Advice For First-Time Recording Artists
I remember back in 2014 when I decided I was going to record my first ever EP. I felt completely overwhelmed. Even as a full-time musician who had been in Nashville for 5 years at that point, the idea of creating an entire EP on my own felt so daunting. I had no idea what to expect or where to start. And all too often young artists get taken advantage of at this point in their careers simply due to a lack of understanding and experience.
Katherine recently posted in our Music Biz Besties Facebook group about a young artist that was quoted $10,000 per song from a relatively unestablished producer. This poor girl was clearly being ripped off and had no idea. This sparked some great conversation in the comment thread, which is what inspired me to write this post! My goal in this post is simply to give you guys an overview of what to expect as a first-time recording artist, and perhaps a few pointers as to what to prioritize when working on a budget. I’m by no means an expert; but I’ve learned a lot over the years by trial and error, and if I can help a few other indies out there avoid getting ripped off, I’ll consider it all worthwhile!
So let’s dive into the question you’re all wondering about: What is this going to cost me?? Well, unfortunately, this is a pretty tough question to tackle. The music industry is constantly changing and prices are constantly fluctuating. I’ve known artists to spend anywhere from $500/song to $10,000/song depending on the producer. I don’t want to give you guys hard and fast numbers, but rather some general advice and direction. First things first:
Think of it as starting a business. You are essentially running your own company. You have to realize that you are making an investment, and it could be years before you ever recoup what you are spending. Come up with a number that you feel comfortable spending on the full project, and decide how to designate funds from there.
CHOOSE YOUR PRODUCER WISELY. I cannot emphasize this enough. Your producer is essentially going to be your business partner and your creative partner throughout this entire process, so don’t just settle on the first person you talk to. Ask around a lot. Be able to verbalize what it is that you’re looking for in a producer. In what areas do you have clear vision, and in what areas do you need direction from the producer? Remember, a producer is more than just an engineer. They’re not just there to push buttons; they are co-creating with you, so find someone whose instincts and vision you trust. And, possibly the biggest piece of advice I can give in this area is to find someone who is genuinely excited to be working with you, and vice versa. The last thing you want to do is work with someone who is just in it for the paycheck, because they will not truly be invested in the art and will not give it their full effort. If you can find someone who is as excited about your music as you are, they will put much more effort into creating an album that you are both proud of.
Especially for your first project, try to get the most bang for your buck. Now, let me clarify: I am NOT suggesting that you ask a great producer to work for half of his or her rates. Nothing is more offensive to an industry professional than someone insulting their craft by suggesting that their rates are too high. What I am saying is that there are a lot of extremely talented producers out there who are still trying to get established and are charging significantly less than others but will still do a fantastic job. This situation can be a win for both parties. It won’t be breaking the bank for you, and if the album takes off it can help your producer to get more established as well.
Find out what all is included in the quote. Say a producer quotes you $1,500 per song. Is that all inclusive, or will you have to pay separately for the musicians, mix, master, etc.?
DON’T FORGET ABOUT MARKETING!! If you walk away with just one piece of advice from this article, let it be this. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen a crazy talented artist spend all of their money making an incredible album, and then have nothing left to put towards marketing. What is the point in making a great album if no one hears it? If you just have the money to spare and are doing it purely for your own art and enjoyment that’s great - but for the vast majority of us, we depend on other people listening to and sharing our music in order to be able to afford to continue making music. Even if it means having to record fewer songs in order to allow room in your budget for marketing, it is SO worth it. If the songs do well, money will come back in that you can eventually put towards recording more songs. Remember, all it takes is one song blowing up to launch your career as an artist, so focus on your best song(s) and marketing them well. The rest will come in time.
There is so much more to being a recording artist than I could possibly address in this article, but hopefully this has given you guys a little bit of insight and direction. If you have any questions for us that we weren’t able to address in this post, feel free to leave them in the comments or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org! Good luck, and happy recording!
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Community Coordinator at Music Biz Besties
Becca is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. She has been calling Nashville home for the past nine years and has had the honor of touring with artists including Michael W. Smith, Francesca Battistelli, Lauren Daigle, Andrew Ripp, Jason Gray, Aaron Shust and more.
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