Thinking Out Loud

November 18, 2016

Indie Music Doesn’t Come Cheap: A Balance Sheet by Recording Artist jj heller

Christian music artist jj heller (usually not written using capital letters) has just produced a Christmas album, Unto Us (nothing but capital letters when she types it.) Many of you know her music, but instead of talking about the songs, she posted the following on Facebook which gives readers such as you and I some insights into the costs of making an album independently. If you’ve ever helped crowd-fund a project like this and wondered where the money goes, this might help. (In fairness, Facebook doesn’t offer italics!)


As you may or may not have seen, this past Friday (11/11/16) was 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 which 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, there’s more complexity beneath the surface. So before you picture my husband, Dave, and me counting our piles of money like Scrooge McDuck, let me pull back the curtain as we look at the breakdown of the expenses associated with the making of UNTO US.

THE NUMBERS BEHIND A SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN

$81,071 in pledges looks very 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. THE 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. THE FEE FOR FACEBOOK ADS $6,300

When it came time to charge the credit/debit cards of Kickstarter backers, there are often failed transactions and this resulted in $605 in lost revenue from PLEDGES THAT COULDN’T BE FULFILLED BY BACKERS.

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

unto-us-jj-hellerTOTAL 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

I really want my records to look good, and this means paying for graphic design, photography, styling, clothing, hair, makeup and nails.
COST OF ALL DESIGN EXPENSES = $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/DISTRIBUTION EXPENSES = $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 car, 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, the purchase of stock footage, video editing, location fees, website placements, publicist, more Facebook ads, and radio promotion.
COST OF PROMOTION EXPENSES SO FAR = $11,550

TOTAL EXPENSES 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, 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 making the album, or the cost of childcare 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 post 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 are depending 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 and dave heller

Advertisements

June 16, 2010

Wednesday Link List

Seems like only about seven days since we did the last Wednesday Link List.   Funny that…   But just think, if you read all these linked items you will be as wise as I…


  • Lots of family-related stuff this week, like this one:  Jason Salamun contrasts the American Dream with what could be called the Missional Dream in a piece titled, Don’t Focus on Your Family.  (Great Donald Miller story at the end, too.)
  • Krista Bremer gives her 10-year daughter a choice between the Western clothing she grew up with, and the Islamic costume that is part of her husband’s culture.   The girl chooses to wear a headscarf.  This is a long article, but one I think parents — especially moms — will want to read; as well as anyone in a ‘mixed’ marriage who has or is planning to have children.
  • Jason Wert can’t watch World Cup Soccer without thinking of hundreds of women being raped.   Yes you read that right.   But his short article also shows this isn’t just something happening half a world away; it’s true of the Superbowl as well.   Check this out.
  • If you’re a parent, you might also want to check out this 5-minute video about the commercialization of our kids over at Vitamin Z.
  • But if you want to take the spirit of that video and really get into this topic in depth, you need to check out an article from the June issue of Catholic World Report, 10 Ways the Media Has Failed to Protect Kids.
  • The 17-year old daughter of Naked Pastor David Hayward is going to have a different take on church, right?   Check out this excellent guest post by Casile.
  • One more parenting link, which you’ll relate to if your kids are worriers; a short article at Canada’s Christian Week.
  • Michael Spencer’s widow, Denise, gets brutally honest about her own suffering and pain in dealing with Michael’s physical decay and death at Internet Monk.
  • Here’s something you might relate to — the blogger at Upwrite encounters some people doing coffee shop evangelism, and realizes that perhaps God sometimes sends these people to minister to the saved as well as the unsaved.
  • If your taste in Christian music is toward the heavier sounding bands, you might want to get the free 15-song “Summer Soundtrack” from Tooth and Nail Records, which includes Children 18:3, The Almost, The Letter Black, Sent By Ravens, Write This Down, and more.
  • Speaking of music, here’s an indie artist from Canada:  To Tell (aka Zach Havens in the tradition of Owl City, though I think Zach was there first!)  Give a listen to the song “The Problem” from his new album at this MySpace page.
  • Thomas Nelson, the (somewhat) Christian publisher, has done a book about beer.   Seriously.    Tim Challies reviews the brew book so you don’t have to read it.   Better him than me.
  • USAToday Religion doesn’t think this is a very good job market for pastors.
  • Meanwhile, Thom Rainer writes a First Person piece about seven mistakes he made in ministry.  (Number four is about failing to “love the community where I live.”   I know some pastors who see their present assignment as a short stop on the way to somewhere else.)
  • On my other blog, Christianity 201, I pay a second visit to an online church service — that’s a different animal from a podcast or sermon download — at North Point.
  • In case you missed it, David Quinn at Passion Australia has that “trinity diagram” that does the best job of wrapping up a tough concept into a small space.   Click on the image to see it full size, and then save and send it to your friends.
  • Staying with the church theme, David Fitch at Reclaiming the Mission has embedded a video with Fr. Robert Barron on the state of empty churches in Europe and beyond.
  • If you live in the Northeast and have done the drive to Florida down I-75, you’ve seen the giant King of Kings statue at Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio; between Dayton and Cincinnati.   Well, this week the statue was struck by lightning and it’s no longer there.  (The statue, had just received a makeover back in March.)
  • Pete Wilson guests at Michael Hyatt’s leadership blog with Four Leadership Lessons he learned from Nashville’s “1,000 Year Flood.”
  • Note to other bloggers:  If you get a comment that begins, “If I had a penny…” or ends “you’ve done it again.  Incredible article;” don’t bother approving it.   The comments all link back to a number of Blogspot blogs containing only one post — always March, 2010 — with a rather rambling article.
  • Our upper cartoon is from ASBO Jesus by Jon Birch in England, where this sort of road sign warns of hazards up ahead.   Jon’s place was recently burglarized and he lost all his cartoons, animations and music.  Thanks to cloud computing, at least the blog survives, but it sounds like that was a very small part of the whole.
  • Our lower cartoon is from Preacher’s Kid by David Ayers at Baptist Press.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.