You Get What You Pay For

by SaskMusic

August 5, 2009 in Recording & Production

Or, How much does it cost to make an album, anyway?

Before you enter the studio, you need a clear idea of what you want to have achieved when you're finished. Any album released for commercial sale (not a demo) might fall into one of the following categories:

1. We want to capture our current sound. Perhaps the band is breaking up, or maybe we just feel having product will give us a bit of an edge. Or maybe we just want something slightly better than a demo to approach labels with.
2. We want to obtain radio airplay. Or, our live show kicks ass and our fans expect an album.

It's important for indies to keep the following thought in mind as they prepare to record:

You might only get one kick at the can. This is not to say that you won't pay off your album, or come up with enough cash to do a second one. Simply put, record labels, radio and your fans will remember a crappy album. They won't be as receptive to listening to or buying the next one you put out.

Let's pretend we're doing a 10-song album with basic instrumentation: lead vocal, bass, drums, guitar, a 2nd guitar or keyboard. Plus a few background vocals, and overdubs including guitar solos, maybe some Hammond organ, extra percussion, etc.

Sample Budget - Start to Finish                                        Low Estimate  High Estimate
Recording Studio
Bed tracks: 2-5 hours each for 10 tracks at $40-$50/hour                 $800                  $2500
Main instrument tracks (lead guitar, etc.), as above                         $800                  $2500
Lead vocal tracks, 1-4 hours each for 10 tracks at $40-$50/hour       $400                  $2000
Overdubs (background vocals, extras) as above                              $400                  $2000
2-10 hours each for 10 tracks at $40-$50/hour (depending on           $800                   $5000
amount of production)
Separate Producer's fee (if applicable)                                            $0                      $3000
A-DAT tapes (3-4 plus duplicate set for backup if needed)               $60                     $160
@ $20 ea
Cassettes (5 copies for the band to check out preliminary               $15                     $15
mixes) @ $3 ea
CD-R master copies (2 @ about $10 ea)                                       $20                      $20
5 band members - from donated to $50/hour (union scale)               $0                       $9000
x up to 180 hours
2 outside players (strings, etc.) - from donated to                           $0                       $200
$50/hour x 2 hours                                                                                                          
Graphic Design
Graphic artist 5-20 hours @ $50-$100/hour plus expenses              $250                   $2500
Film output (full colour negatives)                                                  $200                   $600
Bar code numbers for Cassette & CD                                            $60                     $60
Photography session                                                                   $75                     $1500
Glass master                                                                              $300                   $500
1000 CDs with insert print (depending on colours,                          $2000                 $3000
number of pages, etc.)                                                                                                    
TOTAL                                                                                  $6180.00            $34,555.00

Of course, this doesn't include incidentals, such as a new leather jacket for the photo shoot, pizza and beer during the sessions, gas or accommodation expenses if you're travelling to the studio, rental of a cool amp, etc. And this is just to cut the album - if you're intending to do anything with it, you'll need to cover press kits, publicity photos, postage, phone and fax costs, etc.!

A Saskatchewan survey we conducted a few years ago indicated average album costs of around $7800…ranging from $2800 to $23,000. Personally, I think if it costs you more to manufacture the album than to record it, you may be shooting a little low!

By Lorena Kelly for SaskMusic. Originally published June 1999.

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