Producers Weigh In On Kickstarter Recording Budgets

Over the past two years, crowdfunding – whether it’s through Kickstarter, Indiegogo, PledgeMusic, or a custom page on an artist’s website – has grown at a rate that’s impossible to ignore. At the current pace, contributions to Kickstarter campaigns alone are expected to account for over $150 million in arts funding in 2012. That’s more than the entire National Endowment for the Arts.

While this figure does speak to the historically low levels of national arts funding, it also says a lot about how quickly crowdfunding has become a major force in the creative economy. Just two months ago, Amanda Palmer raised over one million dollars for her new album and art book, and today, self-released artists who use the platform to secure tens of thousands of dollars to make new albums have begun to look “normal.”

Amanda Palmer raised nearly $1.2 million on Kickstarter

In June of this year, a website called AppsBlogger shared an infographic that suggested that as many as 68% of music projects on Kickstarter ultimately reached their funding goals. But based on the newest numbers from Kickstarter, the success rate for music projects is closer to 55% today. Thankfully, this is still a bit higher than the overall Kickstarter success rate, which hovers around 44%.

According to the service itself, there’s a stark line between the campaigns that succeed and the ones that fail: “Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing in more ways than one,” the company warns. “While 12% of projects finished having never received a single pledge, 82% of projects that raised more than 20% of their goal were successfully funded.”

Some artists, it seems, know what they’re doing, while some quite simply, don’t.

So what is it that separates the winners from the losers? The research suggests that it all comes down to one word: Planning. Studies show that winning campaigns are most likely to come from artists with large social networks, who create videos, offer many different reward levels, keep their campaigns short and focused, and – perhaps most importantly of all – set sensible, pragmatic goals.

What To Budget For

There are many how-to articles on the web that will give you comprehensive advice on all the ins and outs of a successful crowdfunding campaign. This isn’t one of them.

Today, we’ll focus on  just one thing: setting a realistic goal for your campaign. To fill in this blank and help figure out a budgetary goal that will work for you, we reached out to a handful of our most-trusted producers, engineers and studio owners from various levels of the industry.

Nadim Issa, Let ‘Em In Music

Nadim Issa of Let ‘Em In Music does good work and keeps his rates affordable, which has helped him become one of the busiest studio owners in his zip code – especially where up-and-coming artists are concerned. His spacious and casual Park Slope tracking room has hosted bands like Ava Luna, Soft Black and Dinosaur Feathers, as well as singer-songwriters like Sharon Van Etten and Julia Nunes.

Issa says that a growing number of his clients are coming to rely on crowdfunding, and when we spoke with him, he had just finished work on a project that was funded entirely through Kickstarter.

“For a full-length album, I’d say to shoot for at least $5,000 and up to $20,000,” says Issa. He then adds that the $5,000 figure would allow for a spirited, quick-and-dirty recording more than a refined production.

“If the artist already has a significant built-in audience then certainly that number can be much higher than either of those. Maybe $5,000 for every week spent working on the album is an appropriate rule of thumb.”

Let ‘Em In Music stands at the more affordable end of the spectrum, but Issa’s basic figures were echoed among many of the producers and engineers we spoke to.

Jonathan Jetter of Right Angle Recording in Manhattan has also found work with a growing number of crowdfunding artists. Nearly all of them, he says, have used “some kind of humorous promo video to advertise the campaign.”

To him, the $5,000 figure also seems a bit too low for a traditional full-length album. He mentions that his client Abby Payne raised more than $6,000 for her new EP, while Railbird used crowdfunding to secure a few thousand to work on their new single and video.

“Obviously, the target amount varies based on each band’s circumstances,” Jetter says, “but I think $10,000-$12,000 for a full-length is a good ballpark number.”

“Things will sound good, and there’s enough money to send the album out for mastering with someone who’s not necessarily working at [one of the top rooms], but who is still very good. The band will have to rehearse a lot, pre-production will be essential, and we’ll have to move fairly quickly – but we won’t be cutting corners, and it still leaves just enough wiggle room to deal with one or two unexpected things.”

“If we’re contracting a bunch of session players, or if we’re also trying to build in a PR budget, then that number might have to go up a bit. And if I’m just mixing the record, $400/song seems to be the ballpark number for success without bankruptcy for anybody.”

Even producer Chris Coady, who’s made a name for himself making albums that have become cultural touchstones with bands like TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blonde Redhead and Beach House agrees that a wide variety of budgets can work. You just have to be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.

Chris Coady

“You can make a good-sounding record for $5,000. Of course, at that rate you’d probably just be buying some interfaces and microphones and speakers and figuring out how to use them,” said Coady. who got his humble start more than a decade ago when a friend’s band gave him their entire recording budget to buy a 24-track tape machine and hand-me-down Soundcraft desk.

“Any good producer would probably want at least $10,000, and you could make a good record for that,” Coady says. “You could also make a great record for $100,000. At that point, you’re really buying more and more time.”

“Any good producer would probably want at least $10,000, and you could make a good record for that,” Coady says. “You could also make a great record for $100,000. And at that point, you’re really buying more and more time.”

Coady maintains a healthy skepticism about what crowdfunding might mean for the long-term health of the music. In our conversation, he wonders aloud if artists lose some of their purity by appealing for funds in this way, and when he looks at some of the most desperate campaigns, can’t help but feel a little sad. But Coady also says that on some level, the approach does appeals to his punk rock roots, and from a practical standpoint, it looks like the successful campaigns can work. Crowdfunding has paid him his rate once so far.

Narrowing Down The Figure

Producer engineer Ben Rice, who runs studio Degraw Sound (which we profiled last month) presents a basic equation that might help musicians figure out what their budgets should be.

“I think a good starting point for most indie bands is to budget for a minimum of one day per song for tracking and a minimum of a half day per song for mixing. Apply that to whatever the studio and/or producer rate is, and then add in appropriate pre-production sessions (which really can vary from project to project and producer to producer) as well as at least $100-150 per song for proper mastering.”

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  • So bummed

    There is nothing about music or how it should or could be made. This is offensive.

  • It’s true that there is no talk of technique or style or aesthetics in this story. Apologies if that was a bummer for you — But we do have many articles on those topics that you might enjoy!

    The goal of this article was to ask experienced full-time professionals what they feel are pragmatic goals that will help artists with career aspirations to make the music they want to make with out compromise — or a steep learning curve.

    Although we focused on interviewing affordable and mid-priced professionals, it is true that these goals are not necessarily appropriate for musicians who are content to remain passionate hobbyists.

    Looking back on it, I wish that the editorial aspect of this piece had made that distinction more clear. Mea culpa on that one. I’ll try to do better next time.

  • I’ve received a few great emails about this story, and want to take a quick moment to add some context.

    The goal of this article was to ask full-time professionals for their experienced opinions and to help artists who have career aspirations to set pragmatic goals that will allow them to make great music without undue compromise or a steep learning curve.

    Although we intentionally interviewed affordable and mid-priced professionals only, it’s true that even these historically low budgetary goals are not necessarily appropriate for amateur musicians who are experimenting with their very first recordings, or for those who are content to remain passionate and principled hobbyists.

    Looking back on it, I wish that the slim editorial portion of this piece had made that distinction more clear. I guess I didn’t think if it, because SonicScoop is a production magazine geared toward professional readers (many of whom often work with budgets higher than these.)

    For the record, I don’t intend to suggest that people who work outside of a sustainable commercial framework are making music that’s any less “good” or “valid” than those who work inside of it. Far from it.

    Ultimately, this article could have been more diplomatic and more comprehensive if I had done a better job of describing its parameters. I’ll certainly think of that the next time I approach an article like this one!

    But as for the actual advice expressed within? I think it’s all very smart, sensible, and reflective of the baseline budgets that tend to go into the commercial releases that tend to find the audiences they deserve.

    It’s one of our goals to present a wide variety of professional voices and a myriad of opinions. To that end, I believe it’s very valuable that each of these working producers expressed their unique perspectives in an honest and straightforward way.

    Thanks for the feedback,

    Justin

  • Purplefish

    I personally found it very informative. But I am a studio owner so this reinforces what I tell most bands that I deal with. Thanks!!

  • I know exactly what you mean Purplefish. It’s always great to see the things you tell other musicians told by others. Gotta love reinforcement.