The sound engineer scam, the online recording studio ripoff, whatever you want to call it. I hear about it 3-4 times a month from my clients, since 1999. It never changes!
It's finally time to address the problem, and maybe someone can save $1,000's of dollars, grief, disappointment and wasted time. It's finally time to address the problem, and maybe someone can save $1,000's of dollars, grief, disappointment and wasted time.
So, What's The Sound Engineer / Online Recording Studio Scam?
It's real simple. The client agrees to work with a big name recording studio, or freelance sound engineer who, 10 years ago, worked with (insert top singer's name here). The studio has done amazing work and the sound engineer did a wonderful job with the famous artist. The CD the client spent years on writing, singing, and recording is going to sound AMAZING because they used one of these great sound engineers.
Two weeks, and $1,500, later they get their 12 songs back. Wow, they don't sound that good... They actually sound terrible! They contact this amazing sound engineer and he tells them he can fix their problems. That's good. But, and it's a BIG BUT, it's going to cost them another $700 for the revisions. That's $700 more to bless them with his "mastering greatness." HA!
They pay it. The new masters sound a little better, but not even as good as their own attempt at mastering! So, the sound engineer offers them a once-in-a-lifetime chance at another set of revisions. This time for only $500. And guarantees them it will sound great. But they don't have any money left, and give up on the project. So, for $2,200 they got NOTHING! Thank God they were out of money....
Does This Happen Often?
This actually happened to me a few years before I started my studio in 1999. I sent a project over to a mixing engineer who worked with arguably the "top recording artist" ever! He gave me a special price to mix and master a 20 track song. $1,000 cash. What I got back the next day was so bad, it wasn't even worth calling the guy back to complain. I felt like I just bought a flat screen TV from craigslist and opened up a box of bricks! Ha! SCAAAAAAM!
I hear about these $1,000+ scams from new clients about 3-4 times a month. But at least, 35% of my new clients have worked with several different bad lower-priced studios before finding me. In these cases, it isn't a scam, these studios are trying to do a good job. The problem is, they just don't know what they're doing! And you get back garbage.
Mixing and Mastering is an ARTFORM! Would YOU rent a booth at a State fair for a $1,000 a day, and sell portraits? YOU draw pictures of people's faces and sell them for profit. 98% of the people reading this will never do that. Because they're not great portrait artists.
BUT, 1,000's of people a year download Reaper (A DAW software) for $60, and open a mixing and mastering business online. Hey, whatever... If I can scam an extra $200 a week, that pays for my weed for the month. Ha!
Get what I'm saying? There are a lot of studios out there that don't know what they are doing. All they know how to do is buy the DAW equipment!
Why Does This Happen?
Too many people just don't get it. They think hiring someone to do their mixing and mastering is like going to the store to buy some batteries. They pay the $5, they're handed the batteries, they go home. Then they put the batteries into their tv remote and they work as expected.
Once again, Mixing and Mastering are an ARTFORM! Some sound engineers are good, some are amazing, some have no clue what they are doing. And they NEVER will... But they're ALL in business to make money. Also, some guys are very honest people, some are so-so, and many are flat crooks looking to make bank!
But what about the big time studios? They're good, right? Yeah, the main guys in the promotional ads are great. But if an employee that just got out of high school mixes and masters your CD, not so good...
What about the freelance sound engineer who worked with (insert top singers name here)? Let me explain to the newbies how this works. You said he did great with a top singer. He did. Are you a top singer? No. To him, you're the "house payment!" And if you're stupid enough, you're the car payment too! For the same job. Ha!
If he does a terrible job on your CD, maybe even upsells you $1k+, what happens? The same thing that happened to me. He gets paid good money for doing nothing. That's it.
If he decided to do a great job on your CD, he has to work hard, and then you tell him, "Thanks, you did a great job." He'd rather do no work, take your money and you can keep your thank you's... There's no penalty for this guy.
NOW, if he works with a HUGE artist, charges the label BIG MONEY and delivers crap, then tries to upsell them on revisions. What do you think is going to happen? They'll pay him, but it will be the LAST job he gets from that producer and that major record label. And once word gets around to the small handful of major studios that control EVERYTHING, he'll never get a big job again in his career. And will end up working on Fiverr! HA!
Well, maybe it won't get that bad. He'll just leave that "ONE top-singer" he worked with on his website and rip people off until he dies.
This Is A Business!
Let us not forget, this is a BUSINESS. The only goal for most of them is to MAKE A LOT OF MONEY. And some of these guys take it to the extreme to make as much as they can, at your expense.
Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with making money. But as a sound engineer, you're getting paid to do a great job and offer an honest service. Not just mix someone's whole album in an hour, upsell them and ruthlessly steal $3,000.
Ever been to an auto mechanic that started with $200 estimate, then ended up at $1,200 after the job was done? Mostly because of unneeded repairs. And when you get your car back it still doesn't work right. Maybe it NEVER works right again!
But of course, a recording studio or freelance engineer would NEVER EVER do this.
So, Are All High Priced Studios A Scam?
Of course not! Just like all auto mechanics aren't scams either. But A LOT are!
Does More Expensive Guarantee Better Quality?
NO! It only guarantees more expensive! I once had a guy who held up a 10 song mastering job for several months, waiting for money to come in. He eventually got more than expected. Even though he received an AMAZING demo from me, he tells me he has more money now and is going with a studio that charges more. Because more money means better quality work. They charged $60 a song instead of $34 a song (like I charge). Good luck with that one...
So, How Do You Protect Yourself?
Check out my article on - How To Find The Best Sound Engineer.
- John Rogers