There’s a disturbing trend happening in the production of commercial music releases created by some of the world’s biggest artists and producers. The basic concept is to give a particular stage of the audio production chores out to a group of engineers and have them do the work in competition with each other. These individuals spend hours of time in a well-equipped studio mixing or mastering a track and then submit their work for evaluation. The producer gets the work done by a number of skilled experts, picks the one they like the best and pays only that engineer. The rest of the mixers or mastering engineers get nothing. The assembled group of mixers is not compensated but if asked to participate they really can’t refuse or they won’t have a shot at any future work from the same producer…paid or not.
I first noticed this “strategy” when I happened upon a website that was offering graphic designers the chance to compete for a logo design job. The website posted “competitions” for graphic design work that would pay a “prize” at the end of the competition. It seemed like a scam to me at the time. Dozens if not hundreds of aspiring designers would work on logo concepts for the company or individual that needed a new logo design. All of the work would be done and entered in the competition and then a winner would be picked from all of the designs. They would receive the prize of $500…and amount that would never have paid for all of the work done. It’s a brilliant scheme to get design work for free. And websites have been built around the idea.
And now the idea has migrated to record production. I heard that Ric Rubin had given 5 mastering engineers the opportunity to master one of his projects. He would get them to do the work, choose the one he liked the best and then only pay the engineer that did that version. The others got nothing. And now a very prominent producer/musician is doing the same thing with the mixing stage of a production. The files are provided to a select few well know mixing engineers. They use their own studios and equipment and deliver a master back to the producer. They only get paid if the producer likes their work above the other submissions.
What happened to the days when you were hired to do a job, did the work and got paid for your expertise? They’re gone. The reason is that there are too many studios, too many individuals working in their bedrooms and garages with the same tools as the big boys and there are countless online tutorials that purport to teach everyone to be an engineer. The value of audio engineering has been eroding for many years. The cost of mixing a single tune in stereo has gone from around $600-800 per track to about half of that over the past 5 years. The same amount of work is being done but it’s being undervalued.
I recognize that this is trend in other industries as well. Why manufacture something in this country when you can ship the work overseas and get a better price. And I’m guilty of this practice as well. The backend programming for my new website is being done by a team in India. I simply can’t afford to pay the rates being charged by domestic programmers.
Perhaps this is just the state of affairs in 2014, but I thought that getting paid for your work was a given. Apparently, it’s not.