Is Music Too Expensive?

The motion picture industry cranks out a healthy amount of movies every year. Many of these films come with a price tag in the millions of dollars, with blockbusters typically reaching budgets of over 100 million. These productions commonly involve an incredibly large cast and crew, each of which is compensated for their time. An album by a major recording artist is a significantly less expensive undertaking. In some cases, a decent recording requires only a handful of individuals, and only a few when in the hands of a capable sound engineer. Big recording houses make a generous amount per hour mastering tracks and getting things just right for release, but their income is negligible compared to the cost of a major motion picture.

So, why does an album cost about as much as a DVD? Why, when you purchase the latest from your favorite recording artist does it take as much out of your pocket as a movie filmed over the course of six to nine months with an all-star cast making millions per picture? Is music too expensive?

Let me start by stating that independent recording artists have more reason than anyone to charge more for their work. Record sales for the average independent artist are dismal at best and breaking even on an album is a fortunate occurrence when it happens. For a record that costs $10,000 (a low-end price) to produce, at least 1,000 copies of the album need to be sold at $10 each just to break even. Unless you have a large enough fan base, this can prove extremely difficult.

When it comes to recording artists signed by a major label, things change a bit. Only a fraction of each album sold goes to the artist and retail store you’re dealing with. The rest goes to the labels. You might expect a bulk of this profit to go towards renting venues for whirlwind world tours, but even those events cost attendees an arm and a leg to attend. In a sense, the music industry has one of the largest middle men of any business.

One recent example of how dropping the price of music may actually improve the bottom line for record labels and independent artists alike is the explosion of sales as the result of Lady Gaga’s latest album, “Born This Way” being put on the Amazon Music Store for just $0.99. Traffic and sales were so sudden and extreme that Amazon’s servers were overwhelmed and went down in the middle of the frenzy. Whether or not these purchases were from listeners that wouldn’t have otherwise bought the album at all is up to interpretation.

What do you think? Is the cost of music too high? Would you be more inclined to purchase if the price were lowered?