Maria Brophy


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art licensing / business of art / Deal Making

How much should you charge a band for CD and album cover art

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A recurring question I get from artists is:  “Should I give my art to a band for Album Cover Art in exchange for exposure, or should I charge them?  And if so, how much?”

This is a two part question.  First, should you give it away for free?  And second, how much should you charge?

Read on, and like I always do, I’m going to go deep into the philosophy of getting paid and how to go about pricing your work.


NO.  Why?  If it’s a major label backed by a record company, they can afford your art.

And, if they are a small garage band making their first album, they need to have some skin in the game.  This is how they will learn about business, and music is indeed a business.

Always charge a fee, even if it’s just a small fee.  Never give it away for free.

When someone doesn’t want to pay for art, it has little to no value to them, and this feeling of no value transcends the band.  It spreads out into the Ether of the Universe.  If there is no value placed on your art, chances are they won’t use the art properly. Or they will accidentally leave off the artist’s signature, or they will fail to provide the promotional value that they promised.

Money is an exchange of energy and energy has to flow both ways.  Your art is also an exchange of energy.  To keep proper balance, your art has to flow outward while the money flows inward.

When you don’t value your own art, no one else will, either.   And then the energy gets stuck, usually right in your solar plexus, and after years and years of giving art away  you begin to feel used.  And then your relationship with art becomes a dark one.  And it will be your fault.  Sorry to tell you that, but, I’m trying to save artists from this terrible fate that I’ve witnessed in older artists.

The amount of money you charge doesn’t matter as much as the fact that SOMETHING is paid for the art.  

If it’s a small garage band with no budget, and you LOVE their music and want to be a part of what they’re doing, then it’s okay to give them a killer deal on the art.  But, if giving a great deal, be stricter on your restrictions as to how they can use it.  (I’ll go into detail on that more later in this post.)

Below are my top reasons for charging small bands for your art:

1 – Making an album is a costly endeavor.  If a band is recording an album, they have to come up with money to rent studio time (about $300-$500/day), pay for mastering the album (about $500+) and then having the CD’s made ($300+).   On the very cheap end, they are investing about $4,000+ to make an album.   The album cover art fee is just added to that cost of having an album made.   Everyone else gets paid, so why shouldn’t the artist?  (The band will get paid when they sell their music.)

2 – You don’t want to over-expose your art in the music world.  You have to pick and choose which bands will use your art, and if you’re giving it away, then you run the risk of over-exposure by making your art too easily available.

3 – When people pay for art, the artist actually has MORE control over the art.  This is a psychological thing.  The mere act of exchanging money implies that the art is valued, and the artist has say in how their art is displayed, how their name will appear on the cover, and what the art can be used for in addition to the cover (i.e. merchandise, tees, posters, etc.)

If you aren’t charging for the art, then you will most likely get sloppy about everything else, such as, what you are agreeing to allow the band to do with the art besides putting it on the CD cover.  You might just hand it over and let them do anything they want with it.  And this is never a good thing, because later you might see your art printed on posters, tees, hats and all sorts of merchandise, with no mention of your name, and you will feel used.  This happens often.


The amount you charge will be determined by the level of the band (how big are they), what they plan to use the art for (CD’s or merchandise also), and how experienced you are or the value you are providing to them.

The price ranges shown below assume that you are a professional artist who has been creating art for at least five years and you know how to give a client what they need.  If you are inexperienced then your prices would be on the low end.  If you are experienced and your art gives the band what they need and provides great value, you would charge on the higher end.

You would also adjust the pricing if they are using existing art, rather then having you create new art.

You would add more $$$ to the prices if:  You will be expected to do any graphic design work (like fitting the art to a template for albums or merchandise), or if  they have very specific elements and add complexity to the design, or if they will be using the artwork for a national advertising campaign, or if they want to own all rights to it (which I never recommend doing).

There are three levels of pricing, based on the type of band.  They are:

1 – Garage band (new, young, never made an album before):  $350 – $2,500:   If you LOVE the band and want to be a part of what they’re doing, come up with a price and make it work for them.  Even if all you charge is $350, at least you got paid and you know they are going to value your work.

2 – Mid level band (making a name for themselves in their local area, already touring and working on their 2nd or 3rd album):   $1,500 – $6,000+.  We have had Drew create art for bands such as Common Sense and SOWFLO.    For SOWFLO, the artwork was designed specifically so that it could be used for multiple types of merchandise, back drops and advertising.   You can read about our SOWFLO case study here.

3 – Big Name Bands (a band that most people have heard of):  $2,500 – $10,000+.  We’ve done work for Sublime with Rome and Eddie Vedder, probably our two biggest musical clients to date.  And both were great to work with.

We’ve given price quotes for many other big bands, but some did not want to pay our prices, so they found an artist who charged less.  It’s interesting when you work with bands this well known; some of them still don’t value the artwork of artists, and I find that ironic, because they are artists themselves!  Drew and I choose not to do business with people who devalue Drew’s art, as it doesn’t feel good.

Any band that we have had Drew create art for, is a band that valued Drew and his work.

Since you don’t want your art on too many album covers, as you could actually get over-exposed, you have to be picky and work only with those who treat you well.



Always have a written agreement, even with a garage band.  Your agreement does not have to be a formal contract.  You can write up a simple agreement and send it by email or have it printed on a piece of paper.  Try to get them to sign it, but even if they don’t sign it, legally it’s valid because their payment of your fee indicates agreement to your terms.

Your agreement will spell out the following terms:

PRICING:  Indicate what they are paying for the art.  Specify the amount and the date the payment is due.  Get paid a deposit up front to avoid problems later.

*Note on Royalty Payments:  I would avoid asking for royalty payments from a small band – you’ll never see the reports or money. (They most likely don’t have an accounting department!) Instead, charge a one-time fee that’s paid up front, before you hand over the art files.

USAGE:  Specify what rights they have to use the art for.  You would list the rights like this:  “For printing on album/CD covers, merchandise, advertising, stage banners, bus wraps.”  Or, if they plan to just use the art for an album cover, then it would say “For printing on Album/CD covers only.”

TIME PERIOD:  Specify how long they can use the art in years.  For example “This agreement is effective for five years.”

When working with a large band who is paying top dollar for your art, you would most likely give them rights to use the art in perpetuity (forever).

If you are giving a band a great deal (cheap price) on the artwork, never give them long term rights.  Have your agreement state that they get to use the art for a specific time period (i.e. 3 years), or until they are picked up by a record label, whichever comes first.   If they are picked up by record label, they will have the budget for art and can pay you a reasonable fee at that time.   If they aren’t picked up by a record company, and want to renew use of the art for another printing, then you can charge them another small fee (or whatever feels good to you).

COPYRIGHTS:  Always keep ownership to your copyrights, when providing artwork for any client, even a band.   If you are an artist who has your own style (and your business model is to become known for your art), you should always keep the copyrights.  Even when working with very big bands, like Sublime with Rome or Eddie Vedder, Drew has kept the copyrights to his artwork.

Your agreement might say something like this:  “Artist keeps ownership to copyrights to artwork and retains rights to sell art prints of the image.”

NOTE:  When providing art for a band for their album cover and their merchandise, you shouldn’t produce your own merchandise with the art.  It’s not fair to the band, who makes most of their money from merchandise sales.  But, what you can do with the art is make art prints and sell those.  (If you plan to sell the art prints with the band’s name printed on the art, you have to get written permission from the band to do so.)

ARTIST’S NAME CLEARLY LEGIBLE ON ALL ITEMS:  In your agreement, state that the artists’ signature is clearly legible where ever it is printed. This is important for professional artists, or those who plan to be one.

SAMPLES:  Specify that you will receive at least three samples of the CDs/albums and merchandise they produce, at no charge.

ORIGINAL ARTWORK:  If you create the art as a painting or drawing, specify what you will charge extra for them to buy the original(s).  Always charge extra for the original artwork.  If they choose not to buy it, you can earn more $$$ selling it later to your collectors.

In my new book, ART, MONEY & SUCCESS, I write about how to charge for many different things.  If you are interested in learning more about my book, sign up for the excerpts here:

Was this article helpful for you?  Have you worked with bands in the past?  

Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments!

Thanks for reading,

Maria xxoo


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25 Comments How much should you charge a band for CD and album cover art

  1. Claudia

    Hello Maria,

    thank you for this wonderful advice. I have my first client and now I search for advice on licencing and some numbers and your article really helped me.

    I guess you have a new reader 🙂


  2. Dominique Hurley

    Hi Maria,

    Great article and I’ve had a few bands ask me for free use of existing artwork and then decline when I asked that they come up with a nominal fee proposal as an energy exchange.

    The prices you quote in your article seem to be for artwork that’s created for that album. What about a band that wants to use an image from an existing painting. What would you advise for that?

    As always, thank you!

    1. Maria

      Dear Dominique,

      Thanks for the comment and the question! For use of existing artwork – I would stick with my price ranges and charge on the lower end, as it will be less work to use existing art. The pricing depends on so many factors – the size of the band, who their management company is (and their size), what the art is being used for. But to simplify it, let’s say the band is a garage band (no manager, no money) and they want to use existing art, and we LOVE their music and want to help them out, I might let them use the art (with a lot of restrictions) for $250. However, if it was a large band with a record label company backing them, and they plan to use the art for multiple types of merchandise, I’d give them a 30% or 40% discount off of the normal custom art price (refer to the range of pricing in my article above). IN THE END – the most important thing to know is that you should feel good about what you’re being paid. So, come up with a price that feels good to both parties and you’ve got a win-win situation.

      1. Rick

        Hi Maria!

        Great article and very insightful!

        I do have 2 questions I hope you could help clarify. I’m a bit confused with what the price range in the article is meant for. My understanding was that it was meant for creating art specifically for the album, which Dominique reaffirmed. However, your reply mentioned to stick to the price range as well for existing artwork.

        1) If the band is mid level, made 2-3 albums, no label, touring and want an album cover art only, are you saying that 1500 would be the lowest one could charge for existing art but if it requires totally customized art then go higher, staying within that range?

        2) Could you elaborate further on what the deliverables are for customizing the art? Since they’d have to pay extra for the orginal painting, and graphic design is also extra to size it up to template, what am I submitting to them in exchange of the $1500 I’ll be charging?

  3. Celeste

    Thank you for this informative blog post. I’ve been approached to provide art for book covers or to accompany poems in a book. A few times it worked out and a few times it didn’t based on the theme of your post.

  4. Alex

    A really informative read, thanks Maria. I have produced a few album covers over the years, most recently for a local band. They wanted me to adapt an existing work which was pretty straightforward. I priced it at £350 which I think was about right for the amount of work I put in, and I didn’t have to set the graphics up. I was careful to stipulate that the artwork was for the album cover only and the agreement was on that basis. However that didn’t stop them from asking a month later if they could have the artwork files so they could adapt it for merchandise! Including an art print! I was shocked by their request and politely explained that this was out of the question.

    I think it is important to state any restrictions on the use of the artwork when you quote them for it.

    The best advice you’ve given me is to never EVER sell copyright of the image. If I get this request I always say no and explain why, and tell them they can have a license for the image for 5 years.

    Your emails and blog posts are invaluable and always full of excellent advice. Thank you!

    1. Maria

      Alex, thanks for sharing all of this info!

      Suggestion to anyone who gives a great price for usage only on a cover, and then later the band wants permission to use the art on merchandise – tell them yes, of course, but, it’s going to cost an extra licensing fee.

  5. Joan Chamberlain

    I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – you are the only advisor, expert, consultant that I’ve ever found that gives actual fees when you discuss various art projects. It is so helpful to have some idea of where to start, or what the average range is for a variety of art works. I know your advise has certainly changed the way I approach clients, and I get the sense that my clients appreciate an artist who is confident in their work and their fees. I’m getting better at introducing a discussion of fees early in my conversations with clients – it flushes out the ones who never really planned on paying, or who undervalue artists. Above all, I totally agree with you on valuing your art enough to always charge something, even if you decide to give your client a “deal”. Thanks for another great post!

    1. Maria

      Joan, I so much appreciate your kind words! And, I love how you wrote “I get the sense that my clients appreciate an artist who is confident in their work and their fees” – this is absolute truth. Glad that you are getting comfortable with introducing the money discussion early on. Thanks for the comment here!

    1. Maria

      Hi August, great question. Creating book covers is totally different. I recommend you buy a copy of the Artists Guild’s Guide to Ethical Pricing – in there it has all sorts of pricing for book illustrations, and pricing depends upon usage (cover, vs. inside of book, etc.).

      To compete in the book cover design biz, you have to have a lot of experience and a portfolio showing book covers you designed that makes a book sell.

      There are designers on Fivvr selling book cover design for as low as $5. But, they aren’t very good, so, if someone wants a GOOD book cover, they will go to an experienced designer who charges more but knows a lot more about what makes a book sell.

  6. Michael Davis

    Thank you Maria for the information. I never thought about bands looking for art work for an album cover.
    I’m a photographer and some of my photos are abstract. Would a photo work well for a band if they liked the photo, abstract or not? Would the prices be comparable to a painting? Linking a band to an album cover photo or painting is POWERFUL! If the band is good they can be remembered ( more sales for them ) also by the cover, as well as their songs.
    I worked for Warner Brothers Records in Burbank, Ca. in the late 60s until 1978 in the promotional creative services area. You cannot dismiss the POWER of an album cover in relating it to the bands name.
    Dose anyone old enough to remember the first Led Zeppelin album with its kodalith black and white cover in the late 1960s, which had the demise of the Hindenburg on the cover?
    There isn’t anyone of my age I know that couldn’t look at that album cover today ( with the bands name removed ) and not tell you who the bands name was! Thats power.
    I think doing a cover for a band is a great idea for a painter, or possibly a photographer?

  7. Sumaia

    great advice! what if it’s a person, needing a cover art for his single. no company or management that I know of. it didn’t seem like he had one. how should I price the cover? is it the same for an album cover?? or is it different pricing for a single cover?

  8. Justin Aerni

    I disagree with most of the “advice” you mentioned and maybe I should write my own article on the subject but with the economic downturn of the last decade, people, especially artists and musicians are struggling for money. The fact is their is no money. I’ve done album covers for almost every genre of music so I know a thing or two about this subject. Galleries are closing their doors left and write. The Millineals are not buying art or music for the most part. So go ahead and ask a broke musician for $350 and see how long that conversation lasts.. Your advice is only correct for a band singed to a record label though. Also I completely disagree about overexposing yourself. Impossible! There’s no such thing. Show me an example. These are good problems. Every artist should only dream of being over exposed.

    1. Maria Brophy

      Hi Justin, thanks for sharing your experience in working with bands. You are totally right about that, there are many bands who cannot afford to pay for artwork.

      There are also many who can. And an artist can choose which type of band they want to do business with. I don’t work with “broke” bands. But that is a choice that I make, driven by the fact that I choose to make my business profitable.

      I’m not saying it’s wrong for you to choose to sell your designs for very cheap to a band who cannot afford much; especially if you love their music and want to help them out, and maybe you don’t need the money. It’s very kind of you.

      But for artists who want to earn a living with their art (whom I write this blog for), they have to be choosy and work only with clients who can afford to pay them.

      Regarding over-exposure: I agree, it’s a good problem to have! But let me explain further what I meant, and I should have explained it in this way:

      A band doesn’t want a CD cover that has the same style of art as another band. You have to be really careful with that, you’ll upset the bands you’ve worked with in the past when you put your art on too many covers. This is what I meant by over-exposure. You have to be selective and not put your art on too many covers, it’s not good for the bands or you.

  9. Laura

    Hi Maria,

    This article was incredibly helpful! I have just started selling my art (mainly custom commission pieces) and have been contacted by a mid level band in regards to creating a t shirt design for them (and have barely any experience with pricing). My biggest question is, should I be charging a one time fee for the design or should it be more of a continuous thing, considering they will be selling a lot (hopefully) of shirts? Thank you so much for all your info!

    1. Maria

      It’s best to do a one-time flat fee with a band, unless they are backed by a giant record label. The reason is that they won’t have an accounting system in place to pay royalties, and it will become a problem. Get the money paid up front, and if your designs sell really well, they will come back to you for more!

  10. Tanna Warren

    Hey Maria!

    Amazing article!
    I’ve just been commissioned for 3 panels on an upcoming album and I was wondering how to price it as they want to buy the artworks outright!
    Thank you so much for the article It has helped so much already!

  11. Ispahani

    Hello Maria,
    You are AWESOME!!. Thanks for the wonderful advise. It has given me more insight the way I deal with my clients.

  12. D

    I loved this article. Does this apply to t shirt licensing? I just rejected an agreement for an already drawn piece as a design. The manager wanted to use it in perpetuity for a $300 flat fee. His talent is established and about to break through. He was very boarish toward me when I wanted to talk about it, so since nothing was signed I withdrew from it.

  13. eARTh_guy31

    Maria provides many excellent strategies to license art and photographs to musicians and their media use.

    And yes, it’s critical to insist that you retain the copyright to works you license to CD covers, music album, book covers, and other media.

    HOWEVER, if you have not “timely” registered your copyright with the US Copyright Office, you’ll likely have very limited enforcement power to pursue licensees who go rogue on you (they exceed the licensing agreement terms, skip payment, etc.) or an infringer exploits your published art without your blessing. In short, it can be too expensive to go after licensees and infringers. Don’t believe me, ask an experienced copyright litigator!

    So, BEFORE licensing your art for a CD cover or other media, get it registered!

    QUESTION: How do you prove to a federal court judge that you authored/created/own your artwork, photograph, manuscript, film, song, poem, etc.?

    ANSWER: If you register your creative works with the US Copyright Office BEFORE publication or WITHIN five-years of first-publication, you receive presumptive proof (prima facie evidence) that you have a valid copyright, and the facts you included in your copyright registration application will be deemed valid. Having your copyright Certificate of Registration in-hand helps prove that you authored (and own) your artwork and that you have a bona-fide copyright ownership (see 17 USC § 410(c)). The federal court will not accept your use of a poor man’s copyright (envelop) or a time-stamping tool to prove your copyright authorship—you need that Certificate of Registration issued by the US Copyright Office!

    A timely registered copyright is your insurance policy in case the artwork you licensed to the band gets used beyond your licensing agreement. Timely registered works helps encourage/push infringers/rogue licensees to settle the matter (quickly) and without going to trial. Don’t believe me, then ask an experienced copyright litigator!

    Timely registering your copyrights is an absolute necessity to protect your art portfolio and to stay in business.

    Maria’s outline of how to license artwork to music licensees is correct–what’s missing is the critical part about timely registering the artwork before licensing it. See below:

    Joshua Kaufman, a Washington, DC copyright litigator, explains why you should timely register your copyrights (4-minutes):

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  15. Sophie

    Thank you so much for this! I’m a young artist (still in college) but my cousin’s garage band has commissioned me to make original, traditional album art for their EP. I had no idea what to charge but now I have a much better idea 🙂


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