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Quality expected vs. price paid?

Discussion in 'Recording' started by bewarethanatos, Apr 19, 2006.

  1. Just wondering what your clients expect quality-wise vs. the price they want to pay for a session.

    In my case, I've done $550 demos in one day sessions with my mobile equipment, and it sounds like a demo. Should I be expected to make a $500 demo sound like a main-stream record (of course keeping in mind gear and my own technical limitations)? Should the amount of effort I put into something be directly related to the amount of money I'm being paid?

    I'm doing a demo for a band next week, at their rehearsal space, and I was trying to explain to the guy that while the quality I can get with my equipment is pretty good (barring any engineering incompetence on my part), it's nothing like what I can do at the studio, when I have all day to track just drums on our properly tuned studio drum kit through a Drawmer 1960, Neve 1272's and API 312's. Should I worry about bands expecting the world, even though they're only paying $500 or less for a demo at their rehearsal space? I try my best (which I'm trying to improve all the time) so I'm not looking for a cop-out or an excuse or anything. Just wondering if it's my perspective that's skewed.
  2. therecordingart

    therecordingart Well-Known Member

    Good communication is key, but this is hard to do without losing business.

    Sometimes I want to say "you get what you pay for" but that implies that I'm either awesome and expense or cheap and shitty. That could be a deal breaker.

    They way I do it is explain that their gear and performance is what will make or break a great recording. In your situation I'd also explain that their rehearsal space probably isn't the best acoustic enviroment which is a huge part of a commercial sounding recording. Just be straight with them and say....what you are buying is the comfort to record in your enviroment which in the end will provide a top notch performance, and you as the engineer will do everything in your power to capture that.

    Explaining the difference with what you will be doing and how a commercial record is made will allow them to appreciate how little they are paying for their comfort and a great performance.

    Personally, after recording in many studios with my own bands....I'll pay for comfort over top notch gear any day of the week. I can appreciate a rough recording of a great performance more than a great recording of crap.
  3. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    I have a multitude of equipment for both in studio and on location work. My recordings really don't sound any different whether they are recorded on location through compromise equipment or whether they are recorded within the studio on all of the fine vintage stuff. I don't even let room acoustics bother me. I don't think you should tell your clients that you can't deliver as good a product on location as you can deliver from the studio. You should never denigrate yourself professionally or technically. By taking your own location recording back to the studio for some postproduction, there is no reason why those recordings shouldn't sound every bit as good as your studio jobs. Many of my recordings are simply tracked on location and mixed in the studio either on the console or "In The Box" or ITB. So I'm not really clear on what you believe the compromises are that you are making for a location verses in the studio?

    Hear and there
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  4. therecordingart

    therecordingart Well-Known Member

    Recording a drum kit in an untreated basement compared to a treated live room in a studio. Difference? Of course. Compromise? Depends on how you look at it I guess.
  5. I'm sure, remy, that once I have years of engineering experience under my belt, the whole "location vs. studio" recording thing won't really be an issue. And while I value your opinion, I disagree with you a bit. Perhaps that's because I'm young and naive. Bear with me:

    I think the acoustics of the room, mics used, performance, and method of tracking are all part of the equation. For instance- normally recording drums with vintage c-414's, and 441's through neve's and api's, monitored in an isolated CR is definetly going to sound different (and most likely better, or else no one would make a big deal about that equipment, all other things being equal) than my using AT2020's and e604's straight into my AKAI DPS24, monitored on my MDR-7506's. That was my point- that while I can get a decent recording, the lack of gear of color or certain characteristics will hinder my ability to get what would be considered "great" or even "better" drum sounds. Make sense? Please don't think I'm trying to be a cocky 20 year old. I learn a great deal from my boss, and I'm always trying to get better and learn more.

    And my other question was, should I give the client, or should the client expect, quality that is equal to a month-long, multi-thousand dollar recording session, if they're only paying $500 for a day or two in their rehearsal space? At what point does price paid directly relate to effort exerted? Does this make sense at all?

    I do understand your point about not denigrating myself professionally or technically.
  6. JWL

    JWL Active Member

    Look, this is really a simple thing. As recording professionals, we owe it to our clients to do the best we can, regardless of the situation, in the time that the client pays us for.

    In terms of clients' expectations, it is true that you probably have more control over the sound in a good room than you do in a shitty rehearsal space or a bar. If you don't have a good room available to you, then there probably won't be much of a difference.

    If you are charging by the hour, you can make the argument that you are familiar with your room, so setup could take less time and therefore be a bit less costly. You know what works there and what doesn't. If you have to go to a bar and experiment with sounds, it could take longer because you are in an acoustically hostile, unfamiliar environment. So either way, the client should budget for that and know what they are paying you for. If they hassle you about how long it takes to find good sounds, then they probably don't really care much about the quality of the final product.

    So I would explain it in these terms: "my acoustically treated studio (assuming you have one of course) sounds better than a bar or a rehearsal space, and since we are using microphones this will affect the final product. However, this is only one of several links in the chain, and regardless of where we record I am confident in my ability to produce a good sounding recording for you, to the best of my abilities."

    Or something.
  7. JWL

    JWL Active Member

    In regard to self-denigration, that's not really the case here. Either way, the client is getting the same engineer with the same abilities. But the fact remains that a good room sounds better than a bad room, and that is part of the equation. Recording in a good room will make the final product sound better, all else being equal. Period.
  8. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    You seem to be saying that your clients aren't sure they're getting their money's worth. I won't say that what I deliver is as good, better, or less than anything... I refuse to play that game. You WILL NOT win. There ain't no way to win.

    When I meet with a client to discuss a remote session, I initially focus on what they are expecting to get from the session. Then we discuss EVERYTHING... gear, vocals, logistics, payments, etc, but the main emphasis is the sound of the room. If the room sux, I tell them so. If it's OK, I tell them so. If it's a great room, (only one so far), I tell them so. I make suggestions as to things to address and the costs associated.

    If they're willing to live with the room as is, I let them know that I'll do what I can to give them the best results. If they want to address some of the minor acoustic issues, I let them know that I'll do what I can to give them the best results.

    Even when the one time it ended up being a major disaster, the client ended up telling me that they weren't completely happy with the end product. BUT, they new that every effort possible had been made to make the session(s) as good as it possibly could have been. (You just can't fix poor production decisions on the clients part if they won't listen to reason.)

    I purposely don't overstate what I can deliver. Then, I bust my arse to deliver the best that I can, given the budgets I'm given to work with... PERIOD. I like to think my clients see this in every step of the process.

    Guess it comes down to the old sayin'... Don't promise more than you can deliver. Then, deliver more than what you say you will.

  9. Actually, I think what I was saying (and maybe it was just coming out wrong) was that the client expects more than can be delivered under the given circumstances. I'm not trying to say that I'm not going to do my best or better than that just because of the circumstances or what I'm being paid- that would be snobbish (is that word?) I'm saying that the room, mics, performance, is all irrelevent to the client; they just want a professional sounding product, no matter how little they want to spend. It's like asking a plumber to fix your sink with a spoon in 10 minutes for $20. They're expecting a job to be done quickly, professionally, for cheap, and without worrying about what tools are used. A piss-poor analogy to be sure, but that's essentially what I've been trying to say.

    Am I getting my basic point across, or do I still sound like a lazy kid?

    I'm a beginner- sooner or later I won't have to worry about this stuff- but I asked a question and expressed a concern because I was unsure about what expectations should be.
  10. alimoniack

    alimoniack Guest

    If your clients are inexperienced or just totally unrealistic you do have a duty to make them realise that its easier to get a million dollar sound in a million dollar studio. Just tell em you'll bust a gut to get them as close to that sound as you can - bearing in mind that it may take more work to get there. If they expect you to drop an album on thier lap for total peanuts ditch the client, they will never be happy & neither will you. Seek out clients who know the score, are prepared to pay a reasonable price & are willing to listen. Then again, if they are total buffoons its possible they might listen to their shitty demo and say "yeah, that's the sound!" hehe.

    Remy's method has always worked well for me with location stuff.

    Some wise words at the end of max's post there. That's the bottom line in these situations.
  11. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    The trouble with written communication is that you don't hear inflection and that leads to confusion. I didn't quite express myself the way I meant to. I wasn't coming from a point of busting yer' nads. I was trying to come from a supportive angle.

    We're all basically sayin' the same thing... You have the responsibility to be up front with the client about many things.

    Communicating what they can expect as a final product, based upon the circumstances is the meat of the matter. I probably spend more time on this aspect of the interview than anything. It's the first question to ask. It's the starting point of the roadmap to get the job done.

    If it's beyond your (or ANYONE's) capabilities to make a good sounding set of tracks because you are tracking in a gymnasium you have to drive that point home - HARD. You have to take control of the situation... afterall, you ARE the expert on the job, right? They DID call YOU!

    If they only have a budget of $50, they can't expect a $50,000 recording. If they have false expectaions, tell them so up front. If they are totally unrealistic, and won't see the light no matter how you explain it, TURN THE JOB DOWN! It ain't worth the hassle.

    I turn down more work than I take. I refuse to compromise the situation where the inexperienced neophite is in a position to end up screwing me out of my very hard earned money because they're too ignorant to be educated.

    Maybe it's just old age, but I'd rather do a live to 2 track for $500 for a clent with real expectations than $5000 worth of BS from idiots that ends up $5.00/Hr because I have to spend 10 times more hours on my own time fixing and compromising and listening to whing and griping and crap, just to end up being screwed out of half the money in the end because they didn't get a grammy worthy recording because the idiots just had to record in a gym size echo chamber and it can't get dry enough to sound like it was recorded at a $5 million dollar facility with a $1 million dollar budget.

    I can ramble on about the experiences, both good and bad, but I think maybe the focus should really turn to the client interview process. I find that for many, including myself, this IS the big part of being/becomming the professional we all aspire to become.

    When someone calls me for a potential job, I qualify the client. I'm not being egotistical or snobbish - well yes I am... but in a tilted way... see above reference to $5.00/Hr.

    You have to ask questions. This is a typical phone inquiry...

    1. A brief description of the session
    2. Logistics: Date, Time, Location
    3. A more detailed description of the session
    4. Contact information
    5. Specific questions regarding 1 and 3 above
    6. Budget
    7. More specific questions on 5

    If 6 divided by the list generated from 1, 3, 5 and 7 fits a value of reasoning that's fair, I'll go ahead and schedule a face to face, site survey and give them my payment terms.

    When the budget is unrealistic, I tell them so. I explain why. If they want to rethink or ask for options, I do that right then.

    If they refuse to compromise, I just tell them that the calendar is already taken for that date and go on.

    If people are being stupid, you HAVE to tell them so... whether you choose to be polite or not is up to you.

    Regardless of intentions, the thing to keep you from going futher insane in this business, is to do your best to pick decent clients. So, pick clients with reasonable expectations that you can meet or exceed, and still live with yourself and the end product.

  12. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    From the mastering end....

    Clients have the right to expect you to be a professional and to provide professional level work and to have the equipment necessary to do your job. At the same time they have to expect to pay for that expertise and the equipment you own. They are not going to get a professional job for a minimum wage pay scale.

    We get people all the time that are looking for the ultimate quality mastering services but they want to pay $5.00 per song for that quality.

    To use the car analogy. Yes both a Ford and a BMW will get you from point A to point B but the reason the BMW costs 2 to 3 times as much as the Ford is because it can provide the service (of getting you from point A to point B) in comfort and with luxury and can, in most case, provide you with more safety and do it for more years with less problems and without breaking down at the most inopportune times.

    It is not the equipment or the lack there of it is the skill of the engineer but even the best engineer needs certain pieces of equipment to be able to do their job. It is hard to record a singer without a microphone. But the quality of that microphone can vary greatly from a Shure SM58 to a Neumann U-67. What you are paying for is the quality of that equipment and the skill and experience of the engineer. Yes I can make a good recording using cheap microphones but it will sound so much better if I am allowed to use microphones that are better and plugged into equipment that sounds better. Unfortunately much of this is subjective and if you are trying to compare what engineer A and engineer B are doing and don't have the wherewithal to understand the differences then you will chose who you think will do what you want for the cheapest rate. In the long run the cheapest rate is not always the cheapest way to go.

    Too many people are liking the recording and mastering of their music to buying something from Wal-Mart. If product A cost $X.XX at the department store and that EXACT same product costs $.XX at Wal-Mart then you are saving yourself money. If on the other hand you are going to someone with equipment and no experience and trying to say that you are getting the same thing as going to someone who has the equipment and the experience then you are only fooling yourself.

    I am sure that RemyRAD with all of her years of experience can sit down and do a top flight recording in a normal amount of time. She has the chops and the equipment to get the job done and done well. On the other hand a newbie just starting out may have the equipment but he lacks the time in the chair to know what he or she is doing with that equipment so he or she may take much longer and wind up with something that is not as good as what RemyRAD can do. So maybe RemyRAD charges more per hour but if you look at what she can accomplish in a given amount of time vs. the newbie you may actually be able to save money by going to her EVEN though on paper she looks like she is charging more.

    Sorry to be so verbose but the music industry is being overwhelmed by people who may have access to good equipment but are not ready to make good use of that equipment and may never be able to use it to its fullest potential. Anyone with enough money can go to Sweetwater, GC or Sam Ash and buy a Neumann microphone but not anyone can have the experience to use it properly.

  13. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    It looks to me that everybody is basically echoing the same thing. What this all really boils down to is IT'S NOT WHAT YOU HAVE BUT WHAT YOU DO WITH IT. The beautiful trick about making professional sounding recordings is..... LESS IS MORE. Of course, nothing can replace beautiful acoustics but within the realm of most modern and contemporary popular music recordings, acoustics are not as big a factor as they are for a chamber orchestra or full-sized orchestra. One of the many reasons why close miking in rock and roll works well is that it essentially takes out the acoustic equation. Drum set in a crappy room? Take the overheads and compress the crap out of them! Now the bad acoustics have turned into a gigantic sounding room with a big fat Drum set and a lovely effect. Everything is now nicely homogenized. You may however want to opt for the low-fat version?

    Always fat
    Ms. Remy Ann (burp) David
  14. Thanks for your responses, everyone. Even the verbose ones. :wink:

    We'll see how the session goes next week, I'll report back with my impressions of my own quality of work versus what I got out of them, and what they thought of me.
  15. JWL

    JWL Active Member

    I'm gonna nitpick here, Remy. If you compress the crap out of overheads, then what you are doing is bringing the lower level sounds (ie, room reflections) UP in the mix. So in a sense, heavy compression increases the amount of room influence and as such, the better sounding the room the better sounding the compressed-the-crap-out-of overheads.

    But, you are quite right that heavy squashage even in crappy rooms often improves things.
  16. What kind of settings would you use on a compressor to call it "squashing the crap" out of?
  17. JWL

    JWL Active Member

    A low threshold, a high ratio, a healthy makeup gain, and tweak the attack and release until it breathes. Read a good compression primer for more info.
  18. That's what I figured, but "squashing the crap" sounds like more of a subjective description than a text-book definition.
  19. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    Uhhhh, not from the textbook I read... Hope over to the bookstore at Hard Knocks High.

    The course title is OJT Audio Tech - A Survey in Apprenticeship. It's a level 200 course in the Reality Dept.

    Course instructors are varied, surly attituded old farts... such as myself.

    Chapter 4, Section 3, Questions at the end of the section, page 9: "If you re in doubt, squash the crap out of em'."

    From the same set of questions on page 10: "If it sounds better after squashing the crap out of the overheads, but it's still not to your liking, you should:
    a) Give up.
    b) Cry like a 3 year old.
    c) Both a) and c)
    d) Drop the threshold a bit more and squash the living crap out of em'!
    e) Drive to your GrandMa's house for milk and cookies "

    Whadaya mean it ain't a text book technical term! :cool:

  20. Haha, I certainly wasn't expecting that.


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