Cost of a Pop Song

Cost of a Pop Song

On NPR’s Planet Money blog is this breakdown of the hypothetical cost of a hit pop song for a record label, using artist Rihanna. I find it fascinating for two reasons: getting a glimpse at the process that record labels use to create hits, and getting an idea of the relative costs of doing business. For example, the cost of supporting talent—songwriters, producers, production—tallies to $78,000, on average, for a single song. The lion’s share of the money goes to marketing, flying the artist around for promotions, and schmoozing the radio people, adding $1,000,000.00 to the total bill. If the song makes all that money back, then Rihanna gets paid. What a weird business model…


  1. Jan 13 years ago

    We just recorded a set of 25 songs with a band of friends. After mixing, mastering, and publishing to 300 online stores, the compounded cost will hit about 5000 $. That will include pressing 1000 CDs.

  2. Jeff 13 years ago

    One of my friends who’s somewhat on the perimeter of the music business told me that the same applies when you’re an indie artist too, it’s just a smaller scale. That means starting out with a label actually means you’re taking out a loan, and a recording contract can often mean a lot of debt that can spiral when someone tries to release another album to help pay for the last.

    I also once met someone who worked for a moderately famous record label…he told me the biggest expense he saw (aside from marketing) was schmoozing the artists, making sure they had the drugs, the girls, etc. but what the artist didn’t usually know is that it was all billed back to him.

  3. Author
    Dave Seah 13 years ago

    Jan: Thanks for the breakdown for the other end of the scale…great to compare! You’ve listed information that is relevant and useful (and jibes with what I’ve seen locally too) so your comment is appreciated (this overrides my usual practice of deleting non-contributing, self-serving commentary to drive link traffic, though just barely.)

    Jeff: That’s the evil part I have always wondered about, using other people’s talent and money to drive a lifestyle that further entraps them. I wonder how much variation there is in contracts? And how do the labels land their prospects?

  4. Al Pittampalli 13 years ago

    Weird is right. That’s why this business model is dying. The numbers are quickly not making sense anymore.