Below are some responses to some of the most typical questions and scenarios that I've encountered since working as a mixing engineer.
“We have a very specific sound in mind. How do we know you're the right guy for us?"
This one is all about good communication, clear direction, and providing me with relevant reference mixes. If you want “the snare sound from Album A” and the “bass tone from Album B”, that’s usually enough information to tell me what you need.
If you’re asking “do I have the skills?”, I would hope that I have done something already to convince you that I do! :) But if there's any doubt, we can always arrange a test mix first!
2. “Can we join in the mixing process?”
In the interests of efficiency and avoiding a ‘too many chefs’ situation, I prefer to do the bulk of the initial work by myself. But I am completely open to all mixing suggestions if you think you have a helpful solution that I haven’t yet applied (sometimes, a different perspective is what’s needed!). And, when minor details need to be handled in a specific way that is difficult to communicate, I offer ‘live mix-streams’, where we can go through a mix together and solve problems in real time. If required, I usually reserve these sessions for when the majority of the work has already been done (so towards the end of a mixing process).
3. “Do we REALLY get unlimited revisions?”
That's right, I offer unlimited revisions for every mix.
Why? Because I don't think it makes sense to set an arbitrary limit on a creative process that might create unnecessary pressure or stress to make the right decisions every time (for you AND me).
So, if you really need them, yes! But I usually aim to get a mix completed within two or three rounds max. Here’s how it usually works:
The initial mix will usually be about getting everything more or less processed and balanced as it should be, based on your initial guidelines, requests, and reference mixes.
The first round of revisions will be dealing with anything that may differ significantly from how you wanted it (so, for example, maybe I leaned too heavily on the style of one reference mix when actually you preferred a different one).
Assuming the big changes were successfully dealt with in round one, the second round is normally adjusting smaller details (like small level / tone adjustments).
And the third round is usually dealing with even finer fine-tuning (or things no-one spotted the first time).
If we’ve got to the fourth round, don’t stress. Maybe it’s a super complex arrangement that needs a LOT of fine-tuning. However, it sometimes means we need to have a call to sort out some kind of misunderstanding or miscommunication. BUT …. that being said, I feel it’s important not to set a firm limit on things, to allow you to feel free to explore and experiment with ideas if you need to. Sometimes you realise what the track needs is some last minute minor overdub or something.
There is one caveat to this, however. If I feel that we are going around in circles or splitting hairs on insignificant details, I may object to doing further work. All revisions take time and effort, so whilst I will always endeavour to do what you ask of me, if I feel any requests to be unreasonable or not helpful and a potential waste of time, I will bring this up with you. Until that point, though, everything is fair game! :)
4. “What’s the deal with the deposit?”
To guarantee that the work gets done, I always ask for a non-refundable deposit upfront. This is to cover my initial time spent working on the mix, and to ensure I can set aside time for you. It also ensures that both you and I are sufficiently invested in the project to put in the absolute maximum time and effort.
The amount I ask for varies depending on the size of the job.
For a single track: 50% of the total fee
For an EP (up to 4 tracks): 25%
For an album: 20%
Usually, I simply ask for the remainder of the fee upon completion of the project. But if a project takes over a month, I usually ask for a balancing payment at that stage, based upon how much work has been completed.
5. “How do we pay you?”
Given the truly international nature of my business, I make use of a variety of money transfer services. So wherever you’re paying me from, there’s an option for keeping transfer fees to a minimum (or even zero).
I will always discuss the most mutually convenient options with you before demanding any payment.
6. “How long does it usually take to finish a track/ album?”
Assuming I am not juggling too many projects (and I will let you know if I’m having a busy period so we can book you into a quieter one if you prefer), I can usually do a full initial mix of a track within 24 hours of receiving the final stems (48 hours if it’s a long and/or complex track - maybe longer if there’s a lot of editing work that I need to do before I can start on the mix :)). Any revisions are usually dealt with within 24 hours of receiving them. Then it’s just a matter of how long it takes for you to send revisions, and how many of them you want me to make.
With a full album, things may take a little longer per track on average, as it can be more important to find a general vibe that will work well across the whole album. This is especially true if there’s a lot of stylistic diversity across the tracks. If this is the case, I sometimes ask if you have a track order in mind, and mix a few of the tracks back-to-back in one session, so you can decide if the general approach is working or not, before we commit the vibe to the rest of the album.
If you do have a firm deadline, for whatever reason (a label needs to release it by a certain date, for example), please let me know before we begin. Otherwise, assume the process will take as long as it needs to (but not longer :)).
7. “If you’re first mixing and then mastering our tracks, what should we be listening for during the mixing?”
If I’m taking care of both the mixing and mastering, then I will usually try to get the sound pretty close to the finished ‘mastered’ sound as we go through the mixing process. This means you should be critiquing each mix as though it is the finished product without having to second guess how it will ultimately sound (whilst allowing for possible general enhancements or refinements at the end). So I will share mixes with you at approximately how I expect the final EQ, compression and loudness settings to be.
However, there will still be some minor details that will be left to the mastering stages. The fine details such as the exact EQ curve (do I need to shave off a fraction low-end and add some top sparkle? Or vice versa?), width (sometimes a bit of extra widening helps, sometimes it’s not needed), saturation (maybe the overall mix needs a bit more ‘thickness’ or ‘juice’?) and loudness level will be decided at the very end. The masters should usually sound around 10-20% more polished, but not drastically more than that (otherwise the masters will sound too different from the mixes that you’ve approved!).
If I am only mixing your tracks, then only the first paragraph applies :). But I will supply the premastered tracks to your mastering engineer at 2-3dB below the average mastered level, to give them some headroom to work with.
8. “What if it goes wrong and we decide we should have hired Jens Bogren or Andy Sneap instead?”
First of all, if these guys are within your budget, then please go ahead and hire them now :)
Seriously, though, if, having tried all means of communication possible, including a live mix session, I’ve been misunderstanding every single thing you’ve asked me to do from the start, then there’s a chance we have an incompatibility problem.
I believe any audio problem can be solved with good enough communication. I can only work as well as the quality of the feedback I am given, however. And innocent misunderstandings can, and do, happen. To avoid this situation, I have created a “helpful feedback guidelines” document which you will come across if you decide to hire me.
But, in the worst case scenario, if things simply aren’t ‘clicking’ between us, then it’s fine to call it quits. The deposit is non-refundable (to cover the early stages of work), but you are not obliged to pay the full fee until and unless you are fully satisfied with the quality of the product.