DO YOU CHARGE A FLAT RATE OR BY HOUR?
At Silverbirch, we offer two different rates. By the hour for those coming to the session and a flat rate, based on number of songs, for those who are not able to attend.
Over the last decade, our clientele has evolved from mostly people in the greater Toronto area to clients in other parts of Canada, United States, Europe, Asia, Middle East and Africa so the majority of our clients cannot be at the session.
In previous years, we worked with a stop watch for the out of towners, totaled it up and charged our usual attended rate of $85. per hour (plus tax, if applicable). Needless to say, as the non-attended sessions got to be the norm, the stop watch method was getting unwieldy and so we chose to use the flat rate method that most mastering studios use.
So new and returning clients that are able to attend are always asking us for comparisons of the two ways of billing so here's an example for a 12 song album:
Our mastering engineer usually can master a 12 song album in approximately 6 hours. So at $85. per hour, that equals $510. The flat rate for the same number of songs is $600. Also, the flat rate includes 1 revision for every 5 songs so in the above scenario, you are entitled to up to 3 n/c revisions.
If you need a revision after coming to an attended session, the cost is still $85. an hour and a revisions session is a minimum of 1/2 an hour ($42.50) for one song and about 15 minutes for each additional one. In other words, the cost for the attended session will be less expensive only if you don't need any revisions!
The advantages of coming are that you can help make decisions instantly instead of waiting to hear the masters sent over the internet. The disadvantage is, that depending on how many people come to the session, the time can get extended! Imagine all members of a 5 piece group attending the mastering session. Not only can everyone have a differing opinion about some aspect of the mastering but the drummer may have a comment for each element of his kit! That, of course, is a bit of an exaggeration but you get the point!
In practice, there are only a very, very few people that would benefit from instant decision making as the vast majority of clients actually like to proof masters on their own various systems. If you are not used to a full-range speaker system with stereo subs, proofing away from the studio is not at all a bad thing!
So in summation, remember that applicable taxes are added to the mastering session. In Canada the rates vary according to where you live and outside of Canada, there are no taxes added. If you need a master for replication, that is also an extra cost.
Here's the flat rate calculator for unattended sessions:
Also a reminder that there is no use in comparing our rates to a mixing studio whose mixing engineer will master your album with plug-ins. You have to compare apples to apples and that means knowing how to evaluate a mastering studio. 99.9% of the albums released by major labels, indie labels with national distribution and savvy indie artists are mastered by full-time mastering engineers in a studio designed for mastering and equipped with the appropriate gear. Check the credits of your favourite albums. You will rarely see the same credit for mixing and mastering, and for a very good reason! At best, a full-time mixing engineer is a part-time mastering engineer!
WHAT ABOUT TOUCH-UPS?
Typically, touch-ups are needed if after repeated listening on multiple outside speaker systems, an unwanted general pattern emerges or a similar negative observation about 1 or more tracks is noticed. For example, the entire album is just a little too bright or too bass heavy. Global problems are very rare at Silverbirch. More common touch-ups would be that 1 or 2 tracks might need to be equalized/compressed differently or have the volume raised or lowered or maybe a space between a song(s) need to be adjusted and lastly, someone may decide that the order of songs need to be changed.
At Silverbirch, we generally charge for touch-up sessions. The exception would be a technical error (a click, pop or distortion not in the original mix), even when not noticed by the client during the studio monitoring of that track.
However, it should be noted that distortion, especially momentary incidents, can sometimes be subjective as to whether acceptable or not. This is especially true with much of today's pop music and in particular, punk/pop and alternative music. Sometimes overall level requests, or during the process of matching of reference tracks, distortion can be induced. And just to complicate matters, sometimes the mix has incidents of very slight distortion which then get enhanced in the mastering. There are many examples of distortion of all flavours in loud commercial CDs so ultimately the mastering engineer has to be the judge of what will be fixed/changed for n/c or not. In other words, there is a loose "standard" where certain types of tracks do not have to be "pristine" in these genres and therefore is up to the client who is attending to establish the standard for their music by listening carefully.
There could be other reasons for not charging but they would be on a case by case basis. In other words, if the engineer felt in any way responsible for the necessity for a touch-up, we might not charge for the work or give a discount. This is rare because the producer/artist makes the final decision on the sound of each master and so almost all touch-ups are as the result of reconsidering a decision that was made at the original session.
Mostly touching up albums are limited to about 10 to 15 % of the work done here and 90% of those are done because the client liked it a certain way at the mastering session and changed their mind later. By the way, many albums mastered for major labels are touched-up and in some cases, remastered at least once. That is probably because so many people at the label have input and because the budgets are higher than for indie albums.