Many musicians have finally wised up to the idea that they must do more to further their careers than just record a few demos and send them out randomly to a list of A&R reps they found somewhere on the Internet. I rant about how "70's" that idea is all the time, so don't get me started on that topic.
The smart musician finds a way to record and manufacture either a single track, or a full length CD, and then goes farther than most other wannabees. They actually have money saved up for designing the artwork and manufacturing the CD, and money to do something with the CD. They realize that it takes money to promote and market the danged thing. Today, more and more bands and solo acts are just recording and manufacturing a single, and making it available for promotion and/or a give-a-way at their website or on MySpace etc. But recording anything is just the first step, what is more important is that you have money left over to promote whatever you recorded.
We need to look closely at the basic economic issues of creating and promoting musical product. This subject definitely separates the boys and girls from the men and women. For starters, you must know what the standards of excellence are for the 'sound' of recording as it relates to your genre of music. By this I mean, whether you’re a rocker, a rap or hip-hop act, a potential Top 40 pop artist, a country musician, or a singer/songwriter, the recording quality that’s expected of each genre is different. Think of it this way; the more mainstream sounding your music is, the more money you’ll be spending on your recording.
I’ve read many helpful articles and books about raising money for recording projects. They go into detail about the options available. You can save up money from each of the gigs you’re playing. (You are playing live aren’t you... duh 101, please and thank you!) You can borrow money from family or friends. It’s a long shot to get a business loan from a bank (good luck—they see it as very high risk and rarely provide such loans). You can do fundraising gigs with other artists. Whatever.
Raising the money for an unproven musical talent shouldn’t be the responsibility of anyone but the artist. There are thousands of independent records in the musical landscape. The musicians who put out their own music found a way to raise the money. Others have gone before you and gotten the job done. You too can raise the money to record and fund a proper marketing campaign if you’re serious about it.
Let me give you some tips on recording expenditures that might save you a few bucks.
• Looking for a studio? Ask around. Talk to other bands and musicians in your neck of the woods. What studios did they use? What was their experience like?
• Call the studios you’re interested in and ask for a tour of their facilities. Don’t use a studio just because someone else said to, check it out for yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable there, how can you do your best recording there?
• Check for deals. Ask about slow times or off-hours when the rent is cheaper.
• What comes with the studio time? An engineer? Is that person right for your music?
• What about a producer? Do you have someone in mind? Does the studio recommend someone? How much will they cost? (Be sure to sign a producer’s agreement with any producer too!)
• After you’ve found the right studio, at the right price, rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse! Many musicians spend precious time in the studio rehearsing. The clock is ticking! Before you waste expensive hours in a recording studio, be sure you’ve rehearsed your songs until you dream about them at night. In the studio the motto is: Get in, get out.
You’ve now determined a budget for the recording project, and you’ve stayed to it pretty well. What about the CD cover artwork, design and the manufacturing costs? I usually deal with this topic for several hours in classes and consultations. Think seriously about these topics.
You’ve spent months writing your songs, practicing and recording them. This was the creative stuff. From here on you’ll be leaving your comfort zone to enter the world of business. You’ll be making a product that will represent you for the rest of your life. Your choice of cover design and manufacturer will determine the quality of that product, and once those choices are made, they can’t be undone. If you are releasing a single for internet downloads only, or submitting your recording to various broadcast outlets, you will at some point need to create a graphic for that single, just as you do for a CD release.
Why are distributors now rejecting countless CDs with amateurish cover designs? One reason. Those musicians didn’t want to spend money on a cover design for their CD. The music is what it’s all about, right? What difference can a CD cover make? But think about it. Have you ever purchased a CD just because the cover was so cool you had to buy it? Someday, your CD will be in a store bin filed next to your favorite artist! Will you be proud of it? Will it reflect your image and your music? If not, you’ll be hurting yourself in the marketplace.
So, you’ve gotten your music recorded and manufactured, you’ve spent a lot of money, but you’re not done. It’s now marketing time! I suggest you budget an amount that doubles, or better yet, triples what you spent on recording, manufacturing, and design. (That’s only for a local or regional do-it-yourself release.) Here again are some promotion and marketing costs:
• Stamps and mailing envelopes for sending your promo copies to the media.
• Phone bills for the hundreds of follow-up calls you must make to the media after they receive your promo copies.
• Gas money while driving around to put your CD on consignment.
• Internet connection fees, website design, and promotion costs for making a killer-looking site that offers your music for sale using the new methods available.
• Hiring an independent record promoter and their retail counterparts. If you think you can get significant national airplay without hiring someone who has experience and contacts in college and commercial radio, get real. The reason a recording costs so much is because of the hidden costs of promoting and marketing it. And without promotion and marketing your recording has little chance of getting heard. Budget $400–$1,000 a week for this, for two to three months.
• Advertising costs. A distributor or even a local record store will presume you have money for this. For example, the listening-stations you see in stores are not free; they cost around $100 per station, per store, per month! This practice is changing right now, so check your stores to see what they offer.
• Printing and copying costs for distributor one-sheets, promo packages, response cards, posters, and flyers for live concert sales promotions.
• Miscellaneous: Other expenses that will surely come your way.
There you have it. An introduction to why you must find a way to properly fund your recording and marketing costs. If you need encouragement after reading this, go down to your local record store and walk up and down the aisles. Look at the thousands of other artists and bands who got their music into the store. That is an accomplishment, and if they did it, you can too. Also, don’t forget to go online and check out all the CDs that the Internet music sites have for sale!
Remember, it ALWAYS costs more to market and promote your music then it does to record and manufacture it.