Frequently people ask me ‘How much does it cost to make a CD?’ I usually whip out a copy of Frank’s quote and start there.
Picture a triangle – quality, time, price. You can choose two of these corners.
- If you want it to be good and quick, it ain’t gonna be cheap.
- If you want it to be quick and cheap, it ain’t gonna be good.
- If you want it to be cheap and good, it ain’t gonna be quick.
Frank Zappa (studio door sign)
Option 1: Good and quick, not cheap. In the world of producing music there are steps in the process that cannot be eliminated. Each step costs time and money. In order for the project to be good, you’ll need the very best crew and if you want them to work within your schedule, you will pay their top rate. If the project happens to be last minute, costs will accelerate for transportation, accommodation, studio time, engineers, and assistants. But, sometimes this is the only way to get a project done, if, for instance, a popular producer is hired and/or the project has a deadline.
To do an album quick, the studio has to be block booked. this means that the studio board and mic placement will be left at your settings until the end of the project.
Since the studio cannot tamper with your set up, the studio cannot book other artists. They would adjust settings or mess with your mics. Obviously, for you, it’s preferable to start each day with a confirmed set up. You don’t lose time or continuity. However, you’ll end up paying a premium because otherwise the studio loses money.
Option 2: Quick and cheap, not good. Many artists foolishly attempt to record for pennies expecting to get good results. If their CD sucks, typically they blame the studio, the gear or the engineer. Unfortunately, those who enter into a project with no producer, no arrangements, no rehearsals – no preproduction – should expect shoddy results. Artists say they will self produce, deluding themselves into believing that their ‘best guess’ is as valid as the decision of an experienced producer. Amazingly, they are astounded when their session doesn’t work out, even if they’ve never made a record before. Their arrogance dooms them to failure.
Production is a creative and scientific process. It can deliver predictable results. You may have creative notions but you won’t be able to translate them without the science. Enter the veteran producer.
Option 3: Cheap and good, not quick. There are ways to reduce the cost of making a CD and still get an excellent product. Often recording studios post a lower rate for their ‘off hours,’ for example, 12 midnight until 8 AM, Monday to Thursday. True, the available engineers for these time periods may not be the most skilled, but a prepared producer knows how to maximize the talents of inexperienced engineers and musicians. Studio costs are exorbitant and any reduction in the hourly rate will save big time.
Consider using the expensive studio (with better equipment, room, mics, board, etc.) when recording the bed tracks and retreat to a smaller modest facility for doing overdubs.
Keep your song arrangements simple. Fewer instruments mean lower costs when recording and mixing. Take counsel from experienced studio guy and pay for it, if necessary. Veterans know how to cut corners and yet achieve excellent results.
We’ve all heard the stories about the band that made an amazing CD for five hundred bucks – and the CD did well on the charts. I’m sure such a thing exists out there … somewhere. But in Canada a quality recording will cost between twenty and fifty thousand dollars. I’m an experienced record producer, songwriter, engineer, and studio musician, I own a recording studio yet I can’t do it for myself (or by myself) for less.
In the end, asking how much making a CD costs is like asking how much it costs to buy a car. It could be $1,000 … It could be $60,000. In both instances, you get a car. But I’m reckoning the 60 thousand dollar car will most likely be a better vehicle. And so it goes with CDs. Somewhere in the middle is where you’ll find your answer.
A better question is, “How much is my career worth and how hard am I willing to work at it?”
Until next time, let’s strap on our best ears and above all have fun.
(Gerry Griffin is a veteran producer, songwriter and musician who can be found hunched over the console in his custom built analogue and digital studio. Renegade Music is located on the shores of Lac McGregor in Val-des-Monts, Quebec. Gerry can be reached through his web site at www.gerrygriffinmusic.com