A Producer’s Perspective: Part II
In 2014 I hired a music director who was engaged to oversee the production of 12 arrangements of songs for future performances and recordings. This cost roughly $3k, 30% of which went to the director, another 30% to the mixing engineer and the rest to the composers. As it later turned out, none of these arrangements could or would be used because they were poorly mixed and composed. So this was a complete waste of time and money, and therefore, an expensive lesson.
Fast forward to spring 2015. We have just wrapped up recording 8 new tracks involving over 20 musicians. These included 11 string players, a piano player, 3 rhythm and drums players, 6 vocalists and 4 production engineers – all at the cost of just over $21k.
Production Cost: $2625 per track
Many of you will probably ask why?
On the one hand, with today’s technology it’s easy to produce or record an album using nothing but sample libraries and synthesizers. R&B artists do it all the time. But, to a classical musician – an artist whose work strives for integrity and perfection in all that he/she does – using a sound library is simply an anathema. Not to mention the fact that no MIDI file will ever replace a live recording, no matter how good it is…Well, maybe not “never,” but the today’s technology isn’t quite there yet.
In any event, this brings me to my next point: our public, whose heart is often in the right place but is completely devoid of the realities of making music these days, thinks that music is made solely by the person standing in front of the microphone.
Whereas, in reality, there are probably 10-20 people standing behind one mildly successful artist and 25-50 people (depending on the song and arrangement) working behind the scenes of one semi-successful musical act. And that’s a conservative estimate. Not to mention countless iterations of hit and miss songs and albums that came prior to the big hit. The Beatles, for example, toured for 10 years before they had 1 single hit (see Malcolm Gladwell’s 5,000 hour rule).
At any rate, this past weekend, as I stood by a performer playing one of our beautiful pieces, a customer approached to ask “what percentage of proceeds actually went to the artist?” Of course, this question implied both a certain skepticism and naiveté. Unless you are in the music business, hardly anyone knows what it takes to make a single track, let alone an entire album.
Not to mention the fact that it’s really a gotcha question. 99% of the time, the person asking it is just looking for a reason not to open their wallets. So they tell themselves, “if only a some small percentage goes to the student, why should I bother purchasing anything?”
Well, I’m here to point out that whenever you’re supporting an artist – regardless of what age or genre they’re in – you’re also supporting his or her sound engineer who, together with the composer/arranger and mixer toiled for countless hours to hand pick, mix and match the right takes and tones on that track/album. The mixer also cleaned up the recordings so as to make them sound commercially viable – that is, without any blemishes, miscues or mistakes. You’re also supporting the studio (whose possession of equipment that’s worth well over $1MM) was used to record the said album. And, finally, you’re supporting the director/producer who not only fronted the money for the project and brought all of the necessary specialists together, but also made it possible for the musician to be standing here and playing in front of you. Moreover, the producer most likely not only paid for the production but also scouted and rented the performance venue, paid for travel, food and lodging and went out and hustled to sell enough CDs so he/she can break even. In other words, he believed in the work so much that he therefore took on all the risk.
And so, if you still believe that the artist is the one that’s entitled to get paid, then you should tell that to countless musicians who are desperately trying to find funding, management, marketing know-how and guidance, who send their mix tapes to countless record companies/labels who, in and of themselves, are nowadays surviving hand to mouth because of services such as iTunes, Spotify and Pandora. But more on that in another article.
Suffice it to say that an artists doesn’t produce a record by themselves.
Finally, if all that still isn’t enough, ask yourself this: when was the last time you paid $2625 for a single track of music?
I know I’ll be paying well over that amount next time we produce.