How much should you charge for your sound engineering services?

How much should you charge for your sound engineering services?

You've been asked to make a recording of some local musicians, and they expect to pay you. Wow - you're a pro! But how much should you charge?

by David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

Question from a Record-Producer.com visitor...

I am an amateur recording artist recording in my apartment for university students that want to cut demos, or just record their songs. I know I am not professional and I have very little formal training.

My question is, how much should I charge? I want to make a little money and people tell me that my recordings sound better than some of the local studio's work. Should I charge by song, or by a hourly wage, and what is a good fee to start with. I live in Canada if that makes any difference.

Thanks,

Paul

David Mellor responds...

This is a tricky question. To answer one point immediately, you should charge an hourly or a daily rate.

How much your hourly or daily rate will be depends on a number of factors...

  • How much the client expects, or is willing, to pay.
  • How desperately you want the experience of doing the work.
  • What is the minimum value you place upon your time?
  • Whether you want to make recording your main source of employment.
  • If you make recording your main source of employment, the proportion of your available time you expect to be working.
  • Whether you need an assistant.
  • The value of the equipment you bring to the job.
  • The competition!

We need to take these points in turn. I will not take into account the value of your equipment until I come to that point specifically.

How much the client expects, or is willing, to pay

A suitable benchmark for this is how much you would expect to pay a plumber to fix your kitchen sink. Many clients who would willingly pay a plumber top dollar to fix a domestic problem will recoil with horror if asked to pay the same for recording services.

But you should definitely seek a comparable rate for your services, even though you might not expect to get it.

If you quote a rate that seems too cheap, you won't get respect. People place value on expensive products and services, regardless of their intrinsic worth. So don't go too low.

How desperately you want the experience of doing the work

If you are just starting out, you may feel that you would do the work for nothing just to get the experience.

If this is what you want, then by all means get that experience. It will be useful to you in your future career.

Do make sure though that all of your expenses are covered, including transport. Don't end up paying to do the job.

What is the minimum value you place upon your time?

You could be doing some other kind of work with your time. A student for example might be doing bar or restaurant work.

You shouldn't offer a rate that is less than you could earn by doing some other job.

Whether you want to make recording your main source of employment

If you want to make recording your career, then you have to charge proper money for it.

Currently you may be working directly for musicians or music societies. In future you will seek to move into broadcast or corporate work, or even recording for CD release.

If this is what you want, you have to consider how much you would like your annual income to be when setting your hourly or daily rate.

If you make recording your main source of employment, the proportion of your available time you expect to be working

This clearly links to the point made above. If you intend to be available to work for forty-six weeks a year, on average five days a week, eight hours a day, then you have 1840 hours available.

But...

Any freelance worker can only expect to be employed for a part of their available time. It would be wise to consider a figure of 50%. Initially you will not achieve anywhere near this. Further down the line you may achieve 75%. If you find yourself working more than 75% of your available time, you need to consider putting your rates up.

So if you actually work 920 hours a year, then if you want to be paid for instance $60,000, then your hourly rate will be just over $65, plus expenses.

Whether you need an assistant

You might be able to get someone to work for you for free, for the experience. Alternatively you might have to pay.

You shouldn't have to pay more than $15 - $20 an hour for an assistant who can follow your instructions but otherwise has little or no technical expertise.

A skilled assistant will demand more.

The value of the equipment you bring to the job

Your equipment cost you a lot of money and the client has to pay for the time you spend using it on their job.

Here you have to work out the value of the equipment and its projected life span.

Let's suppose you have $30,000 worth of equipment and you expect it to last five years on average.

Working 920 hours a year, this would equate to just over $6.50 per hour. You should add this to your fee, but there is no need to break it down on the invoice.

You should consider the cost of your transport too if necessary. It is normal to include the cost of transport within a certain radius, and make an additional charge beyond that.

The competition!

All of the above falls to pieces if you have competition that is prepared to work for less!

In this case you could embark on a price war, which will see both of you involved in a never-ended downward spiral.

Or you could promote your skills as a 'premium' service in some way. Another alternative is to specialize in a niche.

Summing up

Don't charge less than you are worth!

When you have decided on an hourly or daily rate, make sure that it is fully justified in the eyes of the client, in terms of the expectations set up by your marketing materials and methods, the quality of your work, and the perceived value of your service, also in the eyes of the client.

Opinions sought!

Over to Record-Producer.com readers. How much do you think a sound engineer should charge?

(In US dollars please - you can find a converter at www.xe.com)

By David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass
Monday August 14, 2006

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Readers' comments on this article...

Anonymous
Monday January 29, 2007

im doin a school project in which where we are supposed to research the career of our choice. I chose to research being a record producer. I've had trouble finding information on certain topics including: amount of hours you work, numbers employed as a record producer, training, other qualifications, advancements, job outlook, and earnings. help me out if u can... thx =D
Tim Hewitt, Wisconsin Rapids, USA
Sunday September 10, 2006

The way I felt I needed to charge is just a certain rate for each different thing. That is everything like doing audio and video quality restoration of peoples old audio tapes, vinyl records, and VHS and mini video tapes, to live band recording. For live band recording I also have separate set charges for each different thing, including transportation. The thing I felt was better to charge for each certain thing, is because I feel there gets to be too much trouble about how long things are taking to get done. I feel with just straight charges for each thing, all the singers, musicians, and I can be able to not feel like we have to rush, and take the time we all need to get everything done right, and I still feel I'm making plenty of money. Since I'm sure it would be too much on here to list them all, people can email me for a website address of mine, where I have them listed.
teuton
Monday August 28, 2006

> Do it for free! All art should be free!

- Kel Stewart, Australia

There are some technical skills involved, so one could get paid for these, and still be able to give away the art for free.

> Why should I engineer for free when the client will take the ART and sell it.

- Greg Clark, Southlake, U.S.A.

If ALL art is for free, he won't be selling it either.
Calvin, Kitchner, ontario
Monday August 21, 2006

I agree with Everything Said in the Anserw to Pauls question, Im also on the same Path paul have a sound proof Studio home built i charge $75 an hr on average With Price breaks if people Purchase So many hours in a month
Greg Clark, Southlake, U.S.A.
Friday August 18, 2006

Do it for free! All art should be free!

Why should I engineer for free when the client will take the ART and sell it. He gets paid and I don't. Where's the logic in this and where does the money come from to purchase the tools to produce this art? Let's think a little bit here.
Andrew, Perth, Australia
Tuesday August 15, 2006

If the building, lease, rates, air-con, equipment, equip repairs, electricity, mortgage, food, clothes, mixing mags..etc was considered art then it could be free;)
Kel Stewart, Australia
Tuesday August 15, 2006

Capatalist Scumbags!

Free I say... Free!
Aaron j Curtis, Melbourne, Australia
Tuesday August 15, 2006

Yes dave I thought your guidelines were very helpful,ESPECIALLY the parts about not being too cheap.This is so true,either charge your proper hourly rate or do the job for free!If you keep under-charging yourself,people will immediaetly be thinking "Amateur","the guy or girl has'nt been doing this for very long" etc etc... .Previously I've regretted undercharging myself doing solo singer and instrumental demo's,people jus don't hold you in high regard and u end up getting less work than if you had charged your proper rate".And you'l find more clients sniffing around either for a freebie or a very cheap rate!

(Do yourselfs a favour and resist the temptation to undercharge for your services)
Jason Bourne, Melbourne, Australia
Monday August 14, 2006

Good Article Dave,

I think you've presented a pretty well rounded 'basic' method of working out what to charge for people getting started in the "commercial side" of the sound industry.
jimo, Beijing, China
Monday August 14, 2006

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Anonymous
Monday August 14, 2006

Think of the job in days. How many day sesions to complete it. Is it a couple of days tracking and then a day mixing and making a cd for them to take away. You can settle on three days work for a certain amount of tracks dependent on the band and how well they play. obviously every session will be different but if your expectations are realistic then settle on a day rate that means you will earn a worth while sum over the whole project and if you work late then so be it. That's studio work after all. Don't expect to go home early.Leave time for the mix and have a shedule in your head. 1 song in a morning and 1 in an afternoon. Do this for two days and a day to mix. Sure Maddona has more time than that but at the bottom end of the market speed is everthing.

This way you sell them a package. Four tracks mixed and a cd. Three days work and $100 per day.If you know they are loaded of course ask for twice that. Eventually 4 times that when you are very good and established.
Ian Bell, Northrepps, UK
Monday August 14, 2006

Nice theory David, but completely wrong. The answer to the what to charge question is 'whatever the market will bear'. Don't worry what the competition charges because you should aim to differentiate yourself on quality of service not price. Some people buy on price alone - you don't want them as customers because they are not interested in the product only its price. They are nothing but PITA.

Ian
Dave M, ??????, USA
Monday August 14, 2006

Dave ,I found this article very informative.............thank you
Jim, Brisbane, Australia
Monday August 14, 2006

Over here average rates seem to be about $45-60 an hour, but I have seen rates as low as $13 per hour. Some places around here advertise two rates, one for actual recording and the other just for mixing, usually with the latter being significantly less expensive, so you could just bring your Protools sessions to them and they'd polish them up instead of running a full-blown recording session.

I suppose another point is that the rates you charge should be reflective of the services you offer - if some kid brings me his Protools projects he might be happier if I didn't charge him $45 an hour to tidy up his mixes if he just needs it fixed up for mastering ... well, that is if my recording rates aren't $145 an hour, of course.
Kel Stewart, Australia
Monday August 14, 2006

Do it for Free! All art should be free.