Billing for small amounts of studio time

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Matt C.
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Billing for small amounts of studio time

Post by Matt C. » Tue Feb 27, 2018 7:55 am

I've been running into a common problem in the studio and I'm wondering how others here deal with it. After "completing" a project and getting paid by the band, it's pretty common for them to contact me a week later with some little thing they want - either minor mix revisions, sending them stems for all the songs, sending them instrumental versions, etc.

If it's really quick stuff I'll just do it for free. But often it's stuff that might take me maybe an hour, or hour and a half, and I feel like billing for that puts me in an awkward position. I want to be paid for my time, but it also feels sort of petty to say "sure I'll email these mix revisions to you, as soon as you drive all the way over here and give me $25".

So how have you all handled this sort of thing?

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Re: Billing for small amounts of studio time

Post by kslight » Tue Feb 27, 2018 8:22 am

I would just be clear in your initial invoice that they’re only paying for the work already completed, and revisiting the session for any reason will require X minimum billable charge.

I mean making meaningful stems or slight revisions I get is not usually an all day deal. But you still have to get back into that headspace for a few minutes (assuming you’ve moved on to another project), retrieve the session from your backup disc, make a new backup, upload the new files to the client, draw up a new invoice, etc. Its real easy to make all that add up to an hour or more for even simple tasks.

Especially if you are charging real aggressive rates to begin with, I think it’s very fair for get paid for another hour or whatever it takes. Just business. If you don’t do it they are probably going to think they can keep getting extras out of you indefinitely until they finally release it.

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Re: Billing for small amounts of studio time

Post by emrr » Wed Feb 28, 2018 5:42 am

Approach can vary on the scale of the overall project too. If it's a $200 project, it can be significant additional work relative to initial work. If it's a 50-100 hour project, it may be a freebie. It can be helpful to make a checklist of things the client might need or want that can be presented as food for thought, with encouragement to get a list together to bring back at one time, rather than piecemeal "oh yeahs". I've found larger projects for small labels tend to be the ones who want you to dig something out 3-4 years later, and not expect to pay anything for that research/library work (even though there's no expectation that I have kept an archive).
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Re: Billing for small amounts of studio time

Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Wed Feb 28, 2018 6:17 am

It really depends on the job required and how quick the turn around is. If it's something I can do without paying attention ( like muting a vocal and running off instrumental mixes while I clean the studio/make dinner/fix stuff/whatever) then I usually let it go as a freebie. If it's going to require some real time and attention and I need to postpone other work to do the job then it gets billed.
emrr wrote:
Wed Feb 28, 2018 5:42 am
I've found larger projects for small labels tend to be the ones who want you to dig something out 3-4 years later, and not expect to pay anything for that research/library work (even though there's no expectation that I have kept an archive).
Don't get me started in the archive thing. It's crazy. Almost all of my work is independent and the artist always gets a data back up of everything but I still get calls looking for files on records that are years old. I try to keep a back-up of as much as I can but at a certain point something's gotta give.

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Re: Billing for small amounts of studio time

Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Wed Feb 28, 2018 8:50 am

i do lots of little things for free and it's fine, i don't mind at all. but for something that's gonna take an hour or hour and a half you should charge. just make it clear from the beginning that that's the deal and no one should have a problem with it. also it's easy to set up a paypal account so people can just pay you that way, without driving across town or anything.

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Re: Billing for small amounts of studio time

Post by Matt C. » Wed Feb 28, 2018 11:05 am

Thanks, I guess it does just come down to being super explicit about this stuff up front. Most of the projects I work on are relatively small/low budget things, so I'm more inclined to expect to be paid for this stuff.
MoreSpaceEcho wrote:
Wed Feb 28, 2018 8:50 am
also it's easy to set up a paypal account so people can just pay you that way, without driving across town or anything.
True, the prevalence of paypal and other mobile payment apps makes this a little easier, but not everyone is on board with that.

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Re: Billing for small amounts of studio time

Post by joninc » Wed Feb 28, 2018 11:15 am

I've just found over the years that I have to be as straight up as possible.

I usually say "Yes, I can totally do that for you but it will take X amount of time for which I will have to bill X. Let me know if that works for you."

Inevitably it's rarely ever a problem. Put the ball in their court!

I certainly do some really small stuff and don't charge if it's been for a larger project or an artist that I work with a lot but I also will bill an hour for stems on a song to make sure that things are all labelled and cross faded and clear for someone else to work with. Stems are a funny one.... don't get me started. :D
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Re: Billing for small amounts of studio time

Post by drumsound » Wed Feb 28, 2018 1:49 pm

I'll echo the statements of being upfront. And if you're just doing a favor, just do so.

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Re: Billing for small amounts of studio time

Post by Nick Sevilla » Thu Mar 01, 2018 8:38 am

Here is what I do, hopefully this helps:

When I MIX music, I allow for one to two MINOR revisions once we are finished mixing, and the artist, who usually lives elsewhere in the World, needs to listen carefully on their own systems to the mixes. Typically, I end up, on a whole album, doing small revisions on the whole thing, and each revision might take 15 minutes at most. Tiny things like one less dB of a certain instrument, etc. this is figured into the budget for these projects, and is NOT an extra charge.

When I am ENGINEERING (this is, editing, recording, creating backups, restoring from backups, etc.), I always charge a minimum of one hour time. Even if it takes less than one hour. Because this is not slight alterations to an already existing mix, it is actual engineering work.

Restoring from a backup, for example, might take hours of computer time. It might take minutes. Usually, it is an unknown quantity when the artist / label is not sure what they need. This time is of using your equipment to do work. Which has to be paid. Period.
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Re: Billing for small amounts of studio time

Post by The Scum » Thu Mar 01, 2018 11:56 am

My day gig is in an hourly contracting & consulting area. We bill for every second I spend on a client project, and it starts from the point I start to touch resources related to their project - like hunting for old files, or finding old emails. Not that you have to run your studio like that (or maybe you do that occasional favor), but it's one point of reference.

Here's a little trick I've picked up for partial hour billing:

6 minutes is 1/10th of an hour. So if your full hourly is $50, 6 minutes is $5.

A little easier to manage and estimate in your head than 15 minute intervals.
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Re: Billing for small amounts of studio time

Post by losthighway » Thu Mar 01, 2018 7:48 pm

One thing that gets tough about this, is if you find your parsing out sums of money under thirty dollars for scraps of work. My philosophy is to decide in advance that your hourly or day rate covers some small scraps of correspondence, plus or minus 2db mix adjustments, or mute that 3rd backup someone did when they were losing their mind- all of which comes up after you were paid the lump sum for your services. That way I can turn on the computer, knock out the tweak in 10 or 15 minutes, send it and not have to think about following up to make sure I collect my pittance.

At these points I've usually taken an almost maternal interest in the project being satisfactory to the client, going off to mastering and getting put out before the months avalanche over them. I don't know about the rest of you, but the artistic psychology has needlessly slowed many a project coming out of my studio (including a couple of my own), due to avoidance behavior, and reluctance to commit to a musical/sonic statement and put it out for scrutiny.

I also figure if it looks like more than an hour, you just tell them up front so they're ready to send your standard rate, and then knock it out. Chasing ten dollars here or there seems like a waste to me, but those $50 chunks can add up. I figure if I follow up on a few of those and I can make sure there's one more nice pair of headphones in my place, or I can replace that one annoying mic stand for when they come back to record again.

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Re: Billing for small amounts of studio time

Post by TapeOpLarry » Thu Mar 01, 2018 7:59 pm

I'm moving my personal billing (not Jackpot!) more over to project rates because of things like this. Including 2 revisions is common. When billing hourly I do revisions in 1/2 hr increments. Billing more for shorter times is common. We have billed much higher for 2 hr sessions per hour for years.

But man, use Quickbooks online or something where you can track billing and get paid online. I've factored that into my rates....
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Re: Billing for small amounts of studio time

Post by joninc » Fri Mar 02, 2018 11:49 am

TapeOpLarry wrote:
Thu Mar 01, 2018 7:59 pm
I'm moving my personal billing (not Jackpot!) more over to project rates because of things like this. Including 2 revisions is common. When billing hourly I do revisions in 1/2 hr increments. Billing more for shorter times is common. We have billed much higher for 2 hr sessions per hour for years.

But man, use Quickbooks online or something where you can track billing and get paid online. I've factored that into my rates....
I am curious how you can do project rates and not get taken advantage of? What type of protections or caps are in place to keep it reasonable?

Any friends I have that work this way often lament how they basically made $5/hr by the end of a project.

If an artist knows that they can tweak a mix endlessly into the more absurd level of minutia - what's gonna stop them?
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Re: Billing for small amounts of studio time

Post by Nick Sevilla » Sat Mar 03, 2018 7:45 am

joninc wrote:
Fri Mar 02, 2018 11:49 am
I am curious how you can do project rates and not get taken advantage of? What type of protections or caps are in place to keep it reasonable?

Any friends I have that work this way often lament how they basically made $5/hr by the end of a project.

If an artist knows that they can tweak a mix endlessly into the more absurd level of minutia - what's gonna stop them?
I don't know about others, but I always discuss mix revisions beforehand. I mix until the mix cannot be really tweaked much anyways, as I always try to have the artist for the end of the mix session, in person, with me. Some songs may take an entire day, some not so much. But in the end of that mixing session, the artist knows the mix is nearly if not completely done.

It helps that when I mix at the beginning I do it alone. There is a lot of mixing dirty work that bores the heck out of artists. Once I am 90% there I invite them in to help finish the mix. If they want to grab a fader and try stuff, so be it. If they want to take the mix in a different direction, so be it, whatever they want. This is the time they can "do what they want" with the mix. The reason I do it with them in the room like this, is that they respect their time and mine a LOT MORE. They understand that even a small change takes time to execute. After a couple of hours of doing small tweaks to the mix, they realize what it takes to make even tiny changes. So they tend to respect that time. This is the only time "minutiae" is allowed. They want to up the vocal by 1/10th of a dB? YES. They want to change the EQ on one guitar by a tiny amount? YES. Usually no mere mortal can sit there slightly tweaking a mix indefinitely. I know, I've tried. LOL.

If they are UNDECIDED about a mix, I abandon it and move on to another song. This, usually after they realize the mix is not going to repair technical errors or wrong sounds or whatever they believed could be "magically fixed by Mr. Golden Ears". This mix swap happens usually after only one hour of mix tweaking with the artist in the room with me. It is always apparent when a song / arrangement / mix is not happening. Those "failed" mixes? I discuss them over lunch or dinner, away from the studio, with the artist. We come to some agreement as to what needs to be really done in order to save the song at this point. Most of the time it involves re recording some instruments. If I am to do that, it is clear, from my discussion before the mix session, that engineering is an hourly charge, separate of the mix rate.

My revision policy is two revision sessions per song. Period. Anything above that is billable time by the hour. These revisions are included in the rate, and are expected to be done after the main mixing session, once they have had a few days to rest their ears, and mine. By this time, they know both that the tweaks will take time, and that they HAVE to make final decisions without exception.

I feel bad for your friends that end up making only $5 an hour at the end of a project. They need to take a look at previous projects, figure out how to take less time doing stuff, and learn where they need to improve their workflow, as well as learn to say NO to difficult clients. After doing this for a while, I know how much to charge per mix (a flat rate), how much time I am willing and able to spend on a mix, and what stuff is NOT included in the mixing.

Maybe this helps:

Things I never include in a MIX RATE:

ANY EDITING. I always ask the artist to do ALL EDITING BEFOREHAND. I do allow for things like two lead vocal takes to be included, in case we do need an alternate take to take a word or two out of it, or for "special effects" which require a different take to do properly (ghost answers, weird delays with a different take, etc.) But, I do NOT do editing during the MIX. They are different words, with different meanings, and different billing rates. I have encountered the very rare artist who does not yet know the difference, but because I put this out in front, they learn.

ANY VOCAL TUNING. This is also part of the EDITING process. In very rare instances, I may have to retune a vocal. Usually it is only one or two words. If it is the entire take, I STOP MIXING. I then have a discussion with the artist about this work to be done, and go from there.

OVERDUBS / SOUND REPLACING of any kind. Again, this is NOT mixing. Again, if this is what will be needed in order to finish a mix, I STOP mixing, and discuss with the artist.

As long as you are UP FRONT with what is and what is not included in a flat rate, you will be fine. Do not budge. Do not allow your empathy to screw your wallet. Do not allow anyone to try to convince you that "oh this is only this once", because it never is only once. Once you open the door to be abused, you will be.

As to "how long does a mix take", well, as my rule of thumb, if I cannot get a great vibe going in the first TWO HOURS, I stop and listen more carefully to the multitracks. Usually, there is something wrong in there somewhere. This is why I also ALWAYS take at least one full hour LISTENING to what the artist gave me. I solo tracks, I blend only the drums and bass, and I LISTEN. I listen for any technical issues the previous engineer of the artist may have mixed. If I find, say, timing or tuning issues, I bring them up THEN. Not after ten hours of mixing. If you do this, you will never have to go through the hell that is a failed mix. You will stop and address technical issues before actually mixing anything. You'd be amazed how many people never do this, they just dive in and start mixing, and OOPS. Badly edited drums / crappy auto tuning / choppy edits. LOL, not a fun time.

Compare mixing to one of those chefs on the TeeVee: They did a lot of prep work before turning on the camera, before committing their cooking performance into a final show. You are doing exactly the same thing. They cleaned and chopped their vegetables, chose their spices, chose which meat would be the main course, and which wine to pair with the meal. You have to learn to do this during the entire engineering and mixing process.

YOUR MIX PROCESS is like a cooking show: You are there to finalize a great meal, and to dazzle the audience (your artist) with your skills. You are there to finish a long process that may have taken years to get to you.
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Re: Billing for small amounts of studio time

Post by Nick Sevilla » Sat Mar 03, 2018 8:29 am

joninc wrote:
Fri Mar 02, 2018 11:49 am
I am curious how you can do project rates and not get taken advantage of? What type of protections or caps are in place to keep it reasonable?

Any friends I have that work this way often lament how they basically made $5/hr by the end of a project.

If an artist knows that they can tweak a mix endlessly into the more absurd level of minutia - what's gonna stop them?
Just as a note, I did end up not mixing an album early last year.

I did get paid for the mixes I did get done. A deposit is necessary, always.

Even though I "lost" that job, and I probably will never work with that producer again (no we did not have a fight or anything), I gained the respect of the financier. And this is always good.

This particular project, was plagued by a problem of lack of direction. No one really took the helm during any part of the project. And you could tell. It was the Wrong drum sound, the Wrong drum performance, the Wrong bass sounds, the Wrong everything.

I spoke with the financier, who has experience in film but not in music making. She was very in tune to the mess that was happening before her. However, because she decided not to do anything to interfere with the production, she let a lot of things slide. She regretted this, but knew it was a learning process.

The producer apparently spent the entire time talking about himself, about how great he was in past projects. The producer paid ZERO attention to what was being recorded. The main engineer (there were several studios used, not sure how many, but at least three) did the best he could when he was given zero direction by anyone, as far as the sounds that were being recorded. It was frustrating to him.

The artist was "The Artist"... saying she knew what she wanted, yet having no idea how to actually get there. An amateur. Which is fine, WHEN you have someone like a producer at the helm actually doing their job. But they did not have this. So the artist, not knowing how to make an album, said "yes" to whatever was being recorded, thinking, erroneously, that it could be "fixed in the mix". LOL.

They did manage to edit the album, tune the vocals, but they did not get the album ready to mix in time. That was my first clue that this was never going to get done. This was a classic case of too many egos in the room, and no one actually in charge.

The fun thing was that the artist then got annoyed that I could not turn their giant steaming pile of caca into a gem. So, they went and got a second opinion. And then a THIRD opinion. Both opinions which were exactly the same opinion I had given them, as to how to fix this giant mess. One was by a producer who is considered the top of that music genre in the entire World. The reason I will most likely not work with the project producer was precisely because he wanted a second, and then a THIRD opinion. A classic case of not trusting me, even though I have worked with this person for years, and of trying to search for someone who would tell them what they wanted to hear. Namely, that someone, ANYONE could stir this shit pile into a glowing gem of a project. It simply could not be done.

Well, that is my rant, I hope you enjoyed it.
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