As a musician, when doing interviews for radio, press, TV etc I often get faced with one question all the time. It is:
“What advice would you give to other artists starting out ?”
I always give the same answer…
“Make sure you have lots of money behind you”.
Not many people like this answer as it’s not the usual write good songs and people will come as if by magic. But the brutal truth is that being an artist requires quite a large amount of capital investment on a continual basis. Especially when it comes to original music. Not many artists are prepared for this harsh reality and also the adverse effects it will have on their life. Holidays, nights out and general everyday things will all take a massive hit when it comes to being an independent musician. Firstly, lets get rid of one of the biggest myths:
As an independent artist you will generally not get paid to do ‘original’ music. Many artists will give you glory stories about how they are getting massive fees for playing original music. But this is incredibly rare and most likely an exaggeration of the truth. Most of the time you will face one of five scenarios.
- You will book the venue yourself at a cost. Then sell tickets in the hope of breaking even. If luck is on your side and you get enough people in through the door to make a profit then you will be able to pay yourself a fee.
- You will be booked by an independent promoter who will book the venue. Once the promoter makes a certain ticket return threshold then they will share the profits out to all the acts performing.
- You will be playing ‘exposure’ based showcase shows in order to get your name out. Also known as playing for free. Allot of the time at these shows you will be asked to sell a certain threshold of tickets before even getting booked. Alternatively, you will be asked to “apply” for a slot of these gigs and festivals, which basically means no fee or a small expenses fee that will barely cover your expenses. Especially if your travelling overseas.
- You will be lucky enough to get a major support slot for an arena or theatre level act. These shows will generally be non-paid and used as a method of ‘exposure’.
- The Infamous “Buy-On”. This is where you will be able to buy onto a big tour in the hope that you can increase your fanbase by appearing on such a tour. This can typically be anything from a thousand pounds upwards.
Of course, once an act reaches a certain level and can guarantee a certain number of ticket sales then they can command a fee based upon their status. At this stage you will most likely have a booking agent who will be negotiating fees and all other factors associated with the live side of the business. But for the sake of this blog are are talking about acts who are starting out or yet to reach the lower mid level (i.e. 300+ capacity venue headliner).
So as an ‘original act’ working their way up the ranks who is not getting paid you will have to find the capital required to sustain your passion. But, exactly what costs are involved?
Recording is expensive. It doesn’t matter which way you choose to go about it. A typical recording studio will cost about £300 per day upwards. Usually, if you are tight, well rehearsed and know exactly what you are doing then you can get a song recorded in a day. Then you will have to pay for mixing, which typically takes one day per track. So you are looking at around £600 to record and mix a song. Next comes mastering. Per track, this can cost anything from £30 per track to silly money for a ‘big name’ mastering engineer. Obviously, like everything, you get what you pay for. So if you go cheap you will likely get cheaper sounding results.
But lets say you want to record yourself. As you think this may be cheaper than a commercial studio. Whilst this may be true in the long run. You have to remember that your initial investment will be higher as you have to buy the equipment to make a quality recording. Not to mention the expertise required to make a professional recording. So you may spend allot of money and find out that you don’t have the skills required to produce a professional sounding record.
Typically, these are mercenaries who do not care that you could be the next big thing. Their primary concern is that their fee is paid. Most of the time this is in advance of the session. Typically, you will be looking at around £100 – £200 for a daily session fee. You will however, find genuine musicians who still love music and will be willing to help you out. But these people are extremely rare and hard to find. So If you find these people hold onto them.
You will need artwork for the resulting recording. Depending on the type of artwork this can be expensive. If you are paying a designer then the costs will depend on the type of design and the amount of time spent on it. But a rough ballpark figure would be £200 upwards. It can very easily go up to the region of £1k. Especially if you have a very complicated design with allot of illustrated elements. Alternatively, you can go the tried-and-tested (some would say lazy) photograph on the cover route. This will typically require a photoshoot. The cost of this will vary dependent on the photographer and if you need to hire any special locations, equipment or props for the shoot.
Video is extremely important these days. So you WILL need a video for every release you put out. This will be expensive. The more complicated you want the video the more costs will go up exponentially. You also, have to bare in mind the costs of any locations, hiring extras, catering and the editing time after the shoot. The cost of videos can really go into silly money very quickly. But as a ballpark starting figure you are looking at £1k plus. You can of course, get cheaper videos made but like everything, you get what you pay for.
Distribution can be expensive depending on the route taken. Physical will cost more because you are dealing with shipping and holding physical stock in a warehouse. This results in monthly fees that can quickly spiral out of control. Digital distribution is however more cost effective and services like Distrokid charge about £20 per year. Other companies will charge a digital coding fee for each release. So its worth baring in mind the distribution costs at the time of release.
So as you can see, just getting the product and the assets together can quickly add up cost wise. You will be out quite a sum of money just to get the product together. As a ballpark figure you will need about £2k to get a single recorded and all the assets in place.
But even if you have the greatest song in the world in your hands. It doesn’t matter unless anyone ever hears it. Of course, you will hear glory stories generated by PR firms that will say that an act uploaded their single to YouTube and the next day it was getting millions of hits, with labels beating down the door to get to them. But meanwhile back in the real world you will need a vehicle to get your music out into the world. Unless you are savvy and willing to do the hard work yourself. But even if you go for an independent campaign you will soon find a certain glass ceiling that can only be breeched by having the right people representing you. These shadowy figures are typically referred to as ‘media pluggers’. Before, going any further it is worth noting that these services are not cheap and will require a load of cash to be injected.
Radio Pluggers (National and Regional)
These are the people responsible for getting your song into the right hands/ears at radio. They typically work on minimum two-month retainer based contracts. Estimated at £1.5k per month. So you are looking at around £3k to plug one single. Sometimes these pluggers will charge a fee to even listen to your track and then a further fee to get the track into the best shape possible for radio. This may also require special edits, remixes or even re-records which will require further studio time.
The catch here is that there are National and Regional radio pluggers. So if you want to get playlisted on BBC Radio 2 and also get playlisted on a regional station then you will require the services of BOTH a regional and national radio plugger. So therefore, to plug one single to regional and national radio then you are looking at around £6k.
However, there is no guarantee of getting any radio play from these pluggers. So you could easily spend £6k and not get a single radio spin.
Similar to a radio plugger, press pluggers will get your release into the hands/ears of the influential gate-keepers in the media. Such as national magazines, newspapers and all print based media. Price-wise this will be the same kind of deal as radio pluggers where they typically work on minimum two-month retainer based contract. So that works out at another £1.5k per month.
Once again there are national and regional press pluggers. So that will hike the price up depending on your goals.
Online press pluggers are in response to the growing influence of online sources such as blogs, influencers, websites and all other online media. Online pluggers will get your music to these online gate-keepers and influencers, but, once again… its going to cost. Working on the same two-month contract you are looking at another £3k.
You also have TV pluggers who work on the same contract basis. Social media advertising is now also pretty much the only way to ensure that people are seeing your posts. Outlets such as Facebook are now geared towards a paid model where you are placing adverts so that your posts have any reach. Gone are the days of organic reach.
So as you can see the costs can quickly add up. Especially, if you wanted to carry out a full on media blitz consisting of regional and national coverage across all mediums. For a basic two month media blitz campaign you are looking at a basic cost of £20k plus. Of course, spending all that money does not guarantee you even a single play on radio, feature in a magazine or TV coverage. You are simply paying that money for the various people to open their address book and filter your music through their system. As you would expect this kind of money is pretty much out of reach for most artists. Especially in the days when physical and digital sales are virtually a thing of the past. So there is no quick way to make a return on your investment. An artist will have to settle for pennies of royalties generated by streaming outlets. With this in mind, It is easy to see how a huge investment can never be earned back in todays industry.
But as artists we must sacrifice in order to get our music out. That could mean no holidays for years and living modestly in order to afford plugging a single that you really believe in to radio.
But overall, you can now see why I give that answer when I’m asked if I have any tips for artists starting out. Too many people sugar-coat how easy the music industry is. But I feel that it is important to tell it like it is.