How Long Does It Take – So What Should It Cost?

We’ve all seen those posts where someone asks how much should I pay for a piece of music, a mix, or some other similar service. Interestingly in most cases they then go on to complain that things cost so much and want tens of hours of work for $5. Like they are buying a cup of coffee instead of specialist work to support their “passion”.

Here I will show my latest month’s projects and how long they took to complete along with pricing. Not only what they should be but what I got.

The month covered below June 2020 was during the Paranoia Pandemic which pretty well poleaxed properly paying projects. At the same time, it shows what has been happening overall.

I Want To Break Free

The Sacrifice of Creation

Before we dig into the projects I will talk about the housekeeping:

Becoming Freelancer seems to be all dancing through the petunias at sunset. If you believe the adverts that is. In reality it is more like Freddy in the song video chained to the vacuum cleaner. Clients who are wanting your services need to be found, projects need to be discussed, terms offered, countered, and hopefully an agreement reached to form a contract that gets signed with payment sent. That all takes time.

People like to think they only pay for the 10 minutes of their film but just like when they go to work, people need to get paid for all 8 hours they are at work, regardless of whether someone bought the widget or not. It is the overall time & expertise that is being paid for when hiring a freelancer, not only the result.

Big fat checks, big large bills

Below in the pricing sections I show what each project would have priced out at under different methods (understand that most places take fees of up to 20%):

  1. Full Rate: $55ph – as a skilled person with awards I deserve a better than average hourly wage esp seeing as we have already noted, I cannot bill all my hours like a wage-slave. The reality is that a typical freelancer is probably only billing about 25-66% of their working day so that $55 needs to be cut in two – at least!
  2. Low Rate: $25ph – is what I must pay someone to dig a hole in my backyard. To take less is economic suicide but I do offer it for simpler work as I’d rather be working than not and I respect that not all budgets are high.
  3. $10ph – is often indicated as a good rate for a freelancer. To be honest, if I have enough reliable work like 10+ hours per week, I am not completely opposed to this rate. HOWEVER, the people who ask this never deliver anything approaching this sort of reliability – despite initial grand claims.
  4. $5ph – is more than most jobs get offered at. Many calculate out at less then $1ph. What kind of results do you expect when you offer this sort of non-valuation of a specialist (let alone yourself). Would you go to a $1 surgeon?
  5. FREE – Everyone wants this but the only way I can do this is (or the $5-$10 work above) is if I get something else of value in return. This is commonly a special Portfolio piece, a great Testimonial, knowing people will share this work so others can see I am da man for this stuff. Sadly many people say they will deliver this “soft” value then do nothing. This makes free or exposure work hard to want to accept from anyone you don’t already know and trust really well.

Job 1 – Preparing a Vocal

Mystify (INXS cover): Preparing vocal for mixing: 2 hours

Mystify – Trevor Kidd

I have done a vocal recovery for Trevor before. He had done some recording and didn’t have the raw takes but some partially mixed stems with effects on them. He was creating new mixes and needed the vocals fixed/prepared. Trevor didn’t exactly pay well but he was gracious, gave a great review, and stayed in conversation after his file was delivered. All of that meant I was open to him when he came back with another vocal that needed preparing at a peanut budget of $15 less 20% fees = $12.

Pricing:

2hrs @Cost
$55$110
$25$50
$10$20
$5$10 For $12 I was essentially working for this rate.
BUT, Trevor’s song was great in my Portfolio as he is a real singer –
no AutoTune or fake doubling needed.
Free
How it would price up

As at writing this, YouTuber Red Grey Matter picked up Trevor Kidd’s song and put it on his show, we are almost at 15,000 views and still climbing. That is something.


Job 2 – Mixing two Songs

Cheap Thrills & Iron Lion Zion (Sia & Bob Marley covers): Preparing vocals + mixing: 10 hours

This is not one I would generally even consider but the initial job was not as terribly presented as most and my gut said it might be worth doing. It turned out to be a father helping his two little boys sing & deliver these songs to their mother for her birthday. I won the job for $100 less 20% fees = $80 based on an existing portfolio item I had done for charity.

The two tracks came over with Stems for the music (and original vocals). The kids’ parts were to come the next day so I mixed the backing tracks – which I admit was fish in a barrel stuff. The kids’ vocals came over completely loose as one line per file through a download service!!! I thought I was going to have to hand it back but the kids were fairly well in time so it ended up not being too hard to find the right spot and get the fragments in.

Thankfully they were also pretty good with tuning so (as already discussed) I stayed clear of autotuning them lest they sound less like the kids Mum adores. Some parts had to be stretched a bit and in one case the little one sang completely the wrong words but “I ain’t got no Mummy” (in place of money) and “I grab my microphone” (in place of put my makeup on) was just so adorable that it was worth keeping.

I did this and some alterations next day and admit to 10 hours but it could be closer to double that – understand that the average decent freelancer often works up to 3 times what they bill, not because they are bad at their job but because they care.

Pricing:

10hrs @Cost
$55$550
$25$250
$10$100
$5$50 At $80 for two tricky mixes this was not a well paid job or even one where I have anything to show but I am not at all unhappy that I did it in the end as I know that I helped make nice moment for some people.
Free
How it would price up

The sad thing is the client stopped talking to me the moment he got his files so I felt somewhat dumped. A few words after the birthday would have been lovely seeing I worked very hard to make those songs sound special for them not just in the moment of the gift but as keepsakes.


Job 3 – Scoring a 2-minute film

Daedalus In Danger: Two-Minute Film Score (incl sound effects): approx 12 hours over three days

Daedalus In Danger

Tempting as it may be to think that a two minute film will take 2 minutes to score, it is not remotely accurate. I used about 12 hours just in studio-time to create this outcome.

A more “orchestral” sound was wanted and that takes longer than a pure synth score. And I’ll be the first to say that this is pretty much a stretch to call orchestral as while they are orchestral samples, they are essentially played as synths. Still, it takes longer as anything that has to have that orchestral sound has more fussing over detail. The more intricate you want the orchestration to be, the longer it takes.

Pricing:

12 hrs @Cost
$55$660
$25$300
$10$120
$5$60
FreeJane is my partner. This I was happy to do free as I get a cool film with my work on it. I know it will get play in Star Trek and other Sci-Fi groups and shows activity.
If it were paid work I doubt I would take less than $120 for any reason.
How it would price up

I didn’t even think to count the time I put into the lead-up to the studio time. To say another 12 hours would be understating it. This is why I have an Executive Producer credit as I helped at every stage to ensure we had a tight film.

This latter is really important as I commonly spend a lot of time advising on how to use the material sent or other advice on how to make the project shine from my 30+ years of experience, which is generally never billed.


Job 4 – Mixing a Track

Mix Walkthrough: Five-Minute Music Mix with Explainer Video: 5 hours studio time to mix, 3 hours for the video.

“Sparkable” – Mix Walkthrough

Mix Walkthroughs are thing I do. The idea is that I can help an aspiring musician with a mix that is better than they can do themselves, whilst giving advice to the wider community on how to get better results. At the same time this should prove that I am worth “investing” in to help make their music shine.

This Mix Walkthrough took about 8 hours to complete. This isn’t taking into account the hour or so of talking to the musician to get the material across and render & upload time for the video. Silly me this time I uploaded the raw video instead of the pretty rendered one – too late, it stays.

Pricing:

8hrs @Cost
$55$440
$25$200
$10$80
$5$40
FreeI get a video to show me collaborating which brings other offers – or should.
The video should also be shared by the artist on their Socials.
How it would price up

So what did get back here? One public complaint on YouTube and several rude emails. The last one saying he hoped he didn’t sour my Mix Walkthrough process for me (or me on him personally) after telling me how I should run my show. All whilst never posting his mix video anywhere – incl. where I made the offer to him. You know what? Yes it does sour me, on BOTH. I don’t say how long this took to the acts but clearly it was not a few casual seconds of my life that I won’t notice either way. My fault as I saw the red flags early when he tried to control my process but I didn’t let him go.


Job 5 – Scoring a 10 minute Film + Mixing Dialog

Unwon Job: Ten-Minute Film Score + Dialog Mixing: 15 hours studio time to compose, 3 hours for the dialog.

I offered $550 upfront. The client wanted a more complex orchestral score than Daedalus above and while the dialog wasn’t terrible it was very uneven. All doable work but I could not see anything less than 15-20 hours for this. AND it all had to be done and delivered in about 2 days!!!

He also wanted Foley like room tones & footsteps but I said not doable in the time and it would be faster to use synth sounds to bridge any scenes to mask sound imperfection in his very basic filming.

He made it very clear that in no way would this film ever be able to be in public (his kids) after a showing at his church. This made it a no-go for portfolio.

I spent about 2 hours in back & forth getting his job set up to work in the (rapidly evaporating) time allocated. Then right at the point where it is about to go ahead he lets me know, even tho he is really eager to have me do this work that he would not pay more than $100. Tempting to take the $90 (after fees) maybe but for two days of stress, no doubt incl opening a can of last minute re-work, with nothing to show for it, there was no reason to want to take the job so I wished him well (through somewhat gritted teeth seeing I had already lost time on another job).

Pricing:

18hrs @Cost
$55$990
$25$450
$10$180
$5$90 If I had been able to show the film and it wasn’t a rush job, I just might have considered something in this arena as it was a new work platform for me and a completed job looks better than nothing.
Free
How it would price up

In reality, I wasted 2 skilled hours in pitching then explaining how to balance the limits of the job to get him a decent result.


Job 6 – Writing a Piece of Music for Video

Never Could Do: Five-Minute Music sync with video: 5 hours studio time to compose, another hour to prepare, export & upload the video.

Never Could Do

Travis is a friend and we have a solid relationship. He has been playing with film and asked if I would contribute music. He was open to using existing tracks but I am generally not very “beaty” and we both saw sense in these being unique pieces so that meant composing.

Seeing this is synth music I am in my element. However seeing the tracks need to be a bit beat-driven I am also outside of my “happy place” so that makes me fumble about a bit – also I know that I am not delivering that cliche Dance thing everyone expects (and Travis likes). While it would be nice to have EDM stormers to get the kids in, for now this is more proof of concept for Travis so we go with what comes.

Pricing:

6hrs @Cost
$55$330
$25$150
$10$60
$5$30
FreeI get a video to show with my name on it. I know it is odd so I don’t much mind if that is not great numbers but people in my “community” see me collaborating which brings other offers – or should.
How it would price up

Do You Know The Way To San Jose?

As you can add up, in 1 month I have five completed projects and one that wasted time for a grand total of $92 which I cannot access until I meet draw-down thresholds.

Next time you hope that a freelancer is going to do work for you for peanut wages, and complain that is too much I hope you a) look at how much you love your project compared to a few cups of coffee or beer b) realize that there are real people trying to pay their bills doing this for you.

update:

Paper Blood

Someone reminded me rather pointedly that my idea of rates was all messed up seeing in the U.S.A. the base wage is $7.50ph. Ok, however in the U.S.A. people tip at least 10% of the bill so if over 1 hour you sling eggs at 10 tables at just $10ea, that is another $10 to bring that per hour to $17.50. Also in larger cities & remotely specialist roles the base wages easily double. So why pay less when you want specialist work done?

What makes that argument doubly dubious is when you see that most specialist work I land from US clients is under US$7.50ph. That is not even counting the jobs offered that even from basic math would be under $1 per hour. Rate sheets that circulate from the U.S.A. put a basic competent Mix Engineer at $35ph. This is not $7.50! Also, at least 50% of American buyers don’t tip either!!

Then people say India or other countries where (apparently) $1ph is a god-send. Fair enough, but I bet that if someone is that needy of $1 work, they probably don’t have the resources, let alone skill & experience to do the sort of high tech/skill work you would want delivered. Don’t believe me – go look on Fiverr at the work in portfolios and then the number of people complaining that the supposedly “unique high-quality logo” they were supposed to get is in fact a bit of clip-art from Word or a Google search.

It is better to invest more in a good outcome than less in a useless outcome

Addendum:

The Magnificent Fairy Army is a track I composed on-spec to put on Pond5. This is a thing I do from time to time when I am between projects when I feel like composing but am not in-the-zone. Scraps maybe but I might make a sale or two for otherwise “wasted” time.

The Magnificent Fairy Army: Light Orchestral, Epic, Fantasy, War themes 2:13

The Magnificent Fairy Army – a speculative film cue

I let Pond5 price it as they say this increases my sales. I am unsure of that. They will normally price something like this between $15 & $25, of which I lose 65% in fees! If I were to price this up using the tables above it would look like:

Pricing:

6 hrs @Cost
$55$330
$25$150
$10$60
$5$30
FreeSpeculative work is always unpaid until someone purchases it. Sales are sporadic at best. Even then payouts are lower than any rate I would work for – a $15 sale nets me $5 = $2.50ph.
How it would price up

This piece is very simple for Orchestral, and Fairies in particular, as there are no trills or runs. Embellishments take time to program in any way that feels realistic – you’ll note the glockenspiel glissando at the end is not exactly smooth. Detail gets costly as it soaks up time. It may well be worth it in the end but has to be allowed for when setting budgets (time & dollars).

I invested 6 hours over two sessions on two consecutive days. This latter is really important. I could have called it at 3 hours and delivered but there were no drums, some instruments that help build depth & power were not there, and some parts were just inelegant (or broken). Not investing in the second session would have delivered a very poor result indeed which really equals wasted money. It is better to invest more in a good outcome than less in a useless outcome.

One thought on “How Long Does It Take – So What Should It Cost?

  1. My man I wish I could help you because I really do understand your situation. People think there’s a recording studio behind every burger joint, with a world class engineer at every board. Maybe if every track they released included,, by contractual obligation the raw material, so you could show everyone how well you can polish a turd. Just a thought.
    Give ’em Hell, Mate.

Leave a Reply