You’ll Never Guess How Much This Producer Thinks He Should Be Paid


The thing you start to learn the longer you’re in this business is no one really knows anything. They think they do. They pretend they have all the answers. But no one really knows.

People have their personal experiences. If they became successful by doing it one way, they’ll claim it’s the way. If they failed doing something, they’ll declare it a flawed path.

There have been standards and ‘ways of doing business’ proclaimed as fact by those who came before. But nothing is set in stone. Donald Passman states that managers make (typically) 15%. But the Colonel took 50%. That deal worked for Elvis. You could say the Colonel took advantage of Elvis, but Elvis would never say so. I know some managers who get paid a flat monthly fee. And some who take 5%. And some who take 30%. What is ‘correct?’ Is there a correct?

What’s correct is only what is right for the situation.

If you’re a union musician (or actor) and sign with a union regulated agency, that agency takes 10%. But how many musicians do you know who are union? College booking agents take 20% across the board. Every single one of them. Are they correct? To go against union regulations? Well, none of them are AFM certified. And they’d like to keep it that way. It works for them. And it works for their clients. There are ‘best friend’ managers and agents who take an equal percentage as each band member. Are they correct?

What’s correct is only what is right for the situation.

For producers, it’s points. You’ll read everywhere that producers earn anywhere from 1 to 5 points. Points meaning percentage points of royalties. That’s how the labels limit a producer’s cut. But it’s common practice in some circles for producers to take nothing up front and 20% on the back end. Or 50%. Or (more frequently) get paid a fair wage up front and take nothing on the backend.There is nothing set in stone.

What’s correct is only what is right for the situation.

Steve Albini, legendary producer/engineer of acts like Nirvana, Pixies, PJ Harvey, Bush, Low, Cheap Trick, and literally hundreds more, never took points on a record. Ever. On the Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways HBO documentary, Albini says that his philosophy then is the same as it is today:

“Normally bands would be paying a royalty to the producer. From an ethical standpoint I think it’s an untenable position for me to say to a band that I’m going to work for you for a couple of weeks and then for the rest of your fucking lives you’re going to pay me a tribute.” – Steve Albini, Producer, Nirvana

Sure, Albini could have made a lot more than he has. Royalties from In Utero alone would have probably kept him out of debt for a good decade. But he believes what he believes and god bless him for that.  He helped sustain hundreds of musicians’ careers a little bit longer because of that royalty he never took.  Or maybe he helped labels stay in business a little bit longer… less sexy.  Or maybe this method helped focus him on the task at hand which enabled him to make those brilliant records.

Albini uses the analogy, “it’s totally normal if you’re a carpenter…You spend X number of hours working on a house, you get paid for your time. [Not] ‘oh look the house is still standing in 20 years!  Maybe I should get a little bonus for that eh!?’ ”

“It’s an unusual position in the music industry. Totally normal if you’re a fucking plumber or carpenter.” – Steve Albini, Producer, Nirvana

In his best-selling book, Drive, about what motivates us, Daniel Pink explains that incentivizing creative performance is actually harmful (like producer points). He writes:

“An incentive designed to clarify thinking and sharpen creativity end(s) up clouding thinking and dulling creativity. Why?  Rewards, by their very nature, narrow our focus.  Traditional ‘if-then’ rewards can give us less of what we want: They can extinguish intrinsic motivation, diminish performance, crush creativity, and crowd out good behavior.  They can also give us more of what we don’t want: They can encourage unethical behavior, create addictions, and foster short-term thinking.”

So maybe the reason Albini has been so prolific and has created such masterful pieces of art is because he wasn’t clouded by the future earning potential.

Anyone who tells you that ‘this is how it is,’ is lying. This is how it is, maybe, to them, 15 years ago. Or this is how it is for the scenario they are creating. Or a situation they just experienced.

Unless it is written in the law or in an organization’s TOS, everything is negotiable. And nothing is ‘correct.’

You may call producers, managers, engineers and agents amateurs if they don’t abide by your rules and your percentages. But many of these ‘amateurs’ are defining what the new music landscape is looking like.

YouTubers who have millions upon millions of views, hundreds of thousands of subscribers and selling more on iTunes than many major label releases, work out deals with producers that may make no sense to you.  But they don’t work by your rules.  And they’re succeeding much further than those abiding by the old rules.  And some of them are more popular than ‘mainstream’ pop stars.

It’s good to understand (and respect) the history. But it’s also important to be open to change.


Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and the creator of the music biz advice blog, Ari’s Take. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake

23 Responses

  1. Name2

    LOLz. DMN is trying to make a saint of someone who voluntarily foregoes compensation so a little more can go to the poor record company.

  2. Justin Mayer

    YouTubers who have millions upon millions of views, hundreds of thousands of subscribers and selling more on iTunes than many major label releases, work out deals with producers that may make no sense to you. But they don’t work by your rules. And they’re succeeding much further than those abiding by the old rules. And some of them are more popular than ‘mainstream’ pop stars.

    You know that could be a really good thing! Hollywood 2.0. Let them run the tweener game and get Hollywood back into crafting that real good stuff. The LOST’s and big epic movie series like Star Wars etc.

    I’ll take a Leo DiCaprio doing the good work out there any day of the week over a army of pewdepies etc. Of course he could leave a few models for the rest of us, but never the less, his green peacing is something im about. I’ll take a Johnny Depp, an incredibly good actor who never wanted to be famous, any day of the week and twice on sunday over all of these wanna be fame whore Hollywood 2.0ers.

    It isn’t like any of these Hollywood 2.0 stars are making really solid property and content, full of top information and made by top professionals at their craft, they just know the social dynamics of what will dupe and manipulate the public perception and tween minds to give them the bit of attention they need to bolster a large enough fan-base and stat base to warrant leveraging that with businesses and investors and to gain traction in the social media games.

    They are also smart to understand the overall public perception, so they also are able to herd some cattle into their slaughter house who support them simply because they hate or want to take down Hollywood, and not because of the actual product, regardless what they say.

    As always it’s more about social dynamics then crafting and building quality product and content, which is fine, it’s just the way it is. People just hate Hollywood and are jealous of it, but for the most part a lot of them are just really really good at what they do. The commercialism of it always sucks a bit of life out of the quality of the product and no one likes having to be pummeled with their necessary marketing and promotion of it.

  3. GGG

    If you watch Dave Grohl’s new show, which is where this is coming from, he also says he as a $30K a month nut to run his studio and has been in debt more than not.

    I think there’s a middle ground you have to find where you can keep your creative autonomy as best you can, and also survive. More power to him for sticking to his convictions, but he’s in integral part of all those records’ sound. That’s why people went, and still go to him. I don’t think it’s out of line for producers, especially someone like him, to get some backend.

  4. Chris H

    There is no “right way” Mutt Lange muttered to himself before passing out in his Swedish Castle with 80 rooms, while Steve Albini spent the same night up worried about how he will make the 30k a month nut on his studio.

  5. GGG

    Also, seriously, can you stop with the Upworthy headlines. We’re all adults here…

  6. Anonymous

    It’s a choice. Like the one where he took 500K to record that horrible band Bush.

    This Ari guy is full of it. His comments on points’ effect on creativity is pure fabricated bullshit. If a band has little or no advance money, there is nothing wrong with the extra team member (the producer) taking a fraction of any ultimate profits.

    • ThomasG

      But it’s common practice in some circles for producers to take nothing up front and 20% on the back end. Or 50%. Or (more frequently) get paid a fair wage up front and take nothing on the backend.There is nothing set in stone.

      Pretty sure Ari’s not claiming that Albini is better or worse for his decision… but maybe. But he did discuss that there are producers working for nothing up front and a bigger percentage on the backend. Confused at why you said he didn’t mention that.

      And I’ve read Daniel Pink’s Drive. Pretty damn good scientific conclusions about what incentive based rewards does to creativity. Not sure if it matters for producers, but Pink makes some pretty convincing arguments that could definitely apply here.

  7. Bruce Dickenson

    I am a producer. The artist makes money on every revenue stream, touring, merch, songwriting, private parties (the biggest revenue FYI) etc. The producer, who sometimes is responsible for a majority of the creative decisions, makes it on sales alone. It’s fair to be compensated for helping an artist have a lifetime music career if you produced their hit. They go on for years enjoying income, and producers should get something for that. Frankly, some of my artists would not have survived a day in the studio without a strong voice and steady influence….and a big contribution from their producer.

    • Justin Mayer

      Hey Bruce, what do you think if you supplied the blueprint for their hits?

      Or rather, if they stole your blueprints before you could finish or release it yourself and then used it to make their hits and of course the public monetary benefit they received from it?

      Curious as to an honest opinion on this matter.

      Thanks for your time.

      • Bruce Dickenson

        Even though I have had a lot of hits I never minded copy cats – its a sort of flattery. Most cannot do what you do anyway – its usually an intellectual skill that varies with each artist. But…artists are never ever loyal. Jimmy Iovine once said no matter what relationship you have with an artist they will f you if it’s in their best interest – watch the David Geffen doc and what Laura Nyro does to him….so when you are nice to an artist and contribute songwriting and get no credit in hopes of doing their next record — that aint gonna happen cause most artist have 1/2 second memories. That doesn’t mean they are bad people. And artists remember the sessions radically different then what really happened. I had a huge hit with a certain artist that I wrote most of the chorus and the bridge and I read months later that I didn’t contribute anything at all and was not involved. I was SO involved. But, again, their egos are huge, and they have to be unfortunately so they can be stars….its a very nasty confluence of stuff. soooooo as long as you are PAID for your work you don’t feel bad about it. Hence….the points!!! The writer of the article has little or no knowledge of the real stuff that happens in the trenches.

        • Justin Mayer

          Right, but in regards to top artists employed by top corporations who, lets even just say hypothetically, steal your property, blueprints, masters, before you can finish and release them, and use them to make their own which end up charting high which they then use to further their fame and of course to their monetary benefit.

          Not a you worked directly with an artist and they screwed you later. No, your competition came and stole your property before you could even finish or release it, and then utilized it to make their property, lifting ideas and words and phrases, using you as a muse or to copy cat, all to their ultimate monetary benefit?

          I’m not saying once something is released publicly they use that as inspiration to imitate, that is fine and ultimately flattering so long as we play it honorably and both parties are profiting somehow. It keeps things interesting and has happened to me for many years now and that part i have no problem with.

          Let me phrase it another way, hypothetically, say you had your unfinished unreleased masters in your studio on your property and one night some employees, artists, producers from lets say Major Label Brand X, broke into your studio and stole all your masters and then before you could really do anything or check the tapes, saw hit after hit hit the charts and being pummeled all over the show all made from your masters whether just as inspiration or even including obvious lifted material, and you had evidence from security cameras, for instance, hypothetically of course.

          In that instance, just hypothetically of course, off the record if you need, what sort of compensation, retribution, reparation etc. would be acceptable and fair? As an artist and producer and songwriter and publisher and master rights owner, what exactly would you think, say and do about it?

          Thanks again for taking the time to reply, it is very much appreciated.

          • GGG

            Why don’t you write an article detailing who screwed you over, and call them out on a very large music blog that a lot of industry people lead.

            Instead of these ambiguous, strange rants you post in every. single. article.

          • Anonymous

            I dont need to. Im trying to find a nice pleasant way to settle this.

            They all know exactly who they are, and their actions and thoughts permeate everywhere, so it slowly only spreads from person to person not to mention the evidence that exists that straight lynches them right up as well some of them are starting to admit exactly what they have done to others.

            Ultimately i dont need to call anyone out specifically and am trying to avoid that so that this can all go away nicely and everyone can get on doing what they do and making their money.

            I just get concerned if i stay silent it will slowly go away, which would be exactly what they want, so i have to say what i have to say.

            Being an industry relevant blog filled with industry people, then shouldnt this be just one of the most relevant stories and situations around????

            Right, it is…

            So we can all keep playing the same old boring lame games, or yall can man up for once in your lives!

            We can take it public if it needs to be, itd just be better in everyones interest if they all came together and settled this out of court.

            I will happily expunge and move on with my life if they for once in their life try and grow some legs to stand on and man up and do the right thing.


          • GGG

            Ok, so if you’re not going to call them out explicitly, stop writing about them with the same endless rants on every article. Either call them out and make this interesting, or stop being obnoxious.

          • Anonymous

            im sorry, did you happen to buy my company or is there some sort of secret chattel trading that is going on and you are now in ownership of my person?

            of course not, so take your nose and remove it from my business!

            Dont tell me what to do and how to do it. you certainly are not paying me and i am not under your employment and im not even residing in the same jurisdictions as you are so the fact you think you have any authority over me only goes to further highlight the problems.

            Paul asked nicely for his comment section back, and i want to give it to him but when engaged im just locked and loaded finger on the trigger ready to fire steady Gatling rounds if i have to.

            Or is that you used to run this territory? You used to be the supreme ruler of these parts? Are you no longer able to throw around your dominance and knowledge and position in the industry around to your ultimate benefit? Is that really your problem with me?

            I don’t know why you dislike me so much man, you and i seem to share many of the same opinions, beliefs and ideologies, we are both rooted in this business, we are both frustrated and upset at many of the same things, so its unfortunate we butt heads so much and you constantly go at me!

            This is personal, im pretty sure it doesnt have anything to do with you specifically. Im not trying to hurt the business or bring it down. Im just looking for fair compensation for what has been done to me, illegally and unlawfully, and i will not take the bait of public litigation yall seem to love so much. I promise you, it will be a terribly bad look for the industries at large, not just music. Do yourselves a favor and run it up the chain everywhere possible and lets make a nice peaceful settlement happen.

            Then, poof, ill be gone…


          • Anonymous

            For one, ill rant whenever the fuck i want to rant, PERIOD!

            im constantly calling people out, constantly… If you are a subsid of a major or an employee of them, then you are likely culpable at least as an accomplice, so if so then im calling you out, bro!

            it aint just the majors or the music business, but , ill start with lets see, Scooter, Usher, Bieber and that squad, Nicki and her squad along with Guetta and all them, so basically all that posse and their employers however not every one of them is responsible for property theft, public humiliation, character defamation and worst of em all profiting significantly from it. The dumbest move yall made was stealing unfinished unreleased material and then using it as blueprints to make yours and have a go at me. Stupid play boys and girls…

            This would make all their sponsors questionable and possibly culpable as an accomplice along with any network and other entity such as billboard AND the academy. Its so ridiculous its hard to even believe its possible.. So how many Lables and people does that count?

            Im just getting started, BRO! I can call a ton more out. There’s admissible and inadmissible evidence and plenty of people know and can corroborate.

            My hands are clean and my actions are legit.

            Stupidest play that industry and showbiz could have ever made. All your whining and begging to Politicians for legislation and enforcement, and yall engage in significant and massive property theft from a music lover working hard while sick just trying to spread the love around, and then to try extorting and exploiting me at the same time.

            I thought a decade ago yall made the biggest mistake, this just puts the last nail in the coffin. Luckily for yall for whatever reason you all seem to have a license to kill so will probably get away with it, awarded more awards and celebrated and paid more. That’s how it seems to work.

            SHARPEN YOUR PENCILS, BREAK INTO YOUR PIGGY BANKS, AND PROVIDE ME WITH A FAIR SETTLEMENT, and ill expunge and all that and the show can go on and yall can get back to doing whatever it is you do when you are not illegally and unlawfully engaging in criminal activity that should probably put a bunch of you in PRISON!!!!

            Hows that??

            Dead Serious!

          • GGG

            What songs did they steal from you? Post examples and I’ll gladly get behind you. As will Paul and 99% of people that read this blog. Otherwise you sound just like every failed “artist” making shitty music and trying to find an excuse to blame their failures on everything except them just being shitty.

  8. asdf

    albini is no saint, and no hero. the old “punk rock” ethos and romanticism of poverty is utterly ridiculous. there’s absolutely no ethical or even “creative” advantage to being broke. this sort of philosophy contributed to the majors taking all the money and power to shovel-feed a handful of pop performers down our throats while sanctimonious indie “artists” have lost almost all leverage in the industry – friggin’ idiots.

  9. Willis

    People in the position of providing services get paid what they can negotiate based upon the value that people place upon that service, and their level skill/expertise.

  10. John

    Those bands made money IN SPITE of Albini’s contributions.
    His mixes were shit, and any hit record on his resume was remixed by somebody more talented.

  11. Morgan Paul

    Unfortunately, the ubiquity of the internet has discounted music to near zero. But yes, as ggg crudely put it, artists do tend to blame everyone except themselves for their failures. For all your hard work and years learning and developing your talent, it only amounts to maybe 10% of what it takes to be successful. The other 90% is all business. You can do that part yourself, and never really get it all off the ground, or you can get creative and fund professionals to do the business side. Got no money? Then give percentages to all.
    By the way, full of passion as you are about your songs, they may not touch any audience. Music is about relavence and validating your audience’s interests.
    Think about it. You have to connect.
    By the way, you can search me on line, Morgan Paul is my professional persona. We do a Concert event that raises community awareness and funding for charity. The Concert for the Caring


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Verify Your Humanity *