Quality and Cost

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Walk into any record store that sells both local and national records, and think about the quality differences. A major release of an established pop act probably sounds flawless, and with budgets running into hundreds of thousands of dollars - they should. These budgets are for everything being done to the nines, with no expenses spared from equipment, to personnel, to materials, to studios, to mixing, to mastering, and to duplication. Big bucks, a lot of time, and A-List all the way. These are often the defining qualities of a Major Label Quality release.

An Independent Label Release, usually thought of as a step below a major label release in overall scope, is the next logical step in quality. Most of these albums we've worked on have budgets ranging from around fifteen thousand dollars to fifty thousand dollars, with exceptions at both ends of the scale. At this price range, it allows a quality producer the budget to select the correct studio, formats, and equipment to capture a band's sound. It also allows for ample quality materials, and for quality mastering at a projects end. Often times, these albums sound identical in quality to their major label counterparts.

The projects that we deal with the most we call an Independent Release. These are often funded by the artist who is recording, the producer, or with the help of financial backers. A quality Independent Release typically costs five to seven thousand dollars in studio costs and materials, again with exceptions at both ends of the scale. At our current block rates, this translates to 150 to 250 studio hours, or about fifteen to twenty hours per song. This level of quality often passes for Indie Label Releases and sometimes even Major Label Quality, provided high quality production and good songs. At this level, additional costs would be the producer fee (often points as well), additional materials and equipment rentals, and quality mastering. All told, budgets typically come in under or around ten thousand.

For local artists putting together CDs to sell at gigs, often times these costs are too high. That lands the project in a Demo CD quality range. A typical rule of thumb for a studio budget in this range is about three hundred dollars per song. This allows ten hours per song at our current block rates. This is FAST, and limits in studio production to a bare minimum. This is typically the range for self produced artists, as adding a producer's opinion will quickly blow the budget. It also limits the amount of time to spend on every stage, especially crimping mixing time. Results at this price range are often very good, provided an artist is realistic about tracking. If you want to layer a lot of vocals, keyboards, synths, or guitars you've probably blown your budget by the time you START to mix. This is often where we end up helping with a lot of production calls, especially when it's worth spending more time on tracking.

Beyond this, people will often make Quick Demo quality CDs, which can fall into any price range varying from a weekends worth of time up to about the amount of time spent on a Demo Quality CD. The biggest factors are the skills of the players, quality of their instruments, and how tight of a concept everyone has for the album. Albums in this range can be very good sometimes, as well as shockingly terrible. As a studio, we find the biggest problem at this level is dealing with players' skills, and the quality of instruments. If the drum's heads are shot and are on entry-level drums, expect mediocre drum sounds AT BEST. If the guitar is out of intonation and the amp has a bad ground with two blown speakers, expect mediocre AT BEST. There's no magic button we have to fix these problems. In fact, the resolution of our system and quality of gear often reveals these flaws EVEN MORE! It's much harder to make crappy sounding instruments and performances sound passable than to make good sounding instruments and performances sound mediocre.

There are always exceptions to every rule, and exceptions again to exceptions. What might take one group a week in the studio might take another group a single day. Recording music is a profession, as is performing music. Those with more experience are often faster and get better results. We at Mixed Emotions Music can make no guaranties about how long an album will take, and how good it will sound. We always put our best efforts into every project - but overall quality is decided by the song, the quality and skill of the performances, and the production/arrangement of the track.

It's very important to realize the level of commitment made to a high quality album. It's time consuming, expensive, and emotionally draining. Without a total commitment, results can be disappointing. It's also important to realize the differences when bringing in a three hundred thousand dollar major release and asking to sound like that, on a budget of a thousand dollars. It doesn't work that way. As a good line of comparison, an album budget of three thousand dollars (not a small sum) is what A-List studios get for a day!!! That's the studio with the lights turned on and an assistant. Add materials, head engineers, producers, rental, food, and miscellaneous costs and those huge album budgets start to make some sense...

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