Getting your music produced for release to your fans can feel like an expensive proposition. There's the tracking phase of recording the songs, editing / comping the tracks, mixing the album, mastering expenses, printing CDs, setting up digital distribution (Spotify, iTunes, etc.). You could be looking at thousands or even tens-of-thousands of dollars (depending on how large the project is). Most bands and musicians don't have this kind of money lying around (shocking, I know). There are a number of ways to solve this: get another job, stop buying a 12-pack of beer before every band practice, run a crowdfunding campaign (blog article coming on that soon). But barring that, there are ways to save money on portions of the project. During this blog post I will break down various ways to get your record / single / EP made without breaking the bank or forcing your significant other to donate an organ.
Tracking: Break down exactly which instruments need the studio. This one is pretty basic, the areas where you notice the quality of a recording suffering the most is when capturing the drums or the vocals. For drums, having a place with good mics and decent acoustics is critical to getting a quality song out to the world. On vocals, a high-quality vocal microphone that suits your voice is important. And having a place to record that doesn't pick up the road noise outside your bedroom window. These are two areas where going to a recording studio is important, but beyond this you can look for cheaper alternatives. Instead of recording a piano, just get midi keys recorded and pass along those files to the mix engineer for a virtual piano option. Guitars and basses can be captured via DI (direct input) and run through virtual amps (Kemper, plug-ins, etc.) at the mix stage. If you want to record your guitar amp, you don't need the pristine acoustics or high dollar mics, because an SM-57 right up on the grill will be good enough. Getting these tracks via alternative means can save you some money, use your own small setup, or invite a friend over who has a small recording interface and a laptop. Just make sure when getting these tracks from multiple sources that you get the same sample rate / bit-depth. Otherwise the tracks may be unusable.
Editing: Don't skip this. I know the temptation is to say you don't need this, but you really do. Unless you are a world-class musician with incredible feel to lock into a metronome and a vocalist who is top notch, some tightening of the performance will always be beneficial.
Mixing: Splurge on the single. When mixing, unless you've got a lot of experience, I don't really recommend mixing things yourself. But this doesn't mean there aren't ways to save money. You can always get the band to fund a high-quality mix engineer to take care of your best song (that will be the single everyone is tapping their toes and banging their head to). Then you can mix the rest yourself (if you've got experience) or go with a talented friend or a lower cost mix engineer for the rest of the album. However, when going this route make sure you can get reasonably close to the quality of the single. If there is a massive difference then that will be obvious. To ensure you don't fall into this trap get some test mixes from friends or those you consider hiring. Just a rough mix before you commit to paying can ensure you will get what you want. Just know that there's a reason it's lower cost and the quality will be a little lower.
Mastering: Simple limiting just for volume. There's a saying in the recording world, "record like there is no mixing, mix like there is no mastering." Mastering is a highly niche skill to bring out the best in a song, and is best left to the professionals. However, if you absolutely are committed to getting the mix right, and don't want additional coloring provided by a mastering engineer, ask the mix engineer to provide you a version with a mastering limiter to release that way. This will avoid issues where your music is much quieter than everything else on CD or streaming.
Production: Download cards instead of CD / Vinyl. Making CD / vinyl products has a lot of expense in the setup that can make those expensive. But the allure is always great to have something to sell right there at your live shows (and let's be honest, those streaming royalties aren't very large). Download cards for your music are much less expensive. You can provide the exact same recorded product in person at your shows, they just go online and enter a code to download the music they purchased at the show (often, they just do this from their phone right then, which is what they listen to music with anyway).
Digital Distribution: Wait for a sale. I'm eventually going to post about a wide variety of digital distribution options, but my biggest takeaway over the years is to look for a sale and then pounce. Often, you can pay for a song or album that isn't even ready to release yet. Just make the purchase and set the release date way out in the future and revise to the actual date when the recordings are completed.
Alternative: Do a single. There's plenty of debate about what makes sense these days with the way we listen to music, but that's for another blog post. However, if money is tight, a band or artist can always choose to do a single instead of an album. This turns thousands of dollars of expense into hundreds. That way you can focus specifically on getting the highest quality product you can. It's hard to sell music in person as a single (see above), but if the goal is just to get on streaming services, then this may be the way to go. And as you build you catalog you can eventually turn that into an EP or album with very little effort.
These are just a few ideas to get you creatively thinking about new ways to get your recordings done. Maybe there’s one or two things in there you’d like to try. Or maybe this sparks a new idea in your mind. Whatever it is, I hope it helps you make great records! If you liked this article, be sure to follow me via Instagram. If you would like to see how I can help you with your recording project, fill out my FREE quote request form and we can talk about your music and how to get recordings out into the wild. You can listen to my previous work here.