Bands On a Budget

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For most musicians, money is a limited resource that needs to be budgeted carefully.  However, while funds may be tight, no one wants the quality of their music to suffer as a result.  Balancing sound quality against a shoestring budget is a challenge — but while it may be difficult, it’s not impossible.  We understand that the vast majority of emerging musicians don’t exactly have six figures to play around with, so to help find that happy medium between thrift and craft, we’ve compiled a handy guide on how to save for all the bands on a budget out there.

1. Build Your Own Recording Studio

Recording studios are expensive.  Rates vary based on studio and even geographic location, but recording studios can charge anywhere from $50 per hour to as much as an eye-popping $500 per hour, with the most common rates falling somewhere around $100 per hour — and as musicians know, studio time can add up fast.

The good news is, you don’t necessarily have to suck it up and deal.  You have the power to sidestep the huge costs of professional recording by tackling it yourself. In fact, DIY recording has become popular for this very reason (particularly in recent years, due to the poor condition of the national economy).  So how do you go about DIY recording?  Build your own recording studio.

That sentence may have set off alarm bells in a few heads: “Without a professional studio, you won’t get a professional sound.”

However, consider this.  If you’re working on a budget, you’re probably going to be in a race against the clock in the studio.  Even if you record your material in a professional recording studio, you can still wind up with poor sound quality if you try to rush your recording time for the sake of cost-cutting.  Furthermore, thanks to ever-growing leaps and bounds in technology, top-notch at-home software like ProTools, Ableton Live, and Cakewalk Sonar can essentially match the quality of a “real” studio recording. And since you have the software forever once you purchase it, you can continue to use and reuse it, which means you get more bang for your buck than you would having to pay to record again, and again, and again.

2. Take Advantage of Freebies

Forget about cheap — there are some resources for musicians that do one better by being free. And where money is tight, taking advantage of the available freebies out there is always a smart move.  First and foremost, the internet comes to mind. Okay, okay, we know that you have to pay for internet — but our point is, the internet is chock full of sites where you can promote your music without having to pay a dime.  Start a band page on Facebook.  Create bite-sized posts to share on Twitter.  Make a blog for your band where fans can follow your tours, download tracks, or read up on your lives as musicians.

Not only can you give for free on the internet: you can also get.  The popular multipurpose web forum Craigslist has a category for free stuff, where you can stumble across unwanted instruments, amps, and other equipment that are still in good condition.  The website FreeCycle.com takes the same concept to another level by focusing exclusively on the exchange of free goods.

3. Shop Smart

It’s important to learn how to weigh quality against quantity to ensure that you don’t wind up wasting money in the pursuit of saving money.  For example, imagine you’re shopping around for a new guitar.  It might be tempting to make a beeline to the guitar that’s on sale for a suspiciously low price — but as the saying goes, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”  Avoid the trap of spending a small amount of money on a cheaply-made instrument that sounds inferior and/or breaks down too rapidly.  You aren’t saving money at all if you get a rock-bottom instrument… only to find yourself having to replace it a few months later.

Also, always be sure to do your homework before you go shopping for instruments, amps, or any recording equipment.  Nothing is worse than spending a ton of money on equipment, just to realize half an hour later that it isn’t compatible with what you already have.  Always be sure to check compatibility between equipment, and to read any user reviews that are available for a product.  A website is always going to praise the quality of its own wares, but if none of the real-life reviewers were impressed, you probably won’t be, either.

4. Tour Thrifty

Ah, touring: love it or hate it, life on the road has a nasty tendency to rack up expenses faster than you can get from one city to the next.  Between food, gas, and lodging (and any unexpected emergencies that might crop up, like paying to fix a vehicle breakdown), touring mercilessly launches a triple-pronged assault on the wallets of musicians around the world.  But the good news is, there are ways to minimize your expenses while touring.

You may not have to subject yourself to hotel costs.  If you have fans, friends, or friends of friends in a geographic area, you may be able to couch-surf for free.  And if you don’t know anyone where you’re headed, couchsurfing.org has an entire website dedicated to the art of crashing on random sofas.  (Of course, when crashing with strangers, just make sure you remain vigilant and stay safe.)  If the vehicle you’re using to tour in has the space, you could even sleep in that.  If you do have to resort to using a hotel, pick the cheapest option: after all, it isn’t permanent.  When you arrive, remember to ask about discounts.  Many hotels offer discounted rates for students and AAA members.

5. Save up for Promotion

DIY promotion is a useful outlet that shouldn’t be ignored, but paying for professional promotion can take you even further.  The problem most musicians face?  Promotion can get expensive.  Nonetheless, there are plenty ways to help cover the costs.

If you’re already putting on concerts, think of where you’re putting the money from ticket sales.  Is it going into something truly essential and indispensable?  If not, promotion might be a better use of the money you raise.

There’s an old phrase that goes, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”  Remember all that money you didn’t spend on hotels, because you were couch-surfing and sleeping in your tour van?  Or that money you didn’t waste on short-lived instruments, because you did your homework before you went guitar-shopping?  Now,  you can put it toward professional promotion.

Furthermore, musicians don’t have to resign themselves to the false idea that promotion is automatically expensive.  Promoters know that struggling musicians aren’t usually flush with extra cash, and most promoters offer campaigns to accommodate even minimal budgets.

The term “starving artist” came into being for a reason.  It’s hard to scrape by when you’re a struggling musician.  But with a little time and effort, you can cut some pretty sizable corners — and that’s always a great thing.