So you think music should be free huh? Okay. But before I give you my music let me lay out what it takes to create an independent album and put it to market. Oh and I’m not telling you this to impress you. I’m telling you this to impress upon you the value of music and the value of musicians. If you agree please share this.
Let’s start with the conception of a song. How does it start? Well for me it starts with a riff. Once a riff is in my head I grab my guitar (which I paid $1,800 for) and plug into my amp ($3,500) and start to work on it. I try to get it as close as I can to what I hear. This can take anywhere from a couple minutes to a couple days (depending on the complexity of the riff). Once I have the riff down I turn on my computer (which I paid about $1,700 for) and open up my recording software which cost me $700. I start by setting up a click track (metronome) that I can play along to. Sometimes I’ll spend hours just playing a riff over and over until it seems like it naturally has a place to go. Once I have the intro riff I’ll work on a verse. This can take another few hours. Have to make sure they fit together. It’s like a puzzle. The wrong piece in the wrong place will make the whole song sound bad. So far I’ve spent about two days at around 12-14 hours a day just on these two riffs. Once I’m satisfied that I have a solid foundation to work with I can now focus on the overall feel of the song. Now it’s time to work on the chorus, maybe a bridge, solo section etc. This whole process can take weeks to get right as the song has to naturally flow. Once I get this I will write a drum track to play along to. Using my drum software that costs $600 I spend hours creating the right drum beats. The drums are very important to a song as they “drive it”.
Once the rhythmic structure is recorded it’s now time to work on the melodies. These are the vocals of the song. This has to tell a story and engage the listener. The melody can take longer than the song itself sometimes. This process can take weeks of just playing the same song over and over until the melody is just right. Once the melody and solo sections are done it’s now time to rehearse the song with the band.
My drummer will count off 1,2,3,4 on his $15,000 drum kit (all those cymbals, stands, drums, throne, sticks are sold separately). My other guitar player will start playing along on his $2,500 guitar and $1,500 amp. My bass player will join in on his $3,000 bass and $1,200 amp. We will rehearse this one song over and over for hours trying to get it right. Maybe tweaking it here and there so it sounds perfect. I may add in some effects using pedals. My wah pedal cost $250. My delay $125. My phaser pedal $135. That’s just a few. Sometimes you need to add “flavor” to a song just like you would add spices to a meal. That’s what pedals do.
So we’ve rehearsed the song and we’ve got it down. Now what? Well now we do it about 15 more times to create the other songs for the album. This whole process can take a year of 10-12 hour days. Constant writing and rewriting. Constant rehearsals. Constantly having to replace gear and spend more money on things that break.
Now it’s time to record the CD. Studio rental can cost about $150 to $200 per day ($1,500-$2,000). That doesn’t include the producer. That can cost about $10,000 just for him. The right producer can make or break a cd. Have to make sure he knows what he’s doing. If you’re really prepared you can get in and out of the studio in about 10 days. After recording it you have to mix it which can cost another $2,000-$3,000 dollars. Once it’s mixed it has to be mastered. This is the process that brings it all together and makes the CD sound “BIG”. Mastering is usually about $100 to $150 per song. So a ten song CD will cost about $1,500 to master.
Almost time to release the CD but first we have to have album artwork. I’ll usually start by opening up Photoshop ($700) and playing around with some ideas. Usually this will be about 7 hours a day until I really hit upon something. Once I do I will spend upwards of 15 hours a day working on the artwork. Usually will take about 10 days to finish the artwork for the cd. This includes all the outside and inside art. Also have to compile a list of “thank yous” for the liner notes as well as who did what on the cd. Once the artwork is done we need new promo photos. We will either go down to L.A. to shoot the photos or have a photographer come in. This expense can either be free or upwards of a few thousand dollars. Travel down to L.A. can cost about $600 with food, fuel and hotel.
Okay artwork and photos are done. Now what? Well we have to print the CDs. 1,000 CDs printed full color will cost around $2,500. This process of printing the CDs takes about three weeks. There are a lot of proofs sent back and forth to the duplicators and a lot of phone calls to iron out details. CDs finally show up and they look great.
Now it’s time to do some promo. This involves interviews (which means hours on the phone and emailing answers for email interviews). Just getting an interview to begin with is a task in itself. But with a lot of perseverance it can happen.
Now we need merch. You know those really cool tshirts you see at shows. These have to be designed and yep, you got it…that means more hours I’ll be sitting up late into the night designing. Once the design is done it’s time to get these made. At $5.75 per shirt and 100 pieces that’s $575. If we can sell these at shows for $15 each we can make a profit of $925!! Hallejulah! A profit! Of course that’s just an illusion as this money will go back into the band for touring expenses which you’ll see below. By the way, we save a lot of money by me doing the artwork and design as well as the website designs. However most bands don’t have that luxury of being able to do it all themselves so they have to pay thousands more to someone else to do it for them.
Now that the cd is done it’s time to promote it by playing live. This usually means playing clubs where the venue doesn’t want to pay you because as far as their concerned, playing their little hole in the wall venue on some backstreet in the middle of nowhere is “good exposure for you. Going on tour is about spending money. Lots of money. First, there’s the van rental. At around $95 per day and for the sake of simplicity lets say a 30 day tour. That’s $2,850 just for the van. Fuel costs about $3.85 per gallon and a typical van has a 33 gallon tank. That’s $127.05 to fill it up. At 12 miles to the gallon we’ll get about 396 miles out of one tank. A tour of 30 days/7,000 miles will costs in fuel roughly $2,245.83. This is a rough estimate of course. Now there’s hotel rooms for the band. These prices vary considerably depending on where we are but let’s say the average is about $85 a night. Two people per room comes out to $170 per night for four people. That’s $5,100 for a 30 day tour. Food for each person per day is about $20. That’s $80 per day for four people. That comes out to $2,400. You usually don’t get out of the venue until 12 or 1am sometimes which means you either have to drive late into the night to get to the venue the next day or you have to wake up really really early and drive to the venue as fast as you can. Days off are few and far between as you need to maximize your time on tour. Down days mean no merch to sell. So it’s onward and upward young man. Go forth and prosper. (whoever said that was never in a band).
So let’s break this down:
Guitars, amps, pedals, drums, recording software, computer Total = $32,010
Studio = $2,000
Producer = $10,000
Mixing = $3,000
Mastering = $1,500
Total = $16,500
Photoshop = $700
Total = $1,300
Touring (30 days):
Van Rental = $2,850
Fuel = $2,245.83
Hotel = $5,100
Food = $2,400
Total = $12,595.83
So for the average independent band that puts out an album on their own it costs roughly $65,480. 83 to create an album, release it, promote it and tour. These are conservative estimates. For some bands depending on where they are located the prices can be even higher. I haven’t even calculated the time involved or the emotional toll all of this can be on a musicians family. The long hours away from home. The financial burden. At this point it’s moot. Musicians do this because they love it! They are passionate about music and performing. Next time you’re at work (maybe right now), take a look at your coworkers. They are getting paid to be there. Are they passionate about their jobs? Probably not. Most aren’t. Musicians are and most of them do it for free and never see a profit. Don’t take advantage of them by thinking music is disposable and asking them to give you their music for free. It is not disposable! It is as viable as any other industry out there and in most circumstances even more viable. You see, most people can live without a flat screen tv or a iPod or iPhone. Most people can live without a Big Mac. But most people can’t live without music. Music is what makes this world dance. It’s what makes this world sing. It’s what makes this world move. It’s what makes this world happy.
And to think some musicians have the audacity to think they should get paid. What nerve!
- Bill Lonero. Proud independent musician