How should an amateur artist price a CD cover design?
February 13, 2005 8:33 PM   Subscribe

Amateur artist needs help setting a price... I'm a Canadian college kid and an amateur artist. I got an email a few days ago from a musician in England asking me to design a CD cover for his band, based on him having seen a picture online of the only commissioned artwork I've ever done (a small painting that I sold for $125 American).
He's asked me to set my price, and I've got no idea. I'm not a professional by any means, and I'm just a kid, and pretty broke anyway, so I'd be happy with relatively little, but I don't want him to think he's getting some kind of bargain-basement deal. What should I take into account here, and how should I go about negotiating a price with him? Is there anything else I should know about this kind of transaction?
Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you have another piece sitting around, you could ask him to make an offer on that, and start from there. You could also think about how many hours you put into the work and ask what sort of hourly rate you want (though hourly rates make me shudder). Alternately, you could calculate how much you'd like to make per year, divide that by, say, 2000 hours (50 weeks of 40 hours/week), and then bill up from that hourly amount based on an hourly estimate.

Or you could pick something really arbitrary, like the doller-per-credit-hour rate of your college. :) I've done all of the above at one point or another in my career. Of course, I've also asked other professionals what they charged early in their careers ... which is exactly what you're doing here.

I dunno, my mother sold a lot more paintings than I ever have, and she just started at an arbitrary NZ$1000 for a garden scene and worked up from there over time.

As for negotiating the deal, pick a price you want to get (based on the above calculations), then pad that by a percentage (10%? 15%?) and be prepared to let him negotiate you down. If he doesn't try, you've underpriced yourself and you'll know better next time.

But for goodness sake, cover your expenses, including materials, taxes, shipping, etc. :)

Good luck!
posted by socratic at 8:54 PM on February 13, 2005

"dollar-per-credit-hour"... good lord.
posted by socratic at 8:57 PM on February 13, 2005

One more suggestion: go to a coffee shop (not a starbucks), check out the art on the walls, find a piece you really like that looks similar to your commission, and check out what the artist wants for it.
posted by socratic at 8:59 PM on February 13, 2005

I'm a writer, and any time I'm asked to name my price here's the first thing I consider: what the market will bear. In your case, that basically means how much will the musician be willing to pay. If this is the musician's first album and it's an independent release, then he or she doesn't have much money to throw around. On the other hand, if the musician has been signed to a major label, you can ask for more money.

If you're not sure, ask for too much money. If the musician says yes, you're laughing, and if the musician says no, you can use this as a starting point for negotiations. So if you'd be happy with two hundred bucks, ask for five hundred.

Once you reach an agreement, Get It In Writing.

p.s.: if you're selling your work, by some measures you're no longer considered an amateur. Congratulations!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 9:05 PM on February 13, 2005

$75 per hour. How many hours do you need?
posted by madman at 9:25 PM on February 13, 2005

1. Don't sign an agreement releasing all rights to usage of the image.
2. Anytime someone approaches you as an artist, you're at the advantage - they want you. You can start high, watch them balk, then ask, "well, give me an idea of what you were thinking". Then if you have to come down, do it in increments that represent 10% of your original price. So if you ask for $500 (a reasonable price!), and he doesn't want to pay that, offer $450, NOT $400. He'll talk you down to $300 that way.
3. Do your research on rights, get a short agreement signed that gives you at least publishing rights of the image, and make him include "all rights reserved" after your name/copyright info. on his release; you never know if this album will get picked up (or the artist becomes huge). If that happens, you can renogotiate the rights to the next bidder.
4. Set a precedence with the buyer based on volume. If he's releasing 1,000 copies, you price is $500. If he's releasing 10,000 copies on his next release, charge more. Keep him up front about that.
5. Knowing the biz, he's doing something completely independent, so his budget is low. There's not a lot of room out there for independents to really succeed. You need a major label contract to be anyone, and they don't solicit unknown artists. They have marketing departments with creative directors and illustrators on staff. So like everyone else, I wish you good luck, and enjoy the admiration.
posted by ValveAnnex at 9:28 PM on February 13, 2005

Specify expectations on what you'll do for the price, too. For example, if he's willing to take whatever you produce as-is when you're done with it, great. However, if he wants a hand in the final product and is going to ask for revisions, make sure you set bounds on how many revisions are included in the agreed on price.
posted by weston at 9:28 PM on February 13, 2005

Alternately, you could calculate how much you'd like to make per year, divide that by, say, 2000 hours (50 weeks of 40 hours/week), and then bill up from that hourly amount based on an hourly estimate.

You can't assume that freelance artists should be paid the same hourly rate as someone with a continuous job. People who work freelance almost always charge a lot more per hour than it would seem reasonable to pay an employee, but it all balances out because they have to spend much of their time searching for more work.
posted by painquale at 9:37 PM on February 13, 2005

Great advice so far, especially concerning revisions and limitations of your involvement. Don't end up making photo ready work, and then having to eat your own prepress time.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 9:59 PM on February 13, 2005

painquale - Great point, and you're absolutely right. But that is just one of any number of methods of calculating a rate. Perhaps I should add that a freelancer could calculate an hourly rate and then add a "freelancer's premium" to account for the downtime. If there's any lesson here, it's that there's no real formula for setting your rate, and it all depends on learning what the market will bear (unfortunately a trial and error process).

Anyway, one thing I've noticed is that most freelancers somewhat underestimate their worth. Maybe they feel guilty asking for money for something they enjoy doing. Most of the remainder vastly overestimate their worth, perhaps figuring that theirs is a great talent that should be rewarded, and forgetting the (as mentioned above) market and what it will bear. Very few are in the middle-ground that gets the numbers right, even though most belong there (no offense intended; it's just that most people don't suck, and most people aren't Picasso).

I guess I could sum up how I'd approach the problem thus: always look out for yourself and your own interests. People sometimes forget that, to their detriment.
posted by socratic at 11:13 PM on February 13, 2005

I thought one of ValveAnnex's point bore repeating
4. Set a precedence with the buyer based on volume. If he's releasing 1,000 copies, you price is $500. If he's releasing 10,000 copies on his next release, charge more. Keep him up front about that.

I think its the best deal for you (and him actually). You share in the album's success.
I also wanted to caveat Valve's second point.
You are at an advantage, but this is an opportunity for you to get a bit more exposure and based solely on a description of your situation, even if you got nothing for the art, the exposure (and ability to claim credit in the future) may make it worth your while anyway.

Also, another potential negotiating tactic is to set aside talking price initially, and discuss the project. What kind of concepts does he want his album to convey? What about the art he saw drew him to it and why did it strike him as album material? etc. While your getting a better idea for an artistic direction, also use it to gauge his interest and listen for clues that might help you in setting price.

Good Luck!
posted by forforf at 11:29 PM on February 13, 2005

The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook is a useful tool.
posted by Marit at 1:44 AM on February 14, 2005

I'm with ValveAnnex. If at all possible just license the work, don't assign it or make it a work for hire.
posted by anathema at 3:48 AM on February 14, 2005

Don't go per hour - charge a flat rate - say a £140. That should cover materials and time pretty well - and is still a good price.

Good luck!
posted by laukf at 7:34 AM on February 14, 2005

Remember: you are not just charging for the image, you are charging for use as well. That said, keep it as simple as possible. Ask for a fair price. I'd say $1000US is fair to anything but the smallest band and if they are interested in buying artwork they are most likely not that. If they are on a major label double the price as you will most likely have to jump through many hoops.

Oh, and make sure you get a credit in their liner notes. Make sure that everything you sign stipulates that this credit will be included.

Aside: to get a front cover photo shot by a professional photographer they'd be paying upwards of $5k so keep that in mind when you are pricing your work. Oh, and congrats!
posted by tinamonster at 8:09 AM on February 14, 2005

To counter what forforf has said - don't ever give your work away for free. In doing that you're telling the world that what you produce has no value. How do you go back to this band on their second wildly anticipated album after the first one has sold millions and tell them now you want money? You've already shown them you'll give it away.
How also do the community of artists expect to make a living practicing their art if there is always some college yahoo out there who will do this kind of commercial job for free?
No hourly rates, no flat fees and retain your ownership rights. Charge based on the usage and the volume. If they want to use the art in posters, backdrops on their concert tour, in their first music video - all those things will need to be negotiated to your advantage.
posted by Wolfie at 9:03 AM on February 14, 2005

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