Ask Fan Landers: Our Dick Producer Stole Our Demo!

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Are you a musician? Is your band having issues? Our new advice columnist, Fan Landers (a.k.a. Jessica Hopper), is ready to give you Real Talk about any problems your musical outfit might be having -- whether professional, practical, or sartorial. Send your problems here; confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.

Hi Fan Landers!
My band just got done recording. We struck a really good deal with a dude who's kind of a freelance engineer, and we appreciated it. But we think he took too much control over our sound. He's a self-professed arena rock aficionado, we're a really grungy band with radical politics. On top of saying shitty things about our lyrics during recording, he didn't listen to our demos at all to know what we sounded like beforehand. Nor did he listen to any examples of music we sent him, so that he'd get an idea of what we wanted to sound like. Now we sound too clean on our recordings. We even went to the studio while he was mixing, but he was moody and rushed through everything. I asked him for the mixes so we could get them mastered by a friend who knows our sound, but he only sent the high bit mixed tracks. What's the etiquette here? I feel that if we paid him hundreds of dollars, we should get the mixes. How do you think we should go about this?
Thanks,
Ungrateful Little Punk

Dear ULP,
Girl, I feel for you. That dude has fully hijacked your record. Was this one of those situations where someone--a supposed professional--cut you a deal and so you felt like you couldn't really step in and assert yourselves because it was like he was acting like it was a huge favor and he has been around forever and so he must know what he is doing even when it became apparent that maybe he didn't? THE VERY STORY OF THE MUSIC BIZ RIGHT THERE. Anyhow. I am sorry this is happening, but first, lets us triage the sitch. You are going to hijack this thing right back. I wouldn't bother trying to reason with the guy, he sounds like a prick.

You have a proprietary interest with your songs. Seeing as you have paid him for his work, you absolutely have a right to those mixes, raw tracks, what have you. First, if he did this at a studio, call the studio manager and tell them you want a copy of your recordings. All studios keep digital back ups. You can all just show up during normal business hours with a hard drive and say you are there to retrieve your copy if they give you even scant run around. If you did not do it at a studio and it's just on this dude's laptop or something, I think you are going to have to ambush him with your hard drive in tow. Go as a band. Roll at least four deep for the intimidation factor. I am thinking full on wait-in-the-van-outside-the-studio stake out. It sends a message that you are not fucking around. If you can find a way to show up when, say, another band is arriving to load in to record with him he is really going to want to look all solicitous and smooth sailing. Since you already paid in full you have little in the way of leverage--so you have to muck about in the area that matters to him, which is his ability to get paid by other people. Once you have your tracks in hand, tell everyone in your scene exactly what happened and name him by name. Gossip is the punk scene answer to YELP; give him no stars.

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JuniusRecordingCo.
JuniusRecordingCo.

Great advice, and a good article.

No professional producer/engineer should knowingly railroad a project, neither resist feedback nor provide the raw tracks. Some mixers do feel proprietary about their mixing techniques, and it could seem legitimate to provide only the raw tracks, and not the full session files with all the fader automation and plugin information. Apart from that, those tracks are yours.One thing: make sure you are actually asking for what you want. I've never sent anything else other than the "high bit  mixed tracks" to a mastering engineer. I've never sent stems or unmixed tracks - it's not what they do (usually). Telling a recording engineer to send unmixed tracks to a mastering house will seem weird - he might have actually been "helping you" by doing what is customary.Anyway, get the tracks. Find a mixer you can trust. You might have to spend to get the level of performance and professionalism you want and expect; often, "you get what you pay for," is a unimpeachable principal.

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