Tips for Professionalism and Client Interaction
One of the most important aspects of working in music is professionalism. The ability to deliver a great production or mix is the crux of any producer or engineer’s job, but clients are also seeking someone they can trust and have a strong relationship with. Likewise, anyone who has any sort of establishment in the music business is going to expect a certain degree of respect before taking someone seriously.
We’re talking about professionalism, with the overarching goal being how to establish the best working relationship between the client (such as an artist, label, or band) and the person hired (writer, composer, producer, engineer).
Hiring as a Client
When you are looking to hire someone, or bring someone on in any respect, it’s important to conduct yourself professionally. Start with a name, introduce yourself, and be specific about why you are contacting the person.
I know this seems obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received inquiries that read: “what’s your rate?” With no regards to who the person is, what the project is like, or really any relevant details at all. This is a bad way to start off any kind of conversation. My response is generally “I’m currently unavailable.”
Being Hired as a Producer/Engineer
Let’s say someone is hiring you and has approached you in a professional manner. Most often, people will not include all the relevant details. Make sure to ask! Deadlines, nature of the project, what they are looking for from you. Ask for a demo or rough mixes of the song(s) if available. Be clear about your policies and what you expect upfront, and make sure you know the client’s expectations.
Be concrete and forward about anything involving money. This is not an area where you want anyone unsure of anything. Make sure the client knows who you are and how you generally approach things.
Look professional. This isn’t to say being casual is a bad thing. But wherever you are working, make sure the place is clean and decently decorated. Make sure you are clean and presentable. Even though music tends to be a pretty lax field, a lot of money and time hinges on how well everyone does their job. So while a suit and tie isn’t necessary, make sure you look like you care.
In The Process
Communication is everything. When a client has a note or needs your attention, respond quickly and to the point. Clients may or may not show the same respect. That’s ok. If a client does not respond, move on to something else. Send a follow up in about a week.
On the flip side, as a client, be wary that respect is a two way street. If you are working with someone who is good, chances are that person has a lot of things on his/her plate and won’t have time for poor communication in the future.
There’s often a conflict between an artist attempting to preserve their vision for a song and being too attached to it.
This is one of the toughest things to deal with. It’s very important that you really listen to the client’s demo work, or have a solid idea of what they are asking for from the beginning. If you think you are going to take things in a different direction, make those suggestions before you start! The earlier you communicate deviations, the better. Of course it’s impossible and unnecessary to completely recreate the rough. Ultimately you are going to make different choices, and most of the time clients will understand that this is the point: to evoke the same ideas but in a “better” way.
If the client is overly attached to the rough, you have to cross that bridge when you come to it. First things first: take the clients’ perspective and assume they are right. The client wants what’s best for their music and probably won’t make suggestions without reason. At the same time, trust your gut. The advantage of being hired on is that you are bringing a fresh perspective to the project. Sometimes a client may need a reminder of this.
As a client, be wary of how you instruct the people you hire! I cannot tell you how many times someone has told me to, “make it sound like this other song,” and when I do they don’t like it. The revision notes often steer me in a direction that I would have gone in the first place. Be specific about what you want.
Being the client is difficult. It’s a thin line to walk between having a clear vision and not micromanaging. It’s important to have a solid direction, and it’s also important to let the people you have hired do what they do.
Revisions and recalls are often a necessary step in order to get the best out of a song. But sometimes revisions can get tedious, kill the energy, be a result of someone over-analyzing, or ultimately can just end up taking too much time.
My philosophy on revisions is that they are generally free of charge. Everyone is different on this. But I feel that the production process is a conversation of ideas. Burdening that with a price tag ultimately limits the end result of the song.
At the same time, excessive revising usually detracts from the song. It’s very easy to revise all of the interest and excitement out of a tune. I do charge when I feel excessive revisions are happening — and there are a few tells: if recalls start showing up asking to undo previous recalls, or if instrumentation and arrangement starts showing up that wasn’t there to begin with (depending on what stage of production we’re talking about).
If revisions are about honing in on that “perfect” sound, you’re on the right track. If the revisions are going left, right, up, down then you have to determine if it’s a) time to charge more, or b) you’re not the right person for the job. And don’t be afraid of option b. It might be a stab in your wallet to refund the client, but in the long run it’s just the right thing to do. Any time I’m working on material that I’m not thoroughly familiar with, I keep in mind that I might not be the right person for the gig (extremely unlikely). Being in a state of mind to willingly accept this makes things easier if you do find the song is not turning out to your client’s satisfaction.
Let’s say you’ve done the work and the client is thrilled. Now it’s time to end your interactions.
There are ultimately three goals: 1) The client is really happy, 2) The project is going to do as well as it possibly can, and 3) The client is coming back. All three of these ideas interrelate.
While as a producer/engineer you may not have much control over #2, you certainly have a lot of say toward #1 and #3. So when you are bringing a project to a close, make sure the client has everything they need. Ask them if they were happy with the work you provided. And don’t be shy about asking them to let the people they are in contact with know about you. Word of mouth is the most powerful way to get your name circulating.
If you have experiences hiring a producer or engineer, share them in the comments below! Likewise, if you’re an engineer or producer please share your insights on professionalism and client interaction.