In yesterday’s entry, I wrote about an old song I had recorded with a friend in a DIY setting in 1985. I even uploaded the song, which is in draft mode. It’s not what would be considered “demo” status, and definitely not “radio-ready.”
So why share the song? Why write about it? Why put it on display when it is naked and incomplete?
The SHORT answer is that I do it in an effort to educate those who are not musicians. The LONG answer is that the attitudes of music buyers and streamers ticks me off!
THE BAD, BAD ATTITUDE
My rough drafts and demos are one thing. My better and more recent DIY recordings are another. But when you to into a recording studio, a completely different beast.
As an example, let’s take my album, The Mystic Dancer into consideration.
The bad attitude came from a friend when I told them that I was selling my CDs. They said, “You should just give them away, because it’s only music. How much does it cost to push a record button?”
They clearly knew nothing. If you also know nothing, then please read to the end because you will get an education.
This attitude carries forward to those who buy into streaming services. The general public has NO respect or regard, at all, for recorded music because they don’t know what it takes to make it happen.
So I’ll be walking you through the entire thing, front to back.
WHAT IT CAN COST
My experience, which I will be documenting here, was somewhat average with regard to cost. There are many acts out there that spend way more than what was spend on this project.
You can listen to the song below as a sample of the quality of the album, to give all of this more context.
We recorded this 8-song album at Cazador in Hollywood, California in early 1997. The studio is owned and operated by producer Jimmy Hunter. The studio time cost us $35 per hour, and the producer was included in exchange for a cut of any profits.
We also had two studio musicians to help get things done faster and sounding awesome. Steve Caton, of Tori Amos, was on lead guitar. We also have Bobby Bircy, of Elton John’s band, on the bass. They were paid $50 per hour each.
I sat with the producer to build the framework of the arrangements for each song. This took just over one week, averaging one day per song.
That’s just getting things ready.
After that, I would lay down a scratch guitar track. Jimmy would then program his drums around my scratch guitar. Over time, the scratch guitar track gets… scratched 🙂
Other instruments and sound effects would be added in the process, which took a good portion of time.
Once the music was done, the vocal work began. In this situation, the producer wanted to work closely with the singer, because her English pronunciations were not all that great. Every song was literally recorded line-by-line, to make each line perfect.
After that, there’s mixing. We spent an average of one full day mixing each of the 8 songs.
Then there’s glass mastering [which was done twice to feed the singer’s ego], graphics design, CD replication, art replication, physical CD production/packaging, and our humble and misguided marketing campaign.
HOW MUCH DID IT COST?
The detailed breakdown is complicated, so I won’t try to replicate that. I should also note that I did not pay for anything, and I also did not get paid for anything. In other words, the money problems weren’t mine.
Here’s the cost:
Recording [studio, engineer, musicians, mixing]: $50,000
Glass mastering [done twice]: $10,000
1,000 CDs and 1,000 cassettes: $2,500
Print 100 promo sheets for packaging $200
Approximately 50 FedEx Overnight packages: $1,300
GRAND TOTAL: $64,000
And I should “just give it away” because it costs nothing to push a “Record” button. What a load of ignorance!
On a side note, and a word of advice to anyone who might still be inclined to mail a CD to record labels. They DO NOT accept “unsolicited materials.” When they receive unsolicited materials, they throw them in the trash and will not send them back.
This means our “marketing” efforts were a waste of money. The second glass mastering session was also a waste of money. She did it because a few guys she gave a lap dance to told her that her voice should be louder. Like they have no motive to say anything like that.
So if we removed the wasted money [$6,500], the cost would still be $57,500. Still not cheap.
WHAT WAS NOT INCLUDED
What wasn’t included in the budget that should have cost money?
As the songwriter, I should have been paid for my writing. As the Music Director who worked with the producer, I should have been paid for that as well.
What would my pay be?
We won’t consider performance royalties or mechanical royalties, since there weren’t any sales that I know about.
I had gone in as an equal partner of sorts, which doesn’t work out when it’s not in writing and the other person has bad intentions. But had I gotten paid, I would have made AT LEAST as much as what all of this cost.
So, while I did not expend any money, I also took a risk and lost the ability to earn money as a result.
I basically worked for free. Writing the songs, working with the producer, working with the studio musicians, and helping with marketing efforts. All for nothing.
And that’s another tip, kids. Get everything in writing and get a good lawyer. I never had a good lawyer, which is one of many reasons why I didn’t get into the “music business” proper.
THE BOTTOM LINE
As expensive as it was to record an album in the 90s, it was even more expensive back in the 80s. Today, the big studios struggle as everyone has their home recording studios set up.
Today’s home studio is small, relatively portable, requires some learning, and may cost roughly $1,000-$3,000 on up. There are NO track or tape limitations. Everything can be fixed instead of performed.
Today it’s cheaper and easier, and more undervalued than ever.
So when you’re listening to your favorite song by your favorite artist, please take a moment to wonder about the song’s journey, from the artist’s heart, to the instrument, to the microphone, to the production, to the marketing team, to the outlets and streaming services, and then to you.
In some cases, it took dozens, if not hundreds of people to get that track to you.
If I had to compare it to anything, it would be food production. Smart people know that the farmer plants the crops, tends to the crops, and has teams to harvest the crops. They have it trucked to a facility to process the crops for packaging, and then have it trucked to the grocery stores, where the workers mark the package wit pricing before putting it on the shelves for you to buy.
Stupid people say that food comes from the grocery store, with no awareness of how the world works.
If you made it this far, then congrats, you can tell your friends that you know a little something about how that music they’re enjoying made it to their ears.
It never hurt anyone to get smarter by learning something.
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