By: Vinny Ribas
Any time that someone prepares to record a CD, chances are the first question that comes to their mind is “How much will it cost?” However, that is often not the right question to ask. Too many artists pay much more than they should for their recording project, not because the quality isn’t worth what they paid, but because they will never sell enough CDs and downloads to recoup their expense and make a profit. Instead, the right question to ask is, “How much should I spend on this CD?”
In order to properly answer this question, there are many points that you should consider. Here are a few:
- How much money can you afford without going into major debt? Putting $15,000 on credit cards to record a CD without knowing how you’re going to pay the card off is not good fiscal management. What happens if, for some reason, the CDs don’t sell? What if you get hurt and can’t perform for a while? Will the debt from the CD deep six you?
- What is the purpose of the CD? If you are going to seriously pursue widespread radio airplay, then you should have a superior quality, professionally produced CD. If you are simply going to sell the CD from your gigs and promote it online, you don’t need to spend the money it takes to get a true broadcast-quality CD.
- Are you going to use the CD to pursue a recording contract? If so, what kind of contract? Is it one in which the label will pay for a new project, or are they just going to market your master? Obviously, you’ll want to invest in a great CD if you want someone to come alongside as a marketing partner for your master.
- How many copies of this CD will you realistically sell at retail and at wholesale before you’re ready to record your next CD? Take those numbers and multiply them by the retail and wholesale prices to determine your total income. Now subtract the costs of the studio, the musicians, the producer, the engineer, mixing, mastering, graphic design, duplication (or replication), marketing and your next project. Is there anything left over? If there is, that’s your profit. If not, you may be paying too much for one or more of the services.
- How soon will you be able to start selling the CDs? Are you performing live? Do you know how to market your music online?
- How do you perform live? Do you perform solo and accompany yourself, or do you perform with a full band? If you mostly perform solo, you don’t necessarily need to have a full band on the CD. Your fans will want to take home what they hear live. That doesn’t mean that you can’t embellish some of the songs with other instruments or harmony vocals. It just means that you don’t need to have every song be a full band production.
- Do you need to record a full CD right away, or can you get away with an EP? You might then be able to use the profits from your EP to record the complete project.
- What do your fans want or expect? Maybe an ‘unplugged’ CD would be a great way to expose a different side of you to your fans. Poll them and find out.
- Do you have to equal or surpass the quality of other CDs that you already have on the market? If not, then there is no pressure to stretch the budget to maintain your brand.
- Do you really need to have all A-list musicians on the CD? With the band you have, will you be able to duplicate the CD live? If not, you may be able to save some money by getting strong b-list players (unless, of course, your band is playing the instruments).
- Do you need to hire the most expensive mixing and mastering houses? Again, this depends on the purpose of the recording. Shop around!
The best advice I can give is to interview several producers until you find one who asks these and other similar questions before quoting you a price. They should have your best interest in mind, tailoring the project around your true needs, not around how much you are willing to spend! If they don’t, you may end up with a great product, but your bank account will be left bone dry!
Vinny Ribas is the founder and President of Indie Connect, a company that helps independent singers, musicians and songwriters make money using their talents.