Re: Stan - Mix Engineer Pricing

Re: Stan - Mix Engineer Pricing
0

#1

Stan @Stan_Halen asked me about the prices I’d been quoted in the past from well known mix engineers… I sent him a p.m., as it would probably be a good idea not to just paste everyones quotes on the internet where anybody can see it. Stan asked me asked this follow up:

First of all, let me clarify that we’re talking about the differences between only the top mixers in the entire industry, as pertains only to stereo music mixing of recording songs designed to be delivered direct to consumer. Movies, game audio, audiobooks, SFX designers, field recordists, broadcast engineers, e-learning, theater production dubbing, etc… doesn’t apply here, and I’ll disregard variables that have to do with state worker union affiliation.

So what does NOT affect pricing is someones speed, technical competency, gear. Nor does education and training. Everyone has an equal skill set. Every one has equal gear. Education does not matter because it is a measure of your qualifications - every engineer at this level is equally qualified.

The best way I can think of to explain what’s going on here is to compare it to buying a house. You have some houses with amenities that help them sell easier but the updates don’t increase their value. The value of a mix engineers services are based on what someone is willing to pay, and what someone is willing to pay is most strongly correlated with 3 things: a) how recent their last successful records were b) how many successful records the mix engineer has published c) the level of success associated with their most recognizable work.

@Mixerman talks in his book about how he started positioning his EPK to sell his most notable projects, not the ones that he necessarily liked the most. He also talks about how artists weren’t necessarily as concerned with the relevance to a particular style as you’d intuitively think they’d be.

Availability, accessibility, bedside manner, stylistic preferences, that engineers taste are all things that do not affect price. They will affect if the engineer is hired by YOU or not, but they will NOT affect what they are are able to earn pr song on the open market. It changes what you will pay them or IF you will pay them, but it won’t change what they’re worth, because you are not the only individual in their market.

Another important thing to understand is that their financial thresholds are NOT determined by their mix price per song. In the same way that an athletes financial threshold as an incorporated or privately owned artificial person is not determined by the salary he paid by the team owner who contracts him. At this level in the industry, some engineers are clearly wealthier than others but that is not a reflection of their market price, its more of a reflection of their long term career strategy and financial planning. Really, that’s a reflection of their entrepreneurial chops.

To your last question, how do they adjust their pricing structures. This was an area I studied pretty heavily when I was in law school, namely because of a lot of entertainment lawyers become management agents. The pricing structures for these guys work similar to the way it does for an entertainer, though their fundamental roll is closer to that of a technical lead on a movie set. Some of them use the same management firms as artists. Their pricing structures often come down to how they want to position themselves within a context of a particular market and their corporate growth strategies. They have some say in this and some choice, and its ultimately a choice of who they do or don’t want to work with. Remember that the price per client is not the same. At this level. You will NEVER find a price list anywhere online and that’s because these prices fluctuate based on the client and the project. There isn’t any one thing that determines when an engineer can justify a price hike.

The genre basis seems logical… you’d think more money in the pop market, therefore pop mixers get paid more. However, I’m certain this is not true. Keep in mind those guys know how to mix ANYTHING. They’re not mixing pop and rap because ‘it pays better’. Its because there’s more of it on the open market. So its the sheer quantity of RnB tracks that need GET mixed which is the reason more of them find their way to Pensados desk than metal tracks. That’s confusing. Here… Lets say Andrew @ColdRoomStudio is the only mix engineer on this forum and everyone wants to have Andrew mix their track. Lets assume he will charge everyone the same price and will accept every song he’s sent. He’s gonna get more guitar centered rock/pop stuff here than he is string quartets because I think Boz is the only one here who even plays a stringed instrument. Its not because our IRD pop market is wealthier, its because the volume/capacity of the IRD pop market itself is larger than the classical market. In this analogy, Andrews price remains consistent either way.


#2

I don’t really mind if you make this public. I’m not sure I understand the context, but based on your reply, some of your assessments and evaluations may be out of date, and I stress “may be” because a lot of this is based on hearing things. I don’t really mind explaining how I charge and how I choose a project these days. And I can also give my thoughts on everyone’s situation in regards to mixers big and small.

Eric


#3

Yes, the portfolio placement is probably as important as the pricing placement. Ultimately you’re selling yourself and what you can do for the client. It makes sense to place yourself in the market appropriately and wisely.

That makes sense. Each project is different. And yes I can see them working with who they would like to work with and who might help enhance their reputation, or be a minimal headache to work with (or even a joy to work with). It’s not uncommon to quote a higher price to someone you’d rather not work with. A polite (or not so polite) way of saying “buzz off”. :slightly_smiling_face:

The only problem with that is eventually people will ask their friends and compare notes, and if the fees are wildly fluctuating it could look weird and might impact what people think of you.


#4

That would be really cool. I think we’re just trying to understand how the market works in terms of fees, what types of fees clients are expecting or at least are willing to pay, how fees change and escalate as a professional mixer increases their portfolio and their prominence, etc.

Also, considerations in choosing projects, as you say. It makes sense to support music you believe in, or to have projects that will look good on the portfolio and discography.

Mixers big and small would be a great comparison. Just looking for a range, and where do people typically start out, and then move “up the ladder” as they expand their success.


#5

It totally could be! By all means, feel free to update me :slight_smile:

The question (or context) was what accounts for pricing differences in the mix engineer market between the guys who are at the very top of the notoriety spectrum (I was excluding from the context - producers, tracking engineers, and any other non-music related audio mixing).

That’s pretty much it… Eric, I answered according to my real life experience working and interacting with a few of the guys most would consider ‘big name’ mix engineers… though I’m sure my experience being in a room with them or on the phone with their agents is far narrower than yours. So please feel free to chime in!


#6

Just to bump this thread, and add a little bit, Warren Huart said something along these lines in a YouTube video on 10-3-18 called “The Business of Music”. He was advising his YouTube subscribers and PLAP Academy members about mixing songs for bands. His suggestion was to spend 3-6 hours mixing a song, and charge at least $150, and up to $250. This was mainly for people trying to get themselves out there I believe, not the big boys by any means. He also suggested “working on spec” in terms of mixing one song for free in order to get contracted to mix the whole album, if you’re trying to get business and clients.


#7

Can you find that video on your youtube history and post a link? I can’t seem to dig it up anywhere.


#8

I PM’d it to you, rather than post it publicly. It was a PLAP link, and I think you said you were in that group. I think he said this early on in the video (after all the blah blah) since it was my first note out of many.


#9

I’m not anymore. Its $40 pr month, and I pulled out when the film and video work picked up to where I couldn’t afford the time commitment it takes to really get your moneys worth out of that site.

Did you join up with that group?


#10

Yes, I joined a few months ago. I got in on a discounted annual deal. I would like to spend more time with it too, but I try to at least watch most of the videos he puts out.


#11

Is this a group you have to be a member to be able to see the videos?


#12

No, it’s an open YouTube channel with lots of great content! There are some that are hidden or closed into the Academy community, but probably 75-90% of the stuff he posts is public on YouTube.


#13

Okay, when it comes to mixing you charge what the market will bear. That’s somewhat self-evident.

There are basically three ways to price your mixing services. You can charge for your name, for your work, or for your time. When you charge for your name all the client cares about is having that mixers name on their record. The mixer delivers his or her mixes, and the client may have notes, and the mixer may tell them where to put their notes. Such is the power of that position. In some ways, it makes sense for the name mixer to treat their client with some modicum of disregard. I don’t make the news, I just report it.

When a mixer charges for her work, the client is paying for that mixer to deliver her best work, regardless of how much time it takes (although surely a time estimate is considered in the pricing). The client in that case is interested in the mixers take on things, and is willing to give the mixer some latitude to be creative. The mixer who charges for her work will certainly accept notes, and is interested in keeping the client happy, but the mixer will protect her work and thereby her name, from unreasonable requests. If you want to keep control over the quality of mixes that are associated with your name, then you would do well to operate from this position as soon as you possibly can in your journey.

When you charge for your time, then you’re not actually charging as a mixer, but rather as a studio selling time. The client could direct your every move on a mix, and take as long as she likes on it, so long as the time is paid for, you’re happy. This is a service. It’s not really mixing.

Now, ten years ago, the name mixer could charge outrageous money to mix a record, and still can in todays terms, but that isn’t anywhere close to the terms from a decade ago. If it were, people like CLA and Pensado wouldn’t be hawking videos, and I say that as someone who hawks videos (although I was never technically a name mixer even if I am paid as one on occasion). These days, Majors really don’t pay name mixers outrageous money, which places those mixers squarely in the Vanity projects arena. There are still rich people who only care about having a name on their product and who will pay stupid money to get that.

Mixers who charge for their work now have to be careful about their time, because the money isn’t what it used to be for mixing services. This is how I charge. Basically, I have a bottom number that I won’t go below for any mix, no matter how small, but I must consider offers that I wouldn’t have even thought about years ago. On occasion, I might even be cheaper to hire me for my work than for someone else’s time. When someone is complaining about money before we’ve even discussed the money, then I just let them make me an offer, and if the time that I’ll need to spend on the mixes seems to match the work load, and if I really dig the music, then I may take the gig, especially if I’m short on mixing sessions that month. Of course, anytime I work at a discount, I require all payment up front. Sometimes people get confused and think that they can withhold payments for a mix they’re not fond of, and accepting all funds up front prevents said confusion. If you’re going to hire me for my work, then there MUST be a certain level of trust there, and the best way to establish that trust is for you to pay me up front. Then we’re good.

Charging for your time means you only can about one thing. Your time. It doesn’t matter to you what records have your name because it’s not about your work, it’s about your time, whether you’re recording an oboe or mixing a band, your time has the same value.

The reality is all prices are depressed and have been for years now, and if you charge for your work or for your name, then your pricing is all over the map. There is no publishing a price, because I determine it based on the client’s position more than any other factor. A Major label doesn’t get to negotiate my bottom price. Nether does a wealthy Sheik. If you’re a band that I think could possibly do something, then I might be inclined to work within your budget, but again, there is a floor to the price.

There was a time when I could conceivably mix a project for points, but sales don’t really exist anymore, and as such, they’re worthless. I might consider mixing a project for points on the publishing, but unless you have some kind of track record, or unless I think the songs are just stupidly obvious hits (which I don’t know what that is), then there’s not much chance of that. So, basically, at the moment, I don’t negotiate down the front end for a non-existent back end.

Sorry I let this go this long without a reply. I didn’t quite realize it had gone public.

If there are any questions or comments I’ll stick around to reply.

Thanks,

#Mixerman


#14

No worries, I figured you were busy and would pick up on it next time you came around. Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful response!

This is really good advice. I think there’s a balance or a ‘polarity’ that doesn’t get talked about much in terms of making the client happy vs. sticking to your guns on what your product and service stands for. In other words, will your best work make the client happy, or you happy, or (hopefully) both? While obviously wanting to send away a happy client, you can’t kowtow to every whim, and as you say you need to be protective of your work, name, and reputation. It’s like the work is a business card you send out into the world. You want it to represent you and what you’re about. It’s building a career.

More great advice, thanks! Flexibility in pricing, BUT, for a discounted price they pay all up front. Yes, you’re going to get paid for doing the work, whether they like the mix or not. Hopefully they like it or you can get them there with a few reasonable adjustments. But it’s a creative process and you need to get paid for that no matter what. They can always have (and pay) somebody else to mix it if they want. That’s not unreasonable in business, it happens. Especially if they push for the discounted price.

It makes sense that publishing prices isn’t feasible, and it’s market and client responsive, within limits/minimums. Do you find that clients that push for the discounted price end up giving you the most trouble? That seems to be the way it goes in many things.


#15

What a powerhouse thread! I walk the line between charging buy time and my work. I like to do a flat rate when working with a client. I get tons of calls saying “how much does it cost to record______” On my new website I posted my hourly rate as $175/hr. This includes me and the studio. I also Gave some rough estimates of averages that songs cost to go from nothing to finished. I meet with the client, discuss their project and then give them a flat rate with very specific parameters that don’t lock me into a lazy unprepared client hosing me.


#16

From the peanut gallery. I would like to experiment with sending just one song out, say ten tracks on it. I will pay you $200 to just make it sound better. I don’t care how long it takes you. I know my stuff is not a complete mess. I just can’t use all the stuff available to make them sound better. If you want a different rate, lets talk. If I like what you did, I will start sending more. If I don’t, then oh well.


#17

Was that directed at Eric? Or any of us?


#18

Nope, nobody in general. Just something I have often thought about doing. If I had choices, I would lean to someone who produces songs themselves. I’m not sure why? Just getting to an age where I hope some of my stuff can be appreciated down the line. Just a different perspective of what most on the forum would think.


#19

Thank you!


#20

Got a taker. Will send him the tracks and see how it goes. It’s all good folks