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Thursday
Dec012016

The Cost of Making a Great Record

As you may or may not have seen, a recent past Friday (November 11, 2016) saw the fruition of months of hard work on my new Christmas album, Unto Us (my 10th full-length record of my nearly 13-year career as a full-time musician). I have an incredible network of fans who are willing to support my music, and over 2,000 Kickstarter backers helped fund the making of Unto Us this summer.

Even though I’m an independent artist, I can still make a record of the same quality as a signed artist. I tracked in the same studios and hired the same producers, musicians, and studio engineers a record label would hire. But because I don’t have a label, I’m responsible to pay all of these talented people. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the freedom this allows me, and this arrangement lets me create music and recordings that are consistent with who I am as an artist and a person.

The $81,000 pledged this summer made Unto Us one of Nashville’s top 25 most-funded Kickstarter campaigns to date, and I definitely count it as a success. However, just like most things in life, more complexity lies beneath the surface. So before you picture my husband and me counting our piles of money like Scrooge McDuck, let me pull back the curtain on the expenses associated with making Unto Us.

THE NUMBERS BEHIND A SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN

$81,071 in pledges looks impressive, doesn’t it? I think so too.

Of course, Kickstarter needs to make money to keep their lights on, their staff paid, and their website up and running. KICKSTARTER’S FEE = $4,023.

Kickstarter doesn’t process the credit card payments. They hire another company to do that. FEE FOR PAYMENT PROCESSING = $2,827.

We also needed to make sure the campaign was seen by lots of my fans over the course of the month of the campaign. FEE FOR FACEBOOK ADS = $6,300.

When it came time to charge the credit/debit cards of Kickstarter backers, some transactions failed. This is expected but results in some lost revenue. PLEDGES THAT COULDN’T BE FULFILLED BY BACKERS = $605.

Add all these deductions up and the fees come to -$13,756.

TOTAL LEFT FOR THE MAKING OF UNTO US = $67,315

Making the record over the course of several months meant paying for the time of producers, engineers, studios, and musicians. COST OF EVERYTHING YOU HEAR ON UNTO US = $49,400

The look of the record also requires professional input for graphic design, photography, styling, clothing, hair, makeup, and nails. COST OF EVERYTHING YOU SEE = $6,000

CDs and booklets were printed and assembled, then shipped to us. The album was also submitted to digital distributors (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, etc.). COST OF MANUFACTURING AND DISTRIBUTING = $8,570

Kickstarter rewards needed to be sent to backers in bubble mailers or boxes. Additional rewards needed to be designed as well. Plane tickets, rental cars, and hotels were purchased for two Kickstarter reward concerts. COST OF KICKSTARTER REWARDS FULFILLMENT = $8,600

Promotion for the album included the creation of four lyric videos. We paid location fees, purchased the stock footage, and hired a video editor. We then hired a publicist, and paid for website placements, more Facebook ads, and radio promotion. COST OF PROMOTION EXPENSES SO FAR = $11,550

TOTAL EXPENSES TO DATE FOR UNTO US = $84,120

If you're keeping score, this leaves a deficit of $16,805 of additional expenses, which we paid from our own pocket.

Keep in mind that Dave and I spent hours songwriting and discussing which popular Christmas songs should go on the record. We met with our producers to discuss how the project should eventually sound. I haven’t factored any of our time off the road or childcare expenses into these calculations.

IT'S STILL WORTH IT.

I didn’t make this tally to make anyone feel sorry for me. I get to make music for a living, and I love it! I just want to show whoever reads this that making a professional-sounding record is a very expensive endeavor. As digital streaming makes listening to music increasingly less expensive for the listener, independent artists like me depend on our fans more than ever.

This career is something I’m called to. It’s fulfilling, hard, rewarding, and scary sometimes, but I can’t see myself doing anything else right now. Unto Us was a labor of love. I’m so proud of the musical moments we created in the studio, and I love imagining thousands of families creating Christmas memories with my music as a soundtrack.

My hope in breaking these figures down is that it provides a small window into the creation of the music we often take for granted. Buying a digital album for $10 is the equivalent of streaming one song over 2,000 times—over 116 hours of listening!

On behalf of all artists, especially those of us who are independent, we hope you will choose to invest in music you believe in.


JJ Heller is a singer/songwriter who lives in Franklin, TN, with her two girls and her husband and manager, Dave Heller. Her newest Christmas album, Unto Us, can be found on iTunes and Amazon. Visit JJ’s website: http://shop.jjheller.com/product/unto-us.

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Reader Comments (1)

so glad i clicked over here and read this!! i just bought the album yesterday, so seeing this was timely! i knew you weren't rolling in dough as an artist, but i had no idea how much money kickstarter charged or the credit card companies!! having said that... the album is beautiful!! the singing soulful and rich. it's such a treat to hear and it's been on repeat since i downloaded it!

December 2, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbeth

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