How Much Should You Charge to Mix and Master a Song?
So… you’ve mastered the art of mixing and producing music, and you can’t wait to take on new clients so you can finally use all your new gear.
But one question eludes you:
“How much should I charge to mix a song?”
It’s an elusive question, and in all honesty, there’s no right answer. It’s different for everyone based on a variety of factors.
But don’t worry; in this post, we’ll dive into the pricing strategies you need to know so that you can remain competitive and profitable.
I felt compelled to write this lengthy post on pricing after receiving this email from a reader who is starting to charge for their services:
“I bought your book “Step by Step Mixing: How To Create Great Mixes Using Only 5 Plug-ins” and became amazed by the power and simplicity of the framework you described there. In particular, the 2nd chapter, “Mixing with no plugins,” blew my mind because we often are led to think that having plugin X, Y, or Z is “the way” to a great mix, and by thinking that we neglect the importance of organizing our work and plan our sessions. That was a paradigm shift for me, and it made me immediately more productive and much more effective in the sessions.
This boost was so big that I landed my first “paid” gig as a Mixing Engineer. I started to make the mixing to the tracks of a guy I know who likes to write songs but does not know how to mix well. I am now working on my fifth song with him. When I used “commas” before on the “paid” part was because he “paid” me a 5-string bass that he was not using and that I needed for my tracks. He gave the bass in exchange for four mixed tracks.
The next mixes I’ll do for him, I’ll have to charge him. Also, he knows someone else who needs a Mixing Engineer. And this leads me to my question to you: what are the ways that Mixing Engineers usually work in terms of charging?
Should I define an hourly rate and estimate the number of hours I will take to do the work?
Should I have a fixed value for the project? (eg.: “Mixing & Mastering a track will cost you X euros”)
If you can help me by quickly giving me an insight into what can be a good approach or the industry standard, I will be grateful!”
There’s a lot of nuance when it comes to pricing, so let’s dive into everything you need to think about when you’re charging for your work.
Understanding Your Costs
First off, you want to have a big-picture view of what it takes to run your studio business. And every business comes with expenses. Understanding your expenses will help you understand what you need to charge.
Put your costs into these five categories:
- Equipment and Software
- Studio Space
- Time and Opportunity Cost
- Continuous Education and Skill Improvement
- Miscellaneous Expenses
Equipment and Software Investment
That top-notch gear and software weren’t free, were they? High-quality production demands state-of-the-art equipment. Think about the cost, maintenance, and future upgrades. It’s not just about shelling out cash; it’s an ongoing investment in your sound.
Think of these as your startup costs that you want to recoup to get on the path to profitability.
That gear, however cool it looks, is an investment in your studio that helps you make a return.
Alternatively, you can think of them as sunk costs that you don’t need to worry too much about.
Studio Space Considerations
Whether it’s a cozy corner in your home or a rented studio space, costs are involved.
Consider rent, utilities, insurance, and those little improvements that make your space uniquely yours.
Time is your most precious resource. It’s not just about the hours spent mixing but also client communication, revisions, and admin work.
Your time is valuable – price it that way!
When you’re considering your hourly rate or factoring in the number of hours you estimate a fixed-priced project will take, don’t neglect the additional hours you spend doing all the administrative work required to run the business.
Continuous Education and Skill Development
The music industry never sleeps, and neither should your learning curve.
Workshops, courses, new techniques – they all count towards making you a better music producer or engineer and should be reflected in your pricing. Although you can’t command higher prices just because you took some course, or even if you have a degree, the added skill should reflect in the quality of your work that you showcase in your portfolio.
From marketing to utilities and insurance, these sneaky expenses can add up. Don’t let them be an afterthought in your pricing strategy.
Add It All Up
Revenue – Expenses = Profits
You can’t find the right rate if you don’t know your expenses. Your revenue needs to cover all of your expenses, plus enough to make an actual living, so understanding every number that goes into the equation above is crucial for your success as an entrepreneurial music producer.
What are Competitors Charging?
Now that you have your general expenses figured out let’s make our way to the right rate that works for you.
One way to find your rate is to look at your competition, but that would be the wrong place to start.
The market is worldwide. All you need is a laptop, headphones, and an internet connection to offer your services. You can’t compare yourself to other countries where the cost of living is lower. You have to price your services sustainably to make a living in your area.
However, understanding the general going rate in your economic area can give you a baseline to use as a starting point.
Don’t Undercut the Competition
You’ll run yourself into the ground and bankrupt your business fast if you try to be the cheapest person around. Cheap prices attract cheap clients who expect more than what they paid for but somehow don’t value your work in any way.
I won’t belabor this point too much because I already made it a pillar plot point in my book, You Get What You Give: A Simple Story for Finding Success in the Music Business.com
Reverse-Engineer Your Rate
Instead of thinking about an hourly rate or worrying about your competition, start with what you need to thrive.
Add up your business expenses. Then, add in your living expenses and desired discretionary income. That will give you a ballpark number of what you need to make a living.
Let’s say that you need $5,000/month. If we assume four weeks in a month and you work eight hours/day, you get 160 hours/month.
Breaking down that number, what does that mean? It depends on your business model.
Are you charging an hourly rate, charging by the project, or selling a digital product?
- $5,000/160 hours = $31.25/hour
- $5,000/4 clients = $1,250/client
- $5,000/$30 product = 167 customers
As you can see, there are a lot of paths to $5,000/month. Your business model and pricing strategy will dictate how you get there.
Different Pricing Models
The hourly rate isn’t always the best way to price your services.
It’s useful for projects where the scope is not well-defined or is likely to change because it ensures that you are compensated for every hour worked, which can be particularly beneficial for sessions that may require more revisions or have unpredictable elements.
But there are better alternatives depending on your situation.
Project-Based Value Pricing
Project-based pricing is a common approach in the music industry. It involves setting a flat fee for the completion of a project, regardless of the time it takes. This model is attractive to clients as it provides them with a clear understanding of costs upfront.
To set a project rate, consider the following:
- The project’s complexity: Will it require extensive layering or intricate sound design?
- The number of tracks: Is it a single or an album?
- The level of service: Are you offering basic mixing, or does it include production and mastering?
Remember, your project rate should reflect the value you bring to the table, not just the time you spend on it.
Retainer or Package Deals
Retainers and package deals are excellent for building long-term relationships with clients. A retainer is a pre-paid agreement for services over a period, ensuring the client a set amount of your time each month. Package deals, on the other hand, offer a set of services bundled together at a discounted rate.
These models can benefit both parties:
- Clients often appreciate the cost savings and guaranteed availability.
- Providers like the predictable income and client loyalty.
Royalty or Revenue Share Agreements
Sometimes, you might consider entering into a royalty or revenue share agreement. This means you receive a percentage of the revenue from the music you help produce or mix. This can be lucrative for successful tracks but involves more risk as your income is dependent on the track’s commercial success.
Consider this model if:
- You believe strongly in the project’s potential success.
- You’re willing to share the risk with the artist.
Hybrid Pricing Models
A hybrid pricing model combines elements of the above strategies.
For example, you might charge a base rate for the initial project and then an hourly rate for additional revisions. Or you could combine project-based pricing with a royalty agreement, ensuring immediate compensation and a stake in the project’s future success.
Choosing the right rate is different for every person because you have to take into account your economic situation, your client’s needs, and what the market will pay.
Whatever you choose, remember that you are entering into a relationship with another human being. In order to create value, both parties must be better off, so any price you charge needs to be mutually beneficial to both parties.
Keep that in mind at all times and you’re guaranteed to succeed.
For more advice on how to make an income with your music skills, check out these resources on building a successful music career.
Audio Business, Keeping Track