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.