When a new potential client comes along and inquires about working with me on a recording project, one of the first concerns they have is how much it will cost. And understandably so, as recording can be a rather expensive endeavor.
The problem is, when an artist asks me something like, "Hey, how much do you charge to record three songs?" I can't answer that question until I have more information.
Imagine someone who's in the market to purchase a new car and she walks onto the car lot to have a look around. The salesman greets her and she promptly asks, "How much does it cost to buy a car?" In a scenario like this, the answer to the customer's question would be another question. "What kind of car do you want, a Ferrari or a Ford Focus?"
You have to be specific about what you want when you're looking to record your songs. Here are a couple questions you should ask yourself before you pick up the phone or sit down at your computer to send an email to contact your producer/engineer of choice:
What are the recordings going to be used for?
Will these sessions be pre production sessions to help you pick the songs that will eventually make the cut on your EP or full-length release?
Is it supposed to be a low budget off-the-floor recording so you can get something out there to help you get gigs and give away free music to engage new fans?
Is it a demo for you ears only to help develop your sound?
Are you hoping to enlist the services of a professional radio tracker in hopes of getting your song(s) on mainstream radio?
Do you want your recordings to stand up next to the biggest of the big in your genre?
You need to be clear about this because the cost of recording a three song demo off-the-floor is very different from the cost of producing three songs that are ready for mainstream radio. We're talking a few hundred dollars verses thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars depending on the studio and/or producer you're hiring.
The next question you want ask yourself is:
What is my budget for this recording project?
Determine what you can afford to spend on the recording and make sure you look ahead at other expenses that you'll need money for such as graphic art, web development, touring, merch, marketing & promotion, radio tracking, videos, etc. If you don't have any money for the things that follow the recording process, then there's not much sense in laying down tracks in the first place.
I can't stress enough, if this is something you're trying to make a living at, you have to treat it like a business. If a brand new burger joint put all their resources into creating the world's tastiest burger, but they had nothing left to advertise and get the word out, it won't matter how good it is because no one will ever know about it.
Having said that, it is important to put as much as you can into your recordings because your songs are your most important assests. If your intention is to have your music stand up to the Bon Jovis and Lady Gagas of the world, then your investment is going to have to reflect that, otherwise your music will likely be rejected by the very people within the music industry that can help make that happen for you.
I'm not saying you have to spend a million dollars as an indie artist to compete with the majors, but you do have to spend a reasonable amount to bring some validity to what you're doing. Who is going to want to invest anything into your music if you haven't put much into it yourself?
Here's an article where artist manager Ray Daniels (Rush, Tea Party, Van Halen) breaks down the costs of making a hit song from writing and recording all the way to marketing and promoting.
WHERE AM I GONNA GET THAT KINDA DOUGH?
If you read the above mentioned article, you learned that it can cost about $78,000 to have one song written, recorded and produced. So, in order to put together a ten-song album, you're looking at $780,000 before you've even done an ounce of promo. For those of you who are writing your own material and therefore do not need to pay for songwriting camps, etc, the average cost of recording an album in the big leagues is still about $250,000. Again, lucky for indie artists, there are much cheaper alternatives, but you'll still have to come up with a considerable chunk of change to make anything happen.
Outside of attracting investors with deep pockets who love and believe in your music and brand, you're going to have to have some way of generating cash flow to support the necessary expenses of running your business. There are some very real costs that come with growing your music career and if there's nothing there to work with, nothing will get done. Be careful with your money too. Make sure you're getting good value for your dollar wherever you're spending it. Don't always look for the cheapest option though, because remember: Good work isn't cheap and cheap work isn't good.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So sit down with your band mates and figure out how you can generate income to finance your career. Don't negate ways you can make money with your music; after all, the idea is to make a living at it. And also, take a very close look at your spending habits and see if there's some waste that you can cut down on or eliminate altogehter. Remember the example of the band from my last blog?
It doesn't take much to find a few extra dollars a day to put toward something that's imporotant to you. If every member of a four-piece band put aside only $7 a day instead of buying frappuccino lattes at Starbucks, at the end of a year they'd have over $10,000 to invest in themselves. An extra $10,000 on top of the cash flow generated by day jobs, offering music lessons and selling your music and merch. Not bad!
Here's a great exercise to help you get a handle on your spending: Simply write down absolutely everything you purchase throughout your day. Do this every day for a week and then tally up the results. I've done this and it was an eye opener! After doing this exercise I cut my frivolous spending significantly and started saving hundreds of dollars every month.
See if you can find some creative ways of coming up with some extra cash, whether it's offering some kind of service or just plain old saving. Please share your ideas, I'd love to hear them.