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A Special Article by Costy L

 by Costy L  

I've received Janet's newsletters for a few years now.   Recently I noticed an avalanche-like growth in number  of very general and desperate questions: "what am I to do ?", "how I get the record deal ?" or "how I get  though ?" Do not get me wrong, those are certainly valid questions. Attempting to help these people out,  I have put together a few recipes that I and my friends have found useful. Here I should say a magic phrase -  everything below is not to be considered as a legal advice, it's just a few things that work for me.    

In my experience, nowadays there are very few people in the industry left whom you can approach without having a ready-to-go master. This means a pro-quality, broadcast ready record. You  should remember that your material will always compete with someone's who already has quality. In short - quality sells. The path from a freshly written song to the master goes through a recording process. Let's check out some numbers.  

One of the well-known producers, don't remember exactly who was it (Geza X ?), said that recording is an illusion. I find it an amazingly precise definition. It really is. If you learn the tricks of this illusory process you can make a good  record and cut down its costs considerably. In other words - knowledge is power.

Here are a few examples from my recent experience:    

a) Home-studio production (no hired musicians).
These days a decent recording home-studio is quite affordable, for 2 - 3 thousand dollars one can put together a good digital multi-track with some necessary mixing equipment. More one learns about it - better will be the record. Just keep in mind that a lot of great records were produced with 4 or 8 analog track  machines. So, with an effort, one can manage to produce a good quality master within $3000.    

b) Home preproduction, pro-studio production (no hired musicians).
One can use only a home-studio multi-track recorder for preproduction work (no mixing equipment expenses). Then it is dumped on the pro-studio multi-track, mixed and mastered there. There's no fixed  price for this, but one can count on finding a good studio which will do the job for about $80 - $100 per hour. You should add reel-tape renting costs - about $200, 4 tapes $50 each (60 min playtime). In this case a careful planning of the mixing sessions would help a  lot. At the end, one can have a pro quality master for as much as $5000, and the home-studio is still there for the next project.    

c) Pro-studio production.
In this case the numbers above are still valid, except one may want to own the tapes as well, which is about $150 - $180 per unit. One  thing I'm sure of - to have a well rehearsed musicians helps to get both, high quality and low cost. Home recording experience will definetely help too.  

Unfortunately, to have a great master may not be enough. You can send it here and there, but if a miracle doesn't happen, it will end in nowhere (I was taking it for a good luck when I'd receive a rejection letter, no kidding). But I don't think the situation is as desperate as it seems. Why not to release yourself while waiting for a miracle ? It's not something unthinkable, really.    

a) Duplication.
There are a lot of small duplication companies out there which offer very reasonably priced service. 1000 audio CD duplication can be from $1300 and up, depending on the package. Usually it includes simple CD-label, booklet and tray-card printing, glass mastering, jewel cases, bar code and wrapping. Let's say, with some artwork improvements an average could be $1500 - $1700.  At this point you have your own release.  

b) Copyright.
This step is very straight forward. To obtain a copyright certificate from U.S. Copyright Office is currently $30 per entire album (collection of music compositions) and two copies of your product  (one copy if it's not released). For detailed  information and forms check  out

c) Distribution.
This is the toughest one, I think.  Generally, the sales on live gigs work well if the band  is good. Also there are local stores, small indie music chains and online sellers. However, at this point the result depends on quality of the music, it's production,  live shows, contacts, advertisement and geographic location as well. Be creative...  

There are some free sources - our friends musicians, web and public libraries. Good libraries have back issues of "Home Recording", "Recording", "Performing Songwriter", "Guitar Player" and all kinds of related books. Although the magazines are dominated by boring adds, they still contain enormous amount of  very useful information - just go get it.  There are $20 - $30 range music directories such as "Musician's Atlas" with compiled information about radio stations, publishers, printers, clubs, web sources, etc.  Not everything but enough to start with.    

Music business is a combination of art, its production and its delivery.  Some people get lucky and some don't,  the same as in any other business. By definition, the miracles are practically unpredictable, and the expectation of being "discovered" may become a life-time delusion. Can be anything worse than that ?  So, try to gain knowledge and experience about every of  the steps in making music, and go through them yourself. Something may happen on the way. Good luck to all of you.    

Costy L, Virginia, U.S.A. ; Songwriter(BMI)/producer (day-job: Consultant for NASA, Ph.D.)
 "The Three Ravens" (SIAE, Italy, 1996, not available);
 "Dirty Sky" (Costy L, 2001, available on;
Current project:  "The Iron Mask", planned for release March 2002.  

Please note Costy's addendum:  The numbers for studio time, equipment and replication, are typical Virginia numbers. Somewhere it can be cheaper, but other places, more expensive. And he also suggests:   I've run into an article on web "Problem with Music" by Steve Albini
I think, it's an interesting and well written one, although there are some f-words here and there. If you run my article, you can give the link to Albini's one, they'd be very complimentary.

*** Thanks, Costy

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