Is Producing Music Expensive?

For better or for worse, the shift to the digital way of marketing and consuming new music has allowed anyone from the casual hobbyist to the dedicated full-time musician to find their own path towards getting their songs made and out there. If you’re someone who is intrigued by the idea of trying your hand at creating and releasing a song, or you’re a new musician who is just getting your feet settled in your craft, the question may arise at some point: is making music expensive?

Producing your own music with your own equipment can cost as little as $600 – $800 depending on the equipment you choose to use. A more professional set up will range from $1200+. If you decide to outsource the production and decided to hired studio time and a professional engineer, you would be expected to pay significantly more. 

Below I will run down a number of possible costs you may incur if you’re serious about producing music. 

How Much Does Music Production Equipment Costs?

It is more than possible to handle the majority of music production by yourself with today’s accessibility to affordable equipment. Unlike external studio costs, which are hourly or one-time fees, the money you invest in your own equipment can be spread across any and all projects you produce.

Of course, the challenge with recording and mixing your own music is that it puts the burden on you to ensure that you develop the know-how to produce at a level of quality. This can take years of experimenting and education to get to a level that you feel like you can mix on your own.

Also, you have to consider the difference in quality between recording your vocals and instruments in your own home versus a professionally treated studio.

Personally, I have been producing my music at my own home for almost seven years now, and I feel that my mixing abilities only reached a level that is comparable to professional level mixing about two years ago.

With that said in mind, it is still highly recommended to have some type of working set up to record at home, even if it is for the sole ability to create a decent enough demo of a song to bring to the studio and professionally record. Below is a list of gear that would be required to have a working setup at your home.

  • Computer – The majority of modern computers can handle the programs and power needed to record a song, but just keep in mind that if you intend on recording and mixing mainly at home, bigger projects demand much more than simple demos. If you’re using an existing computer or laptop, I would recommend it has at least 4GB of RAM to accommodate the power needed for running your DAW. I had to upgrade my 2011 MacBook to a desktop iMac earlier this year because I would be mixing my next project myself and the laptop was not at all able to handle the project sizes of my songs. With that said, a computer for producing music will cost you at least $400 – $600. For a decent music production computer, we would recommend spending at least $600+.
  • Digital Audio Workstation – The Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is the music program that you will use for recording and mixing songs. There is a variety of DAWs available, and while each one provides their own unique approach to crafting songs, it is of a general consensus that it is not really important which DAW you pick to record with. Garageband is a free DAW available on Apple products and is a very usable DAW if you want to make demos. I started out with Garageband because it was free, and then decided to get Logic, another Apple exclusive DAW, which is essentially a more professional version of Garageband. Pro Tools is considered the standard DAW used by recording and mixing engineers, however, you will find it more common that studios nowadays will just use any DAW they are comfortable with. Most standard versions of DAWs start around $200, and with extra features including audio interfaces or other equipment that may come with the package, can go up to $5000.
  • Audio Interface – This is the piece of recording equipment that connects your external instruments to your DAW. It will also provide power for your condenser microphone if it uses phantom power. Prices for audio interfaces increased based on the number of outputs and inputs they include, extra features such as a mixing panel on the device itself, and the quality and prestige of the brand that would improve the quality of your recordings. A decent, serviceable audio interface can cost you as little as $150, while a more professional one that you may see in a more experienced musician’s repertoire would cost around $2000. They can go up to $10,000.
  • Microphone – This will be your primary recording device. While there are a variety of USB microphones available for as little as $20, it is highly recommended that you get a condenser microphone because it will immediately provide you with a recording quality that can be used for professional level songs. I would suggest the Rode NT1-A microphone as an excellent start, which at $299 also includes a pop filter and shock mount that will improve your recording quality. There are also many options available like the Audio Technica AT2020 at $140, but you would probably need to buy a shock mount and pop filter for around $30-40. You can definitely start cheaper here and upgrade whenever you feel the need.
  • Headphones/Monitors – To ensure that you are making a quality mix, it is all dependent on your ears. That is why it is very important to get studio monitors or studio quality headphones to mix with rather than just using computer speakers or EarPods, for example. Even headphones like Beats are not recommended to mix on because they are designed more for listening and enhancing bass rather than hearing the sound in an unbiased way. Depending on your work environment and budget, I would recommend studio monitors over headphones because they put less strain on your ears and give you a better sense of how a mix sounds. A beginner pair of monitors, like the KRK Rokit 5 inch, would cost you around $400. They can go upwards of $10,000 for one monitor depending on their quality, which is not generally needed in a home setup. As for headphones, there are a number of good quality pairs available for $100-200. It is good to know that closed-back headphones are ideal for recording, while open-back headphones are recommended for mixing. If you can only buy one pair, I would recommend open-back headphones if you are not able to use monitors, since using them for mixing will be more important.
  • Harddrive – An external hard drive is also highly recommended for music production. Music projects can get into the range of 4-8 GB per song based on the number of instruments and tracks you have recorded, so it is good to have an external source of space to store these large files. Also, working off of a hard drive takes some of the burdens off of your computer in terms of processing power, making your projects run a lot smoother and faster. An SSD, or Solid State Drive, is recommended since they are much faster and will make your bigger projects run much more efficiently. The cheapest, 256 GB SSD hard drives will cost around $120. You can also get a regular external hard drive with 1 TB of space for around $80, but you may or may not need all that space and may want to consider investing in the SSD for its performance ability.
  • MIDI Controller – MIDI is the digital language of DAWs that converts musical notes so they can be sent across synthesizers, computers, and samplers. Unless you plan on using only live instruments for your recordings, you will run into MIDI at some point to use the software instruments available through your DAW as well as the ones you can download for free or purchase online. This will allow you to create a digital beat, playing drums, keys, and any other sounds you can find using the piano style keys of a MIDI controller. A basic controller, like the M-Audio Mini 32, costs around $70.

This list did not take into account any other purchases like guitars, drums, analog synthesizers, and any sort of acoustic treatment, as it was only a list to ensure you have a comprehensive workstation that you could make a quality song with.

Adding up all of this equipment, you could have a functioning home setup for around $1800. This, of course, is the bare minimum, but it should be enough to serve you in your initial foray into music production.

Is this enough to produce a professional quality song? It definitely is should you have developed enough experience with mixing and recording to be able to do so. The core setup I use at home is around $2500 not including my additional synths and instruments.

The extra costs go towards a bigger hard drive, my iMac, and studio monitors. With the seven years experience including going to school for music production, this is enough for me to continue to record and mix professional-quality songs for at least the next couple of years, although I still do record and mix at other studios.

Recording/Mixing/Mastering Costs

Unless you’ve invested a great deal of time and money into your home setup to ensure that you can produce your own music at a quality level, you are probably going to want to extradite some of the work to professional recording, mixing, and mastering engineers.

A professional studio can be used for a number of things. You can bring a demo into a studio and rent out a room and record it yourself if you have the experience. If not, you are probably going to also have to hire a recording engineer, who would operate the equipment while you record. They will ensure that you are getting the best possible recording quality during your time in the studio.

Studio rates vary based on the quality of their room and equipment. These prices can range anywhere from $50 to #500 an hour, while you can also work out daily or even weekly rates to accommodate what you need to record in most cases.

If you’re recording everything in the studio, this can easily take up somewhere between 20-40 hours, which means you would be looking at around $1000-$4000.

If you do not know any musicians and instrumentalists who will help you out for free, that would be another cost to consider if you would require that. Depending on the experience and reputation of a musician, they can charge anywhere from $20-$500 a session, and of course, their prices may be hourly or accommodated for your entire project.

A recording engineer, who will ensure that the microphones are placed perfectly and at the optimal levels for recording, can charge anywhere from $200-$500 to upwards of $5000 depending on their reputation.

In some cases, the recording engineer could also be hired to mix your songs as well. Mixing is the actual process of polishing each individual track with effects and adjusting their volume and placement in the overall song to ensure the best quality sound of that song.

Mixing engineers generally charge per song or per album, but can also provide you an hourly rate. You can probably find a good quality mixing engineer for $200-$500 per song, but of course, they can also get into the range of charging upwards of $5000 per song based on their reputation.

Mastering is the final step in producing a song. This is sort of like the final check of a song where it can be deemed worthy of being released. A mastering engineer works in a room that is acoustically treated to perfection to ensure that they are able to listen to the song in the best environment possible.

While a mixing engineer may make aesthetic choices to your song, such as using a specific effect on your vocals that can change the entire feel of the song, a mastering engineer is listening strictly for the audio quality and does not generally make any changes that would impact the emotion or feel. They ensure that the songs’ volume levels are on par with any song that would be released on a professional streaming service, and if you give them an album to master, they ensure that all the volume levels are even across all songs.

They also ensure that the songs flow well into one other, finding the perfect balance between the end and beginning of each song. While you can definitely record and mix your own songs, it is generally recommended that you pay for mastering since they have the experience, room, and equipment that are all specifically designed for ensuring the optimal perfection of your sound quality.

You can find decent mastering engineers who may charge between $200-$300 a song, but of course, there are the highly acclaimed mastering engineers who can charge anywhere upwards of $3000 a song.

In the scenario of producing a song entirely through another studio, you can see the costs starting to rise. It is for this reason that I would definitely recommend having the ability to do any or most o the process of producing a song, whether it be recording or mixing, at home so that you can affordably continue to produce more than one project.

If you were to pay for studio time, a recording engineer, some session musicians, a mixing engineer, and mastering engineer, you could be looking at a minimum of $6000-$7000 to produce an 8 song album depending on the quality of engineers and studio that you can find.

Education Costs

If you really want to have a full-time career in music production, whether it be as a musician or engineer, going to a school or program that teaches an audio production is definitely a viable option.

They are generally programs that range from 1-2 years and immerse you in all aspects of production from how to properly record various instruments and vocals, to familiarizing yourself with the concepts of EQ and compression, to learning how a professional studio operates.

The program I attended, Independent Music Production at Seneca College, was a 2-semester program that lasted from January until August. The program included everything it requires to produce music independently, including all things recording and mixing, songwriting, grant writing, how to market music, how to mix live sound, and even a little bit on mastering.

The course culminated in a final CD release that compiled a professionally recorded and mixed song from each student, followed by a CD release party that we had to initiate and publicize.

Programs like these, while definitely not necessary for the casual musician, are very useful for those like me who prefer guided methods of learning since I would be more inclined to just start trying things without taking the time to learn the basic principles and building upon them.

The program definitely expedited my ability to start a full-fledged musical career. However, it is obviously a serious time and money investment that would require a decent amount of experience in music and dedication.

My program cost around $8000 for the two semesters, and from researching similar programs that offer the same type of audio production, they cost around this $7000 to $10000 range depending on how long the program is.

Of course, you can also find smaller, less intensive audio production classes which could cost around $60 to $100 per session, or do the same with online resources such as Lynda. There are also a great number of YouTube channels dedicated to guiding you through the basic principles of recording and mixing and can help you very quickly and for free.

Marketing Costs

Assuming that you want to produce your music and try and get it as much attention as possible, some money would have to be invested in the marketing and publicity of your music as well. Below are some various costs of all things included in marketing.

  • Artwork – unless you can also produce the artwork for your project yourself, it is probably a good idea to outsource this step to a professional graphic artist. Paying for artwork, whether it be a professional photographer for press photos or a graphic designer for your album artwork, will help create a visual image to attach to your music that will help to promote and publicize your work. A good graphic designer can be found for $200-$300, while a more complicated work could cost around $2000-$2500.
  • Distribution – If you are only looking to have your music available digitally, the cost of distributing your music is not so bad. There are a few digital distribution services available, such as CD Baby, Tune Core, Distrokid, and Stem, among others. I would recommend Distrokid, as it does not take any royalties from your song earnings like the other ones, it does not charge per song or per album, and only costs around $20 a year for unlimited releases. Physical releases, such as CD and vinyl, will cost a bit more. Producing 1000 copies of CDs can cost around $1500, while vinyl costs around $3500 for 1000 units. It is definitely a good option to consider if you plan on doing live shows or have release parties, as it is an easy way to make money. Considering if you sell your CDs at $10 each, selling 1000 CDs would earn you an $8500 profit.
  • Music Video – A music video is another one of the premier forms of music marketing that can help to get more attention to your songs. Depending on the demands of your video concept, including a rental space, actors, and the quality of the filmmaker or camera operator you hire, you can make a video for as little as $500, while a more polished one can cost anywhere from $2000-$5000.
  • PR – Public Relations, in regards to music marketing, refers to the hiring of a person that has the industry reputation and connections to get your music out to as many labels, blogs, streaming playlists, management, etc. that they are in contact with. This can be a very costly endeavor that may not guarantee any results, but it is definitely one to consider if you believe in your music but cannot find the proper connections to get it out to a larger platform. With regards to my own music, one of the more reasonable options I found for PR was $1500 per song!

There are some easier, but more labor-intensive ways of getting your music out. When I started trying to push out my music, I simply Googled all of the music blogs that I thought would fit my genre of music best and searched their website for an email for submissions.

For these “cold” emails, it would benefit to have a short bio or even a press release written up about who you are and what you are releasing, but in the initial email, it is best to keep it as concise as possible. While I emailed hundreds of blogs and only heard back from about ten or so, it is a free way to try and get your music out there.

These numbers may be jarring, but these are numbers that accumulate over time rather than all at once, so it definitely makes it easier to accommodate into your budget. It is important to remember that the more work and responsibility you take on, the fewer costs you will incur.

With that in mind, I don’t believe that producing music is expensive. The word “expensive” is a term that is relative to one’s own perception of the cost of things. For instance, since I see the value in spending $200 more on a microphone that I believe will produce a better quality sound, and I can accommodate that increase in price, I don’t see it as being expensive even though it increased my overall music expenditure by $200.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the more serious you become about producing, the more likely it becomes that the money you invest into music will start to pay you back in the form of streaming royalties, iTunes purchases, and potential live shows.

There are also opportunities such as artist grants, where you are provided with funds to record or even compose your music in a given period of time.

Even if you are not aiming for the monetary compensation with producing music, it is still a rewarding hobby that doesn’t cost much if you feel like it is something that would be an interesting endeavor for you.

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