This “short” article will cover how I deal with picky bands in an ethical way.
Any producer (that has paid his dues) knows that some bands will absolutely destroy their own mix, if given the chance.
We all know how much it sucks to see a list of 100+ mix revisions in your inbox, but it’s part of the job. I generally will do any of those revisions without complaint (provided that it is progressing the mix in a positive way), but occasionally a band will send me a list of revisions that could potentially wreck their mix.
This post will show you how I deal with those bands.
If you're not already recording bands full time, skip this article, and go read The Absolute Beginner’s Roadmap to a Successful Home Studio, part 1.
The Self Destructive Band
Last year, I test mastered a single for a very good band that was talented, signed, and has a bright future ahead of them. The producer that recorded them is a good friend of mine (well, as good a friend as you can be when you live on opposite sides of the world and have never met).
I’ve mastered the a lot of this producer’s projects over the past couple of years, and his mixes are always rock solid.
Fast forward a few months, and I get this email:
“i cant tell through what kind of bullshit I went so far with (the band) haha…
we finally settled on a new mix, would you like to testmaster it?”
“dude what happened to the snare??
Did this band get super picky and ruin their own mix?”
“exactly this is what happened bud! I had no chance but to go with this as its my first work for (this record label). every other band would have been kicked out of the studio…
master sounds great thanks!”
It’s never fun to hear other producers going through this, but it really sucks when it happens to you. With the picky bands (and luckily they are much less frequent these days), I have some basic rules that allow me to keep from ruining the mix, while staying ethical (and not getting lazy):
Any list of revisions the bands send me, I do them, as long as I agree with what they want. For the revisions I don't like, I type a detailed description of why I don't think that is a good revision and send it to the band along with the next mix. If they insist, then I try to find a way to do the revisions in a way that keeps me happy.
If I the band insists on a revision that I absolutely don't think is good for the overall sound, I won’t do it.
The bottom line is that my name is on the mix, and they came to me to mix it. If they want someone else to be their mixing puppet, then I will be more than happy to send the files to someone else (provided they pay me for the time it takes to prep the files for someone else). Luckily it has never come to this, but you have to be adamant about preserving your sound.
This should be a very rare situation…like maybe once every year or two, if that. If you come across this issue more than often than this, then it may be a problem with you being stubborn and hard to work with.
How I work
If i'm mixing multiple songs for a band, the best thing to do (for metal bands, at least) is to mix 1 song, while only focusing on the “big picture”. This means getting the bass tone, guitar tone, drums, and other major elements sorted out, while ignoring the small things. These are what I call the “real revisions”, and I will usually work with the band as much as necessary to get the sound right.
If the band can be there while you're doing this, it can save a lot of frustration later on. If I'm tracking the band, they're almost always here while I'm doing mix 1.
Once you've agreed that the single sounds good, mix down the other songs (using the single as a road map) and start getting all the small details done. This is where bands can get difficult to work with…
From here, I generally give a band about 4 mixes to get all the nit-picky bullshit revisions done (like lead volumes and fx). I will rarely send anything past the 5th mix unless I've messed up somehow. This is usually after the band has gone home, or if the band recorded somewhere else, and I'm just handling mixing duties.
It is always important to make sure the band's revisions are filtered through 1 designated member. Never let bands send you mix revisions that have not be “OK'd” by the rest of the band.
Once a band starts sending me conflicting mix revisions (going back on things they asked me to change 2 mixes ago), then I cut them off and say we're done (assuming I'm happy with the mix).
The reason I see this as the “ethical” way to handle mixing is because, for the hundreds of bands I’ve worked with, there is only a small handful of bands that I’ve had to “cut off.” That means ~95% of the bands I work with are happy with this method, without ever having to compromise my sound.
I actually give bands more control than most producers would, but when you get to the point where bands are seeking you out to mix their songs, there has to be things you won’t budge on as a producer (for the sake of preserving “your sound”).
Some bands (or band members) just have major control issues that make them extremely hard to work with. Using this method for revisions is the fairest way I've found to deal with these types of people.
Don't be a dick
Just be fair with it, and use your own judgment when it comes to saying no to bands, managers, or labels. This is not a license to be an asshole, but more of a way to protect yourself from being bullied or taken advantage of.
I once had a band ask me to “pan one snare sample left and one right” in their mix, to “widen the snare”. This is the kind of shit you have to say no to (at least when mixing metal bands). What I did do was add a wider room sample to the snare and bring it up in the mix.
Do not just say “no” to bands because you’re lazy and don’t feel like doing the 100+ legitimate revisions they sent you.
When it’s OK to charge money for revisions
The last thing I want to go over is charging for mix revisions. The only situation I can think of where it’s fine to charge for revisions is this:
You’ve already agreed on a “final mix”, you’ve mastered it, and archived the session. If the bands decides to give you more revisions after that, then by all means, send another invoice for your time.
After all, you have to go through the trouble of unarchiving the session, doing more revisions, bouncing another mix, getting the band/label/manager to approve it, and then remastering…again.
What I don’t want to see are producers saying no to destructive mix revisions, then going back and saying they’ll do those revisions for more money. That’s a great way to ruin your mix and your own reputation at the same time.
There are a lot of topics I will be covering that are geared towards the full time home studio. Here are some of them (in case you missed my first post).
- When it’s time to get an assistant (sooner than you think)
- How to use an assistant to maximize DPH (dollars per hour)
- When It’s time to get a manager (spoiler: you don’t)
- When you should outsource your work and how to do it right.
- How to keep your inbox from taking over your life
- How to incorporate a CRM with your business (and what CRM is)
- How to step into the 21st century and stop using paperwork to manage studio’s finances.
- Tax related shit
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