August 1, 2013

So You Think My Music Should Be Free

The Loop > Magazine > Issue 7

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By Bill Lonero

So you think music should be free, huh? OK. But before I give you my music, let me explain what it takes to create an independent album and get it out on the market. I’m not telling you this to impress you—rather, I’m telling you this to impress upon you the value of music and the value of the musicians that make it.

Let’s start with the conception of a song. For me, it begins with a riff when I pick up my guitar ($1,800) and plug into my amp ($3,500) and start to work on it. I try to get it as close as I can to what I hear in my head, which can take anywhere from a couple minutes to a couple days. When I have the riff down, I turn on my computer ($1,700) and open up my recording software ($700).

Sometimes, I’ll spend hours just playing a riff over and over until it seems like it naturally has a place to go. Once I have the intro riff, I’ll work on a verse. This can take another few hours—you have to make sure everything fits together. It’s like a puzzle—if you put a piece in the wrong place, the puzzle won’t fit together, or, in this case, the song will sound terrible.

So far I’ve spent about two days just on these two riffs. When I’m satisfied that I have a solid foundation to work with, I can now focus on the overall feel of the song. Now it’s time to work on the chorus, maybe a bridge, solo section and so on. This whole process can take weeks to get right. Once I get this down, I will write a drum track using my drum software ($600)—I spend hours creating the right drum beats, as drums help “drive” a song.

After the rhythmic structure is recorded, it’s time to work on the melodies. These are the vocals of the song, which have to tell a story and engage the listener. The melody can take longer than the song itself sometimes. This process can take weeks of just playing the same song over and over until the melody is just right. Once the melody and solo sections are done, it’s now time to rehearse the song with the band.

My drummer will count off “1,2,3,4” on his drum kit ($15,000). My other guitar player will start playing along on his guitar ($2,500) and amp ($1,500). My bass player will join in on his bass ($3,000) and amp ($1,200). We will rehearse this one song over and over for hours trying to get it right—maybe tweaking it here and there so it sounds perfect. I may add in some effects using pedals like a wah ($250), delay ($125), or phaser ($135)—that’s just a few. Sometimes you need to add “flavor” to a song just like you would add spices to a meal. That’s what pedals do.

(When referring to the equipment used on the album, I am not suggesting that it needs to be purchased for every CD. The guitars, amps, drums and bass are all one-time purchases, but they were investments we made to get the album done.)

So we’ve rehearsed the song and we’ve got it down. Now what? We go through that same process about 15 more times to create the other songs for the album. This whole undertaking can last a year: writing, rewriting, rehearsals and having to replace gear and spend more money on things that break.

Now it’s time to record the CD. Studio rental can cost about $150 to $200 per day. (That’s $1,500 to $2,000 over the course of recording one album. if you’re really prepared, you can get in and out of the studio in about 10 days.) None of that includes the producer—the right one can make or break a CD, and a producer can cost about $10,000. After recording, you have to mix the CD, which can cost another $2,000 to $3,000. Once it’s mixed, the album has to be mastered. This is the process that brings everything together and makes the CD sound like the music you end up buying in the store. Mastering is usually about $100 to $150 per song, so a ten-song CD will cost about $1,500 to master.

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