As freelancers, we get confronted with the task of figuring out how much we should charge for our service which can be quite overwhelming and difficult.
On one hand, you know how much the top mixers are charging for a mix, but they all have these hit credits that you don’t.
However, on the other hand, you have to be able to make a living so you can’t work for nothing.
The particular thing with the music business (perhaps other industries are facing the same problems?) is that you have to start out working for very little money.
It’s not that you are not worth more but you are more likely to be working with artists who can’t pay you much, or anything at all.
It takes time to “climb the ladder” where you can start charging a proper rate.
Having said that, it’s never too late to try to get out of the rut where you charge based on how many hours you are working and instead start charging based on the value you are providing.
This concept is brilliantly laid out in the FREE, short, book, Breaking The Time Barrier, by Mike McDerment and Donald Cowper.
This short story is about a freelance web designer, named Steve, who decides to go freelance but is struggling to keep his rates high enough so he doesn’t have to struggle and lose clients.
A problem many of us starting out in the music business are facing too.
In the book, Steve gets advice from his friend John, who tells him to figure out his rates based on what his costs are, both professionally and personally.
However, Steve, like many of us, faced the challenge of having to compete against cut-rate designers (read engineers/studios/producers, etc.) and after trying to explain why he was the better choice he would lose out if he didn’t change/lowered his rate.
(Who hasn’t been in this situation?)
However, after having worked on a successful project, Steve started to feel like he should have charged more.
He starts raising his rates but since all his previous clients had been referrals, who were used to his lower rates and Steve needing to work, he had to go back to his lower rates again.
Realising that he needs help, he sets up a meeting with a common friend named Karen, who is one of the top designers in the city.
Karen gets Steve to realise that he is, in fact, selling hours rather than basing his fees based on the value he is bringing to a project.
In the book, Karen gives a perfect example where she says to Steve:
“…I’m not a collection of hours. I’m the accumulation of all my skills and talents. I’m wisdom and creativity. I’ve stopped seeing myself as a punch card. My clients don’t see me that way either. Yes, sometimes, I’ve had to change my client’s mindset. But it starts with me, first, just as it starts with you. You have to forget selling time. The best thing you could do for yourself is to get the concept of time out of your head.”
“Since there are only so many hours in a year, it puts a cap on how much revenue you can collect in a year, and it means that the only way to make more money is to work more hours. These are limits...and the truth is, they are false limitations that lead to bad behaviours, like burning yourself out by working around the clock in an effort to earn more.”
Who hasn’t been there? I know I have.
This is not shaming on people who need to work multiple jobs just to survive, rather, is to give you an idea of what potentials are out there for you to create the life you want, and most importantly, setting yourself up so you actually can do this until you retire without burning yourself out.
And if we as producers and engineers can take this mindset onboard I believe we can see some great changes in our lives as well as in our income.
How do you find out the value you are bringing to a project?
It starts with finding out more about the project before you accept it.
For example, if an artist approaches you to produce an album for him or her, start by asking what the project is about, why is it important to her to get the music out? Is it to promote touring? To send around to labels?
Find out what’s important to him or her and what would make this a successful project for them.
Anything you can find out is great and the more you learn the more you will see the real value you could be bringing to a project. Rather than just a collection of hours.
When you have gained all the inside knowledge of the project and what the artist dreams and hopes are, you can start working on a deal that could help bring that dream to life.
Which brings me to,
The Power Of Offering Various Deals
Just telling the artist your daily rate is kind of lazy because when you know what he or she really wants out of a project you can start working on a set of deals.
For example, try to come up with 3 or more different packages where the first one would give her everything she could possibly need to accomplish her goal and dreams.
For example, if she wants to do an EP, offer to do the recording, editing (vocal tuning if we are honest) mixing and mastering. Offer to hire a small team to film the recording that she could use for a music video, too.
Offer to have food and drink available for each session.
Perhaps even an Uber waiting to pick her up in the mornings and get her back home after every session.
I hope you realise that just offering her your, “this is my daily rate”, would not enable you to give your client the experience and product he or she deserves.
By tailoring your offers to the client's needs you can start offering different packages with different price points that they can choose from.
Have one premium and a few other offers that still will get the artist to her goal but without all cream on top.