HomeBlogsbillhare's blogHow much is that Ferrari in the window?

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Lately, I've been noticing an "A Cappella wealth gap" with less of an Aca-Middle-Class than ever before. Budgets are either quite large (a result of more corporate and popular interest in the top-tiers of A Cappella worldwide), or quite small (a result of budget cuts in schools and general economic realities). This creates a wider gap in recording quality as well, even though we producers do our best to hide that fact!

Even with a small budget, most groups have expectations of how they want to sound. Unfortunately, with this wider gap in the top end of our art, they are expecting more for less, and can't grasp why they can't always have it.

Let's start with a comparative scenario to make it a little more "real-world":

Let's say you are ready to buy a new car, and your budget is somewhere around a new Hyundai. You just can't go shopping for Ferraris or Bentleys, but you can get creative, do your homework and maybe end up with a nice used BMW if you play it smart.

If you are recording with a budget-level (under $1,000) microphone directly into a cheap interface in an untreated bedroom, compared to the professionals recording with a $10,000+ microphone into a $3,000 preamp (and usually having several different models of these high-end devices on-hand for different tonal colors) with pristine audio converters in a professionally-designed and built studio, you are already at quite a disadvantage.

Then to say "we have a $300 budget to mix this" and expect your project to compete sonically with another record you want to compare to (which may have had multiple times your mix budget on top of their already-amazing recording to get every detail in the mix just right), is unrealistic. You can't expect to be entitled that Ferrari just because the same person who is mixing your album also mixed these larger-budget projects.

I recently mixed one song for a major label, a fairly simple A Cappella track, and they had no problem spending $2,500 for the mix alone - and probably spent at least that much again on just the tracking since it was also very well recorded by veteran engineers with many hits under their belts. And this is for ONE song, not a whole album. Then compare that to what a Lady Gaga or Beyoncé spend on one track, where we can easily get into 5-figures or more. Some pop albums have cost in the millions to produce, so again, be careful in the comparisons and expectations of sounding "exactly" like one of these.

On the other hand, I've also blasted out some perfectly fine under-$100 mixes in 45 minutes that did well in the real world, partly because the expectations were reasonable.

It's all in the details. As long as you have the money and the need to address every detail, that's fine.  But be aware that if you tracked on a tight budget, you might not be able to get to that level of detail anyway, especially if your mix engineer is given a few hours rather than a few days to finesse it. On top of that add that the record you are trying to compare against most likely contains better and more experienced singers than in your group, who took MUCH longer to lay their tracks down than you did, in much better technical conditions, constantly tweaking arrangements to optimize every second, and that gap just keeps widening.

Depressed yet? Feel the battle is lost? Worry not! This isn't saying that your project will suck if you don't take out a second mortgage, it's just about putting your hyper-detailed expectations into perspective. Very few of us ever expect to buy that Ferrari anyway, and will be very happy in our BMW that we got at a Hyundai price.  We can do amazing things for very cheap these days, but just as BMWs and Ferraris are not exactly the same thing, they still will both get us where we need to go in style!

One last thing - Let's say you actually have enough Ferrari parts to build a complete car - it's going to cost you far less to have the real Ferrari put together when your mechanic doesn't have to find, repair, or fabricate the parts. However, most people are bringing much more common (or downright rusty) parts to the garage and still believe they are delivering shiny Ferrari parts - but that's for another article...