How to stretch your recording budget and get more for your money

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Home Recording Tips for Musicians[This post was written by guest contributor Dave Kusek of New Artist Model.]

Budgeting is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of planning for a new album or project. Compared to all attention you give to writing, recording, and marketing, budgeting can sometimes be overlooked entirely or hastily done. It’s just not as exciting as all the creative vision you may have for your next project, or the actual process of writing and recording. However, good planning may mean that more of your creative vision and ideas could become a reality!

If you don’t plan your budget out in advanced you will almost always overspend, taking away from the money you could have used to tour after the release, make a really great music video, get new band photos taken, or a myriad of other things you can spend your money on. And you will have no way of looking back to see if you were on track with your budget and how you can do better next time.

So before you jump into recording your next album or EP, whether this is your first or tenth, here are some tips to budgeting and managing your expenses.

What ARE your expenses?

The first step is determining exactly what your expenses will be. You want to be as specific as possible here – research will be your best friend. Don’t just make educated guesses about what you think the numbers may be. Go to the studio’s website, find alternatives and price them out, get quotes from different vendors, like different artists for your album artwork or different duplicators or packagers.

What are the big categories of expenses that you might encounter?

* pre-recording (writing, arranging, rehearsal)

* recording (session players, gear rental, studio costs)

* post-recording costs (mixing, mastering, duplication costs, artwork, marketing)

Make a spreadsheet to summarize these categories and you will have yourself a starting budget.

Your pre-recording expenses include anything to do with writing and rehearsing the new songs. Do you need to rent rehearsal space to practice with the band before you go into the studio? Do you need to bring in an arranger to write parts for violins, horns, or any other instrument you’re not familiar with? Do you need to pay a friend or session musician for their time writing and rehearsing? Don’t forget about any travel expenses you may have to and from the rehearsal studio.

Recording expenses are pretty straightforward. These include studio time, instrument rental, payment to session musicians, and producer and engineer fees. If this is your first album or EP you may be recording a lot of it on your computer, so your expenses won’t be very high. Post recording costs include mixing and mastering, CD duplication if you’re going the physical route, digital distribution, album artwork, and marketing.

The best thing you can do is to take that budget spreadsheet I mentioned earlier and track all your album-related expenses. In the first column, list all your expenses. Try to split them up into different blocks depending on your categories, such as pre-recording expenses coming first, followed by recording, and post-recording expenses last.

Cut your costs

Once you have all your expenses laid out in front of you it’s much easier to figure out where you can cut back. Take a look at the money you have available and determine exactly how much you can use for recording. If the expenses you just laid out exceed this number, it’s time to cut back! That is the beauty of having a budget to look at. You can always see what you might spend ahead of time, and look at the big picture and make decisions based on how much money you can invest and how big your vision is. This is the time to get realistic.

Adequate rehearsal will definitely help cut down studio time, and rehearsal spaces tend to be cheaper (or free if you rehearse in your garage) than studio time. In the end, you should be able to get the takes quicker and therefore have to spend less time (and money) in the studio. Depending on the studio, you may also be able to record during non-peak hours – usually midnight to early morning – to get a lower rate.  Negotiate with the owner to get the best deal you can. It always pays to have more than one choice so you can see what the going rates are in your area and decide what you can afford.

Do as much as you can yourself

Record anything you can at home on the computer or your DAW. The software and recording gear we have these days is very affordable and everything is getting cheaper and more powerful each year. Tracks that aren’t as significant to the sound of the song might be recorded at home after you lay the main tracks down in the studio. But bands like Pomplamoose have shown us that you can get a really great quality recording in a makeshift home studio with relatively inexpensive gear.

Use any other talents you may have to cut back costs. If you have some art or photography skills, put them to good use and design your own album cover! Or ask a friend to help you. Scott Hansen of Tycho uses his graphic design skills to create his live show’s video production and artwork. If you took some classes on record engineering, you may not need an engineer or you could record more at home. If you’re a multi-instrumentalist, you may not need to hire session musicians to play other parts or lay down other tracks. Anything you can do by yourself, or with a friend, or as barter for something you can do for them will save you money.

Tap your network for help

At any point in the recording process, having friends or people in your network who would be willing to help you out is huge – and they may be able to give you a pretty big discount. However, keep in mind this is a two-way street. Make sure you do things for them as well or they may not be so willing to do you a favor in the future. Producers, engineers, artists, photographers, graphic designers and other musicians are all great people to forge relationships with and cross-pollinate. If you don’t have these people in your network, try connecting with other local bands and build your relationships – your friends may know some local artists or producers who may be willing to help you out.

Of course, in addition to these, there are more ways strategies you can use to release a great album on a budget. In the New Artist Model online music business courses you’ll discover how to turn your music into a successful business – a business where you’re the CEO! You’ll create an actionable and personalized plan that will help you achieve a sustainable career in music, and you’ll be able to do it all with the resources you have available right now.

If you’d like to learn even more great strategies from the New Artist Model music business courses, download these two free ebooks. You’ll learn how to think of your music career as a business and get some great marketing, publishing, and recording strategies for free!

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  • Great post! And nowadays the equipment you need to make great recordings have become very inexpensive. With a little know-how you can make great recordings out of your living room.
    You don’t have to go to a studio and pay for that to record. There are benefits with that, which I won’t go into here. But I’ve heard grammy nominated albums recorded in places that aren’t recording studios.

    And, try to not blow my own horn here to much ;), if your a independent artist and would like to have real musicians to play on a couple of tracks or so. There are great people around the internet that does remote sessions, and send the files to you. You don’t have to pay for a whole day in studio and schedule so that all the musicians are available that day for the recording of your songs. I do remote drum sessions a lot and I know, bass players, guitar players and even vocalists that does this kind of thing to.

    But the big thing about how to get it all down on a tight budget is planning! With out a plan you could end up paying 10 fold for things that could have been sorted if you only sat down and planned it.

  • Good thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

    @ChrisRobley