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The Biz.

Lots and lots of great info on gear and techniques, but what about the business end of running a studio? In particular, I'm interested in booking and billing. How do you include setup, mixdown, mastering, etc in your bookings? Say, for example, a client books 20 hours, do you record 20 hours or do you block off, say, 5 of them for the above? How is this determined?

Lot's of question, I know, but this is an aspect that I never really came to a resolve on. Some clients I charge one way, some another way...usually dependant on thier situation.


RemyRAD Fri, 11/03/2006 - 16:58
Flat out, many studios charge by the hour.

For studios that have block time packages, frequently they will include an hour of setup and an hour of strike time included for an eight our block which basically comes out to a 10 hour session.

I charge by the day for my remote truck, plus mileage and accommodations. My days are generally from eight to 16 hours.

You have to specify who will bring the beer?
Ms. Remy Ann David

natural Fri, 11/03/2006 - 18:05
Yep, make it easy on yourself. Charge by the hr.
And make sure they understand when that time begins.
Somthing that we started doing a few years back is instead of asking the client what time they want to come in, we now ask, what time do they want us to show up and 'clock in' for their session.
Sometimes, the client just figures you're hanging out at the studio all day long like it's a barber shop, and they can show up whenever they want and pay from the time THEY show up.
We tell them that we charge by the hour. During that time they can record, mix, edit, watch TV, master, work on their car, etc. It doesn't matter.

Also, you should charge everyone the same. Sure, give discounts to those that block large number of hours, but if you start giving preferential treatment, it's going to come back to bite you later. People will find out and someone is going to feel like they got ripped off.
When in doubt use the K.I.S.S. method

Pro Audio Guest Fri, 11/03/2006 - 20:51
So, on average, what do you figure for editing and mixdown? I could spend hours upon hours trying to perfect tracks just so I know that the mix is as polished as possible. The hard part, for me, is saying "well, I know I charged you 2 hours for mixing, but I spent 5 hours instead. Hope you like it, now you owe me another $120". I usually just bite the extra time. Wouldn't it be up to me, as a business owner to absorb those extra hours since it wasn't part of the original deal, or is this something that is freqently practiced?

sheet Sat, 11/04/2006 - 01:31
The big boys (that command respect and have business lining up at the door to mix) are charging by the song, or by the record. There is no by the hour to mix. This way, it is on them. If they can knock out three songs a day, or whatever, then they make more money. Most of them prescreen the work, to see if they want to do it, determine if it is worth messing with. They consider documentation, if the tracks in PT are consolidated, or if there are 10 layers of guitar and the parts have not been assembled, etc. All of that editing should be done by the time it hits the mix bog boy land anyway.

If you are an in demand guy, like Clearmountain, Massenberg, Lord Alge, etc, etc, you can bill around $3k per song. Albums are negotiable, but lets just call it $40k for a Grammy nomination.

You will not find many bands with real representation and real money, that will pay you to edit. Besides, if you have your stuff together, editing should be done as you go. There shouldn't be a dedicated day for it. Now if the band just absolutely sucks, and you are going to assemble them, then I would negotiate that. Let them see how much money it would cost for them to play it vs. you fixing it.

People like to nickle and dime on package rates, so forget the by the hour thing for editing. This is why people LEARN how to use the stuff BEFORE they open for business. Management plays hardball. About the only people that a serious studio will actually get all of the their hourly rates for is a corporate client in my experience.

You better have contracts stateing what is and is not included in your rate. What classifies as work and what does not. You better have a good studio clock with countdown, so that the managers can watch their money tick away. People will dispute bills, deducting every little thing that was not their fault for holding the session up.

natural Sat, 11/04/2006 - 07:12
Perhaps we have two different topics here.
The poster is asking about-"the business end of running a studio? In particular, I'm interested in booking and billing".)
Most studio's charge by the hour (or day or week)
Your average engineer on the street (also what I think the original post was referring to) also charges by the hour (or day, or week).

Producers on the other hand usually charge by the project.

If you're doing a mix/editing session for the client. Then it's the client that makes the decisions. You might think that the vocals are out of tune and need fixing, but if the client thinks it's fine and would rather spend the next 2 hours of their studio time panning keyboards back and forth, then it's their call. When their 2 hour session is up and the project's not done, then they will need to reserve more time. You can only give suggestions and guidence. Some will take your advice, some have their own agenda/ego to consider.

Never bill for things that are not done yet.
You can give an estimate, but again, it's up to the client how much time/money they want to invest in the product.

Whether they pay or if it's free, clients are never happy with mixes that they are not present for and can not make suggestions and comments about.

JoeH Sat, 11/04/2006 - 09:29
All good points, I think it's really about finding a balance. Yes, there will be times when you overdo a mix or an edit (on your own time) because it's something you've taken a personal interest in, or something you know in your heart needs more work. But you have to be careful there; don't run the risk of becoming a doormat, doing too much for free. (Perhaps let them hear a little bit of the finished or extra-polished work and see if they want you to continue down that path - for an extra couple of hours, of course...)

It's a fine line between doing too much and either overcharging or being a dumb schmuck) and not doing enough and risk being perceived further down the road as a "bad" engineer who missed something that should have been addressed in the early stages of the mix.

These are all part of the wonderful game we play called: "Self employed Sound engineer/Studio Owner." Eventually, as you get enough projects under your belt, it will take care of itself. When I have time, I always go the extra mile or two, a little polish here, a little EQ or fade there, and I usually let the client know about it, often just as a "Value added" feature for my services. It usually pays big dividends later on down the road, sometimes for the project du jour, sometimes years later as they keep coming back for my services.

With such powerful DAWs and software today, it's not as big a deal as it USED to be; a new mix nowadays is frequently not much more than an onscreen tweak or there, "Save As" a new file name, and a bounce/render to a new wave file. We all know that this can often be not much more than 4-5 minutes of processing time, a couple of more meg space on the HD, and voila; the client has another option to choose from. Remember too, these extra goodies and choices can also work FOR you - esp at mastering time. Doing a little extra for the client on the front end (for "Free) may reap benefits on the other end, when the client is sitting next to you AT the console, paying by the hour, trying to decide on the three or four "new" mixes you've made for him/her.

If you ARE going to do extra work, be smart about it; make sure this will work FOR you in the long run. And while you don't want to be a PITA cheerleader; for gosh's sakes, let the client know what you're doing on their behalf.

Two recent stories come to mind: We recorded a youth choir (back in the spring) who's normally very good and talented. This year's concert, to be kind, was less than stellar; a very tired-sounding choir and slopppy accompaniment, all done live, no retakes or rehearsals. Not much I could do to polish this turd; I had mixed it and tweaked it well beyond what I normally do for the client anyway. No matter what I did, I knew we had a turkey on our hands. What to do here? Keep playing with it and trying to save it with endless tweaks and adjustments? Fortunately, the client let me know long before I worked it to death: "Just wrap it up as good as you can for the budget we agreed upon. I'm not happy with the performance at all, but I owe the choir their CD copies. Let's put this behind us; get me the invoice and the copies as soon as you can."

Second tale of woe: I recently recorded a chamber orchestra with soloists in a church downtown -one that we don't normally record in. I used my best gear (as always) with the same tried and true techniques I"ve been using for all my other clients. ($15-20K worth of gear, $4k worth of software, 20 yrs of experience., and so on.) I put in the usual amount of time polishing the mix of the performance and creating the master, made copies for the soloists, created a gorgeous CD package for the client's archives, etc. Turns out the musicians botched one piece so badly the client can't use the material for a grant submission, (which was the real goal of the recording, he says) oh, and he also hates the acoustic of the hall as well. He's now talking about NOT paying for the thing at all!

Moral of either tale is this: Don't overdo ANYTHING until you know where you stand with the client. Some WILL go for the extras, some will drive you nuts over every little thing. Better to know you target before going nuts over something, no matter how tempting.

stickers Sat, 11/04/2006 - 09:32
I charge by the hour. Cash in hand at end of session for the time. YOu dont want to let clients hold an out standing balances . Bands break up or could just stop coming to you. This way if they pay after each session at least you got paid for your time and if they dont like your services burn them a dvd of what you did if they want to use it another studio.

And I never give a guessto a client at how long anything should take in regards to any aspect of the recording process. There are too many variables and you don't want to be put in pigeon hold if you went over the time you predicted it would take.

Davedog Sat, 11/04/2006 - 09:45
Back in the day when I had a 'biz', each potential client would come in and do an 'interview'...mostly for my benefit; to determine whether they were truly wankers with pipe dreams or someone who had their chops up to par. They would get the studio 'tour' and get to hear some quick clips of material related to their own unique genre of noise. THEN I would hand them the studio rider....this would include suggestions for their equipment (new strings, EXTRA strings, cords that worked, speakers unblown, drums tuned to a point, extraneous noises removed from the drumset , well-rehearsed songs, etc etc.) Included in this would be two hours of setup time if this was a musical album project and verbage dealing with the production of such project. They could self produce, but if they came in unprepared then the hourly rate would become a block rate and not to their advantage! It would also be paid upfront if this were the case and no further work would ensue until this obligation was met. Tough, but completely fair. Its a complete waste of their money and my time if this preparation did not occur. When it was taken seriously we could knock out a bunch of songs in a day without too much problems....Of course there is always the 'burnout' when things reach that important point of diminishing returns...

Its surprising just how many idiot wankers there were. How many projects never got off the ground due to the dedication factor on the part of the musicians being at a low low ebb. On the other hand, there were the guys who really took this to heart and learned throughout the process of how to conduct business making recordings. These folks, I'm happy to say, made huge impressions on much larger studios down the road as they outgrew this particular room. In every case, the studio owners of the bigger rooms remarked admirably at the professionalism displayed and I'm thankful that I was able to teach well enough to establish personal goals in these guys.

Now I do projects I want to. I do everything on spec. Thank God I'm not trying to sell this stuff!

Thomas W. Bethel Mon, 11/06/2006 - 05:15
I guess for us it depends on the gig. We have an hourly charge and a daily charge for on location recording. We also have it in our contract that the daily rate (which is a couple of bucks cheaper overall) is for so many hours and that after that time period our overtime rates are charged. We also have special rates for Non Profit or Not for Profit groups. All our mastering is charged per hour.

We do not request deposits but may have to in the future since we have some clients that have trouble paying us when the job is done.

We do mostly what JoeH is doing in terms of gear, bringing the really good gear to almost every job whether it is a elementary school choir concert or the Cleveland Opera.

Today things are very competitive in the fields of on location recording and mastering and there are some real shysters out there that promise a lot and deliver very little. We have a company in this area that shows up for a concert with a pair of Shure SM-57's, a Shure mixer and a DAT recorder and charge big bucks for their services. If you read their promotional material you would swear that they are bringing an SSL console, Neumann microphones and that everything they do is 'state of the art". In one of their brochures it states that their equipment is flat from 10 Hz to 100000 Hz and that they have zero noise and distortion in their equipment (let me tell you that the Shure Mixer they are using is very very noisy) The other company is not quite as bad and they do have some good equipment but all their post processing is done on a Mackie 24/8 board. They don't charge at all for the recording but the group must agree to buy 75 copies of the CD at $12 to $15 dollars a pop which is very good money for them.

There are also a number of "hobby" engineers who have a limited amount of equipment and who do recordings for their friends and either don't charge for their services or charge very little. We have lost a couple of contracts to these fellows but in one case they were so bad that the choir hired us to do the real recording while their NO CHARGE engineer did his thing. (His miking technique left much to be desired and he was always in our way but the group was happy and so was he so I guess it was a win win situation)

I don't know about other parts of the country but here lots of not for profit groups think that people should donate their time and equipment and when you show them a fee schedule they say " well not for us" or "why would you charge us for recording?" They seem to think that you are doing this for fun or as a hobby. We had one client that we had done for over 20 years. They were always more than pleased with our work but became increasingly upset at our "fee" ( which was more than reasonable) and thought they could do better with someone who under bid us by $25.00. He was not at all interested in doing the recording but what he was trying to sell them was a complete "package" including the recording, the CD duplication, the graphics and even designing their website.( he was charging higher than normal rates for everything EXCEPT the recording) He lasted about one year, went our of business and we are again doing our client's recording.

Best of luck and let us know how things are going....