The Price They Pay

Even with lower manufacturing costs, CDs can be a pricey proposition for independent acts, especially those bands aiming for a professional look and sound. The studio and production expenses can be staggering.

Brian Bell, who recently released the full-length His Own Way on CD, doesn't want to think about how much the whole thing cost. "It was in many, many, many tens of thousands of dollars," he says. "Let's put it this way: International Sound [where the CD was mixed] was $95 an hour, okay? And I had roughly ten hours per song per mix, and that's without mastering, and that's without the basic recording I did in New York."

Additional costs were incurred when Bell recruited (and paid) flautist Nestor Torres to appear on one track, and hired several notable singers, including Gloria Estefan's chief backup vocalist Rita Quintero, for several more. Still, the former Broadway talent agent (who paid for the project from his savings) says he's happy with the outcome. "The packaging is professional," Bell says confidently. "It's sitting in Spec's and Peaches, sitting right next to Bon Jovi's record."

Oscar Herrera says his band Halo spent much less on the eight-song Cult of the Birdman, which required roughly $5500 to record and press. Half of that was for studio production, which Halo paid for piecemeal as the work was done. When strapped for cash to finance pressing and packaging, Herrera borrowed a time-honored technique that's been used by such staid, corporate institutions as college-football bowl games, public television, and the last couple of Rolling Stones tours. He sold sponsorships.

The donors, mostly family and co-workers, are listed on the CD booklet inside. Several levels of the angelic hierarchy correspond to the contribution amounts: The highest level of angels, seraphim, kicked in $100 each; the Littlest Angel, Herrera's eight-year-old daughter Danielle, gave one dollar to the cause.

Raw B Jae says studio bills for his new CD, the fourteen-track Here's Your Daily Bread, were also high. "I went way over budget," he says. "I was supposed to be in there 30 days and spend two to three thousand dollars, and I was in there six months and spent over $15,000."

Some bands circumvent ponying up for studio time by setting up their own recording rooms. I Don't Know is now working on a followup to last year's Gullible's Travels in an eight-track analog home studio made up of secondhand equipment. Singer-guitarist Ferny Coipel says the setup cost $6000. "It's really beneficial for a band," he says. "Like, we invested $6000, but we can do it there and do it until we get it right."

Rene Alvarez of Sixo/Milk Can fame says his two bands are realizing similar benefits from home-recording gear that set them back a cool fifteen grand. "The money that you're going to spend in the studio...with the money we spent, we can pretty much record the next four or five albums," Alvarez notes.

To pay for the top-of-the-line equipment -- including two eight-track recorders, a 24-channel board, and a DAT machine -- Alvarez and bandmate Derek Murphy simply whipped out their credit cards and charged them to the max. Alvarez claims his cards took most of the damage. "We did it out of frustration for the most part," he says of the impulse purchase. "Me and Derek wanted to [rent studio time to] record a demo of what we were writing, and then we said, 'Screw it, we'll buy the stuff.'"

So does Alvarez have any regrets when those monthly bills roll in? Nope. "To me money is a funny thing because it's really elusive. I could spend a lot of money," Alvarez says in a nonchalant tone that would surely strike fear in the heart of any bank credit manager listening in on the conversation. Especially if that manager happens to work for any one of the several banks whose computers have rewarded Alvarez with free cards and to-die-for terms simply because he's managed to keep up with his minimum payments. "I have ten [credit cards] now," says Alvarez, who pegs the income from his day job as a Dade County substitute schoolteacher somewhere near "the poverty level."

Other musicians have received a helping hand from local studios willing to get behind their work. The Studio, a busy facility in Miami that is a favorite among bass acts and commercial production companies, is run as a co-op of sorts. A number of local bands record there as in-house projects. The Holy Terrors's amazing Lolitaville was cut at The Studio, as was Drive Choir's new 11 on 7. Singer-songwriter Zac is currently there finishing work on a CD to benefit the homeless.

Criteria Recording Studios, one of the most prestigious names in town (and, for that matter, in the entire music industry) has been similarly generous. Some local bands are allowed to use its production facilities during off-hours. The costs can be worked out later when (and if) major labels sign the artists and pick up the CDs for distribution.

"I'm here as a vehicle to help them accomplish what they want to accomplish on a professional level," says studio head Joel Levy, whose facility has been used by such major artists as R.E.M., Eric Clapton, and Lenny Kravitz. Local acts that have recorded at Criteria include the Mavericks, Nil Lara, Natural Causes, Forget the Name, Mary Karlzen, Nuclear Valdez, the Goods, and Diane Ward. "I'm very particular," Levy says. "I take the ones I feel have the most talent and potential to relate through their words and music to the listeners out there.

 
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