David Glenn Podcast Ep. 1: Client Communication + Q&A
In today’s episode, we’re going to be talking communication with clients. Now, I’m not going to lie, this is something that I struggle with every single week, but today I’m going to try to outline a couple of points that I think will help you dramatically decrease the amount of stress that you’re experiencing when you’re dealing with even good clients, it can be hard to communicate with them.
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Alright, so this week, I was sitting down to mix a record for some really good friends of mine. Victor and Samantha Encarnacion, you guys have followed me on theproaudiofiles.com or our YouTube channel, you’ll know that I used several songs that have been used by Vic, featuring his sister Samantha.
I sat down and I mixed a couple of the songs, and I started communicating with Vic about mix revisions, and it really sparked my thinking to do a podcast and cover the importance of communication. Vic is an extremely close friend of mine. We’re practically brothers; best friends. And even so, in that relationship, it can be tough to communicate when you’re dealing with something as sensitive as art and music, and the emotion that comes behind that.
There’s a couple of things I want to talk about in reference to the importance of communicating with clients that applies to my experiences with Vic this week, and it also – I would say every single week I’m experiencing this – all kinds of personalities in this world, all types of character and morals and beliefs, and it just… It’s never like you’re dealing with the same person twice, so to kick it off, there are two ways that I’m looking at communication. One is business, and the second is creative.
Now, because this podcast was inspired by my experience with Vic and the songs that I’m mixing this week, I’m going to kick it off with the creative side, just because the business side, there are no issues there, everything’s great. One of the rare opportunities I have to work with some really close friends, and money’s not an issue.
Looking at the process, let me give you a little bit of a back story this week. I mixed a song for Vic and Sam, and I asked for a reference so that I can hear maybe something they liked, they felt like it would be a good fit for their song for me to listen to some elements of another mix. They gave me a name, I believe the artist’s name was Camilla. I can’t remember the song name, I’ll butcher it, but then I also went myself after listening to the rough mix that I did, and I went and clicked over to iTunes and I purchased a song by Francesca Batastelli called “You’re Here.”
I really liked the fullness, it really had more of an acoustic vibe, and between those two songs, I imported them into my Pro Tools session, and I would listen to them and just kind of get an idea and kind of paint the landscape for where I was going to take this mix, and I had Camilla. That song gave me lots of the Latin hand percussion like cajons and shakers and all kinds of just really great natural wooden instruments, and then I had the bold pop sound, the American sound, of Francesca Badestelli. It’s a really popular song, it’s doing really well, and I kind of wanted to meet in the middle and take things from both of them.
So, I did. So I started mixing the song, and my first mix I did took me about 3 or 4 hours, and by the end of that process, I was a bit tired, so my ears were worn out, and I went ahead and did something I probably shouldn’t have done and I took that mix and late at night, about midnight or so, I dropped it in the DropBox folder for Vic to check out.
Well, I listened to it all night, I played it for my wife, she loved it. We were digging it, everything was really cool. It was like, “man, that vocal, and the song, it just sounds really great.” Well, Vic heard it, and I woke up the next morning to a text from Vic stating that he was going to send me his rough mix and that while his wasn’t as polished as mine, and blah blah blah, he really wanted me to listen to his rough and gain from that.
So, then, I listened to my mix from the night before, and I hated it. The snare brushes were way too loud, the shakers were loud, they were all compressed and distorted, and just tons of stuff that was wrong with this mix. It had a good sense of direction I’ll say for the mix, but it wasn’t right. So, Vic was totally justified to reference his rough mix, however I will say this.
When you’re dealing with clients, especially guys who are producing their own music, get that rough mix. Vic is so loving and he’s humble and he wants me to do what I do and have the creative flexibility to go in and take his production and take it to another level, to experiment… He gives me a ton of flexibility. But if you’re dealing with a music creator, they’ve been listening to a rough mix. They bounce it to check it in their car, and listen, and get ideas, and change lyrics, and play for their families, and all of that.
So that’s what they’ve been listening to. That’s what they’re comfortable with. If you go and take something without hearing that, and it goes in a completely different direction, then you could experience what I’m experiencing with this particular song, in that my mix was way off from his rough mix. The Camilla was a good reference for the hand percussion, but it wasn’t necessarily the right reference for the strings. There are a lot of strings in this song, and they were nowhere near what they should have been for what my client, my friend Vic had in his head.
My strings were way off. They were more in line with the Camilla and Francesca Badestelli reference that I used. So get the rough mix is the moral of this story. Get the rough, listen to the rough, pay attention to what they’ve been listening to. In this case, the rough was extremely loud because the strings, the background vocals, and the lead vocal dominated the track, whereas I took and put the percussion forward, and the bass and all of those things. I let those dominate the foundation of the track, and it was just a conflict of vision.
That’s totally cool, it happens. We’re communicating about it and everything’s well. That’s great, but I just want to try to reiterate the importance of saving time by getting the rough mix, checking out the vision, and making sure that’s in line with what your client has in mind.
To expand on the importance of that, I would say before you start a mix, something that I’m about to implement myself, before you start a mix, whether it be before the project if you’re dealing with several songs or an album, or on a song by song basis, I could see the importance of Skyping, or a Google Hangout, at the very least, a phone call to discuss the elements that you’re going to be working with, to talk about the direction, maybe to even go in more detail on which references have been selected for you to listen to and kind of target as the end goal.
What aspects of those references? For the Camilla song, I could’ve found out that he liked the percussion and the hand percussion instruments. The natural sound of that, but the vocal and the final master, the EQ, maybe that wasn’t really what he was aiming for, and I could’ve referenced the Francesca Badestelli song early on, and said, “hey, listening to this song I played, do you like the overall vibe of this one?”
Or if not, then on the phone or Skype, you can pull open iTunes, and go through, and you can both be working together to establish that communication to get a head start on that, so that the song is better in the end and you don’t have to go back and do a bunch of revisions and searching.
In this particular song, the strings, it felt like for his rough mix, it was almost more of a Hans Zimmer theatrical type feel for the strings, and it was very powerful, and they got very ambient and tribal I would say. That’s the word Vic used when we were on the phone talking about it.
So to hear that before I start mixing it would be so much more valuable than now, you’ve gone in, I as the mixer have gone in, and I’ve put the percussion big and bold and panned out wide, and things are nice and clean, and good attack and compression and all that stuff has been applied, more importantly the EQ has been sculpted for the percussion to be big, and the foundation to have that low end bass that’s nice and clean and tight, and the vocals, the background vocals were more airy. Using a lot of the air band, and the lead vocal is very in your face, and the strings played more of a background hi-fi, kind of not a lot of lows and not a lot of power. Not even a lot of mids, it was more air in the strings kind of sitting on top like clouds, rather than being a driving aggressive force, like the acoustic guitars and the electric guitars, and that kind of stuff.
So, by reversing it now, there’s work to be done to go in and kind of reverse sculpt the EQ for the sounds. Almost kind of like mixing it over again, because you’re reversing the rolls of those different instruments.
Anyways, I’m blabbing about it, but communication, communication. Get the best vision you can get from your client or the producer, get that out in front of you, and then if you have that creative flexibility like I do with Vic, then by all means, you can communicate your thoughts or anything that you would like to try, say “hey, how about something like this,” pull in a couple songs, and just do the best that you can to get the communication on the right track from the beginning of the mix.
So, ultimately, the client, the artist, the producer, they’re the ones that are going to be putting their name behind it. It’s got to represent them, and that’s what this whole point was.
So anyways, moving away from the creative side, I’m going to talk about the business side. Again, this doesn’t really apply to my experience with Vic, but what you want to do with your business is you want to make sure that the money side of it is worked out from the very get go. Before you open a session, before you start a mix, before you start producing, before you’ve released a track that you’ve produced, you want to make sure that the artist, the client, they know exactly what is included, and what’s not included. I can’t stress that enough. If you’re a mixer, like myself, you need to state whether or not there are additional fees for mix revisions. Maybe you don’t offer unlimited revisions. I myself say two revisions are included. You get a mix 1, you get a mix 2, you get a mix 3. If the mix 3 is not the final, then there are additional fees for additional mixes. If you’re providing stems, maybe they want all the drums, the low end, the FX, the music tracks… If they want multiple stems, are you going to include those, and are you going to include them in a flat rate fee?
Or, is it going to be charged by the hour? Actually, if you’re mixing and not charging a flat rate fee, I recommend working that way. There’s tons of pros and cons to both, but working out to make sure they know, is it hourly? Is it a flat rate?
In addition to stems, some guys will actually want all of the individual files. They’ll want the session files for your mix. That could be totally fine with you, or you may have a problem with it. Those conversations need to happen before you take any money, and before you start the project. If you’re not okay turning over your mix session files, I don’t care which side of the fence you’re on, whether you agree with doing it or you don’t do it, no matter which side you’re on, that decision needs to be honest and open with your client before you get started so that you avoid the stress of having to address that after the fact.
If there’s a miscommunication there, if they thought they were going to get it for them and their experience in the past, I’ve had clients that it’s a no-brainer to them. They think they just get the mix session files. I’ve also had other clients that come from a different stand point and have paid for them in the past. So, you’re dealing with all kinds of people, make sure those decisions are known before you take any money to work with your clients.
The second point that I want to make in regards to the business side of things would be what kind of time are you working with? What are the deadlines? Is there an album release date, is there a party already planned, is there a set time that you have to get something turned in before duplication will come back in time? This is extremely important. When I’ve had projects where they’ll come to me, and I have failed, I’ll admit that I’ve failed to meet deadlines for one reason or another. Pro Tools crashes, all kinds of excuses I could drop there, but if you’ve got a client and they come to you on a Friday and they need a project done by Monday morning, it’s okay to say no. My experience has been “I’m just going to take it, I’ll do the best that I can, and if I can’t meet the deadline, then it is what it is.”
Shame on me for having that in my past, but lesson learned. If it’s not a realistic time frame, or goal for the end product to be completed, then it’s okay to say no. It’s better to say no and to be honest with that than it would be to cause huge stress and huge anxiety for your client. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to lose them, it just means that you’ve got to structure your business in a certain way to know how much time it takes you to do something and to offer the service you’re providing. You want to make sure that you under promise and over deliver. You want to make sure that if it’s going to take you a week to do something, tell them two weeks, because then when it takes you a week, you’ve got a little bit of wiggle room there. You’ve got a couple days to review the process, review what you’ve done, and then get it to them early.
That’s something that I’m working on in my business as well, and I think that could help you to really work on your timeline from the very beginning of the project, understanding what the deadline is, setting a deadline if there is not one, and reverse engineering what you need to do to meet that deadline so that you can plan appropriately and get the work done in a timely fashion.
So that’s what I had today for communicating with clients, business and creative decisions that you can take to step it up. We’re going to jump into the question and answer section now. I’ve got several e-mails coming in daily with great questions. I’ve selected a few, we’re going to talk about them.
This first question is from my friend Kairin. He’s in Indiana. He says, “Hey, David. In your professional opinion and judgment, what would you say are things that separate a pro mix vs an amateur mix,” and then he includes mastering in that.
Well, I’ve made a list, because I think that’s a great question Kairin, and some of the things I think of when I think of a professional mix, first would be the quality of the client that you’re working with. Actually, these are in no particular order, but the quality of a client for a professional mixer, say a Dave Pensado, or a Chris Lord-Alge, the producers and the musicians they’re working with are at a much higher level, I’d say, experience, quality, what kind of studios they’re recording in, the techniques they’re using, arrangement, song writing… There’s a lot of things that have been filtered out from their process that are done pretty well. Probably not perfect all the time, and I’m sure they still work with indie artists and people that are learning, but the quality of the client is probably a big deal to them and how they’re able to turn around pro mixes.
This is definitely not the only reason, but anyways. Pro mix, I’d say the quality of the client, the 10,000 hour rule, which basically states that it takes about 10,000 hours, give or take, to become an expert at anything. So years of experience, I would say, is crucial to a professional, whereas an amateur may be just kind of starting out. You know, at 16 years old, I think I started really trying to turn out recordings and mixes on my own, and by 18-19, I was still an amateur, but crossing into semi-pro I’d say, and by 20, 22, I was doing it professionally now. Does that mean I was a pro at the level of Dave Pensado or Tony Maserati? Absolutely not. I’m still not at their level, but that’s when I started to actually take money from people to make a little bit of a living from it, and to begin to develop.
It’s quite a process, there’s quite a dip and learning curve when it comes to mixing and how long it takes to become a professional mixer, but the experience plays a huge roll in that.
The other thing I’d say is decision making. When to touch something, when to leave it alone, how to EQ, how to compress, I’d actually probably put the basic uses of EQ and compression at the top of the list for the differences between a professional and an amateur mix. For something to be not compressed at all, it may be appropriate, but mixes that come through and there’s basically no compression and the EQ is all out of whack, probably lean towards that sort of being an amateur sound, or the opposite that, is something’s been EQ’d to who knows where and back, and compressed to the same place, and it’s just smashed and not breathing, not open, so the extreme use of either EQ or compression or both at the same time, I’d say is a big factor in that as well.
The use of effects. Things like delay and reverb and decay time on your reverbs, you know. Timing that to the track, how you use short rooms vs medium rooms and halls, things like delays. Slap delays and feedback settings. Are things getting messy because there’s too much feedback or is there not enough feedback where there’s a hole in the mix and you could have filled it with a delay time? I’d say things like distortion and saturation are commonly misunderstood and misused by amateur mixers. Those types of effects are definitely going to help – learning how to use them properly will definitely help to add character to a mix that I think a professional has a little bit of a better grasp on.
And then taste. I would say that professionals having years of experience are likely to have better taste than an amateur as a mixer. That doesn’t mean that musically – and that’s such a subjective thing, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that musically, the amateur doesn’t have good taste in music, it just means that when you’re sitting down to sculpt a mix or to take a mix to the finish line, I would say the years of experience play into the taste that you have as a mixer to use the tools that you have to reach that goal quicker and more efficiently, and accurately even to what the end result that you guys have in mind as a team of producers and songwriters, all of that coming into play with taste.
Skill set of course, all kind of comes back to experience. If you’ve dealt with tracks where de-essing guitars was appropriate, that’s a tool that’s now in your toolbox for working with future songs. I’d say the more skills, the more tools, the more techniques that you learn, the faster you are on the roadmap to becoming a professional. The more ways that you know how to handle problems, that’s going to be a huge part of whether or not you’re headed to professional status, we’ll say.
Another thing to keep in mind would be if your skill set serves clients. You almost can think of it as – think of CLA. Chris Lord-Alge. The fact that he could probably handle a bluegrass band, a mix. Or salsa, or any of those styles that you wouldn’t associate Chris Lord-Alge with, but it’s not what he’s known for. It’s not what he’s setup to do necessarily, and his sound is his thing. It’s something that’s not easily replicated by others, so I would say that a big part of the difference between a pro and an amateur mixer would be the clients that you’re serving, and where that music is originating from.
Alright, next up we’ve got Ivan, and Ivan says, “when you divide the tracks in your master sections, are those tracks auxiliaries or master channels?” Well, I’m in Pro Tools, and Pro Tools seems to have a simpler process. They’re just aux tracks. They’re busses, and I know that can be confusing because I hear that other DAWs, which I have no experience in or outside of Pro Tools, have aux tracks, and then they have buss tracks, or you have buss tracks and then you have send tracks. I don’t quite understand the way that other DAWs function, but for me being in Pro Tools, they are stereo aux tracks. Call them a buss, and I route the outputs of my individual tracks or busses that I’m using for parallel compression and that kind of stuff out into those stereo auxes, and then from there to my stereo buss, which then hits a master fader/channel. For various reasons, but then he also adds, “What software do you recommend to convert to .ddp files?” Well, I actually use Audiofile Triumph. I don’t have a lot of knowledge on the subject with .ddp files and that kind of stuff, but what I do want to point to are a couple of articles that are on theproaudiofiles.com. One is called, “Introduction to Disk Description Protocol.” DDP. That’s a great article over there, and the contributor also uses Audiofile’s Triumph, and he’ll link you to where to go to download that and all that good stuff.
That’s theproaudiofiles.com. Just search “Introduction to Disk Description Protocol,” or probably you could just type in DDP.
The next question comes in from username, “leisuremuffin,” and he asks, “what do your ears look like?”
[laughs] I’m sure he’s asking this because in all of my tutorials and over at The Mix Academy, I wear headphones, and so he’s never seen my ears.
Well, I’ll tell you what, if you want to see my ears, they’re quite pale because they don’t get enough sun, but you can go to Facebook and look me up. David Kulp. My middle name is Glen, so David Glen Kulp. K-U-L-P.
Add me on Facebook, introduce yourself. I’d love to meet you. Tons of pictures, you can see what my ears really look like.
Moving on from that, we’ve got a question that comes in. “What’s up, Dave? I was just wondering, what are your favorite drum sample companies? What are the bundles that you go to in your mixing process.” That’s from Juan, great question Juan, my favorite drum samples are broken down into two categories, I’d say. One for live drums; I look at rock, pop, indie music, I go to That Sound, and that’s iwantthatsound.com, love those guys. Also Room Sound. I believe it’s roomsound.com, you may have to Google that one, but Room Sound makes incredible live drum sounds. Slate, we all know Trigger 2. Slate makes several bundles that are really great for rock, and indie, and all kinds of stuff. There’s the David Bendeth is great, the CLA is incredible, even the premium bundle is usable, so.
I look at that for live drums. Those three are kind of my main ones. For hip hop, I’m over at theproducerschoice.com, The Drum Broker, which is over at hiphopsamples.com, and I mentioned That Sound. They’ve got some incredible stuff for programmed drums. There’s Future Drums, and then the Dustin Burnett bundle is great. My buddy Matt Weiss has a drum sample library called Weiss Drums, the Maio Collection. You can go to weissdrums.com. Great bundle, I’m always importing stuff from that one. And then the thing I’ll note is just mangling those sounds or live drum sounds and just taking what you’ve got and throwing it through tape distortion, and saturation, and slap delays, and reverb, and phasing, and flanging. Any kind of effects you can throw at them. If you’ve got EchoBoy, pull up EchoBoy and just go through some presets. Just mangle some sounds to get some new stuff going on so you’re not just taking samples that you have and using those. You get creative with it and have some fun.
Guys, thank you for hanging out with me today. Send your questions to David@davidglennrecording.com. It may be chosen for the podcast. I look forward to helping you with many more tutorials yet to come. Next in the works is mixing drums, and I’ve got about four modules – four different series, including Trigger, how to trigger drum samples, how to mix with live drums, and use the sounds you’ve been provided. We’ve got reverb, and editing, all kinds of great stuff to come your way from Davidglennrecording.com. Thanks again for checking us out, and we’ll catch you soon.