Newbie in the business needs advice

I am hired to record and mix a band’s EP. The band members are generally nice but have a terrible workflow and no recording experience. They are making irrational requests such as:

  • Recording a new drum track once the mixing is already in progress because they have hired a better drummer
  • Guitar player records himself at home with tons of effects imprinted (including panning) and sends it to me for mixing, requesting that the song sounds raw and punk-ish

Obviously the right thing to do would be to request that they follow a more logical production approach and dump them if they refuse, but here’s where it gets tricky: some of them are friends and one of them is a partner (owns the drum kit and drum recording room). To make matters worse the lead guitar player is stubborn and thin-skinned and won’t listen to my request for raw DI takes.

Nevertheless I want to see the project through to the end, even though I am spending insane amounts of time for a very low fee. I know that I’m putting myself in an impossible situation and that people might think it’s my fault the result isn’t great but I’m ok with the risk and willing to finish while avoiding conflicts.

Any input from seasoned professionals would be appreciated. :wink:

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Sit them all down and explain to them why they are not going to get a good end product if they carry on operating the way they are currently.

Make it clear that the big boys do not work in this way and any producer worth his salt would have walked by now. Ask them what is their priority: the best possible end product or to just dick around in a studio. If it’s the former then they have to accept it’s your way or the highway - because you know significantly more than they do - if it’s the latter, you might want to rethink your decision to continue. You will not get a good result, and YOU will be blamed for that, which is not only unfair, but could seriously damage your reputation and thus your chances of any future work.

My one rule in the studio: never, ever let any recording leave the studio that is crap. Even if that means canceling the session and giving people their money back. Never allow your name to be associated with shite.

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I fully agree with this.

This isn’t unreasonable if the song is recorded to a click or the drummer can follow the previous recordings.

Basically tell them that it ‘exceeds the scope of what I have committed to in our original conversations’. Even if you have to move the goalpost half way though to make it happen. Then either tack on additional fees (which will deter them from making stupid changes that waste your time) or as AJ said, hand them the tracks to ‘take to another facility to finish’. And if the fee was really that marginal, offer them a full refund and never deal with them again.

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Are you charging by the hour or by the project? If by the project, then you need to set clear lines in the sand of how much you are willing to do, otherwise they will add, change take back and be generally uncommitted for years if you let them.

If you are charging by the hour, then say “If you do it this way, it will take less time and cost less money. I can use those guitars you tracked, but it will take me longer and will therefor cost you more.”

The trick is to learn how to not be a pushover because people WILL take advantage if you are.

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Most of it has already been covered…

It is not unreasonable to request new drum tracks if they’ve fired the old drummer and new one needs to play on the record. I’ve had sessions where we had to scrap the whole material tracked to accommodate new drummer. Luckily for me, it was an hourly session so I just made more money. It definitely created some tension between me and the studio owner at the time as he was hoping to milk the band for the final mix and I happened to mix as we went along as we’ve already established our ballpark sounds for the session :slight_smile:

If you accepted the project with stipulation that the songs be done with previous drummer, then renegotiate the fees. For guitarist not knowing what tracks to send you, sit him down with something that he recorded and explain why it is shite, then proceed and track one with him with a DI and show him what you can do. Sometimes a guitarist will send you all fx printed when they don’t want you to change their sounds. He might be right…or not.
On my band’s latest EP I did just that as the mixing engineer wasn’t getting the guitar sounds quite right, so I sent him the guitar tracks pre-mixed. Granted, we had several mics on each instrument and he wasn’t in on the original session so I probably knew what to do with it better.

Don’t be afraid to renegotiate if things are taking a different angle than what you agreed on.

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Yeah, its hard enough to get started without ever getting any decent projects to do. Kind of a chicken and egg situation.

It sounds like its a tricky political situation: often is, but you can just use another name or handle if you dont like the material. The important thing is that you can buy better gear with their money.

Generally, if the band are paying actual money and then give me a ‘sound’ to record, I will run with it and try to extract what I need out of it. Its their vision after all, and its good training for you. If there is too much fx level on guitars, maybe ask for the fx to be panned to one side only so you can compress the dry guitar and add it back in without compressing the fx.

Always remember, once they’ve handed over their money, they 100% own the recorded material (mixes, stems or whatever you did to it) - its not yours anymore.

If you get to mix it, you may want to give them the stems, I would print the FX onto them, then they can do what they want with it. It will save you from the constant remix requests from each member of the band and the project wil be officially finished (from your point of view).

The most important thing is to get a BALANCE out of it all. Get things panned as far as you can and get EVERYTHING to support that vocal.

The musicians will try to get you to do stuff that upsets that balance, but thats ok - they can deal with it themselves later - i.e remix it themselves. Try not to let them lead you too far astray in YOUR mix :wink:

You will have to record a whole range of random stuff before you really ‘get it down’ anyway. Just make sure you make sensible decisions along the way.

Find a way to trust your monitors/headphone combination and learn how to mic instruments without introducing too much proximity effect. Dont worry about spillage (on real drums etc), just EQ it so the spillage sounds good, or ask on here for help.

If they want to re-record the drums, let them. Its probably quicker than trying to fix garbage.

If you always worry about what other people might think, you will get nothing done. :slight_smile:


The other thing to keep in mind - for example a lot of people think this production is garbage, but it became a cult record:

So you never know…out your name on as much as you can.

This one too, I believe. Fun song. :grin:

It’s a flat rate, and a cheap one: $200/song including drums and vocals recording + mixing. I figured it would be ok as I was just starting and the guy is a friend too (this band was my second customer). I realize now how overlooking to set boundaries right from the start is a mistake if you don’t work by the hour. But it’s ok, it was a big lesson for me, at least I won’t make the same mistake again.

Anyway thanks for your input everyone. Drums re-recording is set tomorrow, then there is only one last song to do so hopefully I’ll be done with this band soon, at least in these conditions.

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$200 sounds ok. Just make sure you get a good overhead pair (your best two condensers/ribbons on the kit), this is your best chance of saving your drum recording in the case that you feel the need to add samples.

I like my overheads to be exactly (within 2" or so is ok) the SAME distance apart from the centerpoint of the snare batter head, and as close as possible to the drumheads themselves… so one maybe 2ft directly above the snare / the other maybe 9" from the floor tom.

It looks really skewed, but its amazingly effective if you like your stereo WIDE.

When you hard pan them you get an amazing left right spread, floor tom is very hard panned, yet full and bassy, but most importantly the snare is ALWAYS exactly in the middle.

Dont worry if the cymbals are close to the mics, they (the cymbals) are effectively fig. 8 anyway (radiate mostly up and down, not sideways) so you can still keep the mics close to the cymbals but in the ‘null’.

Anyway, have fun with it, thats my drums 101 for anybody that needs it.

Yeah, forgot to mention those are Singapore dollars so it’s USD150.

Anyway, I have a hard time figuring out your OH placement. One right above the snare, only 2 ft above? Sounds like it would be right in front of the drummer’s nose… and the other one 9" away from the floor tom? So that’s actually close to the Glyn Johns method, right?

yes, probably very similar, I cant remember what he did exactly… or was it recorderman that was measuring the mics from the kick beater? I dunno, I use the snare top as the measuring point, and measure with a spare mic cable.

maybe its nearer 30" or even 36" :slight_smile: but aim for just above his eyeline - the point is that you get the (over snare) overhead mic just out of stick range, and almost level with the cymbals to get a good balance of drums/ less cymbals in them.

The other one is pointing at the same spot, and from the same distance away, just watch the cymbal ‘wash’ from the ride (or other) cymbals (dont get too close to the edge of them).

I never get to hear the drums in monitors for mic placement as I now only tend to record in other people rooms/ houses or rehearsal / live stages.

So this is the most reliable way I have found of keeping my drums in phase, in those cases.

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On the other hand, a spaced pair is very common, and since all spaced pairs must have some sort of phasing issue, maybe it’s not sch an important issue - or maybe the phasing is an important factor. I’ve tried many options but I always go back to the spaced pair.


It’s definitely ok. The best way to learn is to try stuff and figure out what you would do differently next time around. I also think it’s important that you see the job through and do your best work. You can still set boundaries and let them know when they are crossing it.

There’s a hard balance between being flexible and accommodating and being a pushover who is letting the band take over, and it’s up to you to decide what you are willing to tolerate.

Well for drum re-recording you could’ve asked for a 1/4 of the project price in this case, I would have.

Lets hope the new drums turn out good then :thinking:

mmm, spaced pairs are always in-betweeners for me, a compromise between pan and phase…

I would rather put the spaced pair out front facing in than above, in fact my room mics are often a bit like that.

Obviously, it helps if the room is a decent size.

There was that thread on dealing with clients from a pro (on the second part of the video), you may get some advices :confused:

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Good luck, it will be over soon. Since they are friends it seems like they would be more open to suggestion , such as referring them to just about every recording site to see what techniques professionals use.
If they don’t get it, you end up being the barber that gives haircuts you either like or get used to.

Wow, it’s fortunate I trust your judgement because have I stumbled on this video out of luck, I would surely stop watching after a couple of minutes. The guy sounds like he’s on speed or something. But once you get used to it there’s actually some awesome stuff in the last part indeed.

Yep :+1:
It’s a bit too rigid but I like how and why he lets doors open or not, how to think about schedule, what and how to say think to clients…
At the end, how to make choices faster, which is something you expect from a “pro” guy (like you’re about to be) (<-- is that correct semantically???)

To come back to the main topic, I would throw the project to someone else so that it doesn’t hurt your partnership. That way, you don’t have to stay good friends and tell him he’s an a****le client :slight_smile: