Time and Cost of Making an Album Case Study: NIRVANA

Excellent review and insight into the current of state of album recording:

By the time it was done, Nevermind ended up costing double what was originally planned: about $130,000 and one full month of work. (And that still doesn’t include the full producer and mixer’s rates, which would have come in part from royalties on the few albums like this one that did take off.)

Although a $130,000 bill might seem exorbitant by the scorched-earth standards of today’s music industry, at the time, it was actually a pretty modest budget for a multi-platinum release.

Consider for a moment that so far, Nevermind has sold 25 million copies in the US alone. That’s a huge return on investment. It makes Nevermind more profitable for everyone involved than a dozen or so Bleaches, upfront costs be damned.

(In fact, as much as we like to point and laugh at the big flops, these larger-budget releases are actually more likely to break even, not less. The label’s original hope was that Nevermind would sell 500,000 copies — an achievable goal that still would have easily covered these recording costs and more.)

To make an album of this sound quality today, you could probably get away with spending a bit less. But not by as much as you might think. My best estimate is that $30,000-$60,000 could get this record made in a similar kind of room with comparable recording talent. This assumes that a pretty decent studio, coupled with an somewhat established producer that has actually worked on a few records you love, will run an average of $1,000 – $2,000/day in 2013.

The costs have dropped a bit— not because the equipment costs that much less, but simply because the paying market for recorded music has shrunk so significantly.