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How much should you charge for your sound engineering services?

You've been asked to make a recording of some local musicians, and they expect to pay you. Wow - you're a pro! But how much should you charge?


Question from a Audio Masterclass visitor...

I am an amateur recording artist recording in my apartment for university students that want to cut demos, or just record their songs. I know I am not professional and I have very little formal training.

My question is, how much should I charge? I want to make a little money and people tell me that my recordings sound better than some of the local studio's work. Should I charge by song, or by a hourly wage, and what is a good fee to start with. I live in Canada if that makes any difference.



David Mellor responds...

This is a tricky question. To answer one point immediately, you should charge an hourly or a daily rate.

How much your hourly or daily rate will be depends on a number of factors...

  • How much the client expects, or is willing, to pay.
  • How desperately you want the experience of doing the work.
  • What is the minimum value you place upon your time?
  • Whether you want to make recording your main source of employment.
  • If you make recording your main source of employment, the proportion of your available time you expect to be working.
  • Whether you need an assistant.
  • The value of the equipment you bring to the job.
  • The competition!

We need to take these points in turn. I will not take into account the value of your equipment until I come to that point specifically.

How much the client expects, or is willing, to pay

A suitable benchmark for this is how much you would expect to pay a plumber to fix your kitchen sink. Many clients who would willingly pay a plumber top dollar to fix a domestic problem will recoil with horror if asked to pay the same for recording services.

But you should definitely seek a comparable rate for your services, even though you might not expect to get it.

If you quote a rate that seems too cheap, you won't get respect. People place value on expensive products and services, regardless of their intrinsic worth. So don't go too low.

How desperately you want the experience of doing the work

If you are just starting out, you may feel that you would do the work for nothing just to get the experience.

If this is what you want, then by all means get that experience. It will be useful to you in your future career.

Do make sure though that all of your expenses are covered, including transport. Don't end up paying to do the job.

What is the minimum value you place upon your time?

You could be doing some other kind of work with your time. A student for example might be doing bar or restaurant work.

You shouldn't offer a rate that is less than you could earn by doing some other job.

Whether you want to make recording your main source of employment

If you want to make recording your career, then you have to charge proper money for it.

Currently you may be working directly for musicians or music societies. In future you will seek to move into broadcast or corporate work, or even recording for CD release.

If this is what you want, you have to consider how much you would like your annual income to be when setting your hourly or daily rate.

If you make recording your main source of employment, the proportion of your available time you expect to be working

This clearly links to the point made above. If you intend to be available to work for forty-six weeks a year, on average five days a week, eight hours a day, then you have 1840 hours available.


Any freelance worker can only expect to be employed for a part of their available time. It would be wise to consider a figure of 50%. Initially you will not achieve anywhere near this. Further down the line you may achieve 75%. If you find yourself working more than 75% of your available time, you need to consider putting your rates up.

So if you actually work 920 hours a year, then if you want to be paid for instance $60,000, then your hourly rate will be just over $65, plus expenses.

Whether you need an assistant

You might be able to get someone to work for you for free, for the experience. Alternatively you might have to pay.

You shouldn't have to pay more than $15 - $20 an hour for an assistant who can follow your instructions but otherwise has little or no technical expertise.

A skilled assistant will demand more.

The value of the equipment you bring to the job

Your equipment cost you a lot of money and the client has to pay for the time you spend using it on their job.

Here you have to work out the value of the equipment and its projected life span.

Let's suppose you have $30,000 worth of equipment and you expect it to last five years on average.

Working 920 hours a year, this would equate to just over $6.50 per hour. You should add this to your fee, but there is no need to break it down on the invoice.

You should consider the cost of your transport too if necessary. It is normal to include the cost of transport within a certain radius, and make an additional charge beyond that.

The competition!

All of the above falls to pieces if you have competition that is prepared to work for less!

In this case you could embark on a price war, which will see both of you involved in a never-ended downward spiral.

Or you could promote your skills as a 'premium' service in some way. Another alternative is to specialize in a niche.

Summing up

Don't charge less than you are worth!

When you have decided on an hourly or daily rate, make sure that it is fully justified in the eyes of the client, in terms of the expectations set up by your marketing materials and methods, the quality of your work, and the perceived value of your service, also in the eyes of the client.

Opinions sought!

Over to Audio Masterclass readers. How much do you think a sound engineer should charge?

(In US dollars please - you can find a converter at www.xe.com)

By David Mellor Monday August 14, 2006
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