The production process and cost of an album has always been a mystery to those outside the music industry. This article will discuss the details of the production process, and how sales can cover production costs.
Generally speaking, there are no upper-limits for album production costs Musicians signed to prominent labels fall outside the scope of this discussion;. In this article, we are primarily focusing on indie musicians looking towards producing a high quality album.
The production process is roughly divided into 5 steps: recording, mixing, mastering, text designing and physical album manufacturing The cost of the different steps varies, but the quality of the final album depends on the costs of every step For those without prior.. experience producing an album, understanding the production cost is absolutely necessary.
The first step of sound recording is choosing a suitable recording studio. Different studios have various levels of equipment and personnel, which are the main factors determining an album’s quality. Thus, choose a recording studio that falls within your budget.
Generally, there are two ways of paying a recording studio; you can pay by the hour, or you can pay a package price, which is a fixed price for the entirety of an album or project.
If you’re paying by the hour, then the best studios will cost anywhere between 250-500 RMB / hr. The price difference will depend on the acoustic space, equipment, and the sound engineer.
First, let’s examine the hardware you’ll find in a studio. Obviously, if the equipment’s better, the final product will be better. Hence, the total cost of all the equipment in a top-level studio can go well over several million. in addition, the operating costs can not be ignored, including utilities, rent, and labor cost. For good acoustics a studio in the process of planning needs to consider background noise, indoor area, field area, protection from electromagnetic interference, and other influences that affect the final recording quality. Hence, recording studios often cost as much as 500 RMB / hour.
Besides the hardware configuration, your sound engineer is another significant factor. Usually the best engineer has a great ear for distinguishing the quality and features of the sound. They can also help musicians create unexpectedly beautiful sounds.
Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of The Moon, released in 1973, is regarded as one of the best recorded albums in rock history. One of the songs, “Speak to Me”, opened with a deep, thick heartbeat sound that has since become a test for a studio’s low frequency capabilities.
The audio engineer for this album was Alan Parsons, one of the top audio engineers in the world, who recorded this album 43 years ago, long before PCs. However, his fabulous recording technology had a profound impact on the world. This is the most helpful thing that a great audio engineer can bring to musicians. In addition to musical ability, communication and interpersonal abilities are also essential for a good audio engineer so that they can quickly correspond with the artist.
Generally speaking, 500 RMB / hr contains the fee of the audio engineer and the studio but not special circumstances. For instance, if a punk band prefers a vintage style, then the audio engineer needs to abandon the modern recording equipment and bring in old- fashioned equipment, such as mixing consoles from the early 70s or 80s. If the engineer can not find that equipment, they would need to purchase it at an old-fashioned market, which racks up extra fees in the process.
Drums are usually the first step of recording for a band, then the bass part, the guitar part, and finally the vocal part. Every sound is recorded in an independent track. Normally there are 15-30 tracks in a song. If you ‘ re paying by the hour, then you need to complete all the tracks in a very short time. Some great musicians can finish recording after the first try, but most artists need more trials, accumulates large costs for the recording process, anywhere between a few thousand to a few million.
Hence, musicians need to choose an appropriate payment method for recording, based on their own. As discussed above, if you’re confident in your abilities or are producing something relatively simple, then hourly payment is a good choice. However, if you anticipate requiring multiple attempts and have a fairly complex / difficult project, then paying for the whole package is a better choice.
Normally, for a single, the package price would be 3,000RMB to a few thousand RMB. For an album, the number would be several times that. If the you know the manager of the studio well or have past experience with the studio, then you might also be able to get a discount.
If recording is the frame of a song, then mixing is the paint inside. A bad mix can ruin a great recording. However a great mix can save a bad recording.
The mixing work is also done in the studio. The purpose of mixing is to make every detail in every independent track reach the best result.
For example, getting the bass drum and bass in balance is a common problem in the recording process. The bass drum should embrace the sound of the bass, and the sound of bass should be clear and clean at the same time. The two are simultaneously coexistent and independent, and’s it the mixing engineer’s job to achieve a great balance.
Furthermore, for the vocal part, even though every single verse is recorded in the studio, the mixing engineer still needs to tune it with digital correction software, since some singers lack good intonation. Thus, a great mixing engineer does not just need good equipment, he or she also needs great musicality to guarantee a song’s quality. Sometimes, the mixing engineer also changes note duration and strength, or adds and deletes notes.
There are two payment methods for mixing in studio:.. Paying per track or for a comprehensive package When paying by track, the price is typically 100RMB / track for a better studio Thus, if you have fewer tracks (less instrumentation) and require less mixing, then you’ll only need to pay a few hundred for a complete track.
However, for those who require complex, multi-track arrangements, per-track payment would cost significantly more, especially if the song has a drum track, since every part of the drum needs an independent track. In this case, choosing the package price is better, which would be around 1,500RMB for one song.
After recording with the audio engineer, and fine-tuning with the mixing engineer, you still need to find a mastering engineer to master the songs, which is the last step of the recording work.
Mastering is the last sound enhancement; it keeps every track in the same sound field to make it sound comfortable and pleasant to the ear.
A great mastering engineer can bring a professional quality to a song, and can also rectify the mistakes of the mixing engineer For example, a metal band with at least two distorted guitars in their album requires distinguished tone color;. A great mastering engineer can help actualize a better sound from the original parameter settings of the tone color.
Apart from the guitar parts, there are many other tracks in a song. A mastering engineer’s job is to polish the performance of every track, and put them into the same sound field at the end. We can define a “sound field” by comparing songs from the 80’s to modern ones.
AC / DC published their album Back in Black in 1980, and 28 years later, they published their album Black Ice. If we compare these two albums, we can feel the difference in the sound fields. In rock music, the combined explosive power of a song’s tracks is essential; however, if the tracks are in different audio fields, the explosive power will be significantly decreased, since the tracks will not be synchronized.Black Iceresolves this problem, in that the tracks sounds more like a coherent, constant piece , and the tone color sounds correct.
This is the contribution of a mastering engineer, who demonstrates the different cohesive forces of different styles of music Rock music requires explosive power;. Bossa nova and jazz require fine, smooth melodies.Different music styles have different sound fields and different ways to polish them . A great mastering engineer can handle them all. Hence, the quality of a mastering engineer has decisive significance on the quality of a recording piece, which involves many scientific principles and theories.
There are two ways to carry out the mastering process. The first one is to master in the recording studio. A better studio usually offers a mastering service, and the price corresponds to the required quality, from 800-2000RBM per song. However, if you’re seeking remarkable quality and have enough in your budget, you can instead choose to work with an independent mastering workroom.
Currently, the quality of mastering in China is still far less than European countries. Thus, musicians like Wang Feng and GEM send their pieces to European countries for mastering. The cost of the top mastering engineers in these countries reaches sky-high prices that are beyond the imagination of most musicians.
In China, copyright is implemented through automatic protection principle, which means if the work is composed by the musician himself, the copyright of the work belongs to him.
Right now, the best way to protect your own work is to apply for the copyright to your work in the Copyright Office, just in case copyright disputes occur later. It’s imperative that both content creators and users are clear on and respect copyright. Even though copyright protection is a prominent point of discussion nowadays, there are still many filmmakers utilizing songs for which they do not own the copyright.
Actually, copyright registration is one of the most important parts of album production. According to the charging standard published by Copyright Protection Center of China (CPCC), paying for copyright use is divided into two categories. For a complete song, containing both the lyric and the instrumental music, the charge is 300RMB / song; for just the instrumental, 200RMB / song The CPCC gives the copyright charge after registration..
Of course, copyright registration is optional for independent musicians. If you’ve already signed with a company, then it’s the company’s obligation.
5. Graphic Design and Printing
After music production, the next step is graphic design for the album cover, back cover, and the lyrics page. You can pay for a design company to do this for you, but the overall cost will increase significantly. However, some musicians prefer to . do this themselves for example, the artist Yan Chi did all the literal and graphic design herself for her album Yan Ge Xing; the illustrations on Yang Fan’s album What Happened after 1,001 Nights are also all his own works?.
The next step is printing.
Printing here is not different printing leaflets. The price depends on the paper and ink you’d like to use, from 0.1-1RMB / p. Also, there is a separate, lower wholesale price if you need a significant amount. You just need to confirm the form of the lyrics page, book, or posters.
In addition, information like the company or publisher of the album, registration number, etc. should be printed on the back cover page.
6. Original Disc Duplication
After all the work mentioned above, the final step is to send the master tape to the manufacturers to duplicate the original disc There are ways to do this:. CD or vinyl.
Here’s some easy math:. For a CD, the cost would be about 3RMB per copy If the average band prints 300 hundred copies for the first edition, the copying cost would be 900 RMB Thus, if they sell the albums for 70 RMB,. they’ll receive 21000 RMB. The net profit margin is 20,100 RMB.
At this point, we can see the income still does not balance out the original cost of the album’s production If we considered all the steps in the production process at the cheapest package price -. For recording, 3,000 RMB / song, mixing 1,500 RMB , mastering 800 RMB -.. it would be 5,300 RMB / song If an album contains 12 songs in total, it would cost roughly 63,600 RMB If you sell your album at 70 RMB / copy, you need to sell at least 1037 copies just to cover the production cost (never mind the cost of copyright registration fee and other extra expenses).
If you wants to pursue the path of vinyl copies, then the cost would be significantly increased.
Currently, the production fee of a vinyl record contains the content production fee, manual fee, package fee, and others. For the package price, the final production cost would be 130-190 RMB / copy. When selling in the markets, the price is typically doubled to about 300 yuan / copy.
It would already be difficult for an average band to sell 1,000 copies of their album for 70 RMB / copy, since nowadays, fans do not want to spend any money on music, never mind the difficulty of selling 1,000 vinyl copies. That’s why most musicians can not earn money solely from their albums, and that’swhyso many musicians produce singles instead of albums.
Thus, some musicians stop publishing albums, but still have the passion to do so, since they believe the album is the complete show of their works. Consequently, most of the crowd-funding on Musikid goes to albums, which comprise about 80% of the projects.
But crowd-funding can not satisfy the long-term needs of artists. With music becoming increasingly demanding on musicians, and the cost of album production steadily increasing, fans can not always pay bills for artists. Thus, continuing to write songs and perform live is an effective way to balance out the cost of album production.
Translated by Yanliu YE & Evan Yi
Contact with editor: email@example.com
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