Roland in Vancouver459.jpgYesterday’s post on charging for your work sparked some really interesting discussions. If you haven’t yet, be sure to join in the conversation over there (or on Facebook or Twitter).

The general premise of yesterday’s post was to think about charging by the project rather than by the hour. One question came up about what to do with clients who are unreasonable. If you’re charging by the project, how do you protect yourself against clients who want revision after revision after revision, with no regard for your time whatsoever?

You could say I’m a bit naive sometimes. I know people take advantage of people all the time, but I tend to think that if someone takes advantage of my time, it’s because I let them do it.

I firmly believe that one of the keys to success in any endeavor, whether you’re making money with it or not, is to take responsibility for what happens to you. The guy who sits in his studio, tweaking plug-in settings all day, wishing someone would just show up and pay him to record a song, is likely to complain that he can’t “find clients.”

I say nay. You don’t have clients because you don’t go looking for them. You don’t invest in people and relationships, which over time reveal all sorts of opportunities.

So, you first have to realize that if clients are taking advantage of you, it’s your fault. Either it’s your fault for ever taking on the job to begin with (because you knew this would happen) or it’s your fault because you didn’t do the one thing that would’ve cleared all this up.


That’s right. I whipped out ALL CAPS for that header. Expectations. Are you setting client expectations appropriately? Do you even think about it? Do you assume they think the same way that you do?

It’s your responsibility as the engineer/producer to make sure everybody is on the same page. If the client walks into the studio thinking you just have to stick a mic in front of him and press record, you need to take a few minutes to explain how important mic choice and mic placement are to the recording process. It’s not his fault if he doesn’t know much about recording. And if you assume he does, don’t be surprised if things get awkward later.

Likewise, if the band comes in for a tracking day, and they hardly know the songs, they’re not together at all, and they just assume you can “fix it” later, you’ve GOT to set those expectations, too. Yes, you can fix a lot of timing issues in editing (check out Understanding Editing, and I’ll teach you how), but there is absolutely no replacement for a great performance. Editing can help, but the real magic happens when the musicians are prepared. If they aren’t, and they expect you to spend 12 hours editing, you need to make sure they realize how long it takes to edit, and charge them accordingly.

Be a Teacher

Don’t be the arrogant engineer. I hate the arrogant engineer. He talks down to you and treats you like you’re stupid. (Sometimes when I’m playing on a session, I won’t tell them I’m an engineer myself…it’s kinda fun to see how they treat ‘just a musician.’) Be friendly. Take it upon yourself to teach them about the recording process. The session will go smoothly, and the entire recording process will be more enjoyable for everyone involved?

Why? Because you set the proper expectations.

So…how do you deal with customer expectations? Comment below, please.


  • gmgrim

    I came to this article because of the fact that we have a client (our first) abusing the fact that we didn’t think to specify time limits and expectations. We agreed to do X number of songs, and it turns out that he has taken that to mean unlimited studio time to perfect his songs, at our expense.

    How do you go back and re-set the expectations? Or should we chalk it up to our inexperience and move forward from this client?

    • I think re-defining the agreement can be helpful. Boundaries weren’t clearly set. I say try to set ‘em now.

  • Jimmy Schwenk

    Joe you are soooo right on this.  My better experiences with young and old came after I started scheduling pre prep meetings to discuss the session.  Their style, their performances, their equipment, my equipment, down to strings and drum head replacement. . Sometimes it means that I may have to wait longer for the recording session and some were even cancelled. But I at least feel I have done my part to better prepare them. I love teaching people about what Im doing.  They think Engineers are magicians and I don’t mind that at all. If they get half of it they come back so much better the next time. 

    • That’s a HUGE point, Jimmy. Sometimes the best thing for the client is to turn them away, or postpone doing business until they’re ready. That speaks volumes about your character, and can only help your business grow.

  • Eric Jean

    I can honestly say Joe is the consummate professional in all senses of the word! I just had him record lead vocals on a song I wrote and recorded.  I asked him to do three takes;  the first 2 following 2 different ways I phrased the lyrics, and a third where he could ad-lib a little bit.  He charged for the project rather than per hour.   It was a fair price, and I he completed the work on time.  I highly recommend Joe!

    • 🙂 Thanks Eric! Cool tune. Hope it turns out wonderfully.

  • Chrisdavis03

    These posts have come at a time when I REALLY needed them.  Thanks so much.

  • Alfonso

    Most of my clients are very young people. They call me Mr!!!. Based upon on their respect, I´ll try to “teach” them about the recording process. If they don´t play tight I tell them to rehearse and come back. As a drummer I can´t keep my mouth closed, in between takes, I suggest to play here and there, avoid show off, play it straight and simple. Do what it´s best for the song. With all of this talking I get close to them, then we get to know each other and talk about other things besides music. I think it´s all about chemistry.

    • Absolutely. If you can show them your expertise and value that you bring to the table, they learn to respect and trust you…respect and trust are a HUGE asset. And having an awesome relationship means that they’ll likely come back to you time and time again.

  • Diego Nicotra

    These are general facts about managing projects, no matter they are about audio, video or software projects. You, sir, are taking this to a new level, congrats! I love reading your posts. 

  • Diego Nicotra

    These are general facts about managing projects, no matter they are about audio, video or software projects. You, sir, are taking this to a new level, congrats! I love reading your posts.