Wearing two hats and getting paid: The "Producer Engineer"
More and more artists are self producing these days, and when they hire an engineer, they're counting on them to not only set up mics and be the space bar jockey, but to also perform some of the functions of a producer.
In my work, I serve as a sort of advisor to the self produced artist. With my finger on the TB button and the self produced artist in performance mode, it's often up to me to wear two hats at once and make production suggestions (doubles, harmonies, arrangement of sweeteners, the odd lyric revision, creatively comping playlists, tone selection, vocal coaching for pronunciation and pitch... things that go beyond mic placement, gain staging, and other strictly engineering tasks).
As an engineer, I'm perfectly happy with work for hire arrangements. In my mid level studio, I operate with a pay as you go fee schedule for each session booked and even when there is no contract specifically stating that the work is for hire, I treat it as such. However, when my work goes beyond the technical and into the creative domain, I often feel that my compensation shouldn't end with the for-hire engineering I do, because I'm now doing two jobs.
How do you handle this type of situation?
Many of the artists I work with are not full time performers, and there is little expectation of high sales volume. These types of clients may sell CD-R's at weekend shows that are burned as needed, or even give away physical or download copies. Some will order a first run of copies from a plant, and if co-authorship of the recording is stated in contract, a per-unit license fee could easily be paid, but tracking future runs is not practical for the freelance engineer, and not worth the civil suit if you somehow discover that the artist ordered a batch of 1000 instead of 500. Working for points in this case is impractical and impossible to track, so is a flat producer's fee appropriate?
Some artists are extremely dedicated and have the possibility of moderate success as more than just a weekend warrior. These artists have a high likelihood of obtaining label deals that buy the existing works, a couple ten thousand copies sold after guest appearances on nationally broadcasted talk shows, effective internet marketing leading to a healthy number of paid downloads, and even sync licenses for commercials and film productions.
In this case, It would be worth the trouble to maintain co ownership of the ®.
But what does this mean for the "producing engineer"? Success may never actually come to this artist, and a flat producer's fee may still be appropriate to ensure that the hard work you do does not go unrewarded.
So for the freelance "producer engineer" I'm imagining that two separate contracts are necessary here, or at least two parts to the same contract. One section would define the nature of the engineering, and whether the commissioned work would be for-hire or the engineer would maintain full or part ownership of the sound recording. The second part would cover the duties of the engineer as producer, and stipulate whether that work is also for-hire with a flat fee, for royalties only, or fee + royalties.
For the one off session or demo recording, it's one thing to go beyond the call of duty and deliver more than the client pays for when hiring you to engineer. It's another thing entirely when an artist comes to you with plans for a full production quality EP or LP album, and a great deal of creative input comes from the engineer.
The closest correlation to this business that I can think of is the wedding photographer. Many professional photographers are commissioned to do the work, and maintain the copyright to the images. In my mind, even when an engineer doesn't serve the function of producer, there is still a creative aspect to the skilled work performed, and he or she should maintain co-ownership of the resulting recording, but will legally including this in your contract result in career suicide or a deterrent to hire you? A growing number of inexperienced recording artists don't understand this concept, and feel that if they pay you to record them, it automatically belongs to them and that you are trying to cheat them out of more money. This is all well and good if you're happy giving away your work with a for-hire signed agreement, but what happens if the recording achieves a great deal of success? I'm reminded of the many Tin Pan Alley songwriters that sold their work for a couple hundred bucks or less and died penniless with songs that remain some of the most popular and highest grossing of all time for the publisher. Shouldn't the skilled engineer be rewarded beyond a relatively small hourly fee if his work contributes in a great way to the artist's financial success?
Isn't that even more true for the "producing engineer"?