Could we have that again, just in case there's a problem later?" Or: "Did anyone else hear that noise in the background? Let's do another one, just in case!" No matter who's in charge, I avoid embarassing an individual, at all costs. Counterproductive, IMHO.

    Booking is a good question...I have access to a small nearby recital hall (for piano, soloists, etc.) and now I'm partnered with our local NPR station's studio, so I have access to that as well. I don't make a profit on that end of it, though, it's just a service I offer when a client needs a space as well as my services. Piano tuning is something too many people forget about, often until it's too late. Never hurts to have the number of a few good tuners in your rolodex, too.

    This year, I'm looking to do a few of my own projects, TOTALLY self-contained and self-governed. (I'll pay for it all, manufacture and distribute it under my own name, hopefully.)

    ABSO-FREAKIN=LUTELY! Couldn't agree more on this. Some clients are shocked (pleasantly) to know I can read a score. (Well, DUH?!??!) Even if one only reads tab or basic piano/guitar parts, it really isn't that hard to learn or to brush up on score reading. (Easiest way is to spend a little time with a musician who CAN, and will help you follow along with a score of something you both know. It's like any other skill or muscle; it develops the more you use it.)
  3. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    David, I'm going to hijack your thread just a tiny bit early on.... I've mentioned it several times in other posts (and one entire one that got lost in the early days of this forum, before "old" topics stopped being deleted.)

    Your questions bring up a good point - the need for a clear explantation of duties, perhaps in a production agreement. Does anyone else use one when setting up new work? My older clients are fine, and we rarely have a problem, but these days, it's good to be absolutely clear on who's paying for what, what the duties are, and all of that good stuff. (Not to mention payment terms, fees, etc.)

    I'd go as far as posting a template here if anyone's interested, or email a scaled-back version for generic use. I'm sure I've missed a few things as well, so I'm highly interested in reading what others are using.

    I usually tweak a general production agreement for the project at hand, as well as a "work sheet" for people who are new to us, but no matter how much I try to "Qualify" any new work, there's uusally something that we miss or falls through the cracks. I recently did a suburban prep school Christmas concert, and it was just a mess....

    They originally said: "Choir, Jazz Band and a few speeches", but it was two SOLID hours onstage (on the surface, it was well within acceptable concert parameters, but still really pushing it) with an endless procession of speeches, soloists (even violin and piano), three jazz bands (2 songs each), beginner, mid level and concert choirs, announcements, artwork out in the lobby, and a partridge in a pear tree. Seriously; it was wayyyyyyy beyond what I ever run into, but who knew? (You can only ask so many questions, and get so much information back...) Then I had to mix it all (which took forever, one song at a time, literally, due to all the changes and mic feeds....)

    Now that they've got their temp copies, the music director wants to REMIX the Jazz band stuff because, (he says) the horns aren't loud enough to his taste. (The horns are god-awful, and just the beginning of their sonic troubles...it's a HS band, remember...) Oh well, at least my procution agreement states the initial mix is at MY discretion. The rest HE will pay for.

    Anyway, this is something I'm always interested in: refining a clear list of who's doing what, what is inclued, and what is extra, and most importantly: who's in charge of the whole thing.
  4. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Well, I'll keep my answer short... I can certainly do this. I have an extensive classical background and training. I do get hired to produce on occasion as well. HOWEVER, I tell all of my clients, you are paying me to make a recording. I can produce, but the recording will likely suffer as there is only so much that I can concentrate on in a session. I usually have scores with me and follow them in sessions, but I will put them down to listen if I think I hear something.

    As for the rest of the list- I can do the pre and post work, but they have to pay me for it. Simple. I'll book halls, make edit decissions (my edit decissions are usually stricter and more precise than many of my clients), and do all of the leg work- but not without payment for doing what is basically their job.

    I don't hire anybody to work with me that cannot read a complicated score. I think it is that important.

  5. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    It may be that I'm a micromanager, or don't trust what a lot of others do, but I largely do a lot of producing with virtually every project.

    I wouldn't say that it's so much that it gets in the way of the recording, but I definitely notate items in the score and if necessary meet privately with the conductor. Up front communication about this always helps too. Usually, conductors are more than happy to have an angel on their shoulders helping them out. Of course, there are those that know it all and any insight you may have is considered inflamatory. Those guys (and gals) are easy to spot and treat accordingly though.

    If I don't think I have the take in the can, I will find a reason not to go on. Again, up front communication about this always helps.

    Two items touched on above are:
    1. Score reading. I don't know how people do accurate splices when they can't read a score.

    2. Spelling out your plans, thoughts, requirements early on in some type of written documentation. All of my clients enter into an agreement with me. I have a basic form which I use (a contract for a lack of better terminology) and will alter it when necessary. This is where most of the communication takes place. Of course, when I present them with the contract, I make sure that I spend at least 30 minutes going over it with them section by section to make sure we are on the same page. Then we make adjustments as necessary.

    Also, I don't think it's a bad idea to have a producer in your rolodex and refer him/her to your clients at the onset of the project. They don't have to be familiar with recording practices, just music.

  6. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    I am interested that some of you have contracts. This is an admirable level of effort to go to, it may be an American thing, too, I mean that in a nice way, ie its thorough, professional and you have a big market to please, but I cannot imagine any of our clients looking through a contract. Some of them can't read ... only kidding.

    I guess if we had another big orchestral gig where the calls were costing a benevolent artistic funding body > $100K, we would want a contract.

    We sometimes work with ABC (national broadcaster) producers and its sort of mutual trust at work, and fortunately the musicians have been real professionals.

    But a contract is a whole new area of expertise and formality unknown to us at present. We do have a little estimate document that proscribes various conditions, mainly to do with who pays for stuff.

    This brings me to another point. Do you guys have big public liability insurance cover. We have 5mil and were advised the other day of requiring 10mil to record in a little university performance room. The world has gone nuts. :?
  7. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    While I am quite proficient at score reading, I actually do most of my editing by ear. I find that the musical flow is much better when I just use my ears...

  8. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I've got a mil, but I don't advertise it - people would find a reason to sue me! (That's definitely an American thing! :? )
  9. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    I think in today's world you have to wear many hats. You have to be a recording engineer, a standby producer, a performer's hand holder and sometimes you have to know how to turn on or off the HVAC, fix a squeaky chair or know how to fix a piano when the sostenuto pedal goes wacky.

    I have eight years of classical piano training but by no means consider myself a musician. I do know the difference between Allegro and Andante and I know how to use a metronome and a pitch pipe. I also have good contextual pitch but not perfect pitch (meaning I can hear when something is flat or sharp in context but may not be able to whistle 440 without a pitch reference).

    I can also read full orchestral scores but I prefer to have a "real" producer to worry about the musical aspects of the recording and let me concentrate on the technical and audio side of things. I have fixed broken bows, I have reglued clarinet pads and I have gone to pick up a musician that was afraid to drive in the snow to an important recording session. I have also had to do page turns and in one case find a chair that the performer could feel comfortable in when they broke their collar bone a week before the recording session was scheduled to begin. It just goes with the territory as far as I am concerned.

    The biggest problem is that we don't live in a quiet places anymore. Most of the halls we record in have "noise" problems that intrude on the session at the most inopportune times. Here in the town where I live have to do recordings at 2 am to get away from the noise and have had ambulances ruin a perfect take even at that late hour. I live in a small college town literally in the middle of a corn field and we still have noise problems. Part of my job is noticing when these noise are present and marking them on the score so we know what we can use and what we cannot. This has become part of my job along with the setup and teardown of equipment and setting up the stage for the performers. I sometimes feel as if I am the only one who has multiple jobs since everyone else is only doing their "thing" But I enjoy my work and can't think of anything I would rather be doing.

  10. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    David wrote: I am interested that some of you have contracts. This is an admirable level of effort to go to, it may be an American thing, too, I mean that in a nice way, ie its thorough, professional and you have a big market to please, but I cannot imagine any of our clients looking through a contract. Some of them can't read ... only kidding.

    I guess if we had another big orchestral gig where the calls were costing a benevolent artistic funding body > $100K, we would want a contract.

    We sometimes work with ABC (national broadcaster) producers and its sort of mutual trust at work, and fortunately the musicians have been real professionals.

    Ok, fair enough; that's an ideal situation, and may you never have someone with a changed mind or hidden agenda! :cool: But let me give you a few examples otherwise:

    The client decides to cancel on you for a completely arbitrary reason. (usually budgetary)
    The client decides he/she can't pay as promised, and wants you to wait for your $$$. (The musicians have all been paid, of course, just not YOU.)
    The client decides their brother, cousin, neighbor (add any nepotistic choice here) can do a better job and wants to hire them now, instead. (You don't MIND, do you? No hard feelings, ok?)
    It's an outdoor gig, and the client decides to wait until 20 minutes before start time to cancel...and then not pay you.
    The client wants far more changes and revisions than you agreed upon - the project suddenly mushrooms to 10x what you'd agreed to. The single disc will now be a double. The booklet needs 8 pages. In color. On higher quality glossy paper now. And so on..
    The client wants to give your work to someone ELSE to edit it.
    The conductor is suddenly ill in and is now in hospital, so the concert/broadcast recording (that you reserved exclusively for them) will NOT be aired. You found this out the night before the dress rehearsal.
    The client is making CD copies (of your master) on their office computer now, and "didn't think you'd mind" if they just did it that way from now on.
    The client is excerpting your master for a compilation of other works, and is leaving out, mispelling, or wrongly crediting your name on it.

    These are but a few of the NICER things that can happen and leave you holding the bag. I'm completely serious.

    Conversely, the contracts aren't there to start trouble or infer we don't trust our clients. (I prefer to call them "Production Agreements" = PAs) When we have enough time, we send a signed copy to the client, and ask for a fax-back signed copy from them. In other cases, we state that payment signifies acceptance of our work as contractors, etc.

    The PA is also a detailed explanation of how we work, who is doing what for the $$, and what they should expect in terms of workflow, timetable, due dates, etc.

    PA's can help you keep friendships as well as business agreements, and when handled nicely, they simply make everyone pay attention a little more. BELIEVE ME, people will respect you more if you do this more often. (Many of my older clients do not get the PAs, but some should, of course! ;-) )

    For new clients, I may blame someone ficticious (my accountant, my shrink, my agent...hahaha), and say something disarming, like: "it's all the usual boilerplate stuff, to protect BOTH of us, just give it a readover and we can discuss anything that needs tweaking. (And sometimes there IS something - a line or a phrase - that doesn't apply, etc.) Many times, however, it's saved me a world of pain and suffering: "Editing/mixing on this project shall be done at OUR discretion - all other arbitrary changes are done at the hourly rate." This phrase alone makes EVEYRONE sit up and pay attention, and you'd be amazed at how much BS is minimized when the artist/organization realizes you're a REAL BUSINESS, and they must properly compensate you for your time. All the tweaky neurotic stuff gets brushed aside fairly quickly.)

    I have rented mics, sound systems, video & lighting gear, and what not from other vendors, and...surprise! There's an agreement to sign there, too! (often a credit card deposit, or clear wording how much it costs, and when you pay - usually upfront). Why should our services come any less cheap or left to a mere handshake with a stranger? (Handshakes with long term clients are fine, don't get me wrong...unless of course, something happens to the parameters of that handshake...)

    "But a contract is a whole new area of expertise and formality unknown to us at present. We do have a little estimate document that proscribes various conditions, mainly to do with who pays for stuff. "

    That's a good start, and it might be all you need in your situation.

    My former girlfriend was a paralegal, and she got tired of hearing me whine and complain about clients who were driving me crazy about stuff that went above and beyond the normal call of duty. She stopped me in my tracks one day and said: "Well, if they're paying you to do this, what's the big deal?" To which I said, "Well, er.......not quite, it's like this..." Told her how I work, and she said: "You're CRAZY To work without a PA; You MUST spell it out clearly or these flakey (read: Artistic) People will walk all over you!!!" She went on to say that EVERY new project in her firm got a detailed agreement to read over, no exceptions, clearly listing what is expected, what the terms of payment are, and all parties sign and agree to adhere to the rules of play, so to speak.

    Most of my PA's may not nec. stand up in court line by line (nor would I ever want it to go that far), but at least I've got a document for them to read and understand. It lends a certain credibitily to it all, as well. (My outdoor Carillon client knows, for example, that if he doesn't postpone our session in time - and the rain starts - there's no question of who's getting paid for my trouble. No coincidence, he's among the fastest of clients to pay when the bill arrives, too.)

    This brings me to another point. Do you guys have big public liability insurance cover. We have 5mil and were advised the other day of requiring 10mil to record in a little university performance room. The world has gone nuts.

    I've got a 1 mil as well, although it's rarely asked for. Some halls (usually privately run places that want an excuse to bar us) will demand an insurance policy before we can run a cable or set up a mic. Other places are much more loose.

    I just worry that someone someday is going to drop a mic or boom on an expensive instrument, and I'll lose my shirt. (I always tell my assistants: Lay down and take a bullet if you have to, when it comes to any of those priceless fiddles or git-boxes onstage. Gaff-Tape and lock everything down by showtime, and stay OUT of their way! Nothing scarier than a late violinist in high heels darting past you backstage in the dark to make the downbeat! Clop clop clop...lookout!!!!! :twisted: )
  11. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    IMO the description of the producer left out the most important thing-- coaxing the best performance out of the musicians. This cannot happen without them trusting you (or any producer) but if that doesn't happen-- the producer DID NOT EARN HIS MONEY.

    Anybody can line up venues. do leg work, and even hear clams. Suggesting another approach to a phrase or pointing out the really small things is another matter.

    I am busier than a one-armed paperhanger when wearing both the engineer and producer hats, but it ends up being much more rewarding to engage in something collaborative.

    As for contracts-- I send a plain-language letter of agreement that spells out what each party is responsible for. I ask for 1/3 to book, 1/3 when I show up, and 1/3 to order discs. They sign a copy and return with the check. This keeps good cashflow and prevents me from offering interest-free loans. I can't get one-- why should they?

    I also send a pre-session letter covering the "obvious"-- no HVAC, a room suitable for monitoring, how to formulate a session strategy, etc. Everyone seems to appreciate knowing I am looking out for them so the endeavor will be as easy for them as possible.

  12. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I like your ideas, Rich; sounds similar but still a bit different than mine. I'm wondering if we should have an ftp site for folks to post their (Generic) production agreement forms, or even just put 'em up here for anyone to use, if they feel so inclined.

    When I did installations (sound systems, recording systems, etc.) I used to ask for 1/3, 1/3 & 1/3, but I've gotten away from it lately. (Your system makes me think I should return to that for a few clients..) It's never a bad thing to take a deposit from new, unknown clients.

    I agree that it's not our place to be the banker for some of these places. I am located about 20 minutes from Discmakers (over the bridge in Pennsauken, NJ), and regardless of how many projects I've taken to them, or how well I know my contact person over there, it's entirely COD - 50% deposit at time of booking the job, and the remainder due upon completetion, NO exception. Money talks, everyone else walks.

    A clear statement of terms is always a good idea, esp if the client is going to come up shakey further down the line. (And it DOES happen occasionally, sorry to say..)
  13. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    I assume you are happy with Discmakers? One of your Philly colleagues (to remain anonymous) told me that they were the one place he told folks to avoid for various reasons. They certainly have good graphic design talent for pop stuff, tho.

    I use Klarity Multimedia in Vermont. SUPER nice folks, great QC. When I call I get to talk to the president, not an account rep who will say whatever it takes. I use a graphic designer for all my projects, BTW.

  14. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I've had zero problems with Discmakers, and you certainly get what you pay for. They're not the cheapest, and they're not the ultimate "high-end", either. (until fairly recently, they were using Sony for their disc replication anyway...they used to just do their own printing. But now it's all done in house, if my information is correct.)

    I'm a "Studio Partner" with them as well, which is just a fancy way of saying I get a small comission on anyone I recommend to them, or even projects I bring in on behalf of my own clients. It's a nice little way of thanking you for bringing work their way. They list us all on their website somewhere, but it's not really brought any extra work my way, other than a few tire-kickers.

    They spell things out quite clearly in every contract, and the onus is on the client to provide all graphics, use their templates for design, as well as audio. Their printing is as good as anyone else out there; magazine quality on the booklets and tray cards.

    I've heard plenty of stories about people getting burned, but when you dig a little deeper, it's usually pilot error or a misconmunication at the outset. Someone didn't do their homework or assumed something, and there's the rub.

    As for the audio, I often give them seveal versions to double check my master, and I always get the proof copies to examine before they go to press. (I give them the frame accurate TOC printout from Samplitude, as well.)

    I've seen (been in, actually) their new mastering room, but they're not for me. (I can certainly do a better job myself; and they're geared for the pop, rap & headbanging crowd anyway, I suspect). Still, it's a nice feature for some folks who need that sort of thing.

    It's a business like anything else, and let the buyer beware. Gotta stay on top of the project from start to finish, or anything can happen, no matter who's doing the replication. In the end, it's still a round, shiny silver disc that recombines the null's and 1's to make music.

    To quote that famous Simpson's Westworld Parody:

    "What could possibli go wrong?" :?
  15. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Since were talking replication... I use 2 companies, both of which I'd recommend highly.

    Healeydisc in Canada does good work and they are probably one of the cheapest folks around (a deal right now for $1K for a thousand discs all printed, shrinkwrapped, etc...)

    When I need a bit more hand-holding for the client, I go through a company called CDS which is here in LA (cdsg.com) and they are a broker for Sonopress and JVC- both of which are pretty high-end replication setups (esp. JVC)


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