NPR broke our their calculators this week and added up the cost of making a hit pop song -- specifically Rihanna's "Man Down," the reggae-pop head-nodder that came with a controversial video in which the singer shoots a guy who done her wrong, drinks straight from a coconut, and frolics in the ocean (you can guess which part was controversial).
"Man Down" is a solid summer jam that lets Barbados-born Rihanna demonstrate her ability to sing in a convincing patois and ride a dancehall rhythm. But you may do a coconut-water spit-take when you learn how much NPR estimates it cost to make: $1,078,000.
Where'd the money go? According to interviews with industry insiders and folks who worked with Rihanna (note: the figure has not been confirmed by the singer or her label, Def Jam), a measly 7.8 percent of the total was spent writing and recording the song. The lion's share of the cash went to marketing and promotion -- a hefty $1 million.
The price tag on "Man Down" starting running in March 2010, when NPR reports Def Jam held a songwriting camp in Los Angeles where writers and producers gathered to brainstorm ideas for Rihanna's Loud. There, a songwriting team of brothers called Rock City (a.k.a. Timothy and Theron Thomas) hooked up with a producer named Shama "Sham" Joseph, who played them the raw track for "Man Down." They dug it and said, "Let's give Rihanna a one-drop! Like, a response to [Bob Marley's classic] 'I Shot the Sheriff'!" according to their manager, Ray Daniels.
The idea was compelling, especially since Rihanna had infamously been the victim of a violent domestic assault and subsequently tattooed guns on her body and sang a ballad called "Russian Roulette." Twelve minutes later -- yes, just 12 minutes -- they'd wrapped up the lyrics for the song. Cost so far: $15,000 to Rock City, $20,000 to Shama Joseph, and an estimated $18,000 for this portion of the writing camp.
Next came the recording process: NPR's experts say hiring a top-notch vocal producer -- the pro who advises the star how to deliver each line -- costs $15,000. Mixing and mastering -- assembling the pieces of the track and adjusting the recording levels -- typically runs another $10,000. Cost so far: $78,000.
Once the song was complete, the most expensive piece of the puzzle began: making sure it got heard. The promotional budget for a single covers all aspects of this process -- getting Rihanna press in newspapers, magazines, and on TV; making the video; getting the song on the radio; getting the video on MTV, VH1 and BET; flying Rihanna around the world to sing and glad-hand. That's a lot of airfare, fancy dinners, and photo shoots -- about $1 million worth.
After all that, "Man Down," which was released as a single in early May, hasn't exactly been a smash success. It debuted at Number 94 on Billboard's Hot 100 and has yet to go gold, according to the RIAA. Rihanna is still promoting it, though -- the song has a nice spot in the set list on her current Loud tour.