The Musician’s Bill Of Rights Upon Entering A Recording Studio

torn-bill-of-rights.jpgAt Musformation we feel the home recording studio movement is a
blessing not a curse. We work hard every day trying to give everyone the
knowledge to make their musical creativity be the best it can be, so
that we can hear the amazing music you make with this knowledge. With
that said, there has been an obvious deterioration in the lack of
professionalism someone working in a recording studio is expected to
uphold. Every day I hear horror stories of what a studio owner or  a
producer did to this or that band. It angers me as a Producer/Engineer because there are
so many great engineers out there who would never indulge in some of this
incompetent, disturbing behavior. Unfortunately, bands do not know the
questions to ask when stepping into a studio and don’t know what to
expect upon entering the recording environment.

Today we are looking to
change that. Musformation is launching the Musicians Bill Of Rights
Upon Entering A Recording Studio
. We want musicians to be educated and
have something to show an offending engineer that they are not living
up to the standards their community has set for them. We want musicians
to know that they don’t have to put up with this behavior and can
do better. There are countless Engineers, Producers and recording
studios that abide by these standards and even put in tons of extra
miles. In our opinion, and to many others we sent this to,  this is the very least we could demand of those in the community.

Before we start, there is a big difference between
the trust you grant an established producer you trust. There are some
producers who work very
effectively using the craziest methods imaginable, but understand these
are not normal
practices. What we really stress here is most of these rules are fine
to disobey AS LONG AS THE BAND KNOWS IN ADVANCE. We are outlining what
most dedicated Producer/Engineers do. If you have a family and can’t
work 10
hours it is totally cool, just make sure the band knows your hour
constraints. We are not saying great records can’t be made unless you
follow these rules, we are just setting standards a community feels are
common practice.

Lastly, we are not dictating. We want everyone’s
feedback! We are happy to redact things from this list if the community
feels they are wrong as well as add other things that bands feel they are
unfairly the victim of. I compiled this list from conversations I have
had with dozens of people and numerous queries I posted on message
boards. If you find a flaw in this article, let’s discuss it as a
community, since these ideas didn’t just come from me, but from
the musicians and recording community.

The Right To A Coherent Producer/Engineer
this is the music business… We like to party! However if you are
paying for studio time you should at least have someone who is sober
enough to be able to communicate. The boundaries for excess should be
set in advance. I know many pro’s who claim they don’t know a mix is
till they smoke a little weed when they hear it and get great results
through this method. However, some musicians want everyone at their most
attentive so make sure the lines are drawn in advance, so there are no
disagreements after the fact.

The Right To Have Your Producer/Engineer At Work When They Are At Work
biggest complaint about the modern “engineer” is the lack of
attentiveness to their work. You have the right to not have AIM,
texting and phone calls get in the way of the session.
IM’ing and Texting and saying “Oh no, wait hold on” to a musician with
instrument in hand is completely unprofessional – the session should
come first, over petty distractions like Skype chatting. That said,
everyone lives through
some emergencies. All of this obviously does not apply when there is a
serious incident. If a studio is holding you to how many hours you paid
for, you can hold the producer accountable for excessive phone
calls that interrupt the session.

The Right To Have The Producer/Engineer At The Session
the years I have heard countless stories of engineers bailing to go
take a jog, go watch an episode of Friends etc., meanwhile they teach
the band to punch themselves in. Just like a “real job” a
Producer/Engineer is
supposed to actually show up to work. We all know life hands us
some serious drama sometimes and we all have responsibilities, but the
musicians have a right to have you disclose if you have prior commitments. This includes charging a band a huge rate
and then sticking them with the assistant and/or intern the whole time.

The Right To Hear It Your Way
The title
Producer does not give you veto power. Musicians have the right to hear
their idea. It is one thing to inform them they are going to go over
their budget and need more time to execute something, it is another to
deny them the right to hear something the way they would like. Most of
the time this comes down to making simple alternate mixes which can
take 5 minutes. That said, if the majority of a group is against
spending time on something a producer does not need to indulge every single members individual whim. All too often
Producers will not like an idea and refuse to hear a part since it
doesn’t fit their idea of the band or song. As well, how long it takes to
argue these things is how long it would take to hear the idea.

The Right To Have Competency

Every Producer/Engineer is learning on the job to some extent, but it
needs to be established in advance if you are going to be watching
tutorials or looking in the manual
every hour to learn how to do the things that come with recording a
band of the genre you are working in. If the band is Emo and the engineer doesn’t
know how to use Auto-Tune, they should not be charging them for the time
it takes to
figure out this program. Producers/Engineers are supposed to be
charging their clients
for the time it takes to execute their ideas not to learn how
to execute them. If there is extensive learning on the clock the band
should receive credit or it should be disclosed first.

The Right To Understand What You Are Paying For And Have Any Future Fees Disclosed As Soon As They Pop Up Not After the Fact
days of studios charging $20 for a 9v battery are over, the free market
of home studios has obsoleted them. Every musician has the right to an
honest estimate and hourly rate with no hidden fees. You have the right to know every
a band may run into in their budget in advance so there are no
surprises. That said, Murphy’s Law does exist and if a snare head breaks
and you are expected to pay for it, do not put the Producer/Engineer on
the cross and nail him.

The Right To Not Be Insulted
With no exception, no Producer/Engineer – whether you are in the
Producer/Engineers “kingdom” or not – has the right to call you a
derogatory term. Joking around is all well and good and the occasional
jab is all in good fun. However, any Producer/Engineer should have
enough couth to know when it is appropriate or not to throw a hurtful
insult around. Racists, sexist, xenophobic and homophobic terms meant
to hurt someone else are not justified by it being under the studios
roof. Trust me, most studios you will enter will never do this -
unfortunately, there are exceptions.

The Right To Not Pay For Data Loss
If a track, take or whole record is erased by the engineers error,
you have the right not pay for it. DATA loss is not a fact of life, it
is a plague of unprofessionalism and you do not need to put up with it
or pay for it.

The Right To Receive Your Music in a Timely Fashion
that pay for their studio time should get their music returned to them
by the studio on a time that was agreed upon. Bands have schedules
(like tours and mastering dates, etc.) and some should never have their
lives put on hold because an Producer/Engineer is
slack. Not
having your music can mean lost revenue and missed opportunities.
Studios must to be upfront about when finished mixes will be sent back
to bands.  Bands who fail to get their music back in a timely fashion
should be entitled to at least a partial refund.  

The Right To Have Changes After The Mix is Done
one likes a band who changes their mind too many times, but a certain
number of small changes to a mix should not be unreasonable. Sometimes
only time and a little distance from the project can tell you what
adjustments need to be made. While too many changes can be annoying and
exhausting for a studio, the first few changes are no big deal and
often take little to no time at all. At the end of a session, it should
be made clear that changes are expected and should be done
expeditiously – this should always be the standard practice. 

The Right To Have A Clean And Comfortable Studio Environment
all artists in a sense and artists aren’t usually known for their
cleanliness, but at some point we must draw the line.  Although you’re
not at a country club, a studio shouldn’t smell like a locker room, be
overflowing with trash bags or rat-infested either.  In addition, a
band shouldn’t have to worry about how they’re going to play well
because it’s deathly freezing inside the live room and the owner won’t
turn on the heat.  Further, a band doesn’t need to be concerned about
their gear being ruined because a roof is leaking or their allergies
going crazy because there is mold all over the place.  While there is
nothing wrong with having a relaxed “home studio” vibe, it should be a
comfortable environment where the band can concentrate on more
important things – you know, like the music.      

The Right To A Functional Studio
of us have been through a DIY stage in our musical careers where we opt
for cheap fixes and work-arounds, but there are some things that are
unacceptable. For example, a singer can’t really give his/her best
vocal performance if they can’t hear themselves because the headphones
keep shorting out. If the studio states they will have certain
equipment (drums, amps, etc), they should have them there available to
you and in some sort of working order, especially if they were
necessary for the projects sound. Keeping up with gear is hard, but if
a band is relying on a Marshall JCM 800 being there because they were
told it was going to be and upon arrival all the tubes are blown and
the cabinet is shot, this is unacceptable. No studio is perfect and
gear is often very sensitive, but bands and artists should not be made
to suffer because of a studios negligence. One instance of gear failure inability to use equipment is natural but constant gear breakdown is unacceptable
I encourage musicians entering a recording environment – especially one they have
never worked in – to ask their engineer if the believe in all these
terms. The bright side of this list is that it gets a lot of bad
communication (which causes studios to lose business and be hated) out
of the the
way in advance. By discussing all of these things in advance there will
be less fighting and bitterness in the studio. Both band and producer
can understand where each other are coming from before a project even
starts. This will lead to both parties being happier in the end.

If you are an engineer and you are insulted and offended by this
article, I have a bright side for you too. If your studio isn’t doing as
well as you wish it would, things will get better if you start to abide
by these rules. These are agreed upon industry standards and you can
choose to follow them or not, but be warned that the community will soon learn that you are failing to do so.

Thanks to Todd Thomas (who wrote a lot of this from his own terrible experiences), Mike Oettinger, Adam Bird, Steve Evetts
and the Tape Op Forums for giving me insight into this article. Let the
flaming begin!

Jesse Cannon is the editor of Musformation. He produces records at his studio Cannon Found Soundation. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseCannonMusF. For more info please visit his website.

  • Anonymous

    By and large I agree with your writing, and most engineers who value their business take these practices as a matter of common sense.
    However, I disagree with one point. The right to a single pass of SMALL and FEW changes is usually OK with an ITB studio. And then, for A SINGLE SONG, not an entire album. A single pass of small changes, implemented with care, across an entire album can take several hours. It’s only fair that people be paid for their time, as is standard practice across all professions when work has been performed competently.
    Also, for larger studios which have already started working on other projects, any change will necessitate recalling settings for outboard, patching, and mixing board. Much work is done before a single change has been made. After the change, all settings must then be recalled for the current project. Once again, it’s a matter of being paid for a non-trivial expenditure of one’s time.
    I agree with the overall intent of the post, that musicians should feel empowered to demand professionalism from the people they are paying. Providing specific examples of how it should manifest is a clear service to musicians. I just hope everyone reading this is aware that some seemingly simple procedures can, in some cases, be anything but, and wanted to bring proper perspective on this point.

  • Todd Thomas

    I’m gonna agree with many things in the above comment by recognizing the difficulty in making some revisions, however, I’m going to disagree and assert that despite the royal pain it can be, it comes with the territory. We’re dealing with an a delicate piece of art and maintaining complete objectively is impossible for artists and engineers. It’s only healthy for everyone to sit on a mix for a while and then make changes. I can think of few things I’ve done at a studio that haven’t had changes and all the engineers I’ve worked with (if they were any good) always emphasized that changes were expected (and the first few were always free).
    When I worked in web design for years and I would always give my clients 30 days to make any artistic changes to the site, and after that we had to charge them. Changes to websites are often difficult and very time consuming, but I anticipated them with every site I did. There are always changes and this should be worked into the initial price of the service.

  • Anonymous

    These things are just good business practice.
    If you don’t like the way a studio/producer/engineer works, don’t go back. Go in with another band or get a look around before you pay.
    The engineer/producer isn’t forcing you to use his studio, he can work however he wants. It just means he won’t get repeat business and reccomendations

  • la grange

    Hi Jesse,
    I was looking forward to the result of your work on this matter and now i have it.
    I run a pro studio where I get a lot of first timers.
    The first thing I want to say is that, if today, I was paid for all the 9v batteries I have given to musicians, I would buy myself a nice extra piece of equipment that all musicians could benefit from using.
    All that you have said has been true, somewhere with someone, sometime.
    There are a great number of studios being opened every days. Reason being that, If you have a converter, a mic and a computer with a couple of plugins, you call yourself a studio. These guys are the fast food of the industry, it taste, sounds, smells like … But there are cheap! and if you pay peanuts you get monkeys! As a studio operator, it is always seen as a ploy to explain this kind of reality, never a warning sign.
    But the …. hits the fan, they come running back with the famous “Can You Fix it?” face on.
    To conclude this little observation, I want to say that I wold love to sign your bill, send it to me anytime via email.
    But if you want to do some goods to the industry, you should try to educate the artists as well as cry for wolf when you see a rotten apple. I think, the day the you artists will understand what studio is all about, we will erase 90% of the problems. Give a sick and tired engineer some latitude and he might take it. Be tight and prepared and he will work his arse off! We are all in for the same result: Happiness and good end result. It is the path that we need to take that is unclear!
    Look forward to receive your bill

  • David

    I recorded my album at a so called professional studio and have gotten a record deal and when in need of my studio files was told they were thrown out making it much harder for my label with mp3 files! Very unprofessional, am thinking that it is jealousy! I feel that this should not be called a professional studio!! To contact me with any comments

  • David

    I recorded my album at a so called professional studio and have gotten a record deal and when in need of my studio files was told they were thrown out making it much harder for my label with mp3 files! Very unprofessional, am thinking that it is jealousy! I feel that this should not be called a professional studio!! To contact me with any comments