Thursday, February 19, 2009

How much money to record an album?

Question: Ive wondered when a band goes into the studio how does the label decide on how much studio time they are prepared to pay for? Is it a standard flat rate for all the bands or does it depend on which band it is eg a more seasoned band would get more studio time and a higher budget than someone recording their debut etc. From:

Answer: Having made over 450 albums I can assure you that the amount of money spent has no bearing on how an album goes down with fans, it certainly has no effect on sales.A standard typical budget to make an Indie metal album nowadays in the pro-tools/digital era would be £5000 but theres no hard or fast rule for this, though yes of course as bands get bigger their recording budgets expand aswell,mainly because they don't want to be rushed, but it sure does'nt mean the albums are any "better".

As an example, Napalm Death were on this label during the 90s and made their debut for £800 (Scum) rising by the time of their last Earache album to around £40,000 (Words from Exit Wound).Scum outsold Words album 10 to 1 and continues to do so. On a grander scale,the new Guns N Roses album cost a reported $10 Million to record yet the bands stellar debut Appetite cost a 'mere' $200,000, at the time, an extravagant amount for a debut.Which is the better album? I'll let you decide.
I firmly believe fans care more about the songs, the performance, and the feeling captured on the tape, than how much the studio bill was.

Nowadays recording equipment is basically software, its affordable to all, which means unsigned bands with home set ups can get similar sounding metal productions to the big guys, as the effects which shape the sounds of drums and even guitars can be literally added as plug ins to the software and 'dialed in'.Top producers like Andy Sneap are kind enough to share their knowledge, he offers tips and advice and even the exact modules he uses for sounds, on his website, and this digital recording revolution means most new metal bands we hear nowadays sound totally great.
The downside now is nearly every metal production is edited to perfection, and sounds incredibly similar, eerily so.It might be a different band name, but its the exact same crunch, exact same chug and exact same squeal.Increasingly, the personality, dynamics and hence the uniqueness of bands is getting lost.

By contrast rock and metal recordings made in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90's right up to around 1995 or so, were all necessarily analogue recordings put onto two inch reels of tape, not the laptop.I don't think its an accident that most of the all time classic metal albums were recorded in the analogue era - as flaws couldnt be easily edited out- requiring a razor blade and sellotape- the personality of a band was indelibly 'baked in' to the recording.I'm not a rabid analogue evangelist, because that era had its downsides aswell- studios had to buy bulky tape machines, huge mixing desk, outboard gear, hardware,and so were hellishly expensive to rent on a daily basis.The few remaining studios from that era now seem like technological dinosaurs.

A producer is the most important factor of an album recording in my experience, as they can help get the ultimate performance of the song out of a band, and they have a useful role bringing another opinion on the process, apart from the musicians themselves.Record production is a pretty tedious process involving endless repetition of the song parts, so many of the best producers are skilled in the dark art and technique for ensuring the album is the best it can be- a classic trick is recording the 'warm up' take, as it so often comes out the best version.

I recall a producer - who recorded approx 15 of the Earache albums of the 90s and is nowadays an A-list producer- who used to have an amazing studio trick where if a bands playing was lacklustre, if they seemingly were struggling or going through the motions on a particular song- he'd get the band to try a final run through, but would flick the studio lights off as he hit the record button.The band would unexpectedly be forced to play the run-through in sheer darkness.This was genius as it concentrated the bands minds on the audio, which most of the time resulted in a great rendition of the song.

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