Category Archives: Stories

Stories about people, fans and other storylike things.

Stay Warm (Part 2 of 4): What does it cost to record a new CD?

A slow reverent look at my first printed copy of Stay Warm at the CT ocean-side, just after picking up 2000 copies at UPS.

On Monday, May 6th you’ll be able to order my new CD Stay Warm.  It contains eleven tracks I’m very excited to share with you!

Independent musicians often crack jokes about their “job”, implying how hard it is to make a living, but rarely discuss the actual numbers.  Since most people don’t know what’s involved, I thought you might find it interesting to see what it costs to produce a high-quality record like Stay Warm.

Of course, CDs can vary immensely in cost and quality.  For example, recording solo voice/guitar is much less expensive than recording multiple voices/instruments.  I layered (overdubbed) quite a few vocals and instruments.  In my experience each layered part can add about 1-2 hours of studio time, including tracking, editing and mixing.  Bands who record all their instruments simultaneously rather than overdubbing individual tracks save considerable time and money.  Some musicians record on home computers, some find small studios that charge as little as $25 hour, some go for top-of-the-line big-city studios that charge $100+/hour.  There’s a huge range.

The biggest expense, by far, is the recording studio – so musicians must choose carefully.

I returned to 10th Planet Studio in Fairbanks, Alaska because I love working with engineer-musicians Pat Fitzgerald and Robin Dale Ford.  Professional equipment and skills are just the beginning.  Pat and Robin contribute terrific drums, guitar, bass and banjo.  They work their butts off to make projects shine and provide smiling encouragement (and strong coffee!) every step of the way.  Their studio is crazy cozy – a log house in the woods.  After long studio sessions, we’d take late-night hikes in the endless daylight of Alaska’s summer.

For this Alaska-themed project and the musical palette I wanted to paint from, 10th Planet Studio was a perfect choice.

I suspect Stay Warm cost a little above average for a solo singer-songwriter layering musical parts on top of each other.  I can’t be sure because money taboos prevent most musicians from divulging the cost of their CDs.

So what DID the new CD cost?

Stay Warm cost about $21,000 to make.

Here’s the breakdown:

$15,644 Studio time ($75/hour for tracking/editing/mixing + per-track cost of drums/bass when played by engineers)
$975 Mastering
$1280 Paying musicians
$49 Music notation software subscription (used to write cello parts, harmonies, etc)
$69 CDBaby registration (host for MP3 downloads) and UPC code
$364 Mechanical Royalties to writers of 2 covers
$35 US Copyright fee
$600 Graphic design for CD artwork
$2,060 Manufacturing 2000 copies
Incalculable My own lodging, travel, composing, arranging, notating, organizing logistics, rehearsing, tracking, listening, etc.

Stay Warm (Part 1 of 4): I’ve Got A New CD!


  • The new CD, Stay Warm, is finally done!  I’m so happy to announce my new collection of eleven songs entitled Stay Warm.  Woo-woo-woo-hoo!  You can order it as of Monday, May 6th, 2013.  In anticipation, I’m writing a series of four articles to give you a behind-the-scenes look at how Stay Warm came to life.
  • Wow!  When did this happen? I recorded it in Fairbanks, Alaska in the five months between April and August, 2012.  I collaborated with many fantastic musicians.  Shortly after the audio was “in the can” I began the next chapter of life by moving to an amazing Connecticut town called New Haven.  The five thousand mile transition from Alaska to Connecticut took so much time and energy that Stay Warm had to await patiently in its little can for another four months.  I returned to the project in January, 2013, taking care of mastering, graphics, web presence, and mechanical production, and … four months later … finally(!) … Stay Warm is out of the can and into CD form.  Here’s a long-arm self portrait taken just days ago under a New Haven cherry tree:

Long-arm self portrait snapped on the April day I received 2000 copies of Stay Warm.  Under a blossoming cherry tree, New Haven, CT.

  • What songs are on it?

1. Overjoyed (Christine Kane)
2. Nectarina & Avocado
3. Fireweed Ladies
4. Yula (Borrina Mapaka)
5. Where is the Field
6. Echo Point
7. Chokecherry
8. What Can I Say
9. Face
10. Wintered In
11. Stay Warm

  • Why Stay Warm? The cold is no myth in the far north, and Alaskans frequently depart with a cheerful “Stay warm!”  I wanted to express this sweet sentiment with my music.  The album weaves together my 15 incredible years in Alaska with songs of wilderness, whimsy, snow, and sunlight…
  • Musically, this is my most diverse CD.  Stay Warm mixes folk, pop, rock, funk and world with intimate vocals and harmonies.  I play the mountain dulcimer and tons of flute, and I play power chords (yes!) on a solid-body electric dulcimer.  I employ two djembe players, two cellists, and a classic funk clavinet player named “Mighty Dave”.  I stroke wind chimes.  I sing in the Lari dialect of the Congo.  Just sayin’…

It’s been quite a journey.  I’m thrilled with the results and think you will be too.

Elegy for a music teacher

Mrs. Hooper, my first piano teacher.   Her spirit exists in the music I make now...
Mrs. Hooper, my first piano teacher. Her spirit exists in the music I make now…

Today I received news that my childhood piano teacher, Maureen Hooper, died this morning.  With tears in my eyes, as a ripened musician, I tell you that I truly love my music teachers.

Mrs. Hooper was the first.

I dutifully attended weekly lessons at her house a few blocks away from the age of 6 to 16.  She gave me the basics of music.  How to read.  How to apply music-theory.  How Chopin was romance, Debussy was a paint brush, and Mozart was ecstasy.  How to understand emotions and phrasing.   “Now, again, with feeling!” she’d say.   And oh how I remember the incessant command to my 6 year old self:  “Curve your fingers, dear!”

I admit I got away with a lot as a relatively talented student.  I didn’t practice many days, and became very good at tricking Mrs. Hooper into thinking I had labored through the week.  Cheerily, she placed a check mark on each exercise or piece I’d learned to her satisfaction, or placed a new date next to the tunes that had not been mastered.  When I did work hard and shined with progress, she would chirp, with her wonderful British accent, “Well done, Esther.  Well done!

I don’t play the piano much these days, but I still know my scales.  I curve my fingers.  I sight-read with slow delight.  I lean my weight into the keys.  I shape a phrase with passion.

And I carry every bit of musical technique and wisdom she taught me into my singing, dulcimer, flute playing, performance and recordings.

My favorite bit of wisdom from Mrs. Hooper, which I will always cherish:

“Esther, you mustn’t practice your mistakes.”

Goodbye, Mrs. Hooper.  I will miss you.  You were a great teacher and human being.  Well done.  Well done.

Hauling music gear through belly deep snow

About one year ago (Feb 29th be exact – leap year!) I packed up many things musical, and departed for Fairbanks, Alaska to begin recording my new CD Stay Warm at 10th Planet, the beloved studio of the North Woods. Here’s a little photo documentary and video clip of the journey from cabin to car atop belly-deep snow.

This was the typical scenario whenever I was leaving to play a gig or go to the studio in winter in Alaska.  Music could not be made without a blue plastic sled at hand.

Click on any photo in the gallery below to start a slideshow – the captions will show above each picture.

Here’s a little video of an exuberant me setting off on my musical adventure.   And now a year later, my 11-song baby is finally  getting ready to be sent to press.   Sometimes it feels like the whole last 12 months, with all its creations and changes, was one big swashbuckling slog through deep snow…