Another post on budgets?! ... of course! I shit you not, money is a biggie why people succeed and fail in the arts. I've jotted down 50ish "Tips" already... a dozen deal with dollars and sense.
Everyone new to running a business eventually comes to the same realization. In the beginning we are very accommodating and understanding of peoples financial situations... after all, we're typically working with friends and family, and there's so much going on in the background we're sensitive to. We want to help... we believe in what they're doing and we want them to succeed!
We want to be part of it...
They just need a little help to get things off the ground... money is just tight right now.
... just right now.
Or so we thought...
Next go around, money is still tight.
Next go around, they're broke.
Next go around, they're just looking to do something simple, as cheap as possible.
Eventually the new business owner starts to catch on... especially those in the studio field... as they sit in the middle of 10's of $1,000's, or possibly a few $100,000 worth of investment... not to mention the time (years) put in so far learning the craft.
(Wait a second... I found a way to invest in what I do because I believe in what I do... what is stopping you from investing in what you do? Oh, you're stopping you... I should have a burrito for lunch.)
This realization usually happens mid conversation, during the budget talk... soon after their pre-budget topic disclaimer... something along the lines of "Well I'm broke right now... I had to get my car fixed/I'm moving/wedding/vacation/lost my job/just got a new job/pet was sick/new gear/children/member changes resulting in fewer people to contribute financially/student loans/etc." Sometimes they just flat out say they're broke... no reason in particular.
This is my favorite... it pretty much says "Straight up, I don't want to pay (you) anymore than I have to."
Listen... nobody cares you're broke.
... well nobody cares you're broke unless you can't pay your bills!
Don't take this personally... but understand how it reflects on you first before simply thinking it'll help make it more "affordable" for you. So many bands play this card and it just tells people you don't know how to raise or generate funds for your business. You haven't committed yet to doing things for real.
If you've been in a band for 4+ years and still haven't figured out how to raise funds... I'll put it to you gently. You are sooooooo fuckin' screwed. Screwed because you'll never have the cash to properly get a project off the ground (again... recording, touring, merch, promotion, etc). Or screwed because if someone does step in to take over those concerns, they'll definitely take more than the lion's share of any rewards... and you'll still be broke. It was their investment after all, right?
... choice sure seems a lot easier now, eh?
Wanna see how long someone has been in business? See how quickly they defend what their time is worth. Wanna know how well a business is doing? See how easily they defend the value of their product. They'll gladly wait until you can afford it... just like everyone else they currently deal with. They know their current market value.
Let's put the shoe on the other foot... think about how so many promoters and venues treat you.
... and you wonder why you're getting paid bread crumbs, if paid at all for playing live in the early stages.
If we're approaching this as professionals, it's with the idea the end product will generate income. If we're doing things right, you'll make more off the songs than someone charged making them. If a record cost $100,000 to make, quick iTunes math ($100,000/$7 per album = 14,286 sold to cover expenses)... so 15k albums to recoup... that's not very many if you're thinking big.
Sometimes it takes a while, but with the right steps, with the right product, it will eventually show a return. That's why we think of them as investments... trying to go cheap just shows short-sightedness. I hyphenated that because I felt like it by the way. These days you definitely need to have the mindset and show the confidence you're in it for the long haul. It's going to be tough, but don't bother playing the "broke" card. Nobody cares.
Ok... this is kinda part 2 to the last post... but if you know you're getting a good deal... don't push it. I used to just see this as people trying to negotiate... some people have been taught to try and negotiate everything. What's the harm in trying right?
The harm is you run the risk of coming across as a complete douche bag. A douche bag who either doesn't know the value being exchanged, and/or a douche bag who wants to leave the meeting feeling like they've totally screwed over the other party. That makes them feel awesome! Meanwhile in life, those types of people typically get screwed over constantly. We all know them... and nobody has the hard to tell them to pick better battles... or at least fewer... since they don't seem to learn.
In my opinion, in business, you should generally want do good business on both sides. Trying to screw the other party over, or even attempting to, isn't good business... and guess what else? It affects your reputation dealing with others. Funny how that works, eh?
So a quick recap... negotiate where you can, work out a deal if you can... there's no harm in no deal being made if simply no deal could be made... but don't try and push too far past a good deal. Sometimes that's what breaks a deal. I know it has on my end in the past... why would I want to work with someone who so blatantly showed they don't value my time? It's that whole "give an inch, take a mile" thing
Whenever I'm talking to a band about budgets, I know two things after about 5 seconds... Is their focus on the people involved or simply the costs involved?
If the focus is on cost, and it's outside their budget, they'll shut down the conversation pretty quick.
"We can't afford that!?" <-- Their brains.
"... just do some quick math... carry the 1... they want me to work for $3/hr." <-- My brain.
Keeping in mind there's usually 3-5 people splitting up a few thousand dollars of said budget... which I now laugh at because bands/businesses are really expensive if you can't stomach numbers past $5k or $10k.
If they'd done their homework, they'd have a ballpark idea what the costs involved are. If they actually didn't have any idea what the costs are, the next question they should be asking is why the costs are what they are. <-- Pro Tip For Life In General
When a band is genuinely interested in working with someone, and the costs seem to be a bit more than their initial budget, the next thing they'll do is ask if there's a middle ground or any flexibility... you know... negotiate! This doesn't mean low ball... this means find a way for both parties to get the important pieces of what they need. This is what a deal is... and don't confuse this with compromise... which in my opinion is settling for less by giving up some of your main objectives.
Of course, not everything is open to negotiation... but at least it shows that you're willing to try and make something work if you really want it to work. There are always ways to attempt to work out a deal... so many aspects of a recording (ex. songwriting, masters, scheduling flexibility, payment schedules, etc) can be used to help reach that deal.
One of the no-brainers for project negotiations is to simply cut down the number of songs you were aiming to do. Say you want to do a 10 song album for realistically the cost of a 5 song EP? Or a 5 song EP for the cost of a 3 song Ep?
I know you really want to end up with that 5 or 10 song project but... quality is more important than quantity. All the time. Especially these days... when one song is what's ultimately going to make the difference anyway... regardless what stage you're at... but especially early on.
Ok... I have a secret to share... my website not only tells me how many people come through my site, it also lets me know what they were searching for to get here. Many people have found my first post about whether to do EPs, singles, or albums... but tons of people search about costs.
I've held off writing this for a long time... mainly because I couldn't decide how to approach it (and keep it under 250,000 words) and because there are so many things to take into consideration. If you've ever read "Confessions of a Record Producer", a highly recommended read by the way, there's a great section discussing REAL WORLD recording budgets.
... the scary ones where EVERYTHING is accounted for... those $100,000+ ones!
... well scary because you might be realizing now quality costs money... and how your hobbyist friend with Cubase probably isn't going to help you record the next Bohemian Rhapsody... based on observations at least. So I'm going to approach this from a typical 5 piece (drums, bass, guitars X 2, vocal) band perspective, since I work on these types of projects quite often.
First question out of the gate... who is producing this donkey show? Are you hiring a producer? Self produced? Co-Produced?
... and I already hate writing this... that last bit alone I can rant about for an hour... 2 of those 3 options are kinda stupid.
... anyway, you should choose this at the beginning and sorta stick with it... UNLESS you pick self produce or co-produce. If you pick either of those, know that during the process, eventually someone (typically the engineer) will be producing the project... making sure it gets done, to the best of your ability, on time and somewhat on budget. It just depends if you decide to let them know upfront AND decide (or at least attempt) to pay them for their expertise.
I'm also just going to talk about the cost of a basic rock song "time wise" and then we can multiply that for EPs/albums.
So... basic studio time (engineer included! very important!) necessary to record a 5 piece rock band rock song!
... that rocks.
DRUMS - I'd give 45-90 minutes to record, 90 minutes to comp/edit... so let's just say 2 hours.
*Note: I'm not including setup time for drums... or anything for that matter. Drums typically take half a day (4-6 hours) to get the actual drums set up, mics on, sounds, and to get comfy. Obviously you don't have to setup each time for every song, but some studios charge, while others don't for drum setup... oh wait... this is the charge everything budget! Except for this/setup times.
BASS - Anything longer than 45 minutes tracking bass on a 3 minute song and I start reaching for the hemlock. I talk a lot though and I'm a nice guy so let's just round it up to 1 hour.
GUITAR - This is where it can get tricky... sometimes you can blast through 6 tunes in a day, sometimes you're grinding through 1. Typically you can do 2 songs worth of basic rhythms/leads in a 10-12hr day. Why does it take so long? Because Bohemian Rhapsody is a masterpiece and we care about being in tune. Tuning means you care. One song is a half day so let's say 5 hours factoring in my legendary storytelling.
VOCALS - This can really vary from producer to producer... I typically get through a lead vocal in 1.5 hours, then another hour to do any harmonies/doubles. Factor in another hour to comp/edit, 2-3 hours to edit further and "fine tune"... and then you probably got yourself a half decent vocal track... or at least one that makes Axl happy enough to stop mentioning they woke up with a sore throat that day. So vocals, 5 hours.
DRUMS - 2
BASS - 1
GUITAR - 5
VOCALS - 5
TOTAL 13 Hours!
... oh wait... what about mixing and mastering?
MIXING - Straight up... if there's a place to spend money on a recording, outside of drums, it's mixing. That being said, don't think a great mixer can polish your el cheapo, home brew, aural ass blast into something it was never meant to be in the first place. I take good recordings for granted because I think they're pretty simple to do at this point... considering you have the right ingredients to begin with. A great mix will really bring out a songs best... while a bad mix can ruin something that could've had a chance.
Most mixers need a few hours to prep and organize (and edit if necessary) the mix session... or have their assistant do it overnight... and then a day or two to mix and pick away at the tune. So... to keep things simple... let's just say 10 hours total.
MASTERING - Mastering is important, especially on projects more than 3 songs. Get a fresh set of ears on the tunes... don't be fooled by people who are mixing and "mastering" their own mixes. Yes, eventually we will be mastering more of our own mix projects, but we aren't there yet. If it's a serious project, don't be cheap. Bottom line, they have higher hourly rates... 2-3 times most recording studios... so we'll say 2.5 hours to be safe and compensate for their hour.
DRUMS - 2
BASS - 1
GUITAR - 5
VOCALS - 5
MIXING - 10
MASTERING - 2.5
TOTAL 25.5 Hours!
... and mastering screwed up my alignment... thanks mastering... you always find a way to make me feel bad.
... what about producer fees?
PRODUCER - Well... I'll be honest... most bands below a certain level flat out refuse to understand how producers can charge for their time and experience ON TOP OF recording, mixing, and possibly mastering their project.
That's the day and age we're in though.
Typically, if you were to pay for a producer, just plop another $1,000-$3,000/song onto the budget. For the sake of this example... we'll just say 15 hours. Roughly the time spent up until mixing... plus a couple hours to cover some of their psychiatric costs.
DRUMS - 2
BASS - 1
GUITAR - 5
VOCALS - 5
MIXING - 10
MASTERING - 2.5
PRODUCER - 15
TOTAL 40.5 Hours!
Now... keeping this simple, here in Toronto, I'd say the average studio hourly cost is $60/hr for a place with a competent, experienced engineer. Again, rates vary, do your homework, and adjust your expectations however necessary... but know full well you're going to get what you pay for at $15/hr, while you might not need a room (for an entire project at least) that's $100+/hr.
$60 hr X 40.5 hours = $2,430
Now... in my mind at the beginning, I really wanted to just say $2,500/song... and doing this quick budget, I'm amazed at how close we got. Now, minus that ridiculous $900 producer fee ($60 X 15 hours) that no band can ever seem to understand because why in the world would you think someone who brings a general overview and years of experience to make sure the project gets done on time, on budget, and to the best of everyone's ability is worth something... and you'll find yourself at $1,530.
... but again, this is the EVERYTHING counts budget... so $2,430 it shall remain!
Single - $2,430
5 Song EP - $12,150
12 Song Album - $29,160
... and for those of you bad at math and/or can't read between the lines.
Single - $1,530
5 Song EP - $7,650
12 Song Album - $18,360
So there you have it... how much does an single, EP, or album cost? That's the ballpark I think a decent sounding, professional, commercially viable product typically costs these days. Of course again, MANY (and I do stress the word many!) other factors can come into play, especially political ones... but you simply need to weigh the pros and cons with these types of investments.
Still, always remember is not the cost of the hour but the value brought to the hour. If you can get the end result you want for less, perfect... but just because one person can work wonders in an hour, doesn't mean they should charge the same as someone who's completely inexperienced and realistically takes 10 hours to do the same job BUT working for $15/hr. By all means, make records with them though... by the way... what's your time worth?
***Note: Stuff like strings, drum skins, alcohol, session players, rentals, time off work, FOOD, etc, have been left out... but everyone should factor them into their own budgets... they can really add up if you're aiming for "cheap as possible"... which always works out costing more in the end because you didn't prepare and usually scrambling to fill gaps in your project... and that's your own damn fault for not doing your homework!***
Straight up... there's a shit ton of money related topics so I might as well tackle one of the easiest to deal with.
Odds are everyone in the band have different levels of income, and just as important, their own list of expenses and responsibilities. Life costs money... but your band, which if you're reading this you're trying to run like a business, also costs money to get up and running and maintain... way more money than most of you think.
A common problem discussing recording budgets is the one person who basically goes "I can't afford that."
It's a band expense... not a personal one.
Is the band supposed to be held back because someone has a lower income or higher expenses? What if one or two people in the band can handle the financial investments/costs of running a band while the other two can't? Is that fair? Is that unfair? I can understand it's easier politically if everyone contributes equally but life rarely works out that cleanly... especially when there's this many people involved.
The way around this... have a serious sit down a few times a year to see where people are at financially. You're a band. You're somewhat all partners in a business. You have to have the money talk sometimes.
There are guys I've seem bank roll the entire project for years and guys who've said up front they can bring no help financially whatsoever.
Both are ok... just know that if and when money starts to come in, the ones who invested get to put their hands in the pot first (or at least have way more say regarding what to do with the money... this also applies to potential issues with private investors), while the ones who didn't invest/contribute need to keep their hands in their pockets.
Really keep in mind money equals votes/say in the band... and the band needs to be your baby. Whatever baby needs, baby gets. You'll see this is common among the hardcore folk in any passion... or vice.
That alone should motivate you enough to do what it takes, see the big picture, and make sure finances get dealt with. Don't cripple your band (aka business, aka baby) trying to set your budget according to whoever is able to contribute the least, regardless of the reason. If you are, this should be a red flag it's just for fun and not really worth investing in in the first place
Right off the bat... some will argue this is the problem with music today. It's not about the music! Oh, it's still very much about the music... just as much as any other time period if you really want to argue the score. The thing is, we're typically introduced to new music online... and we don't browse the web with black screens... I've tried it on my barely functioning 2006 macbook pro... nobody wins.
... so assume their eyes are always connected to their ears.
Odds are if someone shows you a new band/artist, it's on YouTube, or Facebook, or SoundCloud, or Reverbnation, or Myspace (cough), etc. There's always a way to catch the eye right off the get go, put the listener in the head space/mood you want them in, and THEN deliver with your awesome music.
Don't underestimate how much we value appearance... as a species in general.
Think about something as simple as picking apples off a stand. There could be 500 apples, but given the choice, we choose the ones we like, and pass over the ones that are bruised... unless you're one of those people who intentionally pick bruised apples just to tell people you only pick bruised apples... you know who you are.
Care about your image... you will learn to depend on it.
It's what keeps the door open with potential new fans.
Pick some bands you like (that are appropriate), go through their photos, discover what you like about them and how they could apply to your band... the common thread!.
Hire a pro photographer, or at least someone you trust that's semi-pro. Same goes for stylists, graphic designers, videographers, etc. You don't have to spend a fortune but don't be cheap... aka budget of around 1/4 of what someone good and affordable costs. At least test the waters working with pro's to see what you're missing and/or what you could be doing a whole lot better.
Whether you're on a date, a job interview, or you're trying to sell a pile of dirt on Craiglist, present it in a way that catches the eye and creates interest. Effective and efficient advertising (dirty word I know) takes a little time and costs a little money. Be smart about it and you'll always be above those who were too cool to care about their image... since even if they say they don't... you can always tell when they do... you know who you are.
#DearBands: Stop Jamming.
I hate jamming... straight up.
I was originally thinking of calling this "Stop Practicing" because I dislike practicing just as much as jamming... but I don't mind practicing... I just hate when people show up to rehearsal to practice.
What's the difference?
Well, it get's down to what your focus is.
Most of the time when I hear people are getting together to jam, what they actually mean is they're getting together to get high, have a few beers, sit around, run the set, play 2 chords over and over pretending they're writing a song, etc.
Jamming is a focused, complete lack of focus, that bands will do 3-4 times a week, months on end, pretending they're being productive within their rehearsal space.
This is not productive.
This is hobbyist, recreational, weekend warrior, friends and family nod their heads when you talk about the band, shouda, coulda, woulda, in textbook form.
So still, what's the difference?
Practice: In a band sense, something that should be done on your own time.
When you shit the bed at rehearsal, take those soiled sheets home with you, and practice on your own time. Police yourself. You know what you have to work on if you have any competency in your ability whatsoever. It's one thing to run over a part a couple times in rehearsal in order to clarify something in context... but if you flat out can't play a part, don't know a part or the arrangement, or can't remember the words/melody. Practice. At home. On your own time.
Rehearsal: In a band sense, something that's done to prepare for shows and/or recording.
Although it does apply to preparing for the studio, usually the goal is to iron out the set... you're practicing the set... not jamming out the set... unless you 100% plan to jam it out on stage.
What you do in the rehearsal space is what you're going to do on stage... and bands wonder why they end up getting drunk and stoned at shows, spending huge amounts of time with dead air between songs, meanwhile still "killing it" to an empty room.
Writing: In a band sense, this can be mistaken for jamming, but writing is introducing new ideas with the goal they become new songs.
You can pretend your hero's get in a room and jam... but they're actually writing. It's premeditated. There are ideas brought to the table, a pecking order to vote up/down ideas, and there's focus. Most of the time they aren't doing most of their writing in the rehearsal space anyway... they core writers are doing that on their own time, and refining the ideas there, with the rest of the band.
The amount of times I've heard bands run over the same two chords for 20 minutes, truly believing they are breaking new ground, especially in the rock world, just to show the idea to the singer, and expect them to make some lyrics fit.
This is the wrong way to do it.
Sure some bands get lucky... I've seen it first hand... but most of the time trying to jam and stumble across a new song... it's going to suck. We all heard that song Paul McCartney and Dave Grohl did... they were "just jamming and it's what they came up with"... that's along the lines of what Paul said to a massive crowd... the ol' pre-song disclaimer.
Think about that.
Paul and Dave jammed... wrote a new song... and it was sucky.
... and they knew better.
... and you think jamming is going to work out for you?
... it's not a good choice... I'm telling you... as a friend.
Personally, I think they knew it kinda sucked (hence the disclaimer) but because of who they are, they knew people would eat it up... or at least forgive them for jamming when they could've been writing... then again some days you sit down to write and nothing comes out.
... I'm getting a little off topic, but you get the idea. Stop jamming unless the main goal is to simply have fun.
If you're trying to run your band as a business... every time you pick up your instrument, have a goal in mind. A goal to practice, to rehearse, to write, or as much as I hate to say it, even to jam (fart around). Your time is valuable, especially since you most likely have a day job and other commitments. Jamming should be at the bottom of the list once you get going, or at least once you decide to start going... because once you get going, you'll quickly learn how little time you actually have to spend playing music.
... yup, read that last bit again.
Ok... so I don't know if I'll actually hit "101 Tips" but I've decided right now I need a place to extend some of my #DearBands into mini rants.
... yes mini rants... rants under 10,000 words.
So the last week I've been going through a digital stack of demos submitted, and my ever growing list of bands to check out online. It's hard stomach at times, but when I have a spare hour or two, and I don't feel like doing something WAY better with that spare hour or two, I go through a 15-20 bands on the list, and email the ones I like.
I typically get a response 24-48 hrs after emailing... but some of the responses really show the person on the other end really didn't do their homework... at all.
#DearBands, do your goddamn homework!
Seriously... anybody emails you, check their signature, and be a dick. Put on your dick coat, dick glasses, and dick hat... and play detective! That's what Google is for... and Facebook... and ReverbNation, and BandCamp, and iTunes, and SoundCloud, etc.
I'm not saying I'm going to change your life, but it should take 90 seconds to do your homework on me, or anybody else that emails you, and have an idea of what they can bring to the table.
Some of you make such asses of yourselves in emails it's insane... insane and entertaining... meanwhile your band might be really good! Imagine it was a label, management, or another award winning producer (cough)... I'm pretty patient with people but time is always valuable... and after 3-4 messages back and forth... and it seems like whoever is on the other end is writing you back on their iPhone while sitting on the toilet... c'mon. I quickly forget about them and move on to bands that are ACTUALLY somewhat serious... or at least seem to be trying a little.
Most of you complain nobody out there is helping you and you're trying to get by on shoestring budgets. Do your homework, network, make the most of meeting anybody at any opportunity.
Do your homework.
As a friend.
Mike Langford - Official Blog
Being on both sides of the glass, I get the chance to wear many hats in the music industry. This is a place to share my thoughts, views, predictions, rants, stories and news!