question for experianced studio owner/engineer


Mr. Sinister

I have been recording profesionally for a couple years now. I made a big investment into converting my 2 1/2 car garage into a really nice studio. I have been fairly busy as of late with local bands (inluding my own)and have had great results with the exception of the last 2 bands.

The first band, a metal band, came in with an old set of Tama drums. They were the old style that are made outta some kind of fiber material. The sound very flat, no resonance at all and he has a massive kit with about 12 cymbols. After recording the set solo, I didnt feel they sounded that bad, but once everything else was recorded they sounded like wet box's. The kick drums were horrible no matter what i did with EQ. there just was no "sweet spot" to pull up. So I explained that the drum sounds were crapy because of the kit. They did not belive me. I finally said screw it and ran the kicks into my yamaha module and took his right out of the mix. The problem then came with the overheads. I had to pull them down a bit because of the bleed through from the kicks. They didn't like not hearing massive cymbols so I brought them back out and it soundeed even worse with my "replaced" kick sound. They also had a piece of $*^t BC Rich bass and Crate Blue Voodoo guitar amps. I tried to get the bass player to use my custom bass and he wouldn't, I tried to get the guitar player to use my Marshall as well and he wouldn't.

Now I have a recording that sounds like $*^t even though I spent many many hours without charging them, to try and fix it up a little. Now they are bad mouthing me at the local band warehouse practice space.....

Band #2 A musician who play's in the style of Dylan and Arlo Guthrie. I hired one of the better session drummers in town for this project.(as a personal favor to me the guy did the job for $125.00 for 5 songs and did 2 rehearsals!) After I had completed the final mix on the first song, I gave him a copy to take home and listen to. He came back the next day and said it sounded "over produced" and gave me a Ani DeFranco and a Bob Dylan CD to use as a referance mix. Again this guy has a $200.00 fender acustic that actually sounded better direct than mic'd. I listened to the Dylan CD a couple of times and didn't hear much of a differance, infact my vocal recording seemed to have a better presance to it. But I bassically put the same reverb on his voice and guitar didn't overly c0mpress the snare and had a nice overall sound on the drums. It was VERY close to the Dylan CD. So the guy comes back after and he is listening to this in total disbelief. He hated it! He then tells me he wants it to sound like it was done on a old 4 track!(I use a Pro Tools TDM set up) So I pull all my inserts and he tells me thats more what he wants. (I now have about 20 hours on the mix) I give him a master copy and he say's he likes it. The next night, he shows up at a gig I had with my band with a list of things he want's me to change!! I have been so generous to this guy as far as billing him but I just don't want to do anymore because I am taking a huge bath?

So what would you do in these situations. Advise would be appreciated. I don't want to stop offering people a really low price, but where do I draw the line? :confused:

Big Toe

I've been recording for about 7 years on a home set-up. I wouldn't call me seasoned at this point - maybe lightly salted. Anyway, i have been thru the same things and many other strange interpersonal incidents in recording. What has worked for me is just learning to say "no" when i don't like what I am hearing and/or what I am going thru to get to the finish line.

I have established a level of quality and style that is dependent on my ears alone. I'm not a sound nazi - but in this era of home recording and four tracks i think it can get outta hand quick if you don't step up and play dad.

While I'm far from saying that i like what i hear coming out of my monitors all the time, if at all, if i don't dig something I tell the artist involved and tell them why. If it's bad enough, I bail and refer them elsewhere to a place where i feel their needs are better served - be it a smaller studio that will "do anything" or a bigger studio that can get them the sound they want that i couldn't for whatever reason: space, gear, my suckage...

At first, I was scared shitless to open my mouth for fear of losing jobs... but most of the folks appreciate it. Actually, many give me a call back when they want something that I can offer.

I have manageable debt and, more importantly, a decent day job so I have the luxury to do this. Recording is not my main source of income at all so that definitely affects my decisions. However, at one of the more professional full time studios in my town - the guy throws people out on a semi-regular basis due to lack of preparation, bad instruments or what have you. From what I understand, he's booked months in advance and very well-respected with artists to boot!


Jan 14, 2001
Seattle WA, USA
Hey, do you need some help? I could come and engineer for you. And I'm pretty good at this kind of diplomacy. :D

Seriously, welcome to the world of the project studio. It's very simple: The lower the price you charge, the worse musicians you get. These are the people who expect miracles from you in terms of turd polishing. And forgive me, but they don't recognize their own turds.

It took me years to understand this. I thought bad sound was always due to bad engineering, and blamed myself when I couldn't pull a rabbit out of the hat.

Now I have a very simple philosophy. I respect the musicians, I respect their instruments, and I respect the songs we're recording. Every day in the studio, I try to get the best out of each musician, each instrument, and each song. They go home happy, I go home happy. Because I recognize that sometimes the best I can do still doesn't sound very good, and it's not my fault.

So, to finally answer your questions:

Spend time talking to your clients. Invite them for coffee before they come to book the session. Make sure you understand their artistic goals from the top, so you don't end up 20 hours in when the guy says he "wants it to sound like a four-track."

Be clear up front about what the project is going to cost. There is a difference between being generous and being taken advantage of. Do not spend "many many hours without charging them." Maybe ONE hour of "spec" time. If they like what you're doing, they'll pay for more. If not, they'll go away. You don't need them.

Never do a final mix or a mastering project without the client in the room to approve it. True, you could probably do a better job working by yourself, but if it's not what they want, you'll be doing it over. Again, do not let youself be taken advantage of. If you're happy to do it over, and they're happy to pay for it, then, fine. But when you reach a point of diminishing returns, as you have with "ArloBob," just tell him you can't do any more for him, pack up his files, and send him on his way.

How to get out of this whirlpool? Look around. How is your market? Is your studio up to par? Are your engineering chops sharp?
Boost your rates. Take the jobs you want. You will get better musicians. You will be happier. You can still give some kids a deal once in awhile, just to show them how much fun the studio can be. They'll remember you when it's time for their first "real" project.


Big Toe

"It's very simple: The lower the price you charge, the worse musicians you get"

definitely food for thought. i've never found money to be an indicator of talent though. I've also had more than one small-time project swiped by a pro guy who wants to "help the band out" in a 24 track studio for nuthing. Definitely hard to compete out there...

But yeah good points! I always check the band out live or at their practice space and ask my friends around town what their "reputation" is...



I have to agree with the lower the price the less prepared(for a better word) the band is.
I have raised mine although I still get the new bands in. More expiranced bands are normally used to a studio they started with, or if signed go to the biggest.

This studio has been opened nearly 4 years, I was opened before as a demo studio.
I now have brought for the studio
Pearl BLX 8 peice birch kit.
3 snares, 8"maple, 5 brass, 3 piccolo
Bass Pod
Line6 Flextone, other valve practise amps.
I have a Ibanez Bass
2 G&L electrics (which are mine)
a Acoustic.

I still have to fight to get them not to use there valvestate and pearl forum kit.

I really think that they are just used to there shitty sound. You play it back through all the speakers and they say yep that my sound. The other guys in the band might back you up and say it is $*^t, although they will stand there and say no it is not. That is how I sound and at reheasal when everything is loud and I have plugs in it sounds great.

Then when you finish the mix, still saying this and this is wrong, they bring the lastest Creed, Pearl Jam, Limp bizkit etc and say hey man mine does not sound like this. All you can say is doh.

Getting a whole band to like the same mix is hard too. So just charge per hour and try to give them what they want, although make it sound good. I know these can be exact oposites of each other.

Big Toe

ahhh... i do agree with less prepared. i see where you guys are coming from now.

on the projects that that have no label backing - 90% of the time with me - that i'm really fond of i give my time generously cuz i love doing it and maybe a label will pick it up in which case i get offered a cut of their pennies or half-pennies.

sometimes in these situations there is no motivation on a day to day basis for the band to be prepared and sometimes i think it's cuz there is no money going out the door! sometimes - no clock = no pressure = no rock and roll.

hmmmm...most times though - the lack of clock yields some excellent takes cuz you can wait for the one that makes everyone go "THAT's the one yeah!" And i can dick around with sounds without everyone thinking i'm juicing the clock.

Maybe a higher project rate would help ya'! (and me!) Then if they don't use as much time and you think it would help bring 'em back you could give em a "discount."


To clarify my babble above.
A lot of these guys only hear themselves by themselves. Use a guitarist for an example.

The Guitarist will practise in a room with his amp and will only hear what he/she is playing and not understand where the sound or rythmn fits with the song.

When you play back the song he will again want to solo his instrumnet and hear it as it is. He is used to this sound.

When you try to play back the whole band together he will just listen in solo mode even though the rest of the band is there.

I had to go through this with a band recently, he keep saying add more bass to the guitar sound so it sounded like x band.
I said that is what the bass player does. I had to split up the song by his beloved band, into different eq bands to show him that it was mainly bass down there pushing the song by playing with the guitar.

I have educated a few bands that come in the one at the moment turned there demo into a cd. I like to do pre production first.
We are just under 100 hours and have just started mixing. They are paying per hour and were orginally going to a large studio.

They are so happy they didn't now, me well I get sick of the same songs over and over.
We cut over a minute out of one last night, as it was too long.

Big Toe

"When you try to play back the whole band together he will just listen in solo mode even though the rest of the band is there."

Hee hee! Offthe track a bit but:

I read a book by Glenn Gould's producer @ CBS where he describes how Gould wanted to mix his tracks on a piece w/ piano and orchestra. Gould kept instructing the engineer to turn down the orchestra mics. He said it sounded perfect when the orchestra mics were off. Now at Amazon, the critics say the author is just jealous and making up stories...hmmm....


I can't offer recording advice but I can offer advice as a fellow member of the service industries. I'm an attorney, and I also deal with people's expectations. Unfortunately, I can't change the facts people walk in the door with, and Matlock wasn't reality. Like people who play bad instruments, people who have done bad things can only expect certain results.

Probably your best bet is to have a lot of information spelled out on the front end; that way, no one can argue that you created expectations in any statements you made. I'm talking about brochures and contracts which define your commitment to
the client, and give them some ideas on how the variables (instruments, amplifiers, etc) can change the finished sound of a product. I would have them fill out a questionaire as to what they want to do and how they want it to sound, naming a band or record as a point of comparison. That way, you can listen ahead of time and know whether you can replicate the sound they are looking for.

You should give them estimates on the amount of time to record, mix and master, and have a provision in place that takes care of "extras" (re-mixes, or requests to make the artists sound like somebody that they are not). They should sign or initial forms whenever they go beyond budget for extra items.

I would also contemplate some sort of a demo package to keep from getting into a situation where you have a band with a lot of time spent but unmet expectations in the final product. Most people prefer a set price as opposed to an open-ended, time-and-materials project, but set prices for large projects will usually include a lot of headroom built in to protect the contractor (or studio in this case). You might want to offer a deal where the band can have two or three songs done (record, mix and master) for a set price, with any additonal songs done on a time and material basis. With this arrangement, they will know whether you are compatible with their expectations without a major financial commitment. If they are happy, then you probably will have a healty chunk of work in front of you from people who now trust you. If they are not happy, then they will at least feel that they have been treated fairly.

Finally, learn to say no. The hardest thing about any service industry is learning to say no, when you are either too busy or don't have the particular skill that the client needs. Saying no raises the fear that you will never get any work again. It is hard to do, but you will be happier in the long run. Most of our clients come from referals, and it is unlikely that you will get referals from people who are disappointed because you couldn't meet expectations.

Good luck.