Maria Brophy


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    ‘Strategies for a Successful Art Business!’
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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12 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.

  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.


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