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The Pros and Cons of Doing a Free Trial Mix

A potential client and three engineers walk into a bar. The potential client says I want one of you to mix my record, but I don’t know which one. One of the engineers says, “well, I’ll do it for no cost up front and if you like it, you can pay and hire me.”

The other engineers say, “I’m better than these other guys so I’ll do a mix for no cost up front because I’m confident you’ll pay and hire me.”

All three engineers do the mix and the potential client walks out of the bar. Get it?

Yeah, I don’t get it either.

The Trial Mix

Let’s break down the ideology behind the “trial mix.”

The idea is that the client needs confidence in you, and that by displaying what you can do with their record you will earn said confidence. Of course the client realizes that if he can get multiple engineers to do this, he will get to see who’s the best engineer for the job. Engineers compete, the best one wins, it’s the theory behind capitalism and all.

Here’s the caveat. Capitalism runs on two ideas. Competition is one. Incentive is the other.

You might say that the incentive is getting paid for the mix and possibly landing an extended project. However, in this particular case the competition actually cuts into the incentive. Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say hypothetically I charge $1000 for a mix. If I’m used to spending ten hours on a mix, then my time is $100/hr.

Now, let’s say I go head to head against three to five other engineers hypothetically (not hypothetically) and I’m damn good, I might win out 50% of the time.

Now before you say “if you’re so good, why do you only win half the time,” consider that it’s myself against three to five other people collectively, and what determines the winner is largely subjective. If my win rate is 50% and my value is $1000, then my return on every trial mix is $500.


The problem arises when it comes to my own value.

If my return on a trial mix is $500, and my value is $100/hr, that means if I spend any more than five hours on this mix (or half the time I would normally spend on the mix for the purpose of this hypothetical) then I’m devaluing myself.

Of course, if I spend half the time I normally would on a mix, then I’m devaluing my results! This is indeed a paradox, in order to not devalue my worth I have to devalue my results, and in order to not devalue my results I have to devalue my worth!

Under what circumstances can I resolve this problem? Or, are there situations where trial mixes are a good idea?

I’m generally of the stance that the problems with trial mixes can’t really be resolved. However, there are people who will espouse that trial mixes can be a good idea, and they do make a compelling case. But since they’re not here, I’m going to make my case!


Stack The Deck

The first way one might resolve the paradox stated above is by stacking the deck.

If I were to take on a trial mix in a record where I felt I was an overwhelming favorite to do the best work, then suddenly the value difference becomes a lot less of an issue.

In other words, if I take on a record where I can confidently say I’m going to beat out everyone else 80% of the time, then I’m taking on much less of a loss. And if there’s incentive for future work, that loss becomes more and more negligible.

My counterargument to this is if you are confidently an 80% favorite in a competitive mix, the client should just wise up and hire you from the get go!

If the whole point of the trial mix is to prove one’s worth, you’ve got nothing to prove if you are an overwhelming pick for the gig.

The Time

The second way to do this is by only doing trial mixes where you estimate five hours of work (in this hypothetical).

This way you are not devaluing your work or your worth.

Of course, your return here is $250 on these mixes, so you have to consider the bigger picture.

If you are culling a much larger fee regularly, is it really worth your time to be doing mixes that are worth a quarter of what you normally get paid? Maybe if you hit a slow spot in terms of business. Otherwise it’s hard to make a compelling argument.


The only compelling reason I can think to do a trial mix is as an investment.

If I know I’m effectively taking a loss by doing a trial mix I have to make up for it in some other way. There either needs to be tons of future work involved, or something I can add to my reel to help advertise my work outside of that particular client — or simply the reward of personal growth because I need the experience.


To sum it all up, my feeling is this: If you’re looking at doing trial mixes for the value of it, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

If you’re looking at doing trial mixes as an investment it can be worth it, but you want to minimize your losses and maximize your potential before doing it. That is, take trial mixes where you can display the results publicly, take records only if you feel strongly you can nail it, and take records where you feel you can effectively do it in a minimal amount of time.

So, do you do trial mixes for potential clients?

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch:

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