Advice for First Paying Gig?

This question goes out to the studio owners / managers in here.

I will be getting my first paid gig recording a band in November. I’m meeting with them in mid-November to discuss what they want, strategies for getting the desired result, etc. Most likely, I will be recording this on location since it’s not like I have an acoustically treated room that would provide a distinct advantage if they recorded here.

I’m aware that a good engineer will want to take a more consultative approach to discussing goals, and how those goals could be achieved as far as tracking and mixing are concerned. But as far as what types of questions I should ask (and the impact the answers will have on my recording approach) I have no idea. Also, how do you coordinate the transfer of material back and forth after tracking is done, etc.? I am being introduced to these people through a very close friend (and live audio specialist) so I doubt they’d try to screw me, but I’d be interested in how you maintain a level of responsiveness without putting yourself in a position where your work can be pilfered by your client without paying you for your effort.

FWIW, I’m not charging much since they are my first client and I realize that I’m getting also getting “paid” in terms of education on how to do this properly in the future.

Any thoughts, nuggets of wisdom, etc. would be greatly appreciated.

Hi Fooloman,

I have never done anything like that before and I would find it both daunting and exciting:

But what I would do is agree on a SET FEE for just doing the recording session, and make this open-ended over a single day (ie. it could take an hour or it could take 8 x hours). Otherwise multiple sessions will entail multiple set-ups and strike-downs! If there are four people in the band then ask them for £25 each so that makes £100 in all. I would say that is very fair.

I would not even discuss mixing/mastering etc and so cross that bridge when you come to it. Personally, I would make it clear from the start that you are happy just to RECORD and then hand the files over to the next person in line to complete that particular stage. Just give him/her (or one of the band members) the individual stems afterwards if that is the route which they wish too take.

As I say, I am a novice, but as this is your first time, there may be unforeseen PROBLEMS along they way and so I would keep my role SIMPLE, limited and clearly defined.

Hope that is of some help mate.


Paul David Seaman

You probably won’t get too many owners/managers answering, more engineers like me I’m guessing.

I would maybe listen to the band ahead of time. Try to find recordings they’ve done before and listen to how it was recorded and mixed. Try to get a sense of what they’ll be recording with you (this is possibly above and beyond what many would do, but since this is a first for you why not overdo the “recon”?) and ask them if they want stuff to sound roughly like it did on earlier records or if there’s a new direction they’re heading in, and if it’s the latter; what direction…

Do they want a “live band in a (good) room” sound or more of tighter studio sound where they’re more isolated?

Speaking of isolation, are they looking to possibly replace some parts? That’ll require a lot more isolation to be possible?

How many players and how many distinctly different headphone feeds are needed? Or do they expect to setup so they can hear acoustically?

Exactly what instruments are they bringing? And out of those instruments, how many need to be setup at all times, and how many need to be set up on short notice? (That’s all so you can estimate #inputs, pres, mics etc… My friend recorded Snarky Puppy last year and that recording was monstrous with a s@#$load of inputs because their process was basically "All these instruments need to be set up and good to go if I feel like jumping on this instrument when inspiration strikes).

Are you tracking with or without effects? If you’re using effects, will you put them on the inputs and thereby recording the effects or are you using them non-destructively?

I suppose I’d ask the mix engineer what he wants back, or whomever is responsible for such stuff. I’d probably do a backup pretty often and keep that after delivery. In addition I’d actually make it clear to them that once you hand over the content to them it’s their responsibility to create backups of it (unless they specifically pay you to do so). HDs are cheap so you can back it up and keep it for a while (after delivery), but I would actually not really make that clear because that will just encourage them to not do their part in keeping data safe.

You’ll also need to be clear on whether they want a Cubase project, and if so what version of Cubase. If not, then what do you want to hand over? If you’re delivering files, then they’ll obviously need to all start at the same time, so you’ll need to “bounce” events so they cover the same range and start at the same time. Using time-stamped Broadcast Wave Files should be a good thing as well, as they should in an ideal world be able to just drop them into a different DAW and spot to original time.

I would probably recommend making clear notes as the session goes on and then deal with a lot of this after it concludes, before delivery. And for delivery I’d just use any cheap and reasonably fast media to transfer. It could be anything from online transfer, if you have the time/space, or dedicated hard drives (and you’ll charge them for the hardware of course).

As a warning I’ll just say that in general the “worst” clients have by far been the ones with the smallest budgets. They have been the ones asking the most while paying the least, expecting everything for nothing. And they’ve had absolutely no qualms about it. I’m not saying this is what you’ll experience, but I’m just throwing it out there because one might think that people with a lower budget will be more understanding of where limits are drawn in order to keep costs down.

So speaking of limits I think I agree with ‘monster’ in that the way to keep sane here is to clearly define your role and what you are tasked with. Anything that falls outside of that agreement and you should be very careful in my experience. To some people you agreeing to do one thing that lay outside of your agreement is opening the door to a never-ending flood of requests for “just this one last favor”…

^^^^ what he said.

Every band I have come into my joint, I have them provide me two to three songs of the sound that they’re after. That is where I derive my recording techniques from. It also sets the barometer of production after recording is complete. Budgets set how close you can get to that.

Biggest thing is be very clear with your fee and what the end product is to be.

The other thing that I include is after mixing is complete they get one to two touch up / Corrections to the mix. If you decide to do that, just work it into your price and make sure they know that.

If possible, try to communicate through emails or texts so you have something to refer back to. That is if there is any problem

If there’s anything you want to bounce off me, Larry, feel free to give me a call! You got my number! :slight_smile:

On location recording ? Is it a live gig ? Or a location / space ? That location could need treatment. Acoustic blankets. I suggest you record the drummer seperately. Compress and gate every instrument. No EQ. Watch your levels. No distortion stay below 0. Overdub / comp the lead vocals seperately after the band has finished tracking…
Mic the bass and guitar amps also on top of the input signals to get that fat sound.

I also suggest programming a few groove agent acoustic drums to help the drummer stay tight. Instead of the click track. Drums can be problematic if not mic properly. Most studios have a guy that specializes in placing mics to get the right sound. After that it’s all in the mix.

Good luck :wink:

I did it once for a band for free (I am no pro) and the best thing I learned out of that session is to tune up the kid’s guitars for them!

I know! These are friends of Larry Gruber, so although this advice from everyone is awesome (! x 1,000,000) I don’t think this group will be difficult. The way he pitched it to me, they wrote these songs some time ago and never put them on “tape” so they are happy for anything that allows them this chance at nostalgia.

Still, a lot of this advice sounds like what I used to use when I was a freelance application developer so it’s good to know that I have some experience to draw upon based on everyone’s guidance and advice.

@AP: thanks for the advice. This is essentially what I was going to propose as my approach as well, unless the initial meeting revealed information that would require something different. I intend on using Glyn John’s drum mic’ing approach, since it’s the easiest and can yield good results if done properly. (Thanks to TEEF for introducing me to that several years ago!)

First consultation is tomorrow. In addition to the feedback here, I spent some quality time with Richard Augustin who is a good friend and also a mixing / mastering engineer based in Manhattan. I think I’m ready for tomorrow.

One question I’m sure I’ll get asked but don’t yet have an answer for is how much I will bill.

One question I will ask is if I’m just doing tracking or if I’m the mixing / mastering engineer also.

Do “on location” types of gigs charge by the hour? Or is it a fixed price type of thing? I don’t plan on charging anywhere near full price because, as I’ve mentioned, I will have kinks in my process to work out and so I don’t want them thinking they will be paying for my mistakes.

Kim (my wife, not Oncle Grusom) suggested that I should charge close to market rate but make it clear to them that I will be sensitive to incidents that occur due to my inexperience and not charge them for that. Is this a sensible strategy?

Can’t offer any advice but I’m in the same boat so just saying I’m watching this topic closely for advice :slight_smile:
Determining rates (or fixed price) is really hard…

Similar thread on another forum. Consensus among the pros was don’t sell yourself cheap, charge market price. Reasons were multiple, including:

  1. It is hard to increase your prices later once you’ve established your basement/floor.
  2. Charging lower starts/contributes to a downward spiral of income for those trying to make a living in the field.

To acknowledge lack of experience to early clients, it was recommended to throw in extra services included in the market price. For example, more than the usual # of mix request redos, etc.

Oh, and a written contract was pretty much a given, if only to establish what services are due for the payment (stereo track only supplied? … individual tracks? … if money is made from the recording, are you eligible for part of that? … etc.).


Might be wise to keep in mind what your role is, engineer, or engineer/producer . That should have some measure on what you charge.

You know, a contract is something I didn’t consider, which is surprising because in business dealings where money is exchanged that is usually the first thing I think of.

So the client, Bill, brought in 3 CDs of material. Turns out he and another are an acoustic guitar duo (think America + Grateful Dead + CSNY + maybe some Dan Fogelberg thrown in for good measure) who have been writing songs since the 70’s They’ve since added a piano player and upped the vocals to 3 part harmonies. They would like to add drums and bass, but this is still yet to be determined if they will do it.

There is no set timeframe for this, i.e. he doesn’t want this finished by Christmas so that they can hand it out as gifts.

They are looking to record everything live, i.e. no overdubbing, track doubling, etc. That doesn’t mean I won’t recommend it later, but that may significantly lengthen the time to completion since they do a fair amount of both strumming (easier) and fingerpicking (not as easy to sync up multiple takes). Vocals will be done live as well, against my recommendation, but I certainly understand the reason why they want to do this. The piano will most likely be done via MIDI (meaning I can use Alicia’s Keys or any of the other piano VSTs I have).

They have about 10 songs total. If each song takes 30 minutes to get a good take live that’s 5 hours of tracking. 1 hour of setup and another for breakdown. Finally, since I’m figuring on about 1-2 hours per song of mixing / mastering. So that’s anywhere from 17 to 27 hours of work.

Now I need to find a good hourly rate that both reflects what I know I can do while also acknowledging that I’m not a full fledged studio with a full mic cabinet and an acoustically treated recording room.

That sounds pretty good, Larry. Make sure you record all the songs in the same project. Once you do all the cleaning and placement of the audio sounds, you can use that as a baseline for every single song mix.

Flag your selected takes of each individual song with cycle markers and name the cycle markers the title of the song. Then you can delete the ones in between and be left with the 10 songs. There’s a function in Cubase called delete time to rid yourself of the other takes and the time. Incremental safe. And save as “all takes” “selected takes” yadda yadda…

If you’re doing this all live, the way you place your microphones is very important in terms of bleed. Don’t expect to do a lot of edits in live recording. The bleed will be in other microphones and will still showcase the screw up. Some screw-ups are totally passable. Live recording isn’t about perfection, it’s about the feel of the music.

In live recording, it’s best to keep the players in the zone and relaxed. Let them perform their best and be transparent and boost their egos. “That was awesome, but let’s just make one more pass on it” Short sentences work best in communication to them. If they feel confident and relaxed, they’ll give you great takes. If you sense a moral shift, have them take a break and get a bite to eat to reset them. Have a book of jokes handy to keep the atmosphere light. I never needed a joke book, I just tend to be a wise-a $$ person that tends to crack up the musicians.

Ten songs is going to take you 2 days to record. If you’re doing overdubs, it’s going to take longer.

Good thoughts, Tom. I will be calling you next week or so to spitball ideas on mic placement and how to properly charge.

Here is the template I used for the meeting yesterday. I have the question about mics since my mic cabinet isn’t that extensive. I’m sure I’ll catch flak in here about not using much compression / EQ during tracking, but this is more due to my particular style of music I will be recording. I prefer to do both of those during mixing if possible.

Consultation with (band name)


  • Introductions
  • Listen to sample song(s)
  • Demonstrate mixing / mastering capabilities
  • Discuss logistics and answer the questions below
  • Discuss cost (if possible) and set expectations, i.e. time for tracking; time for overdubs; time for mixing; and time for mastering


  • How many songs?
  • How many days do they have for tracking?
  • What is the desired delivery date?
  • Are they looking to stick with the same general sound that the sample indicated?
  • How many recording passes per song, i.e. everything at once; everything minus vocals at once; or all base tracks at once with doubling, solos, and vocals done separately? (Budget?)
  • Will drums be recorded separately? If so, should I provide a quick skeleton drum track to be used while recording the rest of the instruments? If so, demos of each song should be provided. (Budget?)
  • Will there be any MIDI involved?
  • What mics do they have?
  • Should I bring any of my guitars and/or keyboards over during tracking?
  • Am I the mixing / mastering engineer?
  • If not, in what format am I providing the files to the mixing / mastering engineer?
  • If so, how thorough should I be during mixing, i.e. should I take some shortcuts in the interest of spending less time on each song?
  • What archiving should be done of the project beyond what I would do for myself, i.e. Cubase project, WAV bounce-downs of each track, both?
  • How will the project be delivered, i.e. via Box, USB stick, or band-supplied external hard drive?


  • No reverb will be used during recording.
  • Delay is okay on solo instruments but should be used sparingly.
  • Very little compression and EQ will be used if any during recording.

Meeting Notes
(Include any other notes from the meeting that are relevant to the project)

Hi Larry. I added a few notes into your list. Just my thoughts and some things you can take it or leave it. I noted them with ***

As far as vocalists go, it is possible to add effects to the monitoring channel that aren’t part of the recording signal chain. But yeah, I get what you’re saying. Great commentary, and thanks!


I put together a fairly simple contract to ensure that I’m protected. The trio are friends of a friend of mine, but that doesn’t mean that I know them well enough to trust them. Plus, a contract would be beneficial if I took other paying gigs.

I sent it to them and rather than hearing comments on the contract or even that it’s acceptable the next correspondence that I received was that the project is delayed until June. I’m not sure if I can believe that or if that’s their attempt to tell me “thanks, but no thanks.”

Anyway, thanks for all of the suggestions!

Damn. That doesn’t sound good.