6 reasons music costs more than you think

Music making programs like Apple’s Logic (which is only $199 in the App Store now) come bundled with a range of instruments and loops. Many people think that by putting together a few loops and maybe a synth on top that you can create music that is high quality, original and marketable, yet what we often find on marketplaces is a bunch of poorly produced music made from presets, loops and cheap tools.

While it’s true that with some effort and expertise you can make some great sounding stuff with the built in tools of programs like Logic, most of the time you’ll quickly recognise the signature sounds and riffs all over the place.

It’s a shame that so many composers have become lazy when composing as the perceived value of music has dropped considerably for those of us who are in touch with it regularly (especially music supervisors and production agencies who sift through thousands of tracks a year). You often end up feeling that the music is unoriginal and bland and just mass-produced quickly.

However, and this may be a controversial statement for some of you, well-produced high quality music generally can’t be made on the cheap. Allow me to explain.

1. Expertise

Much like a plumber, who spends five minutes fixing the problem and then charges £600, a good composer knows how to structure songs, play in various styles, modify arrangments as needed and deliver what you need when you need it. That £600 is worth it when your flat is about to be flooded and will cost you £4000 to fix. In the same way, the years of knowledge required to write and produce good music is costly for the composer. You’re paying for the knowledge of a pro, not just the end product.

2. Session musicians

Sometimes you might not be able to play the banjo, violin, piano AND Chilean nose flute. In times like those, you need to hire in professionals to get the job done properly so things sound pro. The price of a session musician varies depending on their skill, but costs can quickly escalate when you hire in musicians (particularly for big orchestral work).

3. Studio equipment

Not all tools are cheap, especially studio equipment. Take the Neumann U87 mics and Neve consoles used in some studios. You won’t get them bundled with Logic, and while you can get good results on a low budget, for more professional sounding results you still need to invest in things like decent preamps, microphones, a decent DAW (Digital Audio Workstations like Logic and Protools) and other gear like a soundcard with good digital converters to get a professional sound.

4. Studio costs

If you don’t have the kit to make your stuff sound great, you need to hire a studio to get your recordings. As an example, I was quoted £1200 for studio hire plus an engineer per day at Angel Studios in London for a film I worked on. The results were amazing, but it’s not a cheap amusement!

5. Virtual instruments

In order to cut down on costs, a lot of composers (us included) rely on the use of virtual instruments. Doing the right thing and actually buying these is an expensive process and quickly burns a hole in your pocket. As an example, some of the orchestral libraries like Project Sam’s Symphobia can cost £1k per product.

6. Recording locations

Looking for that choir sound in a church? Sometimes you have to go on location to get the authentic deal and Pope Peter is expecting a decent contribution to his local parish for recording on site.

What do you think? Are there many composers out there you know of who are making great stuff on a shoe-string budget? You can also read more on this topic from a traditional musician’s perspective when trying to create an album to sell in David Farrel’s article on How much does it cost to make music in 2012?

Thanks to Thomas Leuthard for his lovely Creative Commons 2.0 image.

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