Do You Need Money For Music?

There is still a perception amongst the general public – and probably amongst many musicians – that it costs a lot of money to produce an album. While it is certainly possible to spend huge amounts on production, a professional grade recording is also achievable on a very modest budget…which begs the question, do we really need advances, or fan funding?

Put The Cash Up Front

Creative Commons License photo credit: billaday

It’s obvious that in order to be a professional musician, you need to make a living from your musical endeavours. However, this is actually a different issue from producing an album; nowadays, the album itself is not necessarily the mainstay of artist income that it has been in the past.

Nonetheless, there are a number of sites which aim to gather fan funding with the express aim of paying for the production of an album – such as slicethepie, kickstarter and pledgemusic.

Brian at passivepromotion has an interesting post about this issue:

Anyone can make a record for next to nothing these days. Almost any other hobby is more expensive: photography, mountain biking, even video gaming. When a teenager singing into a webcam gets exponentially more views on YouTube than your latest “professional” video, the answer isn’t more money…You’re just not there yet.

This ties into the phenomenon of Gear Acquisition Syndrome, but also into the idea of alternative approaches to making money from music. Sites like slicethepie et al. are not altruistic ventures; they want to make money too, whether it be from commissions, advertising, or whatever their business model might be. Derek Sivers set up CD Baby because the easiest way to get his music out on a label was to set up a label of his own – and he made it viable by providing a fantastic service to other musicians.

Many entities have a vested interest in maintaining the notion that an album requires significant financial investment up front; but in reality, all the gear you need to record an album can be picked up for relatively little cash. For example, we could pick the fairly arbitrary yet achievable figure of, say, about a grand (the larger the band, the greater the cost – but a grand per member can cover pretty much any band’s outlay). If you have a day job, then you should be able to afford this. If you already have your instruments, then the cost will be even less.

But for 1k, a one-man band can pick up a basic laptop, DAW, soundcard, MIDI keyboard, and microphone – entry-level gear which can nonetheless produce a decent recording, in the right hands (the expertise required to effectively use this equipment is of course a whole other story).

However, for someone in school, a grand might be a seemingly unattainable sum; and perhaps this is the target audience for fan-funding sites – up-and-coming bands with no income. But even in this case, it seems unlikely that the difference between ‘making it’ and not ‘making it’ has much to do with money. Funding can be found in plenty of ways; it may be a bit much to expect to make money from your music right from the beginning. A more prudent approach might be to look for other ways to fund the basic equipment, and if the music is good enough, then even a home-made album should open some doors…


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