Trying to estimate the cost, part 1

Two years ago, when Hidden Number released our second album, Burn Alive, we wanted to have a bad ass release party. But that meant lining up some good bands, confirming with a good venue, and finishing the record in time. Not so easy, especially considering we were thinking about this before we had finished mixing and mastering. And we didn’t even have artwork. Getting all the moving parts to fit together at the right moment would turn out to be brutal.

We started regular weekly meetings, and we started tracking everything that had to be done to reach the goal. We found an artist, Chris Unruh, who agreed to do an amazing piece of artwork… for free. That meant, he was doing it on his spare time. The best we could do was get a guess from him when the art would be ready, so we doubled that amount of time. Then we worked out how long the album would take to get mixed down. Dean was working tirelessly on the tracks, and so we worked out how long one track took and multiplied that out by the number of songs… and then doubled that number. Both dates aligned. So far so good. Next, we estimated how long it would take to actually raise the funds so we could pay Morphius in time. It seemed doable. Then we worked out when we could schedule mastering, and how long it would take for Morphius to press the records and deliver them. Lastly, we set to work on finding a venue and some bands to play with us.

But there was more. We wanted to sweeten the pot for the pre-orders. So, we decided it was time to release the rules and dice for the Hidden Number board game, which we would include with purchase. More scheduling of how to hand-make the scrolls and dice. And we wanted to include a poster as an insert. Luckily, Calla Donofrio was kind enough to provide a stunning collage. Oh, and we needed to start a mailing list, so that we could have a drawing to give away a free record. Plus, estimate when (and how) to offer up pre-orders with a sample track. Plus, we needed regular updates to the website, on the progress of it all.

Still not enough. How much could we pack into the schedule without going insane? We wanted to give our fans free download codes on purchase of the record. So we called up Morphius yet again, to work out all the custom work to include our inserts and our unique codes. The milestones had to change again. And there were only four of us to manage it all.

Here’s what I’m getting at: All of these costs (of time, money, and resources) were estimated, and there were dependencies. How could we be sure that any of this would work out?

Because we had been practicing. This was our second record release. We already learned the hard lessons of having unknown costs, and so we were paying attention. And when it was something new or unknown, we doubled our estimate. And we checked in weekly on the status of every moving part. Everyone in the band had a job to do.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to pay attention to the time it is taking you to do the important things in your life, to pay attention to the resources that are required, and to the financial hit. For you will be called upon to make predictions. If you are ever in doubt, make sure to build in checkpoints where you can re-assess everything. And don’t create dependencies until you are sure that your margin of error is low. Practice estimating now, so that you will be good at it when it really matters.

Yeah, it turns out that we goofed on some of our estimate for how long it would take to make the record, but we had already built in padding in the schedule and we knew we should wait a little before booking a venue. And then the night arrived, and we had our records just in the nick of time, and we got to play with Smooth Sailing (who did us a major favor there, by the way) at the Comet, and it was an awesome party. We even had cupcakes.

They won’t teach you how to estimate costs in school. So, you need to get started now, before it’s too late. Your job and your art will depend on it.

Update: This is a popular topic, so I’m going to add a part 2 next week. Stay tuned! Thanks for the discussion!

Update 2: Here’s part 2.

5 thoughts on “Trying to estimate the cost, part 1”

    1. Ha ha! That’s awesome! We hand made those scrolls and hand painted the dice, so I don’t think I even have one! And by the way, we totally underestimated how much work that would be! Poor Joe got shouldered with a ton of work. :)

  1. Adding dice and a board game to an album release sounds like a shit load of work! I think the key with album release shows is to not even begin to schedule them until after the album is completely done. Too many bands end up looking like fools when they don’t have their albums at their album release party, or they bring some crappy burned copies or something.

    1. Yes, that’s the safe thing. I think we often tend to be too optimistic about scheduling. But my point is that it is possible to schedule an event like that in advance, if you are good at costing. How far in advance depends on some of the risks, but the sooner you can schedule then the sooner you can have the party. The clock is ticking, and the music is getting stale. So I advocate knowing how long it takes to do things, in advance, because you’ll be more productive and dependable.

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