One of the biggest pieces of wisdom I can share with you is learning how to understand and grasp the concept of expectations.
In music and in life, if you can figure out how to learn peoples expectations and also figure out how to present your own expectations, everything is better.
We all bring to the table expectations. A lot of what we expect comes from how we were raised, taught, and conditioned by others. We also create expectations based on our worldview, our goals, who we want to be and who we wish we could be. All of these things play into our expectations when we approach any situation.
Expectations are what you think will happen or should happen.
Learning how to manage expectations is the key to happiness in life.
In the music industry everyone has different expectations. The artist may have an expectation that if they can make a hit song then everyone will know them. An engineer may have an expectation that if they could get a certain piece of gear then their career would take off. A producer may have the expectation that if they could just work with a certain artist then they would be fully satisfied as a person.
We all have different desires and expectations. What creates friction is when no one discusses them.
When I get a project, one of the first things I do is gather as much information from the band, artist, or label so I can have a clear vision of what they're looking for in an end product. When I started in the industry, much of the time what I thought people wanted was solely based on my expectations or bias I brought to the table.
Approaching projects like this makes things difficult and sets you up to feel personally attacked. What I have learned is, the more I can gather about my client before I ever start the project the more likely I am to knock it out of the park. This also helps me discern whether or not I even want to take on the project.
For example, a band may come to me and ask if I would like to mix and master their song. My first question is always "What are their expectations?". If they come to me and say “we have a small budget and we want it to sound like a hit record” I know I have to do more investigation. I began thinking, “Is the song even good? What does the recording sound like? Can I make it sound like a hit song? Is the budget there to allow me to use the gear and put in the time to make it sound like what they want?”... and the list continues.
If a band is expecting a song to sound like the radio, yet has a budget that only gets them an amateur mixer or mastering engineer then they should expect to get a subpar end product.
If a band has a large budget, then they can go to the guys or gals who actually make hit records and expect to get a song back that sounds like the radio.
It’s really that simple.
I have navigated so many situations between artist and producers and engineers and then of course the people from the label who all have input as well.... and everything that ever comes up that causes issues comes from people not knowing each others expectations.
If the mixer is expecting the mastering guy to shape the album a certain way, then they better make that clear. I have worked on a number of albums in the past where one person tells me one thing and then then the A&R tells me another thing and all of a sudden I have two unhappy people and I am stuck playing mediator instead of mastering engineer. All of it could have been avoided if expectations were clearly made from the start.
I see this happen within bands as well. The singer wants it to sound a certain way, the lead guitar player wants it guitar heavy, while the drummer needs more kick and snare always. All these things are good to know. The more experience you have with making albums the more you start to learn what to expect. You can get clear expectations by taking the time to ask a few questions before you start, that will save you hours of headache.
Personally, one of the best things I started to do for my clients was give them a clear expectation of what to expect back. I never tell someone I can make a certain song sound a certain way if it’s not doable. A lot of guys will offer to mix or master a project without knowing anything about it. They are desperate for work and jump on any and everything that has a potential paycheck. Then I hear about it weeks or months later how the artist wanted it to sound like Keith Urban, but what was provided was terribly recorded. Because they did not do the research and get expectations now the mixer looks bad, the artist is upset, and they spent a month on one song that will never see the light of day.
This isn’t fun for anyone and leaves everyone disappointed.
This could have been solved with having clear expectations from the start.
The best thing to do in life is to ask people what they are expecting. We all have wants, needs, and desires. When it comes to business we're all bringing a certain lens and bias to the table. The more familiar you can get with what people are bringing to the table the better the end product you can provide.
So before your next project starts, ask your client, “What are you expecting as a final product?” If you find yourself in the middle of a project that’s going south, chances are expectations have been missed or ignored. Take a step back and ask the client, “What can we do to move this forward? What expectations did I miss?” If you can get people to share with you their expectations, you're basically getting the solutions to all your problems. After that you have to decide if what they're expecting is doable or if it’s time to have a reality check.
Always approach a situation, relationships, or potential client with expectations in mind. Learn from my mistakes.
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