Make Me A Star

Fair warning. This post will be a bit long. Being on vacation and away from the studio means that I have too much time on my hands.

I will be starting work on a new project in January. I have a few concerns, as I often do, when I start working with a new artist. Does the artist have reasonable expectations? Is the artist coachable? Are there any issues with ego? In short, concerns about motives and expectations rather than concerns about the recording process itself.

But what does it really take to create a competitive product in today’s market? Talent, hard work, money, and time. Even then, there is no proven path to success particularly if success has not been defined in advance of a recording project.

I start pre-production sessions by asking a basic question: what is the vision for the project? Most of the artists that I work with are involved in music ministry and their objectives are pretty straightforward: create a product that can be sold to support ministry activities.

Sometimes, though, I receive responses that hint at other objectives. Usually the responses talk to commercial quality, competitive product, showcasing talent, and, interestingly enough, award-winning. What is the objective really? Record deal? Fame and fortune? Mass market airplay? Hard to know. And my internal alarm bells go off.

Let’s make the assumption that the level of talent is high. Given the competitive nature of the music business, it is not a given that high talent is rewarded by the marketplace but it is an important start.

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.

The costs of a project fall into two main areas:

1. Recording costs
2. Production costs

Under recording costs there are expenses for the producer, the engineer, the arranger, the studio musicians and the photographer. There are also expenses for studio time, equipment rentals and media.

Under production costs there are expenses for CD duplication, promotion and publicity.

Most artists underestimate how long it will take to record an project. The average CD project can take about 12-18 months from planning to release. Of course, there are many variables. Preparation, experience, personnel, and schedules can all affect the amount of time involved.

I generally estimate based on the following:

  • Basics (drums, bass, rhythm instruments, scratch vocal): 5 hours per song
  • Lead vocal tracking: 3 hours per song
  • Overdubs: 3 hours per song
  • Backing vocals: 6 hours per song
  • Mixing: 8 hours per song

For a twelve song CD project I would estimate about 300 hours in the studio. I usually add another 100 hours or so for edits, backups, project updates, etc. Mastering is a full day session once the recording and mixing is all finished.

And, when all of this work is done, the real work begins: promotion, touring and selling all those shiny new CDs.

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