Dealing With Clients: Communication is Key
I have got a load of emails, and tons of comments on all random different videos, all asking the same thing, and I think this is a huge conversation for us to have, and there’s so many incredible engineers, producers, and above all, mixers out there. There’s so many of you that are getting really, really good at this. Like, in the forum on The Academy, I get a lot of people’s mixes that are just starting to sound incredible. Your creativity is getting really, really wonderful, and that, to be honest, is the thing that sets on mixer apart from another these days.
We can all learn the same techniques, but the creative things that you do are really what’s going to make you an individual that people are going to want to come to. But the biggest question I get asked is this — How do I deal with clients?
That’s a huge question. Off the top of my head, the thing that I have noticed and I have learned over the years of doing this is that all clients are the same, whether they be an up and coming young band of teenagers, or a massively successful artist, a legacy artist with 40 years worth of recorded music. They all come from the same place. They number one just want to be heard.
They want you to understand them, so they need to be heard. So when they send you a long email with tons and tons of details and stuff like that, a lot of it could be just speculation. It can be — if I turn up the vocal in this section, would it be good? I would like to hear the snare this, or the kick drum that, or whatever.
So even though they might sound like demands, and it can be really overwhelming to get tons and tons of stuff, firstly, if you’re working entirely in the box, which most of us do these days, a lot of these detail things aren’t that difficult to do. So when it comes to detail stuff, you can try it.
However, I do know that your skilled enough to understand that if you maybe turn up the snare drum, or turn down the vocal in a section, it might completely obscure another thing, like turning up the snare too much might cover the vocal, and it might seem really obvious. Bringing down the vocal might get lost into the —
The point is, they are looking to you to give them guidance. They want to be heard and some of their ideas might be considered rather foolish, so don’t be afraid, in a loving and supportive way, to listen to their ideas, and respond — say, “Yes, I could turn up the vocal here, but if I turn up the vocal too much here, it will sit too far in top. If I bring down the vocal here, it’s going to get lost. If I bring up the snare, it’s going to cover it. If I bring up the bottom end of the kick drum, it’s going to blow up my mix buss and everything is going to sound like it’s pumping.”
They’re looking to you to tell them these things, so it’s good when you get these detailed things to realize they just need really good communication, and they need to be heard.
It’s very tough sometimes. When I get a long, detailed email, if I’m in an early morning — you know, when I’ve read my emails, and I’ve only had one cup of coffee, I can be like, “Ah, what do you mean!” And like all of us, there’s this gut reaction.
Well, take five minutes. Read the email, you’re going to have a gut reaction, you’re going to feel like, “Oh, they didn’t like my mix.” No, they might love your mix, but they’re giving you tons and tons of little details that might actually be very easy to do, but there might be parts of it that are counter productive.
So it’s really about separating the counter productive from the detail stuff that’s going to make a difference, but you’ll have to separate yourself emotionally from it. It’s — don’t take it personally, because one thing I find with different cultures, different — you know, different countries and different cultures communicate in different ways.
Some Europeans are very factual. Like, the German artists I work with are like, “Turn this up, turn that down.” The English can be very factual as well, but not all of them can be very factual when I work with them.
French artists can be really lyrical. Not all of them, but they can get into really passionate discussions about how they want something to sound. Now, these are all different ways to communicate, and then of course, everybody can have all parts of those different things. They can be very factual mixed in with passionate descriptions.
Our job as mixers primarily, in this — because we’re talking about mixing here — is to interpret that and not get emotionally attached to something. Sometimes, you’re going to get — every now and then — you’re going to get an email where somebody is going to be like, “I don’t like your mix at all.” They’re going to say they envisioned a completely different thing.
So often, that completely different thing isn’t as completely different as you think, believe it or not. I will send — one out of every twenty mixes or thirty mixes, I’ll send out, something will come back to me — maybe it’s less than that, but anyway, something will come back to me with a, “You don’t understand my vision” kind of response. They will respond with, “You didn’t see what I was trying to do,” and sometimes, that’s literally maybe because I didn’t like their drum sound that much, so maybe I used a little bit more kick and snare samples than I usually would, because the drum sound was a little out of phase to me. Didn’t have the snap and the punch.
But you see, in doing that, I may have completely changed the balance of the mix, so they may have responded with, “I wanted this to be a little bit more organic sounding,” because often when you do very heavy kick and snare sample drums, it then forces you to make everything else a little bit more — a little bit louder, a little bit more compressed, a little bit more limited, a little bit more EQ’d.
So I find that I get this all the time, so okay, so then maybe what I do is I pull down the kick and the snare sample, and it immediately makes me want to compress the vocal a little less, compress the bass a little less, compress the other instruments a little less, and just bringing down — that isn’t throw it against the wall and completely start again, that’s just a case of just bring down the kick and snare samples.
Bring down the compression on the vocal a little bit so it’s not quite so up front. Reduce — and we’re talking like, a couple of dB worth of compression on the vocal, a couple dB less on the acoustic, a couple of dB less on the electric, and on the bass, and the piano, and suddenly the mix opens back out again.
Now, it doesn’t meant that your first mix, maybe where it’s a little bit more loud, a little bit more slamming and in your face and more pop is not valuable. That is a good mix, you can do some subtle things to everything all over, and suddenly it becomes a more organic mix.
I think what I’m trying to put across to you more than anything else is being open to experiment, because if you are open to do that, and listen to your clients, first of all, you’ll get more clients, and secondly, they will stay with you. These are — this is how you build a resume and really understand your clients.
One person’s problem client — and I’ve had “problem clients.” One person’s problem client is another person’s opportunity to learn and grow. It really is, because you get those problem clients — I was just on the phone with my good friend David, and he was talking about a client he was working with that had sent him a laundry list of notes, and he just saw it as a way of learning and understanding his client, and that is the way — because you take that opportunity as a way to grow as a mixer, because the next time somebody sends you something, you’ll hear it through different ears. You’ll have had that experience of doing the detail work, or of stripping things back and overall reevaluating your mix, because what I find is that subtle changes to multiple instruments can change the whole nature of your mix.
You know, I have a rule that I’m going to talk about in a further video that we’re going to launch. I’ll write a blog for it and everything, and I think it’ll be a greater understanding. I’ve talked about it with David as well, and I think that sometimes, it’s understanding that it’s not about throwing everything away and about starting again, it’s just realizing that if you’ve done — systematically done something to everything, and you just pull that back lightly, you can change the whole version of your mix.
So once again, you know, taking an organic mix and getting a little bit too aggressive on the kick and snare samples, because maybe the drums didn’t feel as well recorded, it might not be that they’re not as well recorded, but they’re just a little bit more organic and indie sounding, and sometimes, that’s the way to go.
Give it the best possible indie mix. A great mixer — a great mixer doesn’t have a system. A great mixer knows how to take his client’s mixes and make it the best of what it is. The mixers that I love working with and you’ve heard me talking about, those great mixes do more of what you give them. As a producer, you give them something, they understand your vision, and they do more of it.
So if you’re doing a more indie, organic mix, they know how to take the indie, organic mix, and make it a bigger and better indie, organic mix. So learn from your clients. Don’t see the “problem clients” as really problem clients. Listen to them, and learn from the experience, because then, you’ll apply that to every single mix from now on.
And of course, if you’re an Academy member, you can talk about this on The Academy. If you’re not an Academy member, please put a whole bunch of questions and comments below, and I’ll endeavor to answer them, and let’s get involved in the conversation, because this is a big discussion, because Produce Like a Pro, the reason why I launched this is so we can share in information together, and we can learn from each other.
There are no experts, as you know. My way of doing things is my way of doing things. It’s not the same way as other mixers, or other producers do things. We all do things in our way, but the successful among us all share one thing, and that’s the ability to listen to our clients and interpret it, and make them feel like they are being heard.
Good communication, even if it’s you coming back with an email going, “You know what, I will try that, but I disagree with this point and this point because.” If you have a great communication with them, they will respect you. It’s not about having a fight, it’s about having good communication. It’s about give and take. It’s about your clients feeling heard. It’s about them feeling like you listened to them, and you’re able to interpret what they want.
So thank you for listening. Please, as ever, subscribe, go to Produce Like a Pro, sign up for the email list, you’ll get a whole bunch of free stuff, and if you want, please try the 14 day free Academy. It’s growing fast, I’m loving it, and there’s a lot of massively exciting stuff about to happen. It’s getting really really great.
I appreciate your time, have a marvelous time recording and mixing!