What It Costs to Make a CD

Most music lovers have no idea what it costs to record music and make it available for you to beg, buy, borrow or steal. Most artists and record companies keep this information confidential. But with all the debates going on today about free downloads, I thought I would share what it cost me to make my album Misfit.

For independent artists such as myself, the artist must pay all the costs of recording, mixing, mastering, reproducing and promoting the record. If an artist is signed by a record company, the record company incurs all the costs. (However, the record company deducts those costs before paying the artist; you must sell a certain number of records before you get paid. So even the signed artist ends up paying.)

You can make a record for less money than Misfit. My first record, Some Songs That I Wrote, was done by myself at home, so all I paid was the CD replication cost. My second record, Me, was made at a less expensive studio, without a producer, and with minimal instrumentation.

You can also spend more money on an album than Misfit. A lot more. Go to one of the top studios in L.A., New York or Nashville, hire one of the top producers, and you will pay several times the cost of “Misfit”. I would estimate that “Misfit” ranks about in the middle, or average, in terms of cost. That’s why I’m using it as an example.

One area where Misfit cost less than average was the musician fees.  My producer, John McVey, generously donated his time on electric guitar and backing vocals.

One area where Misfit cost more than average was on the artwork.  It was my hope that providing some truly fantastic visual art would encourage sales of the physical CD.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked out– at least after one year– as you will see.

A reader might question my expenditures on Promotion.  My thinking at the time was, what’s the point of spending this much money on making a record, if I don’t promote it beyond the fans on my email list?  So I hired professional agencies to promote it– get reviews and radio play.  Whether or not I went about it the right way, and whether the cost was worth it is, of course, debatable.

Here are the numbers:

Studio time: $ 10,775
Producer/Recording Engineer Fees: $ 1,020
Musicians: $ 4,100
Mixing and Mastering:
Studio Time: $3,230
Mix Engineer: $ 825
Mastering: 1,347.44
Sub-total Recording, Mixing, Mastering: $ 21,297.44

CD Package Production, 1000 copies:
Artwork Design: $ 1,500
Printing: $ 2,433.50
Replication: $ 469.84
Assembly: $ 2,350.00
Sub-total CD Artwork and Replication 1000 copies: $ 6,753.34

Other Costs:
Copyright fee: $ 35
Songwriter Royalties first 1000: $ 200

Sub-total Cost to Produce 1000 CD’s: $ 24,352.28

Media Reviews:
Agency Fee: $ 1,459.60
CD Shipping Costs: $ 44.99
Radio Promotion:
Agency Fee: $ 2,400
CD Shipping Costs: $ 102.42

Sub-total Promotion Cost: $ 4,007.01

Total Cost to Make and Promote Misfit: $ 32,292.79
Contributions from Fans: $1,995.00
Investment by the Artist (me): $30,297.79

So what about sales? Have I made money? Was the $30,000 investment worth it? Let’s see:

Total Cost to the Artist (me): $30,297.79
CD Sales and Downloads 1 year after release: $708.41
Profit (Loss) One Year after Release: ($29,589.38) (Loss)

If you’re curious how I could afford to spend over $30,000 of my own money to make a record: During 2009-2010, I was forced to work a lot of overtime for my day job, working 75-100 hour workweeks every 4th or 5th week, sometimes only getting 2-3 hours of sleep two or three nights in a row. The work wasn’t fun. But I got paid time-and-a-half for that overtime. That, plus the money I had been saving the for two or three years prior, is what I used to make this record. Since that time, things have changed on that job and I haven’t had to work that much overtime. It’s better for my physical and mental health. But I won’t have the money to be able to make another album like Misfit.

Moral of the Story:

Don’t pay for my music because you feel sorry for me. I made the choice to spend that money on my own free will. You are under no obligation to help me out.

But…if you like someone’s music, please support them by buying their CD. If you prefer to listen to mp3’s on your computer, ipod or phone, please pay for downloads. Sure, you can find a way to get the music for free, but we artists have invested a lot of our own money–in my case, working a lot of overtime– to make music for you to hear. So if the music does something for you, please donate to the cause. I mean, we’re talking the cost of 2 or 3 beers for a CD; we’re not asking for an arm and a leg.

But let me clarify one thing– for those of you who have paid for my CD or download, I have no problem with you emailing a song (or making it available for free by other means) to a friend to turn them on to my music. That’s promotion; you’re helping me, and I appreciate that! Hopefully some of those people will like it and buy a CD or pay the cover charge for a show. So no problem with that, thanks!

Feel free to leave a comment with your opinion on this subject.


2 thoughts on “What It Costs to Make a CD

  1. So Rob, is there a way to calculate how much money from gigs that you might have gotten because of Misfit? I don’t suppose it would close that $30,000 gap, but it ought to make you feel better about it. Not that you are regretting doing Misfit, I’m sure you are not, it’s a fine piece of work through and through and something to be very proud of.


  2. Eddie,

    It didn’t help me get any gigs. Venue owners aren’t really interested in the quality of your CD’s, they just want to know how many people you’ll bring in. If it had sold well enough to significantly increase my fan base, that could have made a difference, but that has not been the case– at least not yet.


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