Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
During the third session of the CCM Institute I moderated a great conversation with Lisa Popeil and Marcelle Gauvin about the realities of the recording industry. We talked about the not so glamorous paths to stardom and the kind of money it can take to launch a career. Today I thought I would share two different stories about producing, or trying to produce, a hit song.
Rihanna and “Man Down”
The first story comes via NPR’s Zoe Chace. The piece details the process behind creating, or at least trying to create, a hit song for Rihanna. Instead of writing her own material, Rihanna and her production team put together what is called a writing camp. For the two-week long “camp,” Rihanna’s team brought in roughly forty lyricists and producers with tracks who were tasked with developing enough material for a full-length album. During the camp the artists team up, write tracks together, and then pitch them to Rihanna and her producers. At the end of the camp, Rihanna’s team picked eleven songs and paid each writing team for the rights. According to the article, the studio rental costs for the two-week camp averaged out to around $18,000 per song. The rights for the song “Man Down,” the track the article spotlights, cost approximately $35,000. So the total cost just to create and secure the rights for “Man Down” was around $53,000.
The article then details the rest of the process. After the song is selected, Rihanna meets with a vocal producer to make musical and technical choices before entering the studio. Cost: Brace yourself…..$15,000! (If anyone reading this post is in need of a vocal producer, just let me know. I’ll do it for half the price!). The artist then goes to a recording studio to lay down the tracks, which are then mixed and mastered (approximately $30,000) before being rolled out to the public. According to this article, the label spent around $1,000,000 on marketing alone. Total cost for Rhianna’s song “Man Down” came to $1,078,000. (Click here to listen to the NPR story or here to download it as a MP3)
Owl City and “Hello Seattle”
For a completely different perspective, let’s take a look at artist Adam Young and his project Owl City. Adam was living with his parents in Owatonna, MN in 2007 and working as a truck loader for Coca-Cola. After his long days at work, he would struggle with insomnia. With nothing else to do in the middle of the night, he would write songs using his computer (running Logic) and several electronic keyboards. At the end of June 2007, he had enough material to create an EP which he posted to Myspace. The social media strategy worked and soon his song “Hello Seattle” garnered enough attention to land him a contract with Universal Republic records. Since signing with Universal Republic, he has released five studio albums, three EPs, eighteen music videos, and twenty-one singles.
The point of this blog post is that there are many different ways to score a hit. These two examples show the extremes – a $1,078,000 investment vs. a laptop and a keyboard in mom and dad’s basement. I think it is important for students to know that there are famous artists that have had success on both ends of the spectrum. For the singers who want to work like Rihanna, they are going to need to network 24/7 to make the connections that will lead to kind of financial support they need. For those who are self-starters, it is easier than ever to grab a computer, smartphone, or tablet and start recording.
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(Sources: http://www.billboard.com/artist/322788/owl-city/biography, http://www.austin360.com/news/entertainment/music/adam-young-the-man-behind-owl-city-talks-about-c-2/nRcr4/, http://www.popmatters.com/post/167057-the-technicolor-phase-an-interview-with-owl-city/, http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2011/07/05/137530847/how-much-does-it-cost-to-make-a-hit-song?sc=fb&cc=fp)