"... so you wanna make a record?"
Originally, I planned to do this as a single post, but I think it'd be better spread out across a few parts. There's always a who, what, why, and how involved in the decision making process... so when it comes to recording, the question we have to ask ourselves is why do we need to record in the first place?
Is it to get our newest, strongest song released?
Do we need an EP to keep our fans interested and help spread the word?
Are we going full out and want an album to help set us apart from the "for funs" releasing an EP every 3 years?
Budget, process, and the overall end product are things to consider... professional recordings cost money and should be treated as investments... unless your band is truly hobbyist and just for fun... in which case... do whatever you feel like... and feel like spending.
While these opinions are my own, I do my best to share an unbiased view between my side of the glass and the artists. So let's get started...
This is the cheapest of the 3 to record... usually. Typically bands who aim to record a single use it as a promotional tool while gearing up for an album or EP... and sometimes it's just a way to feel like they're being productive while they wander around deciding what their next move is. Singles are also great for special occasions or genres that have a heavy emphasis on radio markets/promotion. Intentions aside, it can help buy some time between releases or hype up the next one. Considering we're in a "singles driven market", in most cases, it's good to release material more frequently than larger releases with longer gaps between.
Singles typically take 1-3 days to record/mix and I've had singles recorded and up on iTunes in roughly a week. Budgets can run anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand.
Financially speaking this is not the most efficient way of recording, especially if you are planning on releasing a full length album or an EP. For bands, things like drum sounds and guitar tones can vary quite a bit from session to session... so you can imagine how disjointed an album might feel if it's recorded and assembled this way.
Even if bands are wanting to do just one song, I always encourage recording a few more drum tracks if they can... they might as well since they're set up and ready to go anyway. Same goes for better demos if you're tracking guide/ghost/scratch tracks "live off the floor". Take a couple passes at some other tunes while you're set up. I'm sure the engineer won't mind and it should only take an extra hour or two to do a quick mix down of the additional songs.
Back on the topic of money for a minute... singles are hard to sell, especially off stage. Fans typically won't by a download/dropcard... don't even get me started on these stupid things. It's better to give potential fans a link for a free download of your new song than try and squeeze them for a buck. You want the exposure and for them to share your music with their friends. Don't make it harder than it already is... the $1 now isn't worth it. Places like iTunes/Bandcamp are a different story though. Direct your fans there. Put it up, keep working, and see what happens. The songs are there if people want them... and you'll be surprised how many people will support you if you make things easily available.
Currently, these are a popular choice for many reasons... the biggest seems to be budget related. It'll typically cost a few thousand to record a professional EP and expect be in the studio 0.5-3/song to record, edit, and mix. Most bands will have to save up and/or find some funding, but most can swing this budget.
... bands will often refer to their "EP" as an "album". Deep down they want to do an album, but they feel they just can't afford it... sometimes it's because they don't have enough songs... but usually it's a financial thing.
EP's are a fan favorite, especially for up and coming bands. People are busy these days, and there's so much music coming out, so 3-5 songs are a nice bite size version of what a band/artist has to offer.
Releasing a couple EP's over 12-18 month cycle can take the place of releasing 1 album or in a crazy way, 10-12 singles. I also feel there's an advantage in releasing 2 EP's over an album I like to refer to as the "evolutionary advantage".
You get to refine and redefine yourself with each release so why not always try and put your best foot forward a couple of times instead of waiting on "more songs" to fill out an album? Unless you're pumping out albums often, EP's can help you discover your sound and more importantly, what's reacting with fans. Coming into your stride sooner than later is important... this is good way to see what people can't get enough of.
Recordings should feel like a snapshot of where we're at creatively. How many times are you excited about your new songs... only to dread playing them 6 months later?. Record those tunes when you've got the zip in your step. That energy will translate.
On the money ti, EP's can be sold off stage ($5-$7 or a $1/song+$2 for packaging)... but again, I'd be generous with them. You want to build a fan base, and you aren't devaluing your music if you offer it to someone who's interested as a gift. Who doesn't like gifts? People will most likely offer to buy at shows and online if they are sincerely interested anyway.
Ah yes... the album. This is the coveted prize for most who wish to enter the studio. We all grew up listening to albums... I think it's easier to name our favorite albums than our favorite songs come to think of it... and if you agree with me, chances are you weren't born in or after the 90's.
I'd like to say albums are expensive... because they are... but really they are more affordable to create than ever on a pro level thanks to technology. The costs can literally range from a $1,000 to $100,000+... especially once you factor in everything (and everyone) necessary to create a project on this scale. For the most part, if you skimp on budget, you'll have a full length demo. Sure you can tell your friends you have an album (how much they'll actually care at this point considering you've been telling them about it for the better part of a year now I don't know), but it'll probably suck if you cheap out.
If you feel like recording an album will be a stretch financially, do an ep. It's as simple as that. If you want to do an album, but can't afford one, but decide to do it anyway, it tells people you're an amateur, it's a vanity project, you couldn't find anybody to invest in your music (business) or weren't willing to fully invest in it yourself. Approach an album budget with an open mind and understand where the money is being spent. Understand and negotiate. These are investments so treat them as such. Do your homework and adjust your expectations accordingly.
Speaking of money, you can sell these off stage and online easily... granted it's good... it is good right? Commercially viable is the name of the game and 60 minutes is a long time to listen to someone tell you how much they've impressed themselves... and tried their best.
Actually off stage it doesn't matter if it's good. You've already got their money if you wow'd them with your live show. They might not share the album with their friends though... and you might get the infamous "they're better live!" review. That means your album sucked.
Sale wise, this is the biggest bang for the buck since you'll be pulling in $10-$12 a disk at shows and $7ish a copy online... where you have to do very little work past the point of sale I might add.
That being said, it'll probably cost the most to create overall so there's more expenses to recoup.
That too being said, this is an investment piece. The idea is to not just have the album available for sale for 2 months after it's released, but theoretically the next... well... forever. It tells everyone you've made the ultimate recording commitment to your music and it's meant to be share with your core fans.
That also being said too, there's something to be said about your album getting shared at a "torrent" level. Despite the amount you've spent creating it, that's the goal!
The goal is for people to steal it?
Because it means it's good and the demand is there for the music! Good enough people want it, and good enough someone decided to make it available for people to find it for free. Don't get mad though, it's for the best... and it's how the system works these days. Again, big picture. The exposure is what you're after... build your brand, build the buzz, build your fan base, maintain your fan base, maintain your brand.
Also keep in mind, just because there's a demand for your music, doesn't mean there's the same demand for the band/artist. You still have work to do, but a great album is a way to open some doors.
Expect to be in the studio actually recording anywhere from a week to a couple months.
Avoid spending 6+ months making your album. These days it just isn't necessary to spend that long recording and you'll annoy your friends and family by constantly talking about it. This is one of the big problems with "my buddy will do it" budgets. They typically take forever to complete because your buddy has a day job... and doesn't really care about your band that much... since it's not paying the bills and they most likely have no reputation at stake. That's the truth.
Also, factor in the time necessary for pre-production, planning, plus additional mix and mastering tweaks.
Plan, plan, plan! That's my biggest piece of advice if you want to record an album.
... and don't get all bitchy when you feel like nobody cares about the album you spent 18 months recording, 8 days after it's released. Move onto the next, it's going to take time for it to get shared if it's a solid album anyway.
The short answer... EP.
I think most low to mid exposure bands and artists should consider releasing 3-5 songs in groups at least every 18 months.
Mainly to have something to talk about online constantly, build up their catalog, and also help refine their sound quicker. It will encourage you to keep writing/co-writing. Your live show will get stronger since you'll be forced to weed out the weaker material, plus you'll have a better idea what your growing fan base is leaning towards sonically and style wise.
You don't always have to press/manufacture your releases... especially in the beginning. The amount of money it costs to press up a cd versus have it online for people is a no brainer. Sure your buddy wants to buy a cd to support your band... so tell them to get it off iTunes or band camp. Tell them to come to shows and bring a friend.
Those 100 copies out of 1,000 you'll sell over the year isn't worth it. Take orders if it's that important to get physical copies made and press them up once those pre-sales cover the costs. Nobody will hate you for making them wait... unless they really have that little going on in their life.
Stay tuned for Part 2 which will deal with budgets. Making sense of real world numbers. How to plan, budget, and afford quality recordings these days.
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!