Pro Audio Files

Getting Down To Business as an Audio Engineer

There are generally two types of people in the field of music and media: Those who do it simply because they love it, but not with the intention of making it a career, and those who love it and have every intention of making it a career. Music and Media is a business — and unfortunately, if you are to make it a vocation, it must be treated like a business. I didn’t figure this out until well after I began my independent career, and I wish I understood it sooner. Hopefully you can learn from the lessons I learned the hard way without first-hand experience.


As artists, we generally shy away from taxes as much as possible. We don’t make much money to begin with, and taxes for the self-employed tend to be pretty high. However, if you’re in America (or most of the world for that matter) we’re currently in a recession. There’s a lot of tax breaks and stimulus options going on — and when we do start coming out of the recession, banks are going to start pushing their small business loans again.

If you’ve never filed taxes, it’s going to be near impossible to get a decent small business loan. In addition, if you are in a lower income bracket and you have expenses for your equipment, and you use a part of your residence as a work space — your tax deductions could well outweigh your income tax. The moral of the story is, if you want to make this a long term career: pay taxes.


The number one reason most businesses fail is poor management. If you aren’t doing any paper work when you get hired, you are going to have a real struggle keeping track of things when your business starts picking up — take it from me. As soon as you start taking yourself seriously, start putting together documentation. Here’s the system I’ve worked out — and it can all be done in Google Docs.

You’ll need three separate parts: A “Lead Sheet”, A “Projects Folder”, and A “Income/Expenses Ledger”.

The Lead Sheet

Work doesn’t just magically appear. But it does magically disappear. If someone reaches out to you, take their name, email address/phone, and a quick blurb about what they need and enter it into your Lead Sheet document. Mark each entry with a date received, and a date to follow up. Always follow up with people. Keep up with people’s projects — this will help them keep you in mind, and also keep you in the loop as to when you might be devoting time to their projects. Knowing an approximate range of dates in which you will be devoting time to projects will help you from overbooking yourself.

The Projects Folder

Every project is different, even if you only offer one service. Every time you officially take on a project, start a text document with this as the title: CLIENT_PROJECTTITLE_STATUS. For example, I took on a project recently with a gentleman named Khnemu Harris, mixing five tracks. In my projects folder is a document entitled KHNEMUHARRIS_5Songs_OPEN. That tells me that the project is still in progress. In that document I have the date it was opened, the due date for the project, the overall fee for the project, the status of every individual song (open or complete) and notes for any details, changes, etc that each song requires. I also have all of Khnemu’s contact information in that file, as well as my Lead Sheet. Once I finish Khnemu’s project, I will re-title the document to KHNEMUHARRIS_5Songs_COMPLETE. But I still keep the document around so I can refer to it if necessary.


Open a spreadsheet. Use the first row and include these items: Client, Date, Project, Payment, Price Quoted, Paid, Oustanding, Expenses.

Client: Name of the client.

Date: Date in which payment was received.

Project: Generalization of the project.

Payment: Projects are often funded in multiple payments. Setting up a payment structure at the beginning of a project is very important. You may have a $2,000 project, but they may be paying in $500 installments. So the first payment in that example would be: 1/4. Last payment would be 4/4.


Price Quoted: In the above example would be $2,000.

Paid: Amount paid in this entry.

Outstanding: Amount still owed on the overall project.

Expenses: Any expenses incurred over the completion of the project.

At the end of each month, create a total for how much you pulled in, and how much is still owed. Each payment toward a project gets its own entry — the only thing to watch out for in this system is that if you create an entry for a second payment in a different month that you zero out the outstanding payments from other months. Otherwise it looks like you have more outstanding payments due than what you really have.


Keeping these things in order will help you figure out your pricing structure, figure out where your money is coming from, and ultimately allow you to stay organized so you can dedicate an appropriate amount of time to each project individually.

I will also say this — regardless of how much any client pays you, and how easy or difficult they are to work with, treat them like they are the most important client you will ever have. Make sure their work is well attended, valued, and completed in a manor that goes beyond their expectations. Most clients are NOT return clients, or only return once in a while. But it only takes a few of the right clients to make your business very successful.

Case and point, I had a client I mixed a single for three years ago. He was making music just for fun. He didn’t have the money to pay for an attended session, but I allowed him to attend anyway. Now he produces for a two time Grammy winning, multi-platinum Hip Hop group.

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch:

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