Published 06/9/2015

By Jennie Flannery

Before recording an album, I never really thought about all that went into the making of one. I was definitely a LimeWire fan, and had the attitude of “why buy when I can download for free, or borrow a friend’s and burn it?”

I’ve done a 180-degree turn on that kind of thinking, and I’ll tell you why.

Just to write songs, or play an instrument proficiently enough to draw an audience, can take many years of hard work and dedication. That doesn’t include hours and hours of listening to various artists and styles of music in your selected genre to soak up your influences. Then, you need to work at being creative, becoming a musician with your own personal style and take on the music.

Creating original songs requires time and heart, as an expression of yourself and your individuality as a musician. You want, and need, to be unique as a songwriter in order to set yourself apart from all the others out there.

You also have to spend time and money getting out there to perform, and get a feel for what people are, or aren’t, enjoying about your music. You need to learn to feel comfortable in any situation onstage, with or without any distractions, and how to appeal to any audience.

When it’s time to record, you have to do the research to determine who’ll produce your recording, and which songs you’ll perform.

If you play solo, you’ll likely have to find players to accompany you on your recording. That requires more time and effort, talking with or e-mailing fellow musicians and figuring out who’ll do the best job with your songs and playing style. You have to arrange some rehearsal time and figure out the arrangements of the music. So as not to waste time in the studio, you have to spend lots of time rehearsing the songs until they’re as close to perfect as they can be. That takes a couple of days, and whatever the musicians charge to rehearse with you.

You have to choose a recording studio in your area, which involves more time, effort and research. You’ll likely have to spend money on musical “incidentals.” Like, say, piano tuning –  $100. Renting just the right mic for your sound — $150.

Now you begin recording. Even at a small, independent studio, owned by a friendly producer, that’s at least $50 an hour, and usually an eight-hour day, so $400 a day. And you have to pay the musicians again for their time, which also usually runs $50 an hour – each.

And in addition to the hours of recording, unless it’s a raw, live-off-the-floor “feel” you want, you’ll spend a lot of hours mixing – like splicing the intro from take two with the first verse from take four, and the chorus from take seven. Or making the sure the volume level of the guitar solo is properly balanced with all of the other instruments. Sometimes this process requires a mixer, who costs as much as a producer.

If you’re recording an album, you also need to spend more time, effort and research listening to all the tracks and figuring out some kind of order for them. You could put all your best stuff first, to appeal to radio and media, because they might only listen to the first few songs. But then you lose a balance of your strongest tracks throughout. You can listen over and over, continually switching up the order, listening for how each track ends and leads into the next track. Do the keys work together? Is a crazy fast track best followed by a slower track?

Then comes the mastering process, which usually comes in around the $1,000 mark. The disc is sent to the most recommended but still affordable mastering person you can find, to compress the music to give it an even overall sound. Now, you need to give it a final listen to hear what he or she’s done with the mastering. Sometimes there’s some back-and-forth here, and each set of fixes costs more.

For an album, at some point during the recording process, the graphics need to be done for the front and back covers and the insert. You need to hire a photographer for a photo shoot, and hire a graphic artist to design the cover and insert. You need to write out whatever information you want to include with the music. You’ll be reviewing layouts, colours, fonts, and so on. More time and money spent.

If you’re covering anybody else’s songs, you have to research the songwriters, and file the correct forms and pay the right mechanical royalty fees to the CMRRA in order to manufacture your albums, and find out if any need any other licenses, or permission to use. More time and money spent there.

If you want your album to gain some media traction, you’ll likely have to hire a publicist, who’ll write a bio, press release, send out your music to the media, and work to get your music coverage in newspapers, on the radio, on television, and on blogs and social media. You’re looking at about $500, minimum.

If you’re manufacturing CDs or vinyl, you can do a minimum run of 500, but you’re looking at about $2,000 at the very least. But about 300 of those copies are for publicity purposes, so you can’t sell those to recoup.

As you can see, it’s a small fortune – about $10,000 – to record and release an album. Even offset by crowdfunding, it’s likely you’ll still have to spend about $5,000 or so to get it done.

So next time you hear some music that you love, I urge you to give the music creator the credit and respect they deserve for all the hard work they’ve put into becoming the musician that they are, and the recording they’ve made. Buying their music gets them out of the hole financially, and supports their career, which is especially true for a small-scale, independent artist.

Free downloads are really a means of stealing from the artist. Burning CDs is actually illegal, and disrespectful of a music creator’s hard work. No artist could continue providing their music to the public if they’re not being paid for it. Would you provide your own handmade goods or services for free? No. And neither should music creators.