In the days of high-speed internet and digital recording – aka “these days” - it’s easier than ever to send large files to people anywhere in the world.
The good news is, this means you can take your record song “stems” (i.e., individual track files for a given song) and send them to any number of online mixing and mastering service providers.
The bad news is, of course, that with nearly unlimited options, it can be difficult to decide which online mixing studio is right for you.
This article will help guide your decision process
Step 1: Create Your List of Online Mixing and Mastering Studios
Ask your musician friends or other musicians that are working in a similar genre who they would recommend. There’s really nothing quite like recommendations from people you already trust – especially if they know your music.
Look up production credits. Chances are, you probably know some bands that are playing music similar to yours. Listen through some of their recent releases and make a list of mixing and mastering engineers that they’ve used.
Do some good ol’ Googling. Try to narrow your search by genre if possible. There are plenty of mix engineers out there that work in various genres but if you find a specialist that really knows your style, chances are you’ll be more satisfied with the results.
Step 2: Narrowing Your List of Audio Engineers - The Website Test
Visit the website. This sounds obvious but you’re looking for some very specific things
Portfolio. Listen to the engineer’s portfolio. Are the songs close to the genre you’re working in? Do you like they way they sound?
Communication style. Working remotely with someone can facilitate incredible results efficiently and cost-effectively. However, clear communication becomes even more important than in a face to face work environment. The website alone may not make communication style perfectly obvious to you but you’ll be able to see if there are any red flags. Think of the website copy is a discussion you would have with someone on a first date. On the one hand, they’re trying to make the best first impression they can. On the other hand, if they can’t chew with their mouth closed and only talk about their cat, you’ve probably seen enough to avoid a second date. So yeah. It’s kind of like that. If the web site has spelling mistakes or is generally confusing, those may be red flags.
Contact opportunities. Placing your precious and unfinished songs into the hands of a stranger can be a terrifying thing. By this point, you’ve probably spent months (sometimes years!) tweaking these songs and then finally recording them. A good mixing and mastering engineer will understand and empathize with this experience. If they do, they’ll probably demonstrate a willingness (or better yet: an eagerness) to talk to you about your project. After all, how else can they know what YOU’RE looking for? If they seem hard to get a hold of, or generally seem unresponsive or unwilling to give you 30 minutes of face to face communication, that could be a serious red flag.
Step 3: Live Communication
Once a studio has passed your website test, it’s time to talk to them live. There are a thousand ways to do this and the engineer should be suggesting a few right off the bat.
Try to go with a video chat if possible. There are many visual cues and insights in face to face communication that can be very helpful in forming your “gut feel” on what a working relationship will be like.
During the chat, consider the following
Is the engineer selling you on THEIR service with a sales pitch or are they trying to understand what YOUR project is about and what YOU’RE trying to do? Another way of saying this is “are they asking questions and listening to your answers?”
Is the process clear to you or are you a bit confused on how the whole thing will work? Do you understand how the stems will be transferred to the engineer? Do you understand how and when you can expect to get mixes back? Do you understand the revision process?
Do you have the engineer’s attention or are they constantly checking their phone, or reading emails (sometimes you can just tell). Some of this sounds obvious but just think about that first date concept. If you don’t have the engineer’s attention during this first-ever conversation, will you have it later?
Step 4: Test Services and Quote
Some engineers will offer test services in advance of providing you with a quote. This has several benefits.
The obvious one is it gives you a taste of what the final product will sound like. That’s a good thing, right? There are other benefits as well though.
It gives you some insight into the engineer’s work process and responsiveness. Finally, it gives the engineer a better idea of the source material you’re working with which both primes them for your sound and makes it easier for them to give you an accurate estimate.
Getting a few quotes can’t hurt any time you’re planning on shelling out a significant amount of money for something. Just remember, the songs you release into the world, are out there forever. In some cases, you may only have a few seconds of someone streaming a part of a song to capture or lose a potential fan. For this reason, it’s important to consider the other factors before considering price. If the price is really outside of your means, it may be a show stopper but not necessarily!
Step 5: Negotiate
This is usually a discussion people will be willing to have with you – ESPECIALLY if you got the feeling that they enjoyed your music.
Be honest, be realistic and be respectful. Engineers, like musicians, want to be compensated fairly for their craft.
Don’t throw out a low-ball offer just to see what kind of discount you can get
Don’t initiate a discussion by asking about discounts without hearing an initial estimate
Do be upfront if you have a strict budget you need to stay within
Do explore alternative solutions – such as payment plans, bulk discounts, breaking the project up into batches of songs spread over several months, etc.,
Good luck with your project and reach out to me with any questions or comments!
For more, check out my FREE DIY Recording eBook
and the DIY Recording Guys podcast
Vadim is a mixing engineer based in the Greater Philadelphia area. His passion for recording and mixing was sparked through playing guitar and writing prog rock as a teenager. Today he operates Calm Frog Recording where he helps artists get their songs to sound as good as they possibly can. He loves sharing his passion for recording and producing music with others.
You can check out Vadim's work at www.calmfrogrecording.com