A Comprehensive Guide To Producing, Co-writing, and Engineering Remotely
Written By: Austin Hull
My name is Austin Hull and I’m a music producer, songwriter, and mixing engineer based out of Orlando, Florida. I have been working full-time and remotely for 4 years and have worked with hundreds of artists all over the world. I own and operate Make Pop Music with my wife and we have built this company to run entirely online. I’m telling you all of this because this article will dive into some of the things I have learned about running a business remotely, including the dos and don’ts of operating a remote business, tips and tricks to help connect with artists from a distance, and ways to discover supplemental income. We will dive into some of the methods and techniques I have found work effectively, the tools I use to keep projects organized, options for creating new streams of income remotely, and some things to keep an eye out for.
Finding Artists To Work Remotely:
The biggest problem many people have with working remotely is finding artists and paying clients. The industry has always put a heavy emphasis on collaboration, face to face connection, and opting for back end pay. I see so many talented producers and engineers consistently struggling because they can’t find paying clients, even when they possess a massive amount of talent. I will list some methods of gaining leads, give you some resources to help you find clients, and give you some tips to turn viewers into leads.
1: Attracting Your Leads: I have always been a big fan of attraction instead of persuasion. I don’t ever like to feel like I am marketing my services. Instead, I prefer to showcase my talents, highlight my services, and prove my value before artists ever reach out to me. I do this through several ways including making YouTube tutorials, posting content on Instagram, and being active in Facebook groups. Most of my leads come from these 3 resources and they are always high quality leads. The reason I think these methods work is because they give you a chance to showcase your talent, unveil your workflow, prove your value, and display your accessibility. Artists feel more comfortable to work remotely with a producer or engineer that they can witness themselves. I have heard from many artists I work with that they love watching my YouTube videos because they like seeing the process since they aren’t in the studio with me while I’m working on their project. This will help you build authority and authenticity with your audience and your client pool. I highly suggest taking the time to find some way to display your talents when you want to work remotely. Go make a YouTube channel, do a live walkthrough of a track on Instagram, live stream a production session on Twitch, post your work in progress videos on a group and ask for feedback. These will get your name in front of people, get your work in front of people, and build your credibility as a producer or engineer. If you have some spare time in the work day because you aren’t booked, use that time to build a platform for yourself.
A: My YouTube channel results in 70% of my overall leads and these leads typically end up being the artists with the highest budget, the largest reach, and the most precise vision.
B: The Make Pop Music Facebook Group has been a community that I have found consistent leads in for 4 years now. The community is swimming with talented artists and other writers looking to hire and collaborate. Showcasing your skill and value in groups like this can help you gain leads with little effort. Just make sure you don’t blatantly promote your services or spam groups. Remember the power of attraction!
C: Instagram tends to work well for producers and engineers collecting leads! Post consistent work in progress videos, behind the scenes videos, and connect with your audience. You may be surprised to have a plethora of artists following you already!
2: Hiring Services: There are a handful of websites that act as a middle man to help find you artists to work with. Websites like Soundbetter, Fiverr, and even Craigslist can help you find potential artists to work with. If you are looking for remote work, I highly recommend making a profile on every single service hiring site you can find. Take the time to make a profile, update it with a solid portfolio, and be as active as possible.
3: Transitioning In Person Clients to Remote Clients: At a time where most of the world is at a standstill, artists are still eager to create music. If you have artists you work with in person, I suggest offering remote services until everything goes back to normal. You can’t engineer sessions, but you can still produce, write, get demos, mix, master, etc. Offer packages at a discounted rate to remotely produce the track, schedule a time to track their vocals once our quarantine is over, and have the session prepped to mix and master immediately. Artists will love the flexibility to keep working on their projects, especially because so many people have an excessive amount of free time at the moment. Being able to pitch remote services to artists that are conditioned to working face-to-face could easily allow you to maintain your usual workload in this time of crisis.
How to Make Artists Feel Comfortable Working Remotely:
1: Communication Is Key: Having a physical separation of you and the artist can feel like a massive barrier to overcome. The easiest way to handle projects is by communicating as efficiently as possible. Have phone calls, Skype meetings, screen streaming sessions, etc. Remote projects rely on you and the artist being able to capture the vibe with communication instead of atmosphere. I will lay out some of my basic steps of communication with remote clients below:
A: Brainstorm the project: Before you begin on a song, a mix, a writing session, etc, have an extensive conversation with the artist. Discuss what they want, what they don’t want, get references, set boundaries. Come up with concrete ideas that you can pitch to the artist on a phone call or Skype call before jumping in your DAW and laying it all down. Taking 20-30 minutes to discuss the goals of the project, the sound of the project, and the guidelines of the project will save you hours of revisions, miscommunication, and massive headaches.
B: Work in increments: While working remotely, I always advise that you take projects in small steps. The last thing you want to do is complete a full mix or production, send it to the client, and it be completely wrong. When I start a project remotely, especially with production projects, I will have the initial brainstorming conversation, come up with some ideas on my own, and when I get something I love, I will build it out through the end of the first chorus. I explain to the client that this is just a rough draft through the chorus. We are looking to see if the chord progression, tempo, rhythm, basic sound design, and structure is right. These are the essential elements we need to nail before we can full flesh the track out and complete the overall structure. Being able to send small ideas back and forth can help you avoid massive revisions and misses. If you get a synth sound you like, send a cell phone video to them and get their immediate feedback. If you do a cool delay throw in a mix, bounce them a snippet and get their thoughts. Small ideas going back and forth can keep a project feeling collaborative.
2: Have The Right Tools: Having the right tools is essential for working with artists remotely. Some tools that help remote projects glide alone include invoicing programs, automated scheduling tools, video chat platforms, DAW connection plugins, and file transfer services.
A: Invoicing tools: Being able to send artists an invoice helps them feel more comfortable and protected. I use Paypal invoices because they are automatically integrated with Paypal payments. I use Paypal because the buyer’s are protected, offering them peace of mind while working remotely. Paypal is widely accepted, takes credit and debit, communicates with most banks, and is easy to track for tax purposes. Being able to handle finances professionally and proficiently will definitely comfort remote clients.
Paypal Invoicing: https://www.paypal.com/us/webapps/mpp/invoicing-templates
Square Invoicing: https://squareup.com/us/en/invoices
Quickbooks Invoicing: https://quickbooks.intuit.com/accounting/invoicing/
Freshbooks Invoicing: https://www.freshbooks.com/invoice-templates
B: Scheduling Tools: Having a tool to set your schedule, send it to artists, and have them book times for phone calls or Skype meetings at their convenience is amazing. Being able to just send a link and say “pick any time on this link that works for you and we can connect” is much more efficient than asking what time they’re free, and figuring out when you’re free, and having 6 messages back and forth to come up with a time to chat. I use Square appointments for my scheduling, but I have used other services in the past. There are a plethora of different scheduling services so I suggest researching them, but I highly recommend adding a scheduling tool to your workflow.
C: Video Chat Platforms: Being able to connect with a client on video adds a whole new level of comfort. If an artist can see you and hear you, they are much more likely to feel comfortable having you on their project, and taking their money. Services like Skype and Zoom are amazing for having conversations, and you can even screen share and audio share on these platforms. Being able to open a session and walkthrough the session on a video meeting is an amazing tool for working remotely.
D: DAW Connection Plugins: Some DAWs offer a connection system where you can work collaboratively with others simultaneously. Cubase has VST Connect where you can stream your session with another user who has the session open. You can operate the session together and have a truly collaborative experience. DAWconnect is a similar service that you can use to stream sessions to other users.
VST Connect: https://bit.ly/33DoXrA
Splice Session Sharing: https://splice.com/blog/how-to-use-splice-studio/
E: File Sharing Tools: Being able to send and receive files is essential with working remotely. You should have a file sharing service with ample space to send and receive all files and stems. I use Dropbox and get 3TB of storage for only $10 a month. There are other services such as WeTransfer and Mediafire that are also sufficient. The main key is to make sure you have enough storage so you aren’t deleting client files to make room for new ones.
File Pass: https://filepass.com/
F: Project Management Tools: Having a place to keep all of your ongoing and completed projects can be crucial. Once you’re working with a dozen artists at one time, you will want a place to go and see which artist has paid, who sent stems, who is waiting on revisions, what leads never returned your email with their invoice, etc. I personally use a Google Sheet to keep track of all of my projects, but some other websites like Monday, Zendesk, and Hubspot are popular options!
Google Sheets: https://www.google.com/sheets/about/
G: Contact Form: Having a thorough client intake form has been the best decision I made as a remote freelancer. I have a form integrated with my website that gives potential clients an area to put their name, the service they are looking for, their budget, tell me a bit about themselves, link to where I can find them online, etc. I require every person interested in working with me to fill one of these out so I can learn more about their project. I can get a form, decide if I want to pursue the project, and if so, I can reach back out and respond to their inquiry. Once I have the form, I know quite a bit about the artist so I can schedule a phone call or Skype chat to discuss their project because they have already shown significant interest in working with me. Once we are on the call, we discuss their goals, their vision, how I can help them with their vision, timelines, budgets, project guidelines, workflow, etc. At the end of the call, the artist and I are always on the same page and I am able to close 94% of projects that I book a call with. Once the call is over I write up their contract and invoice, and the project can begin immediately. I highly recommend installing a contact form to weed out any leads that may not be serious, or a good fit. I use a POWR form integrated with my Wix site, but there are other services like Wufoo that you can use on multiple platforms!
Ways to Make Extra Income:
1: Selling Beats and Instrumentals: Having an online shop where you can put your tracks that are just sitting on your computer can add significant income. I suggest adding a section to your website, or using another website such as Beatstars to host, to upload instrumentals artists can lease or purchase. You can make tracks available for $50 to lease, which means you can lease that one track to as many artists as you want. You can also set songs to exclusive meaning you can take a one time fee to sell the rights to that song. Having a store full of your tracks is an easy way to capture passive income, and can easily become a stability blanket for your remote services.
2: Submitting Tracks for Placement: Similar to posting your tracks for lease or purchase, you can submit your songs to services like That Pitch or Taxi to have them placed in shows, movies, or ads. The odds are slim to placing your song, but at a time where business is slow, anything helps. If you have some material you’re sitting on, I suggest at least shooting them out to these services to potentially pull in some passive income.
3: Selling Products: You can easily make a sample pack, preset pack, MIDI pack, loop pack, or course that you can sell to others. The key with selling products is to put your own spin on your products to separate you from the saturated market. Find your market, find your niche, and nail it. You don’t have to sell a masterclass if you are an intermediate mixing engineer, but you can make a course of your 10 essential tools for mixing and sell that. The key with selling products is to be transparent about who you are, where you are in your journey, who your products will help, and why you are offering them. Authenticity is key with this!
4: Lessons: You can provide lessons via Skype or Zoom right now to people who may want to learn from you! Offer mixing lessons, writing lessons, or production lessons. People are always looking to learn guitar or piano. Vocal lessons can be a massive hit! Take the time to offer up some private lessons as a service and you may be surprised how many people want to learn from you.
1: Paypal Working Capital Loans: If you are a regular Paypal user, Paypal offers a service called Paypal Working Capital Loans. These loans are basically cash advances that will not trigger a credit report, will not count on your credit line whatsoever, and will be paid out immediately on pre approval. The limit is based on your previous year of sales and there is a one time fee for the loan amount. The fee depends on how much you borrow, and at what rate you want to pay the loan back. Paypal has the loan setup to automatically take a percentage of your sales directly until the loan is paid back in full. They require you pay back between 5-10% every month until the amount is paid off. This is a great option for people with subpar credit, multiple lines of credit already taken out, or people who want to keep their credit score the same. It’s 0% APR which is also nice, because there isn’t unexpected interest charges. The downside is the one time fee can be significant. Check out their offers to see if you qualify!
2: Square Up Working Capital Loan: Square has a very similar offer if you are a frequent Square user instead of Paypal. They offer a 0% APR loan that takes a one time fee, and gets paid back automatically upon receiving money through your Square account. Read more details on the Square website!
3: MUSICARES Emergency Funds: The Recording Academy runs a foundation called Musicares that helps artists, producers, and songwriters that have come on hard times with financial assistance. They offer grants to help with medical bills, financial threats, or personal crises. You can apply for assistance directly if you have been in the music industry for 5 years and have at least 6 credited commercial releases. Get more information about Musicares here!
4: Small Business Loans: If you are a citizen of the United States, you can apply for Small Business Loans through SBA. Check for similar foundations and administrations in your country if you are outside of the U.S. SBA will help find you a lender that fits your loan needs and can work with you based on information such as your income, your credit score, and your business status. They can help find you loans at low interest rates with a high loan amount to help assist you while times are tough.
I know the next few months are going to be hard for everyone, especially freelancers, but keep your head up. Use this opportunity to grow your platform, try new workflows, and tighten up your craft. I will link any previous blog posts we have done about music business, finding clients, and operating a studio, etc. I wish you all the best. Stay healthy, stay happy, and much love.