How Much Should My Record Cost?

Bryan Kotsher. Taller Tales.

You’re broke. You know how I know that? Cause you’re a professional musician. We’re not doing it for the money, though it would certainly be nice. From advertising and promotion to merchandise and public relations, there’s really no end to the amount of money you can spend trying to “make it,” whatever “making it” looks like to you.

But none of it matters if you don’t have quality recordings of your music. Music is your product. It’s the whole reason you’re doing this and it’s the number one thing you should NOT cut corners on. That being said, you should be purposeful with the way you approach your recordings. Just because you can spend money doesn’t always mean you should.

Here’s an example.

A while back I played a coffee shop set with a local musician who had just recorded his debut record. I didn’t know much about production at the time so I asked him how much it cost for him to record his ten song record. His answer?

$25,000.

...Wait, what?

Now, recording rates can fluctuate in the extremes, but in my experience you can get a radio ready recording for about $500-1000 per song at a local professional studio. Let’s go high end and say $1000 a song for ten songs. $1000 per song generally should mean you’re working with a verteran producer or mix engineer who has a stunning portfolio.

Ten songs.

$10,000.

So what made his record $15,000 more valuable? He told me it was because he got an incredibly famous rock band’s keyboardist, a rock band you would 100% recognize, to play on his record. Now, when you have money you can spend it on whatever you want, that’s the beauty of money. However, when was the last time you listened to a record and thought, “Oh, I recognize that keyboardist?”

Never?

Yeah, never.

The point of this story is not to chastise this musician who was very proud of his investment and there is something to be said for that. It’s to illustrate the point that recording costs can get wildly out of hand very quickly and you need to know what’s important and what isn’t. Is it cool to get a famous guitarist, drummer, or keyboardist on your indie record? Sure. But it’s not going to make your songs better. And you sure as hell aren’t going to be around every time someone spins your record to go *nudge nudge* “That’s the flute player from Marshall Tucker Band.”

This is the age of home studios where artists like Billie Eilish can crank out hits on a Macbook from their bedroom. You don’t need fancy gear and you don’t need a million dollar studio space to create great records anymore. When choosing where to record your record, the where is actually the least important factor. It’s about who you’re recording with. What you should be paying for is the trusted vision and sonic fingerprint of a particular producer or engineer. That is what makes a worthwhile investment. Doing your research and choosing a producer who you think will best bring your vision to life.

Here’s an example and also a shameless plug for a local producer I have great respect for. I have a home studio myself and produce a number of tracks for my band Taller Tales. The songs sound great and are recorded well in the comfort of my cold ass basement. We could have done the entire EP in-home for literally nothing, but we chose to go to Buzzlounge Studios and work with Eric Taft on a number of the tracks. The reason why is exactly what we just covered, we trusted his vision as a producer to bring out the best in those particular songs in a way that we couldn’t. And that is always worth the investment.

At the end of the day, your record should cost as much as you value the people bringing it to life. Nothing else matters. No one is going to remember that you had Neil Peart’s brother play hand chimes on your single. But they will remember a great song recorded well and presented with a clear vision.

Go look up some producers in your area and listen to their portfolio. Don’t get lost going through their gallery of high def pictures of their mixing console or their towers of outboard gear. Listen to the music. That’ll tell you all you need to know.