Works in ProgressIn honor of Labor Day, let’s talk about work a little bit. (What, you thought I’d take the day off?) 🙂

I’m not talking about crap-I-have-to-go-to-the-office work. I’m talking about work in your studio, work that you (hopefully) love.

Do you ever get paid for your recording skills? Do you ever charge your clients? Perhaps you don’t, but you’d like to. Or maybe you’ve started charging for a few projects here and there, but you really don’t know where to start.

Let me see if I can help.

First things first…

I’m not going to tell you how much you should be charging. There are so many variables that come into play, there’s really no way for me to set a definitive “rule” for you to follow. However, I can give you some guidelines for how to think about charging for your work, along with some different ways to go about it.

But before I talk about that, let me just say this. There’s nothing wrong with making money from your talents. If you are legitimately good at what you do, if you can get a decent-sounding recording, then you shouldn’t feel weird about asking for money in exchange for that service.

When I first sold a training video here on HSC, I was a little freaked out. What if everyone gets offended that I dare ask for money? Guess what? If you provide something valuable, people will pay for it.

Is that singer-songwriter capable of recording his own music and making it sound good? No? Can you do that? That’s valuable.

How much you charge, well, that’s up to you. I would experiment. Start low-ish and work your way up.

Paid by the hour

Initially you’ll think about charging by the hour. 4-hour session at $10 an hour is $40 bucks. That’s fine, and it might be a good way to get started, but I would encourage you to move away from this as much as you can.

I still do the occasional hourly gig, but it’s become more rare. Why? Because I personally think there’s something inherently wrong with an hourly wage. That may be why I’ve never had a “salaried” job. I’ve always been paid for selling stuff. My income was dependent on results, not how much time I spent.

Back at Sweetwater, if I spent 6 hours putting together a recording system for a client, and he bought it at another store, I didn’t get paid for those 20 hours. I think that’s fair. I’d rather get paid for results than time. And that’s how you should probably view your recording gigs.

Paid by the project

Here’s what I try to do whenever I can. I charge by the project. You want me to mix an album for you? Okay, that’ll be X dollars per song.

Why do this? Because it gives the client an absolute number they can work with. If I tell them “It’ll probably be 4-5 hours per song,” and it turns out to be more like 7-8 hours per song, and I’m charging them by the hour, I’ve essentially DOUBLED their cost.

The alternative is to realistically assess how long it will take for you to do a specific project. Come up with a fairly worse-case scenario, then charge for that amount of time.

For example, it usually takes me around 4 hours to mix a song. So I figure what my desired “hourly” rate would be for 4 hours and charge that as my per-song rate. You see what I’ve done now? Now if I can get that song mixed in 2 hours instead of 4, I’m making twice as much per hour. The client is happy, because I still turned in good work, and I’m happy because I was able to work more efficiently and get paid for my work, not my time.

What do you think? I really want to know. Leave a comment below.

  • Enjoy!

  • Samantha Socey

    Thank-you for the article and information, this makes me feel more confident about charging for my work.

  • Andrew Lindley

    i think that is a good way to go but my client comes in to do demos and he says i will pay u this much amount ex 80$ now that is for the hole demo is that a good start

  • Louise maclaren

    I am a visual artist and a restorer; this has actually helped me put a better value on my work! thanks Jo, Louise Maclaren-Artist

  • Hey Joe!
    I just started in the Voice Over business. I realized once I began down this path that I also had created an opportunity with my home studio to record music. I am a Singer, Songwriter, Guitarist and would love to collaborate on other musicians work and get paid for it. This is all good stuff I have been reading. The question I have, where do I go..particular website?..to create clients?
    Thanks for all the great information!

  • Anonymous

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  • 🙂 I certainly can. But the project rate will depend on how much time I estimate the session will require.

  • Villegas039

    What I do (and it has worked fine) is to charge per hour when it comes to -recording- Then charge per song for the other services (editing, mixing). Always charge separately!

    Recording can take from 1 hour to infinity hours if the musicians “suck” 😉 But mixing usually takes an average hours.

    PS: When there’s only an instrument+voice I make a discount though

    • That seems to be a nice balance. Sometimes it’s worth charging by the project with something like a “this includes 4 hours of recording.” Then include an hourly rate for anything ABOVE 4 hours. Can get a little complicated, but I’ve seen it done. A project rate with limitations.

  • Anonymous

    Good approach for some situations, but there are certainly situations that differ tremendously.  Charging by the song might not be fair to some.  A band with drums, several guitars, bass, keys, lots of vocals, etc… will be a lot more work per song than a singer/songwriter with a guitar and a solo voice. 

    Also, what about length of songs?

    Might you consider a per track-minute rate?  I don’t mean stereo master track.  I mean per instrument/voice?  It might complicate things, but it also might be more equitable.

    Just a thought.  I don’t make enough engineering (yet) to have to fuss with too many details like that.

    • You’re right, it’s different per song. That’s why I don’t have a set “per song” rate. It’s different for every project. If it’s a huge band with lots of tracks, I’m obviously going to charge much more than an acoustic/vocal demo song.

  • Fabio Luiz Doreto Rodrigues

    Wen you charge by the project is easier to dedicate yourself to achieving the best result. Wen you charge by the hour, usually you settle for what you could do in that time, and not in the best result! If you’re talented you should always offer your talent, and not your working time.

    • A lot of people would disagree with this, but I think you’re exactly right.

  • It depends on the client. As a musician myself, I play much better when I’m in a time crunch. It helps me focus.

  • Great insight (:

  • Stephenkfoster

    I’ve always preferred the per song method as well. As an engineer and as an artist it’s just easier to deal with. Watch undercharging, there’s always those unknown variables that you will run into that can eat up your time. Wisdom through experience 😉

  • Roof Recordz

    I do the same, I have fixed price for recording of vocal and mixing, so nobody rushes no stress for artist, and we can do best for the song. Nobody spends more than 3-4 hours on recording of vocal for the song, but when people are recording instruments I charge per hour, cause it’s really hard to make fixed price for recording of instruments, it could be a lot of instruments on the song and long recording session.

  • huub

    That’s a good way to work Joe.
    Of course this goes for mixing only.
    When recording the client can count the hours of course.

  • Hossman777

    When I first started out, I charged per song.  With no time constraints I had clients who would spend days on a single song.  (My first big project I got paid $450 and we worked on it nearly every weekend from July 2010 to March 2011.) 

    Clients don’t like an open-ended “Oh, I THINK it’ll be around x-amount of hours.”  I don’t like “Sure, I can work with your $75 per song budget, and I don’t mind spending 100 hours on each song.”  I found the best method is to charge in half-day blocks for tracking, and I do mixing (and faux mastering if needed) on my own time with no extra charge to them.  Clients have enough of a deadline that they’re forced to make decisions and play at their best, but they aren’t so pressed for time that they settle for less-than-good takes.  They aren’t always watching the clock and checking their wallets. I like it because I get paid for my time and if the band decides to spend 4 hours arguing about song structure and their respective positions in the band, I still get compensated for my time.

  • I have never liked the idea of getting paid per hour, per day yes but not by hour… I think I just wouldn’t feel right, I don’t know why.

    Anyway I agree with you entirely on this post, and there are some great comments as well.

  • Robert White

    Joe  – I agree with the per project pricing. That’s how I do it too. I know of a number of studios locally and ones I’ve found online that charge hourly. That doesn’t make sense to me either. Hourly pay seems like it leaves yourself always explaining or asking permission for doing something that wasn’t planned for but necessary as the project progresses. Project payment seems especially appropriate for a home / project studio since we probably have to do all the setup etc that is time consuming. Also let’s face it, we may be pretty good at what we do but may not be pros with a speedy workflow either – it may take us a little longer to get it right.

    • These are my thoughts exactly.  Also, the studio I freelance at charges hourly.  It’s cost me x amount per hour just to use the facility.  Anything on top of that is what I make.  The looks on bands faces when I tell them how much it is pretty much always says “Seriously?  This guy hasn’t worked on anything I’ve even heard of.”  They don’t realize that the rate I’m quoting them usually involves me making not even minimum wage.  However, if I tell a band that I’ll do it for x amount per song and then throw out some hourly rates for studios around town and describe just a small amount of what it is I’ll be doing…they usually realize that they’re getting a bargain.  A lot of bands seem to think that music just magically comes together to sound great on a recording.

  • Hi Joe.  I use this model for recording live bands (audio and video).   It works very well.  Not only am I not worried about if I take 2 or 16 hours to mix the audio and edit the video,   I never worry about the time it takes to set up, record the show, and tear down.   I’m usually there for more than 6 hours, but sometimes more and sometimes less. 

    I can tell you, the bands really appreciate not having to worry about hourly rates, that’s for sure.

    Great post, thanks!

    • This is very true.  Some musicians will see the time limit they’re under and absolutely kill the performance because they thrive under pressure.  Most of the ones that I work with find (self included sometimes) themselves struggling with a part, start thinking about the time that they’re taking up, and get so nervous that they can’t pull together the parts that they usually nail.  If the band isn’t worried about time, and I’m able to get a few great takes out of them it makes the editing process easier.

  • Joe! How’d I miss this post? Love it and couldn’t agree more. I always hated starting at the clock when I booked out a studio. I have also found that the musicians just play better when the clock isn’t an issue. Good stuff.

  • Great point about filmmakers and voiceover stuff. Lots of options out there.

  • Very cool, dude! And not EVERY situations calls for a flat fee. If someone wants to hire me to JUST engineer a session for them, then I’m probably gonna throw an hourly rate at them. Those gigs are fairly rare, though. Usually I’m engineer, producing, playing an instrument, fixing the coffee, etc. 🙂

  • Good questions, Peterson. I think a lot of it simply boils down to expectations. Clients can have all sorts of preconceived notions about the recording process, and part of your job as the engineer is to set their expectations accordingly (and perhaps even teach them what’s reasonable to expect and what’s not).

    If you have good communication between yourself and the client, and you do good work, there shouldn’t be a HUGE of back and forth.

  • Alfonso

    Great post!.

    Pricing is the hardest thing to do for me. I could set a high price, but what if the band can´t afford it. Do I really wan´t to record & mix them?. Do I like their music?. Those kind of question are what I asked to myself before placing a price for my work. I need more projects to increase my experience and to put into practice all the tips that I receive from Joe & Graham. So, I could be picky if I like, but how long do I have to wait for another band to come and ask me to record them?. I was pricing by hour, after reading Joe´s post I´ll change to per project.

    • It’s a balancing act, for sure. I occasionally do some projects VERY cheap, or even free…if I really like the music and they legitimately can’t afford to pay me much.

  • Anonymous

    Great post Joe as always.

    Im a per project kinda guy. I’ve got a guideline set, so 3 tracks is X amount, 4 tracks is X amount and so on, but this will change here and there based on the project in question. I’ll also have a set fee if a band want me to do a live multitrack of one of their practice sessions which I do now and again. Most of my stuff is mobile recording unless its a singer songwriter which I can do in my bedroom studio.

  • Jon Tidey

    Good stuff Joe.
    Pricing can be tricky. You want to be competitive, you want to offer a good deal for clients (everyone likes a good deal) and you need to make a decent hourly wage.

    #1 tip I can give is: Don’t be the cheapest studio in your area. Why? Think about who you’re marketing to. Would you rather work with people that have money to spend and appreciate the valuable service you offer, OR the guys that can’t afford to work in the good studios?
    This was a revelation for me once it was pointed out. I was charging $20/hr or less and working on terrible projects that didn’t go anywhere.
    Increasing my advertised rate to $40 got me more respect, it’s still a fair price, and if the crappy projects do come up, well at least I’m making double.

    I also prefer to mix by the song and usually quote around $150/song. I hate rushing through a mix, ignoring stuff I don’t have time to fix just to get it done on time.
    I’m never happy with it the next day.
    A mix for me is like 8 hours or more including editing spread out over a few days.

    The next step is to outsource my work to India and make $32/hr profit and not do any work. HAHA