September 19, 2020

The Costs of Being a Successful Independent Artist

the costs of being a successful independent artist

Being in a position of running your entire music career is a probably a dream for most artists. But everything comes at price and sometimes you have to give up something(s) in order to get something.

If you want to go (and stay there) the Independent route and never deal with major labels, have you considered the costs?

As an Independent musician you are all alone and that means you are completely responsible for funding your own career.

It’s not enough to make music but you have to go out there and hustle!

But you need money to hustle and making sure that your career runs like a well-oiled machine.  A business requires start capital and working capital in order to keep it going.

As an ambitious and savvy artist you have to think and operate like a normal business and have to access to capital especially working capital.

If you want to know what it will cost you to be a successful Indie artist, this post is for you. I use term “successful” but please bear in mind that success is subjective and interpreted differently by everyone.

Let’s get to the interesting part.

Sound Recordings

You will either need to set-up your own budget recording studio at home or you can rent a “professional” studio with all the fancy equipment in order to make music.

However both options will still cost you money anyway. If you don’t have the technical skills and equipment to record your music, you should expect to budget and fund the following: 

Sound Engineers: Most recording studios (like the ones you see on TV) usually charge hourly rates. In most cases the rates include an in-house recording engineer who is employed by the studio.

Producers: Producers and beat makers will charge you upfront for beats (this depends on the genre) unless you can negotiate a deal that allow them to be paid via royalties only. A beat (depending on the genre of course) can cost you anything between 10 ZAR to 5000 ZAR and more depending who you’re dealing with!

Mixing and mastering:  I won’t explain what mixing and mastering entails in detail. But I cannot over emphasise the importance of making sure that your music is properly mixed and mastered by professionals. And by professionals I mean people that are either qualified or know exactly what they are doing.

Most engineers will charge you per track or single, but rates decrease when you submit a full project such as an album or EP (Extended Play).

If you are looking for top notch mastering, I would recommend that you read the previous article I wrote on the best mastering engineers.

Landr Mastering is also a viable option for most Independent artists. 

The one thing I like about this entire process is the fact that once your sound recordings are completed you own the master recordings and most of the music copyrights if not all (producers and songwriters should be considered).

Marketing

Music Videos: Before YouTube it was hard to release a music video to a global audience. It was either VH1, MTV and here in South Africa Channel O, SABC but I know that most of you know what I’m talking about.

Because the music video budget is coming straight from your pocket (or whoever is loaning you the money) you would have to work on the video concept or storyline, find the director, location, extras, you name it the list endless.

Website: A website should be part of your marketing arsenal, especially in these times. This is like your personal business card but on the web. A website only works best if you know what you’re doing.

From a musicians standpoint you should include as much content as possible such as your music (embedded not uploaded) and articles such as news updates on career. 

Managing a music website is no child’s play so you would have to find and employ a dedicated person to handle most of these tasks.  On the monetary side luckily, the cost of building a high quality website has gone down dramatically thanks to powerful DIY content management systems such as Joomla, WordPress and many more.

Facebook Ads: In South Africa Facebook Ads cost as little as 10 ZAR ($0.60) per day (the last time I checked). But in order to reach more people and sell your music, you will need a better budget than that.  You don’t have to break the bank but a minimum daily budget of 100 ZAR ($ 6) and above will get you somewhere.

Posters: You will need money to print as many posters as possible and also ensure that these are placed where your target audience hangs out or resides. The cost of printing posters (or anything for that matter) declines when you place bulk orders. But somebody has to foot the bill and that is you! 

PR and Publicity: Outsourcing a Public Relations Agency can also work in your favour because it will allow you to focus on doing what you know best – making music and mastering your stage performances.

A PR Agency will handle tasks such as securing radio and television interviews, radio plugging, and digital marketing.

These services can cost anything from 2500 ZAR ($145) per month and above depending on the company’s reputation and experience.

Results are not guaranteed though but you will definitely get peace of mind if you’re in the right hands.  

Distribution

Physical Distributors: If your market stills buys music in physical format such as CD’s and Vinyl (yes the vinyl has made a comeback) then you should consider replicating your records. But do so with caution because manufacturing CD’s on a tight budget is a scary and risky. Because what happens when you print thousands of copies only to find out that you can’t sell most of it?

I think you know the answer to that.

An Independent music distributor will do a pressing and distribution deal on condition that you have a sales history and can prove that your music is in demand or doing well in the marketplace.

But a P&D deal is old school and very few artists and indie labels opt for this unless there is a huge demand as mentioned.

This type of a deal also requires that you pay for your own marketing and promotions, meeting monthly sales targets (or the distributor will drop you and withhold your royalties), admin, calculating and payment of royalties, et cetera.  You would need to hire your own staff to handle most of those duties.

Digital Distributors:

Getting your music to the rest of the world is easier if you partner with a reliable digital aggregator.

There are plenty of companies that can help you with that. The beauty with Digital distribution is that it’s scalable, cheaper and the barrier to entry is low compared to physical distribution.

Let’s take TuneCore for example which is one of the biggest distributors in the world. Their pricing is follows:

Single Release – $ 9.99 per year

Ringtone – $19.99 per year

Album – $29.99 per and $49.99 each following

If this seems like a bad deal for you, then you have the option of teaming with competitors such as Label Worx Distribution. They don’t charge any upfront fees instead they deduct about 18% from your royalties for providing the service.

Additional Costs that I didn’t mention above:

Conclusion

There’s a reason why most artists are signed to label deals – staying Independent costs money and time.

You have to do everything that a traditional label/business does and as a one-man army the chances of succeeding are pretty much slim.

But it’s not impossible if you can build a team and the right network. However this is not for everyone because you have to sacrifice your time and money. If done right it might turn out to be rewarding.