QUALITY AND COST IN SOUND AND AUDIO

 

I’ve thought a long time about exactly how to tackle this topic. Honestly it’s one of those things that comes up pretty frequently; but seems to always leave a sour taste in my mouth when I have to talk to people about these things. In today’s market where you can buy things cheaply and learn how to get some decent results by watching YouTube tutorials, the question I’ve had to repeatedly answer and overcome is this: “Why should I pay you a lot of money to do something that I can get my nephew to do in his parent’s basement for free?” The answer that I give to that question every time is: “Quality, Quality, Quality.” along with something snarky like “Well, if you want your nephew to do it in his parent’s basement for free, it’s going to sound like it was done in a basement for free.”. I personally want to give everyone I work with the best possible work that I can, but it does come at a price. I’ve put together a list of some things here to help people understand why there is a correlation between cost and quality. I’ve also included some ways for you to be able to talk with people and find out if their quality is worth what they are charging.

          1. Audio Engineering is my livelihood, not a hobby – This may come as a bit of a shock to most people (especially in Utah), but I do what I do as a professional; not an amateur and not as a hobbyist. That means that I don’t work for free, I don’t work for food, for drugs or for crappy gear that you have laying around that you want to get rid of. I work for money, just like everyone else does. It also means that I work for myself where there is no insurance, no paid time off, no 401K and no holiday pay. Asking someone to work for pennies or to work for free is just plain insulting. I don’t do it to people that I do business with, and I expect the same courtesy in return. If I go have my car worked on, I expect to pay for the parts and services that I am getting. It’s no different with Audio.
          2. My education and my gear is expensive – There are only a handful of schools that have degrees in what I specialize in. That means that I have a very specialized skill set and I have the education and the know-how to use better practices than most of my competition, which in turn gets me much better results. If you’re using someone who was just standing around or has gotten all of their education on YouTube; chances are there are going to be massive holes in their education, which can translate to problems in their audio. The sad thing is that most of the time these people don’t even know that they are missing things.
          3. I don’t compromise on quality – If you really think that someone you know can do as good of a job as I can and they’re willing to do it for free, lets face it. You’re probably being straight up being lied to and ripped off. I stand by the quality of the practices I use and oftentimes, I’m willing to do a sample of something for free to prove it.
          4. I use best practices – Part of my education and the experience that I have is that I know the difference between good, better and best practices when it comes to audio. I also know the limitations and weaknesses of the practices that are out there and I spend a lot of time making sure that I play to the strengths of the practices I use.
          5. Best practices aren’t cheap, so be prepared to pay for it – This should be fairly obvious to anyone that has two brain cells to rub together; but honestly I can’t believe the amount of people that can’t wrap their heads around it. It’s a simple concept. Do you want the best quality that you can possibly afford? Or are you interesting in doing things as cheaply as possible? If you said yes to the first section, chances are there is going to be an associated price tag that goes along with it. If you said yes to the second, chances are your quality is going to drop significantly.
          6. Chances are, the best practices that cost a bit more will probably save you money in the long run – I really hate to sit here and harp on the money to quality thing but the reality of the situation is that if you choose to do things as cheaply as possible and step over the quality of good audio, chances are you’re going to pay for it later on down the road. In music not getting good sound at the source can mean having to re-record something and start over again from scratch. It could also mean that you’re going to pay tons of money to “fix it in the mix”(this is a horrible practice by the way). The same goes for film. The better audio you can get on set means you spend way less time in the studio doing things like Dialogue Replacement or in the worst case, having to re-shoot the entire scene.
          7. I’m not trying to rip you off, I’m just trying to educate you about the sticker shock you’re in – Most of the time I end up talking to people about quality and price, people have a preconceived notion of what they think my services are worth. Unfortunately most people have no reference for how much things actually cost; nor the investments I’ve made in things like education and the equipment I have. It’s kind of like walking into a Ferrari Dealership and having the expectation that all cars cost $20,000 because your last car (The Ford Fiesta) cost that much. Then having the harsh realization that you’ve just been slapped in the face with the real price tag of $300,000. Your card gets declined, everyone is looking at you funny and all it does is make you look stupid as well as wastes my time. I’ve never had a project that I wasn’t able to be fully transparent about exactly where the money is going, but for the sake of everyone involved, don’t expect Grade A quality at bare minimum pricing.

For those that are still skeptical about the relationship between quality and cost, here are some ways to check that you’re truly getting what you pay for. Just by way of information, if you are looking into hiring an artist of any kind, you should be treating the questions you ask just like you were a company interviewing for a new position. A lot of what I’ve put down here may seem like things that should be asked just as a matter of course, but you’d be surprised by the amount of people that don’t do these things.

  1. Ask for samples – This may seem fairly obvious but most people don’t do this at all. It would make things a lot easier if people did. You can tell a lot about someone’s work by the portfolio of work they provide. They can give you insightful information about their practices and procedures which all relate to the quality of the end product.
  2. Ask for references – I may be the greatest Engineer on Earth but if I put off everyone I’ve ever worked with, I may have problems in other areas that aren’t evident in a first impression.
  3. Ask for a quote or a sample budget for a similar project – You can learn a lot of things about a person by what sort of things they put in a quote. I have a tendency to pad things quite a bit so it gives me some room to work if something goes wrong. I also let people know that that’s how I do things. I learned a long time ago to plan for the worst, but to rely on hard work and experience instead of hope to have things turn out for the best.
  4. Show me where the money is going – This one is related to the one above. Realistically in this day and age transparency is the best policy. I believe in being honest and forthright with my fellow man about the way that I do business. I have no problem showing you exactly where the money is going on any given project.
  5. Ask for their qualifications – This can tell you a lot of things about a person. Where did they study? Did they finish school or not? How far did they go in school? These are important questions that can have a direct bearing on the quality of their work.

Anyways I hope that some of these ideas have helped answer some questions that they have, and to help people learn how to collaborate and work on projects in a manner that is forthright and honest with their fellow man.

-S. F. Shields

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Posted in Enigineer's Corner.

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