Cost is a concern for many bands preparing to record their first release, and understandably so. If you’re budgeting for your first EP, you may be forgiven for thinking that all you need to do is pay your engineer, however, while that is one part of the equation, there are many other expenses to consider and how much – or little – you pay will have a great deal to do with your bands individual needs.
It can be difficult to estimate the exact cost of a project as there are so many variables, but with proper planning, good preparation, and a basic understanding of the potential expenses involved, you will have a realistic recording budget underway in no time. To help simplify things, I’ve divided this article into three expense categories; Music Production, Artwork & Design, and Print.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; time is money when it comes to recording, and if keeping costs low is your main objective, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve done everything you can to ensure you are as prepared as possible before entering the studio. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out my Checklist For Recording Your First EP for a comprehensive guide to preparing for your first studio session. Following this checklist will save you money!
But what about those things you still have to pay for? How much will they cost?
Typically, the music production phase is made up of four core services; production, recording, mixing, and mastering. These services tend to charge per hour, but you may also see per day prices with flat rates occasionally being offered on mixing and mastering services or package deals. In many cases, one person may be in charge of providing multiple or all services, or you may choose to engage a different person for each service required.
Hourly rates vary greatly depending on the size, quality, and experience of the studio or engineer, however, your average boutique studio will set you back roughly $60 per hour. Smaller home studios may charge a little less with prices ranging from around $30 upwards, and purpose-built commercial studios or big-name engineers may charge anywhere from $80 plus.
Exactly how much this will set you back varies greatly depending on whether or not you require a producer, the number of instruments you will be recording, the complexity and length of your tracks, how well you’ve practised, and how much room you want to allow for experimentation. For the most accurate results, I suggest asking your chosen engineer for an estimate as they will be able to look at your individual situation and provide you with a more detailed quote.
Artwork & Design
Pricing for artwork also varies greatly depending on the artist, the medium, and the complexity of the work. Low-budget projects sometimes turn to DIY art and photography to keep costs to a minimum. This will not work for all projects, but if you are considering this method, it’s important to ensure all photos and scans are high resolution to avoid low quality prints.
If DIY is not your jam and you have a little more wiggle-room in your budget, buying the rights to a premade piece of art may be a good option for you. Many artists sell or license their pre-existing artwork for bands to use. Cost does vary depending on the artist, however, most local artists or small-time creators will charge anywhere from $100 - $350 for a premade piece, whereas well known and high-end artists may charge a lot more.
If you do decide to purchase a premade piece of art, make sure you are purchasing or licensing the actual copyrights for the work, not just the artwork itself as this will allow you to use, copy, manipulate, and distribute the work legally. Keep in mind that if you want exclusive rights to the art, there may be an extra charge.
When it comes to entirely custom artwork by well renowned artists, the typical price points are around the $500 - $700 mark for the artwork alone, however, you can expect to pay up to $1000 for custom art depending on the artist and complexity of the work. Artists with 30-year tenures who work with international bands can charge upwards of a grand for a custom piece, but your mate who is good with photoshop or knows how to push some paint around may only charge a few hundred dollars, for example.
It is important to note that all of the options above will still require a graphic designer to create the CD design and layout, and prepare the artwork for print. Entry level prices will set you back an extra $250 - $500 for a standard CD layout, with the lowest quote pertaining to a simple jewel case or EP cardboard sleeve. The price will rise as extra pages are added to the booklet or extra panels to a digipack so keep that in mind when deciding on your packaging needs.
Sometimes, a record label will handle the actual layout of your CD using an internal designer, so if your band is signed that cost may be removed for you. Though don’t expect this to be the case with all record labels, particularly independent labels with small niches. If you are unsure, speak to your label rep and find out exactly what is covered by them.
Lastly, if you don’t want to outsource your artwork or you’d prefer a single bill for the entire process, your designer will be able to take care of both the artwork design and the layout of your CD. This is a popular option among bands who want simple, graphic artwork, or a minimalist design, but can also work great for bands with more complex ideas and will likely be more cost effective than commissioning a well-renowned artist to create you an entirely custom artwork. Again, costs will vary depending on the artist and complexity of the piece.
Your print costs will be determined by a number of factors including quantity, style of packaging, number of pages in a booklet, and method of printing just to name a few. Typically, the more bells and whistles you ask for, the higher the cost will be. For example, an EP in a single cardboard sleeve and a silver disc with simple black print will cost a lot less than a 4-panel digipack, with an 8-page booklet, gapless printing and a full colour disc.
Such wide variances make it difficult to provide a blanket cost estimate but luckily, most media printing plants offer easy, obligation free quote systems. Melbourne based printers Implant Media have a particularly handy online quote system, which allows you to quickly determine the costs of your CD print based on your specific needs. While this doesn’t necessarily reflect the prices of all printing companies, it will help to give you a general idea of the costs involved in printing your CD which will be extremely valuable when budgeting your project.