In any kind of freelance employment, it is best to be able to deliver to the client exactly what they want. In some lines of business, that's the only way to work; clients will not employ anyone who can't hit the mark first time, every time.
It can be like this in audio. But often clients are more demanding. Nowhere is this more so than in the popular music charts. As a writer, producer, artist, mix engineer or mastering engineer, ultimately you are working for the A&R manager. He or she sets the standard. They must be absolutely satisfied, pleased and amazed with the quality of your work. Nothing else will do.
It isn't a one-shot deal however. It is very likely that the A&R manager will ask for changes. There are two reasons for this... One is that a successful A&R manager has an instinct for what the market wants. They might not be musical or technical, but they know when something isn't right. The second reason is that these people often want to have an input into the record, other than just saying yes or no. Sometimes this is for reasons of vanity. Sometimes it really will make a difference to the record's chances of success.
Why this is difficult
Let's suppose that you have submitted a mix to the A&R manager you are working for and he comes back and says that the drums are not loud enough. But to you, the drums are exactly right. To you, if the drums were any louder then they would be too loud.
So you could, for example, send the mix back exactly as it is, hoping that the A&R manager was just giving you some BS so that he could feel more important. You might get away with this once or twice. But when eventually you get found out, you're toast!
Alternatively, you could do exactly what you were asked to do and raise the level of the drums. Just enough to be clearly noticeable, but no more than that because you think the drums are already loud enough.
Doing something just because someone else has told you to isn't the way to artistic, or commercial, success. The way to approach a request for changes is firstly to respect the person who is asking for those changes. People don't often get to be A&R managers by accident. So if someone in that position asks you for changes, it's almost like the entire potential record-buying public telling you that the drums are not loud enough. And you can't ignore that.
What you have to do, however experienced you are, is to consider what you have done from the point of view of the A&R manager. Listen, listen and listen again until you can hear why they said the drums were too quiet. You don't have to change your own opinion, but you have to find a way to make things work with louder drums.
It won't be a matter of just pushing up the drum faders a couple of dB. It might involve adjusting the levels of other instruments. There may be some EQ, some compression, maybe more of the overheads or room mics. Or maybe less of them. You have to find a way. And you have to find a way that you feel is right too.
Getting inside the mind of a client isn't always easy or straightforward. But people who can put in the extra effort to do that are the people who will have long-term success in this tough industry.
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