Pro Audio Files

What Artists Think of Your Low Rates

If you’re not turning people away, you probably need to raise your rates.

Why Raise Your Rates?

Low rates do two things. First of all, they send a message to people. And it’s not a good one. It tells people that your capabilities are sub-par. And it sends that message before you’ve had a chance to prove that you can actually do the job. It makes it that much harder to convince artists that you’re the right person for the job and you can give them a recording that they’ll be proud of.

Low rates also do another thing. They attract Bad Clients. You might have already met a few. The ones who keep coming back for mix revisions (free, of course). The ones who show up unrehearsed and take three times longer  to get the take. The ones who bring their dodgy friends who think it’s ok to touch your gear without asking. The ones you suspect might be badmouthing you behind your back.

You’ll still get some good clients. Some people are reasonable and respectful no matter what they pay. And there will still be people who are prepared to pay through the nose and still make your life difficult. But generally, putting bigger numbers behind the dollar sign will weed out the people who aren’t serious about their music — the people who aren’t committed, aren’t prepared to work hard and aren’t interested in investing in their career.

(Of course, there are many artists who are serious but genuinely can’t afford professional assistance. As the person with skill and experience, you have an obligation to help. But don’t get confused — you don’t have an obligation to work for peanuts. Sometimes a better way to help is to give some good advice about how the artist can record at home and do their own production. You’ll build trust with your honesty and give you an opportunity to develop a relationship. When that artist is ready to take it up a level, you’ll be on speed dial)

So Why Are Your Rates So Low?

The most common reason producers and engineers charge low rates is that they’re fearful of turning artists away. The thinking is that a session for lunch money is better than spending that time twiddling thumbs. Cashflow, relationships, all that. But it’s a false dichotomy — you wouldn’t be twiddling your thumbs in that time. You’d be doing all sorts of more productive things. For example:

  • Learning a bit more about how to use that new piece of gear.
  • Practicing mixing.
  • Working on your own projects to build your portfolio.
  • Finally getting around to vacuuming the carpet.
  • Doing extra work for your high-paying or long term clients.
  • Going out meeting more artists. 

All are better for your best and future artists than locking up your time for little money and/or bad clients.

So How Do You Raise Your Rates?

The act of raising your rates is deceptively easy: Simply tell your artists what your new rate is. If you want to smooth the transition or demonstrate loyalty to existing artists, only charge your new rate for new artists.

The real struggle is internal. You might not believe people will pay the new rate. Most freelancers have had the fear of increasing their rates and losing all their clients. My advice: Try it. It won’t happen. Or you might lose some clients, and they’ll be your worst ones anyway. Most of everyone else will simply accept the new rate without a fuss. Some artists might be already at their limit of what they can afford, in which case you’ll have to be creative.

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Here’s what I do when I sense that an artist is particularly cost-sensitive. I’ll have an open and honest discussion where I offer options and alternatives. Common options include:

  • Having the artist record some of their parts at home, coming to the studio to record lead vocals and mix+master.
  • Starting with a smaller piece — e.g. recording one or two songs instead of tackling a whole EP or album up front.
  • Reducing the scope — e.g. recording voice and guitar with a few overdubs instead of a whole band.

Notice none of those options include doing more work for less pay? They all work on the basis that the rate is fixed and non-negotiable. But there’s a lot in a project that is negotiable. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that price is your only negotiable item. And don’t let your artists fall into that trap either.

For larger projects, I sometimes offer a slightly lower rate for artists that are prepared to book a lot of sessions in advance — but it’s highly conditional. It’s only if I think they’ve got what it takes to commit to a project that size. It’s only if I believe in the project and will personally enjoy working on it (fortunately, this is most projects). It’s only if a reduced rate will be necessary to get the project done properly. And sometimes I’ll adjust my payment terms to reduce the risk of the artist going AWOL (and leaving me with a bunch of unpaid unused booked sessions).

Be flexible. Be creative. Be open and honest.

Share your own experiences in the comments!

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Kim Lajoie

Kim Lajoie

Kim Lajoie is a Melbourne music producer specializing in composition, project management and digital audio technology. More at kimlajoie.com.

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