How Much to Rent a Music Studio?
Have you ever wondered how much it costs to record a demo in a professional studio?
To truly hone your sound and bring strength to your set, you need to work at it. And while your basement may have excellent acoustics, recording at a good recording studio is probably an essential piece of the puzzle. After all, without great sound quality and great sounding vocals, how are you going to make the best sounding music possible?
And while working in a professional recording studio and with a professional audio engineer may seem a little daunting, if not terribly expensive. Here are the facts from the people that work in the studios every day. They have the inside answer, building their studios up after years of hard work.
How much does it cost to record a song in a studio?
Rick Camp, RC1 Productions & Master Mix Live, Las Vegas, NV
Credits: Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Kelly Clarkson, Usher, Dr. Dre, Earth Wind & Fire
“For the Do It Yourself-er on a little small Pro Tools rig that you probably paid $400 for, you can do it for free, do it in your bedroom. Or you could go to a project studio and maybe spend, you know, a few thousand dollars. Or you could go to a big studio and spend, you know, 10, 15, $20,000 to cut a track.”
Fabian Camacho, Miami Recording, Miami, FL
Credits: Waka Flocka, Pitbull, Lil Wayne, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, 2 Chainz, Natalie Cole
“A demo’s cost is approximately $1000 minimum. The price includes putting the songs onto a physical disc (the increasingly popular hard drive or traditional CD format). It takes roughly two hours per song to lay the track; each song would cost a minimum of $150 each for that time.”
Donny Baker, ES Audio Services / Open Call Productions, Glendale, CA
Credits: Beyoncé, Brandy, The Klassics, Alex Cantrall, Silk the Shocker, Candace Glover
“This is a tough question. I’ve seen demo records get made for $100 and then become huge hits. And I’ve also seen people spend multiple thousands and not get anywhere. The way to keep the costs down is to always negotiate with the studio: We will always work with you on a rate that can be justified by all.
“We can work late at night when the studio is usually not booked. Or, we can work on other off-hours or holidays. Sometimes I’ll call an artist just to see if they want to get in and record that night. We might have a cancellation and I want to fill up the time so as not to lose it.
“An empty studio is not a happy place. Always ask for any special rates and ask if there are any times that are cheaper that you can get in on.”
Cameell Hanna, Serenity West Recording,Los Angeles, CA
Credits: Justin Timberlake, Adele, Florence & the Machine, Eva Simons, Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dogg
“Well the word ‘demo’ is tricky. If you’re talking about Los Angeles and the demo is for a music act that you’re trying to put out, you want to make sure that it’s more than one song. Typically, three songs sort of make the statement you need to say, and you want to make sure that it is representative of the essence of the artist.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be the hit song but it has to really represent what the artist is all about. I’ve seen records where people will come in, having worked on a lot of it at their house, and they come into a really good studio to cut vocals with an experienced vocal producer.
“Typically, that’s handled hourly in a production room at around $85 an hour for the studio, $50 an hour for the engineer. A session like that might run about four to six hours, and then after that, there’s a production component to it. They’ll get all the takes and elements they tracked with the artist and spend four to six hours assembling and cleaning up, tuning, comping, adding to the vocals, and then getting a rough mix together.
“If the heavy lifting is done at a home studio you should be able to save your budget for tracking and mixing. I’ve seen budgets on indie projects in the $3500 per song range turn out great.”
Steve Foggin, 31st Street Studios, Chicago, IL
Credits: Future Islands, UNKLE, The Who, The Muppets, Rolling Stones
“In the world we live in today, you can make $2,000 go a long way — much farther than previously. Back in the day, it would cost you $2,000 just for recording quality tapes to get you in the front door. We cater to budget projects here. For example, a rap demo can be made for as little as $200.”
Bill Davidow, Virlouise Recording, Anaheim, CA
Credits: Darren Vegas, Israel Houghton, Coca Cola, Powerade, Guitar Center
“In the 70’s, you could record a song for anywhere between $350-500 a song. You could record an artist on tape in about an hour. Studio demos were expensive. Many of the options we have today weren’t available—especially the experiences of meeting with artists and professionals who have been in the industry for a long time.”
Zach Phillips, Freq Lab Recording, San Francisco, CA
Credits: The Kooks, Talib Kweli, Dnae Beats, Jayleez, J Banks, The Game, Alice Russell, Comedy Central
“Every project is different. The number of songs, the complexity of arrangement, level of skill, knowledge of the material, scope and scale of the project, cost of professional services, and goals for the project are all major factors.
For example, a simple three-piece rock band recording a 4 song demo for friends and family can expect to pay less than a 6 piece jazz ensemble that’s recording 18 songs to shop to labels and sell at their merchandise booth. I would say the range is somewhere between $500 and $5000.”
What other costs are there besides the recording studio?
Just like the instruments you buy and the gear you pick up, the cost depends on a few factors. While it isn’t always the case, just remember you get what you pay for. A cramped studio space with one or two mics will probably save you a few hundred bucks over a much larger recording and production studio or recording facility with various rooms, gobos, and a wide variety of recording gear.
There are a few things that are completely out of your control, too. Recording studios in Los Angeles and music studios in Santa Monica or San Francisco will just cost more than studios in Long Beach or up the coast in Ventura. And a state-of-the-art recording studio in Ames, Iowa, will probably cost less than any of those California locations. While the studio sound may be the same, that’s just the way it is.
Does this mean you should hop a plane to the Midwest for professional recording studio time? Of course not. We just want to make sure you understand that some of these costs are dependent on something other than the length of a recording session, the size of the control room, and the quality of the recording equipment.
Want to make music videos? Renting a sound stage or hiring a production crew for photo shoots and editing of the videos can vary depending on location, too. However, the digital age has made this much cheaper too. With smartphone technology improving, and relatively inexpensive video editing software, you can probably crank out a video or two.
If you want something a little more polished than a guerilla video shot on the streets of your town, a production company is a way to go. But producers, directors, and editors alone can cost thousands of dollars a day, and that doesn’t include renting additional equipment, such as lighting, booms, additional actors, and even permits to use the streets of your town.
Breaking Down the Cost
Booking time in a good, acoustically sound production studio can cost anywhere from $50 to $500 dollars an hour to record a song. For most studios, that price includes the space and the services of an audio engineer. You might be able to get a break if you bring in your own sound person.
Even at the lower end of the spectrum, a three-song demo can take two or three days, so those hours can really add up. You can help matters by having tight sets and being well-practiced. Clearly communicating what you want your sound to be to the audio engineer can help matters, too. Just be concise and truly know yourself, first.
Time in the studio shouldn’t be spent practicing, either. Yes, the audio engineer may have some suggestions, but you need to be relatively good to go when you show up. Let’s do some quick math: For three, eight-hour days at $50 an hour you can expect to pay $1,200. If another week in the garage can cut three or four hundred dollars off the final table, doesn’t that make sense?
The Digital Age
You may be asking yourself if going to a professional is worth the money. It certainly can be, but if you’re just starting out and only have a handful of songs, you may want to think about keeping it simple. Chances are you already have a desktop computer or laptop and you can get your hands on a pretty reasonable digital audio workstation for less than a grand.
With DAWs such as Pro Tools or Ableton Live, it’s literally possible to record an entire album on a laptop with a microphone and a little bit of hardware. If you’re really not ready to be professionally recorded, it makes more sense to practice at your pace at a home “studio” instead of playing beat the clock with a professional.
We understand you want to play music and leave the music production to the pros. We just want to let you know that there are other ways of going about it. Learning the process of audio engineering or music production may even help with your songwriting and how you want to arrange your music.
To save money, many independent artists have created home recording studios when they first start recording their music. Instead of spending a lot on a downtown Los Angeles creative space for a song or two, you can create a pretty decent home creative studio to record your music.
Cost Quick Hitters
Studio time can run from $30 to $200+ per hour depending on the studio. In most cases, an album takes 60 to 100 hours to finish depending on the artists’ skill level.
Alternative Pricing for Recording an Album
Most studios also offer project-based recording rates. One song could cost from $50 to $500 – but at a project-based rate, an entire album could start at around $2000.
After an album is recorded, it is sent to a mastering engineer. Average mastering engineering rates are $100+ per song or $500+ per album.
Prices for album duplication vary depending on the selected packaging & order quantity. It is not unusual to spend $3000+ for 5000 professional-grade CDs with packaging.
Releasing a song or album professionally through CD Baby or iTunes costs around $35. A small percentage of sales will also be charged by online distributors.
Prices for album art can range from free to thousands of dollars depending on if the artist commissions artwork to be done, or if they have artwork or photoshoots prepared in advance.
Sound like something you’d like to do?
Sure, it’s possible to record a demo song on your iPhone. But would you want to? Most likely, your demo will serve as your first impression to the folks who might sign you, fund you, sponsor you, or play your music on their station, etc. Your first impression may be the only shot you’ve got, so do everything you can to make it your very best shot. We encourage you to read and listen to what the pros say on this page. If you have any questions, contact us. We’re the Recording Connection, a program area of RRFC. We’ve been getting hardworking individuals training inside the industry with working pros for more than three decades.
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© 2019 – James Petulla. All Rights Reserved.