DRUM BEAT BLOG - Buy On Band Tips
This article popped up a few times on my facebook feed yesterday... and quickly opinions came with it.
For those who don't know, a "buy on" is a spot on a show/tour a band can pay for hoping the slot will put them in front of similar music fans who might like their band... and become fans.
So what's the big deal?
Well... I think it gets down to how you see this "pay to play" opportunity.
The main argument against is that any band or artist could simply raise enough money (the richest wins!) to get on a tour... and that the headliner (the one actually selling the ticket fans are buying) only cares about cash and not the quality of the band that takes the spot.
This may be true... and money does talk... but in my experience, a few things factor (talent, sound, attitude, professionalism, team, etc) into the selection of a band looking to... pay for a slot on a tour that's for sale because the established headliner knows it has value.
Trust me, bands care about who's opening or direct support. The live show is more important than ever so the bigger acts want to make sure the bill is worth every penny... even if the entire crowd is there to see them (the headliner). You can't steal the live show. It has a price and it has an expiry date.
Another valid argument is bigger bands should help smaller bands since they have the audience to help grow talent.
I agree 100% and if my soapbox ever reaches that height, I certainly would!
... that's how I felt several years ago at least.
The problem is once you're a professional touring act (or a professional in any industry I'm sure)... there's tons of people wanting to ride your coattails... for basically nothing in exchange... you know, because they asked, you now magically owe them something.
Maybe they're trying to do it on the cheap, maybe they can't afford to run the band as a business, maybe they're daydreaming hobbyists just looking for that "one tiny chance" to hit the big time... because that's all they need right? Opportunity! They have the talent so that should be able to make up for the money they don't have (want) to invest.
Once you reach a certain level the tables turn and so does your focus... and you can no longer help the majority of those bands.
... because they can't help themselves... and they wave that flag, high and proud.
They tend to be pretty unprofessional (on several levels) and/or they can't afford (or not willing) to run the band as a business... and when you've made the sacrifices (I'm talking financially, since nobody cares about what your time is worth when you aren't willing to invest everything in your own idea), a band or artist knows the value of that spot on the bill and offers it up to someone who's going to make the most of it.
... or has a boatload of cash.
Believe me, if your band sucks (musically, professionally, and/or personality wise), you'd have to offer a lot of money... so much they'd be insane not to take it. In that case, the band (and crew) probably won't care to meet you, interact to you, etc. You're just around for a bit. You're just a wicked paycheck.
That being said... in my opinion, the costs (per show) for this arrangement probably just goes towards the headliners crew. Is it so bad to offset some of the production costs for the headliner? Again... they're the one selling the ticket, not the opening band. They're the one the promoter is taking the risk on to make a profit. Follow the money and things make sense... and this isn't a bad thing.
There's the argument it's just as bad as radio being bought and sold. Well perhaps, but my opinion of radio is it also simply gets down to advertising space.
Radio campaigns can be expensive and a huge risk if you don't have the rest of your musical machine cranking along in the background (single and/or album, touring, marketing/promo, etc).
I get asked often by bands if I think buying on a tour is a good use of funds. Well? Chachi's first point in his post... is it worth it?
Often it isn't.
Why? (... assuming your band is actually ready.)
The headliner isn't big enough, not enough dates, weak bill over all, terrible routing/dates, etc. Sometimes it looks like a cash grab and I don't want to say "go for it" knowing the band is probably going to end up paying $250/show to play to 17 people for 5 nights.
That's just not worth it.
When is it worth it?
When you know the headliner thinks your band is decent and you know they can sell tickets.
... back to radio for a second. When you service a song to radio, you're hoping it a) gets added to the rotation and b) someone hears it... and likes it enough to find out who the band was.
This is asking a lot. Not everyone checks the charts Tuesday afternoon like I do.
So say you were paying $10,000 for your radio campaign, this is high or low depending on genre/market, but it's easy math for the time being.
Your song is amazingly 3 minutes long. You're played 3 times a day for 3 weeks.
9 mins/day X 21 days = 189 minutes or 3 hours 9 mins total playing time.
(... yes we don't know how many people this station reaches... and yes we're sort of a assuming this is only 1 station, in 1 market... but keep in mind 21 spins (3 spins a day X 7 days) a week might get you into the Top 50 on Canadian radio! I'm not joking!)
... stay with me here... yeah I'm sorta pulling numbers out of the air and I know every case is different! It's more about the concept!
... anyway, in our example, you've paid $10,000 for just over 3 hours of airtime. You're hoping someone hears it and hoping they like the song enough to follow up and Google the band.
... keep in mind, if that single takes off... you really should have some money around to tour and support it. Don't pretend money will magically appear giving you the ability to tour!
Now with a buy on, let's say it's $500/show to open for a band you know is going to put on average 500 people in a venue per night.
Simple math again, we have $10,000 to put towards a buy on. $10,000/$500 = 20 shows.
Sweet... 3 week tour! Let's just round it to 21 days.
Now, you have a 20 minute opening set.
20 minutes X 20 shows = 400 minutes or 6 hours and 40 mins.
I know we're not factoring in the costs of touring at this point, but you can see a major advantage in time already... we could even cut that buy on budget down to $5,000, do 10 shows, and have $5,000 left for tour support and be back where we were timewise for our radio campaign.
Here's' the thing though... you're hoping someone hears you on the radio. They are passive listeners. I listen to music playing in the grocery store, but I don't stand around in the cookie aisle and rock out if my jam comes on.
Exception being if Tame Impala comes on.
Again, these are passive listeners, being exposed to the radio... they're doing something else and your music has to catch their attention.
The live show environment is a completely different story. Those 500 fans waiting for your band to hit the stage are primed! Just like if you've ever been to a comedy bar, those inside are primed to laugh. It doesn't take much to get people engaged when they're primed. This is the huge edge to a buy on situation over radio. Active listeners.
If you have a great headliner (the one selling the ticket), you now have a captive, paying, engaged audience who will endure your entire set... and in this case, that's 500 people a night, for 20 nights.
You have your entire set to win them over.
That's 10,000 people... people you can meet at your merch table. People who might buy your album, buy your shirt, tag your band in pics and videos they post, etc. I'm not saying they all will... but if you leave a city with even 5 new core fans (1% in our example)... those seeds will grow.
Do the math.
Consider the cost vs value.
With anything in business, stop thinking you can't afford it and start thinking is it worth it?
The opportunity is there for bands willing to consider the opportunity... the price is often too high for those that complain about how the system works though... and it's usually a trickle down effect of excuses throughout their entire business plan. With any basic business plan, below "concept" is "capital". You have this great idea, but how do we fund this great idea? How do we get it out there in order for it to grow?
If you are in a band and do reach the level you have bands willing to buy on your tour... all I can suggest is do what helps you sleep best at night. Bad business comes in all shapes and forms but I think even though the industry is incredibly wonky right now, it's all for the best... growing pains.
Bands and artists have never had more control over their own careers or direct and instant access to their fan base. Many of the traditional gatekeepers have disappeared or lost power and the (smart) artists are gaining more and more control over what will become their industry... shaped by the fan and the artist through the exchange of ideas, entertainment, and dollars between them.
If you made it this far... thanks for reading and feel free to pass along.
Chachi is an awesome dude and an awesome drummer by the way.
- Mike :-)
P.S. Yes I know many people could shoot many holes in my radio vs buy on math. Please do! I'm aware of the endless variables but at least it'd get people talking about it... the realities at least. This shouldn't be a conversation bands think is on the downlow.
P.P.S. Don't get me started on "promoters" who ask bands to sell tickets to play shows in support of a headliner that can't sell the ticket... because you know, you can say you opened for them. It's just sad... sadder because that headliner often gets paid.
Today I remind myself why I choose to do what I do for a living.
Back in 2001, I was sitting in a York University classroom with a couple dozen other wide-eyed kids buzzing with their newfound post-secondary freedom. My course was based around computer science with dashes of graphic design.
My goal was to complete the 2-year program, find a job somewhere on the US west coast in the game industry, and work my way into doing music and sound design.
I figured the gaming industry was booming, eventually overtaking Hollywood blockbuster budgets, so it’d be a safe choice. It seemed pretty obvious computers in general weren’t going away, so it was as safe as death and taxes as far as industries go.
The chair of our program knocked on the door before entering to tell us the news.
We were free to leave the class to go find a TV… nobody made the first move, so nobody did.
We were on the second day of the program and still very much trying to make a good impression on our instructors. Besides, I was pretty sure CNN would have it on loop the next week.
Later that afternoon I was back at my dorm. CNN to the left of me, my Adobe Illustrator assignment (due the next day) in front of me. I started thinking about my motivations. I wanted to finish this/these assignments so I could go audition with a band on bass guitar downtown.
Work now, so I can play later.
I thought if I had a decent paying job, I’d eventually have enough time and money to spend more time and money on music.
I liked computers but I loved music.
I started thinking about how many people in those buildings were there simply for money… how many actually loved whatever game they were playing as their career. How many were hoping to make enough money to retire comfortably or at least afford the lifestyle they wanted to live around work and sleep.
Was it the gaming industry I wanted to get into or was it actually music? Something around music/audio was the end goal after all.
I returned from the audition later that evening and messaged a couple classmates still awake on ICQ. I made an appointment with the chair of my program the next day, and shared my thoughts with him. What he said always stuck with me.
“Education isn’t going anywhere, it’ll always be around when you want to learn.”
… it was the way he said it though… it was so casual… the way you give an old friend advice from the heart.
It was so f’ing cool.
He told me he’d dropped out early on and eventually went back in his early 30’s. He said he remembered me from the entrance test (I stood out a little at the time appearance wise) and he was planning on picking on me to scare the other students since he knew I could take it.
He said whatever decision I make, I’ll do well… and that I still had a couple days to decide… before the school wouldn’t refund my tuition.
There was no pressure to stay or go. It was just a much needed 15-minute chat about life.
Leaving his office, I’d decided to weather the potential storm. I wanted to do music… I’d rather fail in music than be just another with their prized pristine condition, American made Strat or Les Paul sitting on a stand in the corner of a room… who's perfected their delivery of the line "Oh, I used to", whenever someone asks them if they play.
I could do music.
It was a lot to take in at 17.
September 11 became my "New Year’s" in a way… or I guess my anniversary to remind myself what I’m doing with my life, and what “meaningful work” means to me.
"Why aren't people taking us seriously?"
That's basically what it gets down to when I hear people grumble about why they can't find shows, or a manager, or a label, or sell cds, or merch, or get more people out to shows... or find investors. You name it, there's a good chance it falls under this umbrella.
This video might seem a little harsh at times... and you can sense the hesitation they have on certain topics (so they don't come across as assholes), but in my opinion, it's right on the money.
I've decided to do a sort of "Coles Notes" version for those who might not have the 30 minutes to watch right now. Oh by the way, I tried to setup the link to start at 6:46... the time before that is spent talking about a dog, new born babies, and poo.
So... in a short... this is why people don't take your band seriously.
... and I'm putting the headings in bold caps so the super impatient can skim through... and so you feel like you're being yelled at. I know what your hearing is like... since most of you don't wear ear plugs.. and most of you reading this are probably guitarists or drummers.
1. YOUR BAND PHOTOS AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
It's the awful, honest truth, we judge a book by its cover. Life is too short not to. Make sure you stand up to what's going on (aka considered professional) in your genre. Hiring a great photographer doesn't have to cost a fortune and that one great pic can last you a year or two.
If you look like hacks, you get treated like hacks. It might not seem original, but at least try to look like a band... as much of the time as possible. You will anyway if it becomes your career.
2. YOUR RECORDINGS AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
We've entered a stage of very affordable record production. There's a lot of misguided carobbyists (career hobbyists) who think they can produce, record, and mix their own albums... or their buddy can do it for a case of beer in his spare time. There's been a few great albums made in the past this way (often demos remixed after being shopped for a deal), but most often they fall short.
Experience, time, and talent... those are three important elements to the outcome of any creative project. When it comes to recording, rarely someone with all three is in the band or doesn't do it for a living already.
Will that change in the future?
Are we there yet?
... lol. No.
I could go on for a while about this but bottomline... do your recordings stand up to what's out there?
Don't just ask your friends and family what they think of your recordings. Actually put your best song between two successful songs on your iTunes playlist. How does it sounds? Then factor in the time/money spent, and people involved on theirs versus yours.
Does it stand up?
Do you need it to? <-- be honest
If it doesn't and it does, perhaps change your formula, and try again.
... backing up for a second... how are the songs?
3. YOUR SONGS AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
Now a good song is subjective... but... if you know your genre, and you know a few people with "great ears" within the genre, you'll know what your best songs are... and if they're in fact, good enough at all.
I've met a handful of people over the years who I think have "great ears" regarding "great songs". My old assistant Tyler, even at 17 years old, could pick out hits by new artists well before anybody else I knew. He loved discovering new tunes and has a real ear for it.
This is the #1 piece of advice for bands out there trying to do something serious with music... you can write cool songs that are self serving and please your imaginary fanbase... but you'll learn to love those "hit" songs that put you on the map... they're what can actually launch your career. It's hard to name a successful band that doesn't have a "hit" song behind them... regardless how far in the rearview mirror it is.
4. YOUR WEBSITE ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
Update it often. Constant quality content is queen these days.
There's also this misconception that simply buying your domain name and linking to your FaceBook or Reverbnation page is good enough... well it's not... and it's stupid to rely on these things in the long run.
What if they disappear overnight or fizzle out? What happens when people move on? You want these sites to feed into your main, personal website. The one you have ultimate control over. That's where you need to direct your core fans.
I use Weebly for my site... it's easy... and at least someone in your band should be able to figure it out in an afternoon... if not, you've gotta know at least someone who can help you.
I'm gonna go out on a limb though and say a weebly site is better than majority of the dated and clunky sites I see built by friends and family. Keep it simple and don't pad your content if you have nothing to talk about in your bio... nobody needs to read 37 paragraphs about a band that hasn't done anything worth mentioning.
You need three paragraphs basically... who are you, what have you done, where are you going. Your blog/YouTube/Twitter updates are for what you're doing.
5. YOU DON'T TAKE YOURSELF SERIOUSLY.
So many bands play the "we just want to get together in the jamspace and see what happens... it's just for fun... if it goes somewhere, cool" card. Well... as long as you know it's just for fun, have fun! My men's league hockey is just for fun... despite all its glorious moments (W 3-0 yesterday, 1 G) I ramble on about to friends and family.
If that's your attitude, it'll go nowhere... or the people in the band that want it to go somewhere will eventually dump the rest of the band once they find better people to work with.
Lots of successful bands are a collective of what I call "heavy lifters". The ones who get sh*t done... or at least don't make things more difficult for the ones getting things done.
The successful in any industry are hardcore lifers. If you want to do something that's hard, you have to make your goal not to simply "accomplish it", but to see it through... it's the difference between having a kid and raising one... since there's no real end goal if you're in it for the right reasons.
P.S. It was a garbage goal... but that isn't what they mark on the gamesheet. :-)
For the record… no pun intended… I'm on Team Grohl.
I agree 100% with the idea that musicianship should be viewed not only as an art form, but a discipline. As musicians, or creatives in general, we're always striving to be better… and despite how good we are, we'll always hear or see someone better than us, that makes us smile and inspires us to keep learning.
With that out of the way… I haven't seen Sound City yet. I've heard mixed reviews from "It's amazing! It'll change the way you feel about recording… Dave Grohl is a genius!!!" to "It's basically a 2 hour promo for Dave Grohl to start producing albums… oh, and he's also got a boner for some recording console."
I'm cool with the overview my friends have passed along… which is sorta why I haven't watched it yet.
One thing that's evolved from Sound City, is this current movement Dave's spreading about keeping things raw… you know… just getting in the jam space, hacking out some songs, playing loud, and keeping it real! Play from the heart! That's the way it should be! Just go! Just hit record, giv'er, and go!
That's cool Dave… but there's a lot of bands out there who now have this idea that whatever they come up with, if they care about it enough, and work from the heart, it'll get noticed, and should do well. That "keeping it real" is better than that overproduced, co-written (or worse, pro-written) Nickelback garbage on the radio.
Over the last year, there's absolutely been an increase in bands choosing to shy away from production, having no idea what the word actually means.
'Production' - It's basically hair, make up, and lighting for your recording.
Yes, it can be overdone… but typically "overproduced" is the result of someone who doesn't know how to use the tools, and/or abused them and/or chose the wrong production style for the song altogether.
Recording to 2" tape involves its own style of production and if you don't know what you're doing, there's a good chance you'll throw it in the weeds. The right amount of cleaning up and complimentary production style is what separates pro from demo… or worse… the insanely expensive professionally recorded demo. There's an analog equivalent to most of the "studio magic" we can do in digital these days. We can simply do it much quicker in the digital realm. Use the technology as a tool, not a crutch.
Even with Dave swingin' from the rafters shouting "we didn't use Pro Tools! We didn't edit anything! We recorded on tape! We kept it real!!!" There's still a couple crucial things to keep in mind... besides the talent level and experience of the people involved on that last album.
Foo Fighters has done really well. They played by whatever set of rules applied at the beginning of their career and now they can afford to do whatever they want. Foo Fighters have a lot of value. Dave's already made his money.
…a similar case could be made with Radiohead releasing the first really talked about "name your price" album and Beyonce's recently released "overnight, zero promotion, iTunes video album"… these are established artists. They already have a fan base… arguably more to lose if they mess up but more to lose means you had something to start with… again, they've already made their money… and they can still fall back on their old hits if need be.
Back to Foo Fighters… I can remember my brother commenting on how much better The Colour And The Shape (1997) sounded than their debut album (1995). I would've been 13 years old at the time… and I heard the difference in production. But it not only sounded better… it had more, "good" songs.
They say you learn the rules so you can break them. That's this in the real world.
… what a great lead up to my last point about Grohlology!
"because the deep [album] cuts don't keep the mansion running."
I was trying to find the quote I read a while ago where Dave basically said "I only record songs I think are hits… there's no point in recording anything else."
This should kinda feel like a gut punch to a lot bands out there waving Grohlology flags.
Does that mean you shouldn't record those other songs anyway?
... even though they might not be hits?
I still believe if it resonates with you, there's a good chance it will with others. But when Dave says "don't bore us, get to the chorus", and encourages bands to shove their idea in pop structure to start… I'm laughing on the inside when a band waves the Grohlology flag in my face and argues boring pop structure... meanwhile they can't even identify their own chorus… yet they're thinking their song should be a single… and should get them noticed... and help get them signed... and should be able to get on the radio... because it's that good. It's that much better than all the crap that gets played on the radio these days.
I encourage people to read the article above or at least check out the video that's included.
Just to clear things up, yes, lots of music out there is not aimed at radio and is quite successful despite never having a "hit". Music needs to resonate and I think that's what we all love about Dave… regardless what he's doing in music, he radiates the passion... he's giving 100%… or I guess 1 Dave Grohl Unit. Just don't confuse passion and hard work with a ticket for attention and riches. Dave's done well because he came from a great band in a booming pop culture trend that *cough* figured out how to write a hit *cough*, and then went on to figure out the formula to start writing hits for Foo Fighters.
… anybody want to tally up the similarities between Foo Fighter and Nickleback songs… err hit songs?
- Mike :-)
... so I've sat down a couple times over the past week trying to write. Things really picked up before the holidays at the studio... which is rare. December is usually dead once everybody realizes Christmas is around the corner... and their Visa bill is just up the road. An influx of mix projects and a couple EP's have kept me occupied. It takes a while to write sometimes... especially once I get going.
My original plan was to go over some of the things I learned the past year... instead of simply listing the highs and lows. I feel that's what really matters when you look back... regardless of how it worked out, what'd we learn?
I had a list of 13 things I learned in 2013... after reading through it... it was a whole lotta blog... and if I posted it as-is, I doubt anybody would read through it all... and you'd be mad at me for getting blog all over your floor.
I'm not joking. It was long.
... so I've decided to split it up in to individual posts... even at one a week, that gives me 3 months of posts. One of my goals this year is more frequent posts... I do get a lot of compliments on them, and I'm doing my best to make more time for them.
Also, I'd like to talk more about current events as they cross my mind. I often think about stuff on the way to and from the studio... I'm going to try and write whenever inspirado strikes.
... for the time being though... what's the most important thing I learned in 2013?
Well... the order is people, places, and things... always. If you surround yourself with good people who appreciate you, what you do, and why you do it... life is pretty sweet!
I had no intentions of playing in a band again, but I had a blast playing this year because the people involved made it fun. The best projects I worked on last year were also the most fun because of the people involved. The hockey teams I play on are fun because of the people involved... not work but you get the point.
I can almost assure you, if there's any part of your waking life that seems to be a grind and you're asking yourself "why do I even bother...?" Look at the people involved... chances are you might be in the wrong room.
There's that saying... "Never make someone a priority, when all you are is an option." That's the wrong room in a nutshell.
This is an industry built on relationships... it is a business, but you can't starve your friends, and shortchange your family. It's a slower build for those who at least try and keep their hands clean... but in 10 years I've seen how a couple dick moves can catch up to you.
I reached out and talked to around dozen established/successful engineers, mixers, and producers last year about what steps I should be taking next in my career.
First off, they're awesome for taking the time to chat with me... I was a stranger to most of them... I was a little surprised they got back to me and set aside the time. I think I'm doing well but I know the feeling when things start to plateau... this is probably the 4th time in my career which means it's time to change it up a bit, try some new things, and take on some new risks.
The thing that became surprisingly consistent after talking to 3 or 4 people... all older than me mind you... most have been looking for, or at least considering an exit strategy from the business. They have families, houses, other interests/hobbies, records on the walls and awards on the mantel... genuine smiles on their faces... they love the craft and they love music!
... but feeling used and abused, often unappreciated, lowballed on budgets, and ground up by favor after favor... merely an option... we're all just button pushers right? Sitting in front of a computer... just hit 'go'... how hard can it be? The hardware is cheap and the software is free! Have you heard some of the records kids are making these days??
Most people don't know how important creating music is to us. They don't understand the real process... the real amount of time we spend and have spent learning the craft, the real cost involved running our studios... the real toll it has on our personal lives. They don't know how much we beat ourselves up over the tiniest details nobody will notice... and how hard we try to please everyone. For every "problem" someone heroically points out, we've probably already put out 20 fires.
We know we're good at what we do... I know I'm good at what I do... it was just a bit of a shock to hear so many people, with 15-20 years in the business, credits and accolades out the wazoo... talk about feeling unappreciated... and asking themselves why they bother sometimes.
... so now they typically only take on projects they really want to... fun first, money second... they like the people they're working with and those people like them... or... the money was way too good to pass up.
The smart ones understand the difference between cost and value... and they know the value someone can bring to a project... that's what they're paying for... the person.
It seems pretty obvious when you think about it... but I'm glad I can pick my projects for the most part... and I'm thankful of the amount of projects that pick me. I've never had a problem working with the people who want to work with me. Despite a gap in studio projects this year because of touring, I can look back and know most of my year was spent with good people who appreciate me and what I do.
I hope everyone has a great start to 2014 and can carry that momentum throughout. Take some risks, meet some people, set some goals and do your best to follow through on them. Release consistent, quality content. That's the key. We're all going to fail a bunch trying new things... and that's what makes every victory, big or small, so much sweeter.
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
#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.
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!