As consumers, we expect a lot of things for free.
This shopping list of standard expenses shows why music shouldn't be one of them.
A lot of people are shocked when I tell them how much a day in the studio costs to record just one song. The reality is that this expenditure is just one of hundreds of necessary costs that go into a finished track, and I thought it might be fun to highlight some of these. So here is a list I’ve compiled looking at how much musicians spend on basic expenses every year and what an average single might actually cost to make.
Production – £3,600+
Probably the biggest outlay for independent recording artists like me, professional production or engineering costs are hard to estimate as they can vary massively.
Some producers work alone whilst others work collaboratively with composers and engineers; some charge hourly whilst others charge a fixed day rate; what may take one day for one producer may take two for another, and so on. One quote I found charged $1,000 per minute of fully-produced music, and for this professional’s time and expertise it’s probably fair (see more of this list if you’re unconvinced!).
Lessons – £600
Singing lessons, guitar lessons, oboe lessons – if you’ve studied an instrument you know how much time it takes to develop your skill. £600 is based on fortnightly singing lessons at a pretty standard rate for a year.
Equipment and Instruments – £2,000+
every few years
A good PA system might cost £800. An instrument, easily £500 – probably more. Plus microphones, wires, mixing desks, loopers or other gadgets, the total to kit out a semi-professional 2-piece band (like dad and I who play together) is probably around £2,000 (every few years).
Travel – £800+
I cover 1,289 miles in one year just travelling to my singing tutor. It’s 60 miles every time I go to the studio, and countless more attending rehearsals and performances. Last year my total business mileage was 1,863 miles, equating to £838.35 at 45p per mile. I can’t imagine how much higher this would be for bands who travel all over the country.
Performance time – £75
A study by the Incorporated Society of Musicians showed that duo or ensemble performers charge £150 on average per engagement. For a three hour set, this values each musician at just £25 per hour.
Rehearsing time and venues – £100
Time is valuable, and so is venue hire. £20 per session would be a fair venue hire cost, and for a four hour rehearsal (depressingly standard) at the same hourly rate of £25, the total value of one rehearsal comes to £100.
Writing time – £???
Hmm. Song writing can take aaaages, or it can happen in a flash. I wrote my favourite song in half an hour, others can take around a week. Sting admitted it could take him months – even years – to come up with a song. Next year I will be recording a track 9 years after writing it when I was 16, hauling it through plenty of revisions in the process. It’s impossible to try and calculate this one – I shall leave it up to your imagination!
Training & qualifications – £27,000
Many musicians have spent years training to an extremely high standard. As many of us (er, not me though) know all too well, university fees represent a considerable career investment.
Income tax – £300
If you’re both employed part-time and self-employed like me, this can be a significant expense. Of course, it depends on how many paid performances you take or track recordings you sell, and how much your outlay is in a year. Based on our performance fee above, if dad and I performed every weekend for a year and sold 200 £10 albums in that time, we’d need to pay £1,960 in income tax (before allowable expenses). Realistically, a lot of the expenses in this list are tax deductible so would reduce this a lot – I’ve estimated there might still be £300 to pay.
Managers, agents, etc – £1,960
I’m not cool enough to know these fees firsthand, but a quick Google search tells me a manager might take 20% of gross income – another £1,960.
Promotion, website, printing etc – £700
Marketing costs could include a £2,000 website, plus advertising, branding, social media, print and other promotion which, over 10 years (a good lifespan for a well designed website), could reach £7,000.
Album sleeve design & print – £250
I do all this myself because I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to graphic design, so I know this would cost in the region of £250 for a small artist or £1,000 for wide distribution. Other merchandise would obviously have other costs associated with it.
Payment gateway costs – £108
It’s so disheartening seeing 23p of every 99p download disappearing off to fund moolah mogul Daniel Schulman (or at least his company, PayPal). Fortunately, the Daniel I spoke to at customer support today helped me reduce this to 10p (top tip for small goods sellers!) but that’s still a noticeable percentage, and it doesn’t apply to payments over £9. So based on our scenario of 200 cd sales a year, that’s £108.
Insurance – £50
Did you know specialist musician insurance exists? Nope, me neither.
You wanna hear the grand totals?
An average managed duo could spend (in addition to £27,000 uni fees):
£24,301 per year
A small managed duo could spend:
£4,845 per single
It costs me easily:
£2,300 per single
Now you know!