“For EPs, I think it’s good to have an extra day built into the budget, and for full-lengths, an extra couple of days. There are usually new ideas that come out in the studio, and it’s nice to have the space and time to try them out. Those little things can often elevate a recording from a ‘professional sounding demo’ to ‘a record’.”
“If the recordings will be overdub-heavy or have more elaborate orchestration, whether it’s layering guitars, keys, strings, horns – you name it – then tracking and mixing times would go up proportionately. If the band is going for a live type of vibe, then the tracking could move even quicker.”
That’s about as straight-forward as it can be said. If there’s a common theme here, it’s that there is no one-size-fits-all figure. Just guidelines.
To really hash out the details and come up with a concrete number for an effective campaign, it’s best to get a producer involved early on in the process. That’s what John Davis, co-owner and engineer at The Bunker Studio in Williamsburg had to say. Davis has worked with artists like The Black Keys, Dangermouse, and Lettuce, and his no-nonsense approach to making records has helped him and partner Aaron Nevzie expand into an impressive new 3,000 square-foot space this year.
“The biggest mistake people make in any case is not consulting with an experienced producer/engineer beforehand,” he says.
“The other biggest mistake is probably working with people who are completely useless and just call themselves ’producers‘ because they make beats.”
“People are a little too quick to give themselves titles these days – whether it’s a ‘mastering engineer’ who just bought some software and decided that, he too can overcompress your record – or someone who thinks that being a ‘producer’ means just sitting around in the control room, arguing with the band and watering down their vision.”
It may sound a little harsh on paper, but Davis has seen this first-hand, just like so many of us have: The well-intentioned artists, without guidance, working on albums that never seem to come to completion; or that lurch forward in jerking, sporadic chunks of undefined frenzy, until they fizzle out into a useless pile of exhausted dreams.
“People with experience know how much time it really takes to make things and how to stay on track,” Davis reminds us. “If you talk to anyone who knows what they’re doing they’ll tell you that you can’t do shit with $4,000 dollars if you want to make a full-length. You should be making an EP.”
“With a real producer – anyone who has genuine experience – their job is to deliver a master on time and in budget. If anyone tells you they can do it for a lot less, be very suspicious and ask to hear their work. They probably don’t have much experience at all.”
When he presents some offhand numbers, Davis is quick to remind potential crowdfunders to think about whether their budget will just be for production, or if a portion of it will be earmarked to press, distribute and promote the album as well.
“I’ve had some artists who’ve used Kickstarter just to cover the back-end,” he says. “The mastering, duplicating and promoting. That can sometimes be more expensive than the recording.”
“Online PR and marketing is its own little cottage industry now,” Davis says. “Sometimes people talk about how it’s so amazing that this little band is blowing up on Pitchfork, but they don’t realize that little band has one of the biggest promotion agencies in the world backing it up.”
“There are certain companies who are good at making bands blow up online,” he adds. “Of course that’s not going to work for everybody, because those agencies have to think you’re capable of being ‘blown-up’ too. But a good producer can say, ‘Well okay, it’ll take $12,000 to produce and then maybe it’s four months of online PR for $8,000, so you’re gonna need $20,000 total – and then we have to think about whether we’ll be pressing these up as well or if there will be a label for that.’”
For Davis, these numbers aren’t meant to be taken literally. The point is that unless you plan your project with someone who has seen many projects through to completion, then the chances are huge that you will suffer the same pitfalls as countless artists before you.
How To Run A Successful Campaign
There’s something to be learned from every failure, and from every success. Thankfully, if you plan on having a career, you don’t have to learn them all first hand. Zach McNees, who weighed in on last week’s mixing tips and contributes his own articles to SonicScoop regularly, has quickly become something of an expert on Kickstarter campaigns in particular.
“At this point I’ve worked on eight recording or mixing projects that were funded by Kickstarter,” he says. “I’ve consulted directly on the setup of four of them.”
“I originally discovered Kickstarter two years ago when my friend, a songwriter called Bleu, launched a campaign to fund the distribution and promotion of a new album that was already in the can. Bleu was really smart, and he sat down with a TV writer who gave him some pointers on how to do his video, and he came up with an amazingly creative set of rewards that really showed he was giving as much back to his fans as they were to him. His goal was $8,000 and he raised just under $40,000, which really blew my mind.”
Julia and Enter the Haggis’ campaigns in particular have been a stunning success. Julia raised nearly $80,000 and Enter the Haggis are close to $60,000 right now. What really stuns me the most is the average dollar amount spent per backer. Enter the Haggis’ fans are averaging $78 per person at the five week mark into their campaign. Amazing.”
For all his enthusiasm, McNees is still clear-eyed about setting workable goals. “I wouldn’t recommend using Kickstarter if you’re not going to try to raise at least $10,000,” he says. “The reason for that is that you can only go to that well so many times to ask your fans to support you and a product that doesn’t exist yet. For the more established acts with a strong fan base, a year to a year-and-a-half is a good rule of thumb in between projects.”
McNees, sees this approach as perhaps the most sensible option for established self-releasing artists. But he doesn’t think it’s for everybody.
“Young bands that are just getting started and haven’t played many shows or written many songs would be wise to avoid diving directly into fan-funding,” McNees warns. “You have to have fans for it to work!”
“Establish yourself as an artist that people want to listen to and go out see, and then when you’re ready to make your record, hopefully you’ll be able to arrange it so that you’re not paying 100% out of pocket.”
Crowdfunding isn’t the only way to go, and there’s no guarantee of success if you do decide to try it. But if you have some kind of following already, can secure a little expert help, and set some realistic goals, it’s certainly a workable strategy. Like the producers we spoke to for this article, I’ve seen that first hand.