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Carlock: Why do artists bother recording?

Published 7:38am Saturday, October 20, 2012

Today’s column is targeted at those musicians and singers who have gotten a bit of a start, they’ve built up a bit of a fan base and they’re faced with their first real expense as an artist or band: making a recording.

But before we talk about how, let’s ask a really important question: Why? Oh, it seems like a simple little three-letter word, but you have no idea how important this question is and how deep it goes with a musician/singer. The answer to that question exposes everything. It tells me how much you believe in yourself, it tells me how committed you are and it tells me if you have one inkling of the work ahead of you in achieving your dream. It tells me if you really even have a dream!

I’ve seen bands completely break up at the prospect of making recordings, or just after making their first record. I’ve seen band members quit or get replaced because of recordings. As an L.A. session musician, I’ve been hired to replace certain band members’ parts to allow the record to be the best it can be. Because at a pro level, the song and the record are king and queen of the court and the artist is really akin to the prime minister. And make no mistake, just like in the U.K., the prime minister (artist) takes the public’s blame or the acclaim for everything, while the king and queen continue their reign. Artists come and go, but songs and records live forever if they can get some attention. Because they do, the artist can remembered by default, but there’s no guarantee.

So why should you make an independent record? The reason should be to promote the artist/band and build a fan base. And for all the investors, self or third party, this venture needs to generate enough sales to pay back costs and earn a profit for their risk, even if it’s small. Food for thought: on a $30,000 investment, a return of $300 profit over 12 months is still far better than certificates of deposit currently yield on the same amount, if you can guarantee the principle’s return, of course.

How about these answers:

“Because everyone else does.” Womp, womp, womp … sorry, next.

“Because it sounds like a cool idea.” Womp, womp, womp … No!

“Because I’ve always wanted to.” Sorry, this one’s closest because it shows true desire, but there still has to be more.

Making a record is serious business because it costs serious money. The cost of making an independent record is the cost of buying a quality new car, $30,000 to $50,000. Who’s going to fund it? All the band members, right? In a perfect world, sure, but that often isn’t the case.

Now you see why bands break up when they try to make a pro independent record. Putting four people on the hook for $7,500 each if copies don’t sell makes the non-committed hit the road running. All of a sudden things got real. So, can the band sell the copies? Seven hundred fifty each? How? What’s the week-by-week plan? Sales projections? The payback math is simple — 3,000 records at $10 each pays back the $30,000. Five thousand units generates $20,000 in profit.

Hmm. This is starting to sound better, but there needs to be a plan. You can eat an elephant one bite at a time, but you have to keep biting. Make a bite-by-bite plan, then a plan B. To think about making an independent record, you should be plotting how you will sell 5,000 units. You should be able to sell that number in 170 shows to approximately 150 people per show (20 percent sales/attendance). This number sounds good to labels, too. And don’t cheap out. Make a sales plan. If you can’t get the right gigs, wait and get the right gigs. There are enough crappy records out there in landfills and rummage sales. Get a producer who will tell you that you suck when you do (tactfully, I hope), and help you be better.

So here’s the best answer to the question “Why” you should make a pro-level independent record: “Because making a professional record will give me a vehicle to promote my music and live appearances to a new, larger fan base. It will aid me as I do the necessary work to prepare myself for major label interest through the numerous shows I will be need to play in order to sell 3,000 to 5,000 units. Along this path, I will grow significantly through the relationships I make, the performing experiences I have, my nationwide competition that I will encounter and the invaluable big picture perspective I gain in seeing how performing live music energizes fans and sales in a successful way that is lost in the doom-and-gloom reporting in the upper echelon music business.” Or something like that.

Many musicians play in a band simply for fun or as an opportunity to party with their friends in weekend rehearsals or just to get laid after a gig. However, only in your youth can you go for the gold, when you’re willing to risk it all. It is a lot more work than people realize. And if you’re not doing the work already, you will never impress an investor or label enough to help you get there. If you’re ever going to do it, do it now.

NEXT WEEK: Why aspiring artists who buy recording studios either waste their money or kill their artist career (or both).Dave Carlock is a 25-year veteran of the entertainment business whose work as a recording engineer and producer, touring musician, and songwriter made him Googleable. His continuing work as an Independent Content Creator of Sound and Image has earned him a Grammy Award certificate, two Platinum Record Awards, and a Paragon Award in advertising. Currently, he brings national and international artists to make records and music videos at his production studio in the Benton Harbor Arts District. www.davecarlock.com

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