The sound you don’t want to hear - or - Buy cheap, and you buy twice...
One of the main reasons I built this website, was to distinguish myself from my competition. I believe that once a potential client has access to the record of my experience and training, along with examples of my work, they can make an informed choice about whether or not to employ my services.
Yet increasingly, I find myself having to compete purely on the basis of price. While this is a crucial concern to most clients, when it becomes the sole criterion of distinction, it quickly comes down to who is the cheapest, regardless of the quality of service and the long term value of the recordings they are likely to receive. A higher price may be something you don’t want to hear in the short term, but taking a longer view, it may become clear that low price often goes hand in hand with low quality, which winds up being more expensive when additional recording and/or post-production have to be made to correct various deficiencies. In short, when you buy cheap, you often wind up buying twice. Added to that is the cost of letting a unique performance opportunity get away from you forever.
It often comes down to the little things. I recently did a concert recording where the client was amazed that I had a printed receipt ready and with me when I showed up, rather than forcing them to wait a week or two for me to get my act together. Further discussion revealed that it often took up to four weeks for the service provider they had used previously to get the concert CDs to them, whereas I can often have discs in the mail the day following, if not providing them the evening of the concert itself. Later on, when I was photographing my mic set-up, to help me review and assess the work I did, my client expressed surprise at what I was doing, as though this had never been part of their previous provider’s attention to detail.
While I can only congratulate my new client on the wisdom of hiring me, I wonder how much they considered questions of quality - sound quality and quality of service - when they made their initial choice to go with a cheaper provider. Sadly, these days almost anyone can call themselves a recording engineer, and the availability of cheap recording equipment means that it is easy to do so.
When I decided to upgrade my knowledge of the art and science of recording, I chose the Master’s Degree program at McGill University, one of the more exclusive and expensive routes to acquire sound recording training. In addition to the financial costs, it also took three years of my life (five, if you count the two following years I spent at the Banff Centre), but I don’t begrudge that investment at all - it’s made me the musician, engineer and artist I am.
When I chose the equipment with which I work, I made the decision to buy fewer pieces but the best I could afford, often many thousands of dollars for a single piece of gear. I did this because I knew that both build and sound quality of the highest order would last for years, and not break down at a crucial time. While not the only microphones I use, the Neumann KM-140s I purchased in 1995 still provide the clean, sweet and clear sound with low noise that has made them my “go to” mics for so many situations. The same goes for my Millennia Media microphone pre-amp - eight channels of pure, uncoloured sound, which was a significant investment in 1999. The Pyramix software I use to record edit, mix and master is one of the more expensive software packages out there, but I believe that the sound quality imparted by its internal math processes makes my work sound that much better. I could go down the list, but this philosophy has informed all my equipment choices, be they hardware or software.
When it comes time to select a recording professional, I believe it is wise to consider more than just the price, no matter how crucial or attractive a low price might be in the short term. Questions such as quality of service, convenience and the technical caliber of sound offer immediate value. Over a longer term, the dollar amount invested fades from memory, while a high quality recording only increases in value.