Pro Audio Files

How to Make Sure You Get Paid in the Studio

There have been a lot of changes in the music industry. Fewer records are funded and recorded in a way they were 30 years ago.

Some of the changes are very apparent: Distribution is challenging. Budgets have dwindled. Promotion is limited. Touring is shorter.

What’s less obvious is the manner in which business takes place. Rarely are producers or sessions musicians walking into a studio with a project backed by a label.

With this shift comes a lack of understanding in business ethics. In days of past, you would have to agree to and sign a contract before entering the studio. Everyone was aware of contracts. It was just a part of doing business.

It was agreed upon that this was not a very fun part of the business, but a necessary one. In large part, those days are gone. I’m sure most people don’t miss the hassle of all the legalities (except the highly paid lawyers).

But now that we’re not signing paperwork, it’s leaving the door wide open for misunderstandings. It turns out that this can present an even bigger problem than pesky paperwork.

Money on My Mind

Royalty shares and credits are two of the most obvious negotiations. These two are very important. What’s becoming more important these days is when you get paid and how much you get paid.

There needs to be specific agreed upon conditions for getting paid. Make sure you let clients know before they come in if you’re expecting payment daily, weekly or monthly. Don’t wait until the end of the first session.

Money is awkward. Don’t make it even more uncomfortable. Plus, some artists don’t want to pay in front of other people. They may prefer to have a check ready.

Set the Scene

An artist or producer may come into your studio that you’ve never met. Simply letting them book time without a discussion of the payment cycle is a big mistake.

The new business model means dealing with a new breed of clients who may understand a few things about music, but very little about business.

Private Eyes

Before you book someone, do a little research. Ask to hear previous completed work. Search for their web presence. Ask for links.

With a little help from Google, you can get a clearer picture of the experience level of a new client.

A Toast to Bad Taste

A true professional realizes that when you hire a producer, engineer or musician, you’re paying for their time. It is possible the client may end up not liking the final product. This is never desirable and every effort should be made to avoid this.

But there should be an agreement that if the client decides they don’t like the final product, it won’t affect payment.

It’s one thing if there were problems on the session that were your fault. In this case, the studio, producer or engineer should do their very best to correct the error. Even if it means at their own loss.

If you do finish the work and there were no technical flaws, yet the client decides to just not use it on a whim … You still need to receive payment.

Seems obvious, right? Nothing is obvious when you don’t know who you’re working with.

Deep Space

This gets more complicated in the new era of sending tracks over the internet. You’re going to discover new levels of misunderstanding.

With the web, you’re not even seeing someone eye to eye. You can’t judge their character. You miss the opportunity to sum them up. So cover your ass.

I’m not trying to say the web is filled with people looking to rip you off. But, I’m saying, that person you see talking to themselves on the corner of Bowery and E 2nd? They now have internet access and Garageband.

Guess who they may be emailing to work on their next “viral” breakout? Having a contract sifts out some of the crazy. Or at minimum gives them less to complain about later.

Stop the Presses

It’s important that no work is done before there’s an agreement. Otherwise, you’re leaving a window wide open for a gust of “I thoughts” to blow in.

No Deposit, No Return

When working with someone you don’t know, get a deposit. Working on tracks for a client online? Get half down up front. It ensures they’re not going to bail and you’re committed to the job.

Someone booking a lockout at your studio? It ensures you’re not going to lose a huge block of income unless it’s an emergency.

Beyond Boundaries

You’re setting boundaries with a contract or an agreement. You don’t want everyone to know you put out on the first date do you?

After you have an agreement, you have the power to be liberal. I often am, but only after I’m comfortable with someone. Most of us are. It’s ok to color outside of the lines sometimes. But, when you have no lines, people tend to go all Jackson Pollock on you.

I have love for abstract art. But, when it comes to business agreements, abstract can shackle you to misery.

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Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC. More at

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  • Gabriel Mendoza

    Im about to take on my first artist (as a producer)…

    [Id email you and discuss this with you, but feel my experience can help others]

    …my question is how detailed of an agreement and contract should i get into (as of having none)?

    What kinds of questions should i be asking her? (this plays on the research aspect you mentioned) is there any decent CYA language floating around that can protect me? Or boilerplate stuff i should at the very least be using?

    Is it uncommon to lay out an entire timeline of milestones, along with expectations, so that they know exactly whst is happening and when (pending all goes to plan)?

    Your answers are much appreciated; this article couldntve come at a better time for me!

  • I usually only take on clients I already know, so I generally know what I’m dealing with.
    What I have to stress the most is, only take on projects in the genres that you are knowledgable in!
    It’s better for your stress, and it better for the clients song.

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