6 Ways To Save Money Recording Your Album

6 Ways to Save Money Making Your Recording

Albums seem to be a dying breed these days. Now more than ever we are in a singles driven society. Passive fans download and stream their favorite songs. But music lovers enjoy full albums.

I recently released my 3rd full-length album. It’s not a collection of songs, but rather a complete piece of art. The album makes sense to me and hopefully to my fans as well.

Artists love creating albums because it’s a process. A pause from life. A time to give credence to the vitality of our souls. To fully immerse ourselves in our first true love.

The reason artists continue to create albums is not because record labels tell them they need 12 songs to justify an $11.99 price. It’s because artists truly love to create albums.

I know I do.

But, unfortunately, the album making process is expensive. Record labels are signing fewer acts. And advances are lower than ever.

Most artists of the world are creating records on their own dime. And I don’t need to tell you that most artists aren’t rich.

Here are ways to save money creating your album.

1. Spend Time On Pre-Production

This is an incredibly important aspect of your recording process. Maybe even the most important step. Working out as much as you possibly can before you step into the studio (on the clock) will save you a tremendous amount of money.

You want to rehearse the studio version of your songs to the point where you could play them in your sleep. Get the arrangements locked in. There should be no debate about how to get out of the bridge when you’re tracking. Have your guitar/keyboard player and singer record scratch tracks to the click (of the exact BPM you will use for the song). Write the tempo BPMs down for every song, so when the engineer opens the first song on day one all you have to do is tell him “this song is called ‘Maybe’ and the BPM is 132.” Don’t waste time figuring out tempos in the studio.

You should figure out what program the studio is using (Pro tools, Logic) and if you can, record the scratch tracks in that program so all the engineer has to do is dump in those tracks. You’ll most likely do much of the pre-production with your producer before hitting the studio.

2. Don’t Waste Time In A Fancy Studio

It doesn’t matter how successful the previous projects that were recorded in this studio are. It matters if you like the sound of the albums. Sure, it’s a fun tidbit to include in the album’s press release, but at the end of the day it matters what your album sounds like. I can’t stress this enough.

You don’t need a state of the art studio to track vocals. You need a good vocal mic and an isolation booth. That’s it. But you do need a good sounding live room to get good sounding drums.

Shop around for great sounding drum rooms and spend a couple days tracking drums.

You can then track the majority of the other instruments at smaller home/mixing studios. It’s not super rockstar, but neither is having to remortgage your home.

3. Hire The Right Producer

This is the most important person for your project. When you’re seeking out producers, the first check you need to make is the gut check. Don’t hire a producer before having an informal meeting, lunch, jam, whatever. This person will be with you every step of the way. You guys need to get along. You need trust.

You need to know that she GETS your project, your songs, your band. Figure out what her favorite albums are. Listen to some past records she’s produced. Some producers will even offer to track one test song with you from start to finish for free. If you’re on the fence about this producer, take her up on it – even if it’s just in her home studio. It’s worth it to get a feel for how she works and to see how well you vibe. You don’t want to step into a $700 a day studio and start fighting with this producer. Not only will it mess up the overall vibe, you’ll waste a ton of money!

Similar to the studio, the producer’s resume is not as important as her skill.

There are so many “producers” out there who scam young bands into working with them because they promise stardom. Don’t take the bait.

You can get virtually anyone to work on your record if you can pay them. Remember that. Find the best person for YOUR project. Not the person with the longest resume.

4. Run An Effective PledgeMusic Campaign

I profiled PledgeMusic a couple months ago and discussed how they are looking to completely change the album creation process.

It’s a great way to raise money for your album and with a 90% success rate, PledgeMusic is the most effective crowd funding service out there – way above Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

PledgeMusic also brings your fans along for the entire process AND the moment your funding campaign finishes, the pre-order begins. You can continue to MAKE money while you’re in studio – well after the funding period is over.

Full disclosure: I’m not associated with PledgeMusic or being paid by them. I’ve never run a PledgeMusic campaign. I’m just impressed by their service.

5. Don’t Order Vinyl

I learned this the hard way. I promised my Kickstarter backers (before I knew about PledgeMusic) vinyl records for the $125 and above package. I didn’t do complete research on vinyl before I promised this to my backers. I didn’t realize that vinyl records can only hold about 22 minutes of music before the quality and volume is drastically reduced. The runtime of my latest album is 55 minutes. So, I needed to create a double LP. Nearly twice the cost.

Don’t make the same mistake I did. Yes, vinyl is cool and trendy. I’m happy I have it. But it cost me WAY more than I had budgeted. If you’re going to order vinyl, make sure you do your research and make sure there’s demand amongst your fans.

6. Shop Around For Mastering

My biggest regret of my first album was not hiring a professional mastering engineer (I was 19 and stupid). Mastering is an incredibly important step of the process – even if most people don’t really know what it is.

Mastering is the final sparkle. It can dictate the overall vibe. It’s the difference between a professional sounding album and an amateur sounding one.

Because mastering is so nuanced and elusive, it’s incredibly expensive. I’ve worked with some of the greatest mastering engineers on the planet. I sat alongside Bernie Grundman while he mastered my last record. He was worth every penny.

But that’s not to say that you need the best of the best. Do your research and shop around. See who mastered your favorite (newer) records. Get recommendations from engineers, producers and other musician friends and then LISTEN to those records and make sure you like the mastering.

Ask your musician friends for their final mixes pre-mastering and the final masters. Can you tell the difference? Did it bring the songs to life? Did it add the sparkle?

Don’t cut corners with mastering, but you don’t need to hire the first great mastering engineer who returns your email.

Photo is by Ann Larie Valentine from Flickr used with the Creative Commons License

Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and the creator of Ari’s Take. Listen to his new album on Spotify or download on BandCamp. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake


About The Author

Ari Herstand
Writer, Musician, Whiskey Drinker

Ari Herstand is the author of How To Make It in the New Music Business (Dec 2016 - Liveright / Norton). He has been a DIY musician for over 10 years, has performed over 600 shows around the world and released 4 studio albums and 2 live albums. He has had songs featured on multiple TV shows, commercials and films and has shared the stage with Ben Folds, Cake, Matt Nathanson, Joshua Radin, Eric Hutchinson, Milk Carton Kids and Ron Pope. He created the music business advice blog, Ari’s Take in the Spring of 2012 to help DIY musicians navigate the independent world of music. Herstand was born and raised in the Midwest and got his start in the Minneapolis music scene. He rose to prominence locally and consistently sold out the 800 capacity Varsity Theater. He became the go-to musician in the scene for music business advice before he moved to Los Angeles in the Summer of 2010. Currently residing in West Hollywood, Herstand still spends a good portion of his time on the road touring. When at home he splits his time writing music, writing articles, writing his book (out December 2016 with Norton Publishing), playing shows at the Hotel Cafe and acting in TV shows (see him in his co-star appearances on Mad Men, 2 Broke Girls, Aquarius, Transparent, The Fosters, and others)

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19 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Jeff Robinson

    Oh, the slippery slope of the computer age.

    High-end recording studios with excellent vintage tracking consoles are closing everywhere because of this trend. IF they can’t get their day-rate for what they are good at- the good sounding environment to record and the plethora of vintage mics and multiple console inputs, then they close because they can’t pay the bill.

    Every year, more and more record producers and recording engineers that have been making records for years leave the industry because they can’t earn a living in this current climate. The Musician/Engineer Survey of 2009 showed that wages are down from a once annual average of $45,000 a year to an annual average of $23,000 for a recording engineer AND GETTING LOWER as more kids in their basement record their friends demo.

    If Spotify is the bain of the working musician as this e-rag carries on about, then this mentality in Ari’s article is the bain of the professional recording industry and should be attacked and questioned.

    This e-rag should also step up and start proffering a different angle than Ari’s amateur musician appeal.

    • Avatar

      Quote ” then this mentality in Ari’s article is the bain of the professional recording industry and should be attacked and questioned.”

      I would say that the true cause is the technology that made everything cheap..
      Technically you dont even need the expensive sound rooms (as much) as noise cancellation technology has got to the point it can easily compensate. Same with a lot of the other tech.. in the digital realm its now more about your TALENT then how expensive your equipment is..

      I agree its bain, but more so because it allows a lot more idiots and rip-off-artists into the game..

      Sound Engineers now have to do what everyone else is already doing..
      raise the bar, & sell the talent (not the equipment), because if they dont, they will get run over..

    • Avatar

      You can blame amateur-ship all you want, but the reality is this: the music world is being democratized. And those very kids in the basement producing records, they are the future of this beloved movement we dearly call “music”.

      It’s unwise and even pigeon-holed to blame garage kids for the demise of industry wages. The times are changing, my friend. Technology is changing the rules, disrupting the carved paths, and opening the playing field. This also means that new players are being drafted, ones that have studied the game, are dissatisfied, and hungry to win.

      So for the veterans, get smart. Mentor those with your analog knowledge. Forge new sounds by synthesis. Organize and support those coming up. Form collectives. If you think the basement kids are hungry to take your jobs, you already lost. You have no idea how much more those very kids desire teachers, examples, and generous visionaries to guide them through this age-old craft.

      • Avatar

        Quote : ” then this mentality in Ari’s article is the bain of the professional recording industry and should be attacked and questioned.”

        Quote: ” You can blame amateur-ship all you want, but the reality is this: the music world is being democratized.”

        Well then, everyone will be equal when everyone is equally poor… some progress.

        Where is all of this great “internet empowerment” that we’ve been haring about for the last decade. Everything I see is that musicians, producers, engineers are more exploited and making less money until everyone is pushed down into the sludge of being amateur/hobbyists… that’s not empowerment for a new generation or a new middle class, sorry.

    • Avatar

      Macklemore recorded the best selling rap single Of all time and a phenomenal record at his home, with minor if any time at one of Seattle’s big studios. I know because my friend is on that record. Ari is 100 percent right. The big studios are great for some things and superfluous for others… I love the big studio we sometimes visit, but Ari is right. If you can save money and put it into promoting your album that will be better.

  2. Avatar

    If you are not going to print a physical medium, then you don’t need mastering. Mastering is the process or preparing and producing a physical MASTER of your album. So that the factory takes it an uses it to print copies (CDs, vinyl e.t.c.)

    What you are describing is FINALIZING. Preparing and producing a final digital version for online distribution.

    • Avatar

      mmm, i don’t want to start a war of technical jargon, but what you describe is actually mastering.
      Mastering is the process of bringing your tracks to a volume/level and equalization that will make it sound professional on any sound device, be it smarthphone speaker, car radio, theatre, home hifi etc.
      The mastering job can be exported to fit various formats: mp3, CD, vynil etc.

      A good mastering studio is one that is able to deliver all those different formats of the master wave file, at no extra cost. ie, if you press a vynil 1 year after you have done the mastering, then the pro mastering studio can send them to you quickly and at no extra cost. ie, your master tracks are archived and available for a long long time at a pro mastering studio.

      • Avatar

        and this is so because even to produce MP, you need a master wave file….

      • Avatar

        Yeah, mastering is the correct term here, and is definitely an important final step. Finalizing is a term more for burning DVDs/CDs.

  3. Avatar

    Prepare, prepare, prepare. Money also equals time. Don’t use the recording session for rehearsal.

  4. Avatar

    #2 is #2. this all is dependent on what kind of record you are trying to make. if you want your record to sound like classic albums with space and nuance then you might want to consider how they did it. sometimes a fancy mic and a decent room for vocals can really make a record stand out from all the bedroom hobby records that clog todays eardrums.

    better advice is to have a vision of what you want your record to sound like then pic a studio that can provide that sonic quality.

  5. Avatar

    Great comments but I see “Music” as I see “Medicine”…. the only way to work comfortably and at the same time make money is to “work in a group”; this group composed of 2-3 persons in every field ( masterizer, producer, engineers) ; if possibly own a “facility” that offers everything, from recording studio to all the necessary digital equipment to make a song; ideally, the building could have an area for playing ,practice, recording; further, an area that can fit 100 people for entertainment ( shows, CD release party etc) can be considered, and would be a money making enterprise; obviously, need to have good rapport with record labels and Indie labels; work closely with independent artists. This is important because they and the group can exchange favors ( background voices), and the production can be cheaper for everyone involved.;
    Members/partners , with time, may be added to the group (buy-in clause) and the facility may be rented to other groups to produce money;
    this type of enterprise will cause more networking and eventually more business;
    It is not cheap, but think about it as a major investment in your life.

  6. Avatar

    “It’s the difference between a professional sounding album and an amateur sounding one.”

    These words – “professional” and “amateur” – are always thrown about with the presumption that the former is a term of approval and quality, and the later a term of contempt and poor quality. Art is not so simple. The “professional” may have access to the better equipment and studios, but may also have to produce much work of questionable artistic to pay the bills. The amateur – etymologically, the one who does his work out of love – may in fact produce the greater work of art. It can go either way.

  7. Avatar

    you people just talk out of your asses. some producers leave every year, some sustain, and new ones come in. some succeed, some fail, and some continue to sustain. why is it that you feel there should be more steve jobs in music when there was only one steve jobs in tech?

    each case is different. that is the beauty of life. everyone is tired of hearing your subjective opinions and complaints and offering zero solutions. get a life. make music because you love it.

  8. Avatar
    Jason Didner

    If you’re going to do components of your record at home, take advantage of being off the clock and be patient and relentless to get the performance you imagined for each and every track. But don’t stay at any one track so long that it loses its soul, which can happen after the 20th take. If your performance doesn’t bowl you over, consider it a scratch track, call it progress and hit it again another night.

    My current album was recorded as Ari describes. Live in the studio to get the drums and bass, which fuel a very “live” sounding album. Then I recorded guitars and keyboards at home so I could really fuss over those parts off the clock. Depending on deadlines for individual tracks and the producer’s travel schedule, I either rented his mic and pre-amp or went into the studio to work with him there. My growing understanding of project-quality mics and pre-amps led me to buy my own after the album was completed. I also upgraded my software and record/mix/master the follow-up single myself, as I had a super-tight deadline for this single that couldn’t be resolved by scheduling with the studio and the band.

    My next album will likely be done with drums (possibly bass too) in a studio and all other tracking at home. I’ll probably get the mix where I want it and then have someone I trust critique it. Then I’ll likely pay for mastering to spruce up the finished product.

  9. Avatar

    I like your writing Ari. Your music is great too.

    Your article is accurate to produce an album for less money – great points made. The critique by Jeff Robinson (although over zealous) and Junior is accurate; you can record a vocal at home, or in a vocal booth, but your Producer will be pivotal to getting a sound that does your song justice and equipment counts. A great mic, pre-amp and converters ALL add up. Most Project or Home studios are simply not equipped to record great performances to the standard of a Professional studio. That’s before you get to the engineering skills of most home recordists.

    You’re producing music in a ‘musically hostile’ world, where you need to pay less for recording because you have limited avenues for earning money from your recordings. Ari, you’ve made great points to help economise and save money and most are relevant no matter the state of the industry (#’s 1, 3 & 6). My belief is that recording the most important element of a mix (the vocal) with less than the best tools is .. tough. So, I’d temper point 2 with the statement that if you don’t go to a “fancy” studio.. make sure you are in front of as good mic and vocal chain as you can get, for your recordings. For most music the vocal is king.

    Bottom line.. is while people don’t pay for music, the whole industry suffers – and less jobs exist. When people steal intellectual property, people and facilities are out of work.

  10. Avatar
    James of 20 Riverside

    Ari, how do you listen to a record for the mastering as opposed to just hearing the mix and everything else that is going on? How do you pick out the sound that the master-er created? Thanks.


  11. Avatar
    A guy who knows what he's talking about

    Being a professional recording and mixing engineer with lots of big studio, small studio, major label, and indie experience, I can say that points 1,2,3 and 6 are spot on. As for points 4 & 5, I have no experience with either, but sounds like constructive advice that should be considered! Great article Ari, you know what you’re talking about.


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