How much does it cost to make a hit song?


NPR has a very interesting piece on how much it costs to make a hit song. Where the money goes is actually more interesting than the number:

A writing camp is like a reality show, where top chefs who have never met are forced to cook together. At the end, Rihanna shows up like the celebrity judge and picks her favorites.

Her new album has 11 songs on it. So figure that the writing camp cost about $18,000 per song.

The songwriter and the producer each got a fee for their services. Rock City got $15,000 for Man Down, and the producer got around $20,000, according to Daniels.

That’s about $53,000.00 spent on the song so far— before Rihanna even steps into the studio with her vocal producer.

The vocal producer’s job is to make sure Rihanna sings the song right.


Daniels breaks down the expenses roughly into thirds: a third for marketing, a third to fly the artist everywhere, and a third for radio.

“Marketing and radio are totally different,” he says. “Marketing is street teams, commercials and ads.”

Radio is?

“Radio you’re talking about . . .” he pauses. “Treating the radio guys nice.”

‘Treating the radio guys nice’ is a very fuzzy cost. It can mean taking the program directors of major market stations to nice dinners. It can mean flying your artist in to do a free show at a station in order to generate more spots on a radio playlist.

Former program director Paul Porter, who co-founded the media watchdog group Industry Ears, says it’s not that record labels pay outright for a song. They pay to establish relationships so that when they are pushing a record, they will come first.

Porter says shortly after he started working as a programmer for BET about 10 years ago, he received $40,000.00 in hundred-dollar bills in a Fed-Ex envelope.

We all know the record industry is changing. What’s interesting is that we are seeing new models surface for artists to survive outside the big dollars mainstream system that’s been in place for so long. Most are focused on social media and have parallels to Kevin Kelly’s brilliant theory of 1000 True Fans. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails lays out his thoughts on the subject here.

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Related posts:

10 things you didn’t know about the power of music

Is music the key to compassion?

Why do you watch your favorite movie or listen to your favorite song over and over again?


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