Why is making music so expensive? Am I getting screwed over?

It would appear that today’s musician is faced with a long list of bills to pay in order to make music and get it heard by an audience, and on the other side of the coin, it seems more and more difficult to earn enough money to pay these bills.

First of all, it’s completely accurate to state that it costs, and should cost, a fairly significant amount of money to produce and release music.  This is a business, and the people involved are doing a ton of hard work, over many hours, for the benefit of your music.  There is a glut of boring, poor quality music released every day that hasn’t seen the benefit of enough skilled contributions, and what money was spent on those recordings is wasted, since the songs won’t rise above the noise in the market.  But is it possible that the music business has become all about stealing money from the artist’s pocket?

Some would say that the music business has ALWAYS been about stealing money from the artist’s pocket.  While I agree there are all shades of shady characters out there, making promises and demanding unreasonable fees, there is also a whole world of friendly, honest specialists whose skills are exactly what you need to make and distribute a great record.

From the music teachers who helped you learn to make music, to the sales experts who helped you buy your instruments and other gear, you’ve already benefitted from specialists before you even reach the point of making your own music.  At this point, you can benefit from the expertise of those who know how to:

  • Write a compelling song
  • Arrange the parts for musicians and music programmers
  • Perform some of the instrumental or vocal parts
  • Capture a great recording of instruments and voices
  • Blend and enhance those recordings into an exciting mix
  • Prepare that mix for manufacturing and distribution
  • Create visual art and design that mirrors your intentions
  • Deliver your finished recording(s) to your listening audience
  • Promote your music to help listeners discover you
  • Look for other opportunities to place your music
  • Follow up on monies that should be paid to you when your music is performed or broadcast
  • Help you figure out what to do next

And this list only looks at the best case scenario – it doesn’t even get into the jobs of keeping a recording session on track and on budget, finding a replacement bass player when yours doesn’t show up, and keeping you calm every step of the way.

For decades, these roles have existed in the music business, and we’ve heard the roles named.  Songwriter, Composer, Arranger, Musician, Vocalist, Recording Engineer, Mix Engineer, Mastering Engineer, Illustrator, Graphic Designer, Record Label, Publisher, Manager, Agent, etc.

It’s in your best interest to understand all these roles, even if you aren’t good at some of them.  If you ARE capable of handling every step mentioned above, then you’re likely already a successful indie artist, and I’m likely already a fan.  There is so much to learn, and so much to do, and you will meet so many people who have become really, really good at one or two pieces of the puzzle, so why not put them to work on your music?  And why not pay them what they’re worth?  The end result will be so much better, and so much more likely to help your career.


How Loud Is Your Song?

You want your final recording to sound its best, and you want it to sound great alongside your favourite recordings.  Is your producer, or mastering engineer, asking you how “loud” you want your song to be?  What does that even mean?

We have recently gone through a period of time marked by a term called “The Loudness Wars”.  You’ve probably heard people talk about these loudness wars.  They’re talking about the evolution of a practice in song mastering, whereby mastering engineers were instructed to make a song sound as loud as possible next to other tracks.  With the invention of the compact disc, mastering engineers were not working under the same physical limitations which accompanied vinyl records, and were able to “pump up the volume” using audio compression techniques.  This approach was able to make a song seem more energetic and exciting, compared to another song.  For the listener, though, this often meant having to manually change the volume on a playback device to compensate for a song which appears to be either too loud or too quiet.  If you listen to CD’s produced in different decades, you will no doubt notice this phenomenon.

Today’s technology, in both music playback devices and radio and streaming services, has changed to favour a consistent listening experience for the music listener.  Whether you’re listening to music stored on your modern device, or listening to your favourite online streaming service, the playback system is automatically adjusting the volume for you, based on a measurement of how “loud” each song is.

To keep this explanation simple, the end result is this – a song mastered using a “louder is better” approach will actually sound QUIETER and less exciting when played back through modern devices.

There are ways to see how each playback system is responding to your master.  One great analyzer is available at, thanks to the folks at Meter Plugs and mastering engineers Chris Graham and Ian Shepherd.  Try this loudness analyzer, and it will report by how much each playback engine will adjust the volume of your master.

The bottom line – be sure that you understand the approach employed by your producer and/or mastering engineer, and ask that they keep current playback technology in mind when mastering your record.