Music Industry

4 ideas on becoming a pro

Studio thermometer is dripping sweat, the CPU is at 95% and you just ran out of coffee - and there's an album to mix in the next two days. Dayum! 

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André Kirchner 01 Sep 2019

We have talked to a lot of friends and mix engineers, that can refer to that story char by char. With lots of tears, sweat and curses that made it a bumpy, non-relaxed studio time. So we gathered a short list of do's and dont's to really go from amateur to pro, being a mix engineer or recording artist.

No.1 | Choose the right clients

You are not a nanny to that diva of local guitarist, that is going ape s*** in your studio, driving you mad since the last 18 hours. It is not part of your service to order pizza, buy the liquor for them homies or be the groupie sitter for Mrs. Recent-Gig. Unfortunately some people don't seem to understand the basic rules of communication, lacking the idea of an eye-to-eye relationship and can just not focus on what they are supposed to be - professional.

Working as an engineer with customers is an exchange of respect, trust and profession, that might be the fundament of the next big hit. You both owe the other the most effective work approach, meaning: You are the mix engineer, focussing on sound, gear and a great working atmosphere, while your client is playing his instrument, listening quietly and giving feedback on the process when asked - and nothing else. If you are doubting the profession of your client, better not work with him or her in your main time.

No.2 | Sequential tasks

That phone is now ringing the 5th time and email is popping up every second as you mix the new Kyle Gass Album? What a shame - your sound is terrible these days. Not because you have bad ears, but your listening system is just super tired by constantly being unfocussed with a million tasks on your list (brain). A LOT of people think, managing multiple tasks simultaneously is one of the greatest capabilities of us humans, but the truth is:

1.) Science shows, we are not really able to multi-task. It is more like a constant short-time change of awareness, driven by our short-term memory and the constant fear of failure. Meaning: While you "multi-task", you are in fact still only working on one task, but you are switching between tasks super often, because your brain is triggering you with producing a lot of stress hormones - multi-tasking really is an illusion of control.

2.) Not being able to focus on a specific task over a longer period of time (>20 Minutes), will detach you from the process and make you miss in-depth detail. You might not be fully aware of what you are doing, while you are under the illusion of performing great. Best example - try to mix under stress and listen to the outcome the next day. See?

So do yourself a favor and organize your time and tasks in a linear manner with planned breaks and a buffer of 10-20% per task - so that you can sequentially work on things, with less distraction and less stress overall. And while you are on it - turn off that phone and internet. You are mixing Kyle Gass, right? Show some respect.

No.3 | Know your utilities

"Me don't need them shortcuts! Manuals are for nerds!" Chances are, one doesn't even know the basic, important features of their soft- or hardware. Just tragic - who would be willing to call a plumber, that doesn't even know how to use a hammer? Profession is not only a question of listening skills or the right feelings. It is tools and about how to use them, to turn an artistic vision into actual sound. The greats in the business are - without an exception - technically trained engineers and gear lovers, that know their hard- or software to the very detail. So they are capable of creating a sound, that makes a mix superior over what any amateur or an auto-eq could ever do.

And while we are at it: Investing in an arsenal of DAWs and plugins doesn't say much about the engineer's capabilities to properly make use of them. Gathering & maintaining thousands of software snippets, with taking care of features, presets & updates is not an easy job - and it also does not make you any better in regards of mixing. A great strategy is to keep the amount of tools minimal - but to understand those tools to their essence.

No.4 | Make a price

Donnies Backyard Studios - Offer: 19 bucks for 2 hours of studio time including the engineer. Call today!

Really? That's not a pricing model, but a declaration of economical idiocy. First of all, those numbers will be ruining the prices for a whole sector. A lot of engineers are trying to make a living out of their profession, this of course is related to a pricing strategy, that is sustainable and fitting their needs. Second, you should never sell out - your capabilities do have a price tag that sure is out of question. Your customers need to accept or move on. The correct price is correlating to your street value - simple marketing psychology.

Some trick - your calculation could be based on your different periods of life:

1.) The younger you, with the amount of time you have invested in becoming the (professional) mix or mastering engineer you are today, including study fees and all those hours spent tweaking the guitar sound, when you have been the intern at the studio you have been trying out.

2.) The current you, where your rates should cover the cost of your gear and the rent you are paying for this acoustically treated studio you are driving, as well as some sandwiches, coffee and that beautiful family you have.

3.) The future you, where you really want to strive for becoming even more valuable in regards of music production, visiting workshops, clinics or investing in some marketing.

We have never seen someone working professionally below a thresh of $80/h, not including the studio rent. There is indeed nothing wrong with having some training sessions, that don't pay well - at least always aim for a cover of costs on your site and don't market yourself as the cheapest producer in town. You are member to a proud guild!


Becoming more professional, of course, has way more aspects and individual requirements than we could ever put in an article. Those are a few tips to really have you more organized, while also maintaining an image of reliability to the outside world. Hope you enjoyed this list - you might want to add your thoughts, and we would love to read them. So please comment below.

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