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The Recording Process - Part 3 - Spending Money and Spending Time
By Leon & Sheryl Olguin - 06/25/2002 - 07:56 PM EDT

Spending Money and Spending Time

The Beatles sang, “money can’t buy me love”, and then turned around and sang “the best things in life are free, so give them to the birds and bees…I want money!” Whether you’re singing about love or money, or whatever else, if you want to record your songs, you’ll eventually have to set up a realistic recording and production budget. We’ve heard too many sad stories from performers whose custom recording project costs escalated out of control, leaving them with huge debt. We’ve resolved not to let that happen to anyone who works with us. There are a lot of costs that go into a recording project, and the successful artist plans ahead and prepares for them.

Here’s a dose of financial reality:

-The average cost of a major label release breaks down to around $35,000 to as much as $100,000 per song.

The average cost of a CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) release is about 1/10th that of a major label release, or $3,500 to $10,000 per song. (Mix Magazine, July 1994: “Contemporary Christian Recording”).

So where does this leave you, the independent singer/songwriter/recording artist who doesn’t have $50,000, let alone $500,000, to spend on a project?

There is hope! It is possible to release a professionally produced album independently, without spending a fortune.

The first thing to do is determine what your various expenses will be. To help, we have put up on our Website a series of worksheets that go into detail about the various costs involved in a recording project. Most musicians, when considering the cost of a project, think only of studio time. But as the worksheets show, there is much more to consider.

Visit http://www.soloproductions.net/recording_cost_planner.htm and print out these helpful planning worksheets. We would encourage you to print them out and refer to them as you read the rest of this article.

You’ll see that we have divided the costs of a project into two main areas:
1. Recording costs
2. Productions costs

Under recording costs, we cover the personnel involved, the producer, engineer, arranger, the studio musicians, and the photographer. We will go into detail concerning the functions of each of these in future columns. We also include studio time, and the various ways you can spend time in the studio; rentals, and media.

Under production we include manufacturing, and promotion and publicity. We plan to thoroughly cover the area of promotion and publicity, as many artists tend to overlook this important area.

When planning a project, you could begin by working through these planning sheets, obtaining quotes from the studio where you plan to work, the photographer you plan to use, the manufacturer who will produce your CD’s, and any other professional who will provide their services to you. We encourage you to look for the best value, not necessarily the cheapest. Find the people who consistently do the best work. Ask another artist who is pleased with the way their project came out where they went to have certain things done. Get recommendations.

Don’t let the sheer number of expense categories overwhelm you. On most projects, not every expense listed on the worksheets will be applicable. For example, on most S.O.L.O. Productions projects, one person often covers the roles of arranger, engineer, producer, and studio musician. Also, very few projects we have done have involved renting equipment. In the manufacturing stage, many companies (including the one we recommend) offer “package prices” on projects (e.g. a set price for 500 cassettes and 500 CD’s, using a black and white cover, including artwork and design, etc). This will save you the trouble of getting separate quotes for artwork, design, and the actual CD and/or cassette duplication. Change our planning worksheets as needed to suit your project.

How Long Will This Take?

Steely Dan released their latest CD, 5 years after they announced they were going in to the studio to record. Of course, they are famous for taking a long time to record their albums. You probably don’t want your project to take that long!

Most artists underestimate how long it will take to record an album. Of course, your family and friends may think, “What’s the big deal? You just go in, sing your songs, and boom! You’re done.” Well, you know it’s going to take longer than that, but how much longer?

Every project is different, and every performer is different. Some people love to work at top speed, while others take their time. Some folks are perfectionists (which can get very expensive!) while others are willing to let little things “slide.”

In our experience, the average CD project takes about 12-18 months from planning to release. Of course, there are many variables. Preparation, experience, personnel, schedules, can all affect the amount of time involved. The idea is to give yourself more time than you think you will need. For example, if you want to release a Christmas project, don’t wait until August to start planning for it! Most holiday releases that you see in the stores during December were started in January, and more often during the summer of the previous year!

Part of the process you will go through in determining the cost of your project will be to determine how much time you will need in the studio. We have found over the years that it usually averages out to about 15-20 hours a song for a custom release. This is working very fast, or as we say, “flying low and fast.” This includes creating the basic track, tracking vocals, overdubs, mixing and editing. It breaks down this way:

1. Basic track (drums, bass, rhythm instruments, scratch vocal) – 3-5 hours
2. Lead vocal tracking – 3 hours
3. Overdubs (lead instruments, sweetening) – 3 hours
4. Backing vocals - 6 hours
5. Mixing – 3 hours

Of course, some songs will take less time, and some will take more. A great deal depends on the length and complexity of the song, the number of musicians used, etc. A song that has a simple acoustic guitar/vocal/violin arrangement will take much less time than a song that has drums/bass/acoustic guitar/electric guitar/piano/synth/mandolin/backing vocals/lead vocal layered 100 times to sound like Enya…you get the idea.

We realize that if you are new to recording, this is a lot of information. We have a brochure that we’d like to recommend. It’s called “37 Recording Tips,” put together by our manufacturing partner, Disc Makers. This brochure contains 37 tips and techniques (plus a bonus 38th) to help you make the most of your time in the studio, and is available free of charge from S.O.L.O. Productions or directly from Disc Makers. (www.discmakers.com.)

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