Just like with any job, there are some common client questions that will annoy the crap out of your audio engineer. So, at the risk of sounding like a grumpus, I’m going to share a few of them with you. But don’t worry, I won’t just wine at you guys; I’m adding constructive suggestions for each annoying question! I think information like this is important to share, because it can help improve client relations. After all, if we don’t educate our clients about our industry and point of view, how could we expect them to understand how we feel? So here we go:

1. Would you be willing to mix/master our album? We can’t pay you, but there’s free beer in it for you!

This one is the worst! Good audio engineers generally have extensive training and experience under their belt. As things stand, most careers that require a similar level of expertise pay a lot more than audio engineering does, so it’s disrespectful to push the price down much further. But besides that, I might be inclined to say, “Sure! How much beer does your boss pay you to do your job?” or “Yeah, I’ll just use the beer to pay my rent – perfect!”. Better yet, why don’t you just skip the trip to the liquor store, and offer to pay me the money that you would have spent on the beer? It probably won’t be much, but it would be a better offer than beer.

Fix: Would you be willing to mix/master our album? What’s your rate?

2. I’m not sure how many tracks we will end up doing, and we don’t have much studio experience so I’m not sure how many takes we might need, and I’m not really sure of the final instrumentation … but how much will it cost to track, mix and master our album?

So first of all, it’s okay to ask about price ahead of time! But pricing in the audio world can be tricky because there are so many factors involved in giving someone a quote. For example, if you’re tracking in a commercial studio then chances are your engineer has to give a portion of your hourly rate to the studio. They have to pay that rate to the studio whether or not you pay them for the time. Instrumentation and experience level will affect the amount of time spent on the album, and subsequently the cost to the engineer (again, whether you pay them for that cost or not). Whether or not you expect processed stems or mastering services at the end of the process will also affect this cost.

One thing to keep in mind is that these variables will impact the cost to the engineer even if they offer you a flat rate. So if your engineer offers you a flat rate, be careful not to scope creep and ask for additional services at no extra cost. There is a point where it no longer becomes profitable for them to work with you. If you like their work, this might make it difficult to convince them to work with you next time.

Plus, if you want your engineer to take you seriously, then it’s good to show that you’re serious about your music! Put in the work ahead of time, and figure out some of these variables. And if you want to add an instrument, extra track, or what-have-you partway through the process, don’t be too surprised if your engineer needs to bump the price up a bit. Trust me, they don’t want to surprise you with additional cost, it’s just not always avoidable. It’s also good to keep in mind that every audio engineer has a slightly different system and criteria for pricing.

We know you’re not psychic, so it’s okay that you don’t know all the variables involved! But if you’re concerned about pricing, please ask us so that there’s not confusion and hard feelings down the road.

Fix: If you need accurate pricing, be ready to talk about it in some detail if necessary. Say something like: Here’s some detail on how many tracks we’d like to track and mix, with instrumentation and approximate length. We’d like you to track and mix the album for us. Could you give us an approximate quote for the album? About how much tracking time would that give us? What else do you foresee us wanting that might cost extra?

3. You don’t mind if I warm up on my drum set while you place that snare mic, do you?

Just don’t. We make our living with our ears, so we’d like to keep our hearing. Drums are particularly offensive because loud and short bursts of sound are the most damaging kind to your hearing. If we listen to a persistently loud sound, our ear drums will actually adjust to the loud noise and provide a natural earplug effect (still not an excuse to avoid wearing earplugs at the club!). But with shorter sounds like that of a drum, the sound often isn’t long enough for our ears to kick in this defensive mechanism. This leaves our hearing in a much more vulnerable state, and we are much more likely to lose hearing.

Fix: Could you let me know when I can start warming up?

4. Is it okay if I invite 20 of my closest friends to hang out in the control room during our session?

This one is tough, because I totally understand the desire to share the excitement and experience with your friends! Sometimes there simply isn’t much room in the control room for extra people, but the real problem with inviting extraneous people into the control room is the distraction and noise factor. Even if you tell your friends to be quiet and respectful of the process, they will generally make noise. People get excited and they forget. If your friends are in the control room chatting, guess what your engineer is hearing? Your people talking over your music. It makes it a lot harder and more frustrating for your engineer to spot any detail or mistakes that need attention. Trust me, you don’t want to finally spot these details while replaying your track in a quiet room once you think you’re done paying for studio time. My advice would be to consider the importance of having your friends in the control room vs the importance of your engineer hearing your music, and decide from there.

Fix: I don’t really have a rewording for this question…just understand that it might affect quality in the end result if you decide to invite friends. Ultimately, it’s your call.

5. We are partway through the mixing/tracking process, but can we switch studios?

Now, this question isn’t inherently bad. It really depends on where you are in the tracking/mixing process, and how your engineer works. The one thing to know is that different studios will have different sets of plugins and gear. So unless your engineer says otherwise, don’t expect to be able to do this in advance without redoing some work that you’ve already done.

On the tracking side of things, if you started tracking your guitar in one studio, and ask to move to a different studio, then expect to redo the entire guitar part. Even if the other studio has the same mics and gear, it’s not going to sound the same in a different room.

On the mixing side of things, most engineers use an array of different plugins and gear to create the sound you love. So sure, you can probably switch studios, but you’ll either have to redo some of the work you’ve already done, or commit to certain effects they’ve already placed on your mix by printing them to a track. It’s basically a large interruption to the workflow, and uses up a lot of your engineer’s time (and your money) in the process.

To move studios without interrupting the workflow, your engineer will have to be willing and able to move any gear that you’re still using (such as the computer with your plugins) to the new studio. If you’re working on a studio owned computer, this probably isn’t a possibility. However, the reason why this question isn’t inherently bad is that more and more mix engineers nowadays are working on their own personal computer and basically just plugging into the studio for the listening environment (room acoustics and monitors). If that’s how your engineer is working, then it could be a very simple thing to switch studios, no problem!

The other thing to keep in mind, is that just because your engineer is authorized to work out of one studio in town, doesn’t mean that they are authorized to work in, or are familiar with, another studio in town.

Fix: Ask ahead of time how your engineer’s process works! If you think you might want to switch studios partway through, ask whether it would be easy to do at some point, and if so, where those points are in the process. Basically, include your engineer in your planning process! Chances are, there are a lot of variables that could make or break your plans. You might not even need to think about them, but your engineer is very aware of them, and can help you plan accordingly.

6. Can I have that deposit back for that session that we never showed up for?

I’m very thankful that I’ve heard about this one more than I’ve had to personally deal with it. Deposits are a pretty common and generally agreed upon concept. If you don’t cancel in time, you don’t get the deposit back. It costs a lot of money to keep a studio open! When you don’t bother canceling, the studio loses money on a room that is empty but could have otherwise been booked. When you consider that fact, alongside the insult of not bothering to tell someone that you aren’t able to make it somewhere, is it really that surprising that no one seems to want to break the rules for you so that you can get the deposit back?

Plus, what would you think if your boss asked you to come into work, and then never showed up? What would you say to them if they then asked for part of your paycheck back for the hour or so you spent waiting for them to come to work? That’s basically what you’re doing to your engineer when you ask for the deposit back. And the same logic applies for why you shouldn’t get reimbursed for showing up late to a session. Also keep in mind that in some studios it’s even worse for your engineer. In some studios the whole deposit goes to the studio, and your engineer might not get paid at all for their time spent waiting for you to appear.

Fix: If you aren’t going to make it, then cancel according to studio policy.

So that’s it for now. For more information on the audio industry, with advice from seasoned engineers, visit Pro Studio Live.

Questions? Comments? As always, please share in the comments below!