(An article by the guys at Echos/Discmakers that we have adapted and added to in parts)
Releasing a CD or EP is a big deal for any artist and the result of a lot of hard work and one of your best chances to earn ongoing revenue. You spend a lot of time writing, rehearsing, and recording — and that’s all just in the lead up to the manufacturing process.
So after all the rehearsing, recording, over dubbing, checking, editing, mixing, working out song orders, audio mastering, and starting to designing your package/look, there are the numerous music promotion and sales activities – much of which may require your CD printing to be completed.
While it’s hard not to get excited and schedule your album release when you get to the music mixing phase, being patient and creating a long-term timeline will help you maximize your efforts rather than racing to meet a deadline.
As clients finish the production phase of a project, we start to feed out to them a list of things that now need to happen to maximize the opportunities for sales success and income flow (if we gave it at the start it might seem too daunting and also impact on the creative process – and getting the music/production right is essential).
To help with that next phase ‘after the music is done’ here is a little Album Release Checklist to get you thinking about things you might not have thought of while involved in the creative process.
Please note – this is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start in the planning.
1. Are you including any cover songs?
If your CD includes any songs written by another songwriter or artist, copyright law requires you get a mechanical license. Mechanical licenses are issued by the owner of the copyright (publishers, labels, estates, songwriters, composers) and can be obtained easily from collection houses (APRA/AMCOS in Australia, Limelight by Rightsflow, etc contact the one appropriate to your location). If you are doing an ‘exact replica’ (same arrangement, words etc just in your style) then most have a flat rate calculation. However, if you are changing any major elements (words, melody, using for a parody, etc) and it is not ‘public domain’, you have to get permission from the copyright holder/publisher and agree to the arrangement negotiated for use and adaption of the song. Usually manufacturing companies cannot begin CD printing without your acquiring the proper licenses.
2. Have you copyrighted your songs?
As soon as you produce a copy of a song — including any recording, written transcription, or print-out of lyrics — your work is copyrighted. Still, it’s a good idea to register your work with the appropriate body in your territory.
3. Have you cleared your samples?
If your audio master contains any samples of previously recorded work, you are required to purchase a Master Use License and include proof-of-purchase with your project. If your project contains any material owned by a third-party (e.g. samples, loops), manufacturing companies cannot begin CD printing without your acquiring the proper licenses.
4. Who is doing your CD design?
Unless you, someone in your team, or someone you are hiring is an experienced (i.e. professional) designer, don’t try to do it on your own! Your album release represents all the hard work you’ve put into your music, and you’re competing against some pretty fantastic CD packaging art in the marketplace. If you have a graphic designer you’re working with, make sure he or she uses the correct CD template (often supplied by the place you will get the CD pressed) and that all your files and images are formatted correctly for print (even the right amount of ‘bleed’, etc).
5. Have you picked the right CD packaging for your album release?
Most CD packaging has lists of benefits and features that sets it apart — so take the time to choose the one that best suits your album release. ‘Digipaks’ offer a great opportunity to integrate interesting cover art, and is a “greener” alternative to ‘Jewel cases’ — which still remain the industry standard at this time. Digipaks can have as many as eight panels, and both packages offer printed booklets of up to 32 pages. ‘Eco-wallets’ also afford plenty of design and booklet options, and the ‘CD Jacket’ is a lightweight recycled stock slip sleeve that can still deliver a graphic punch. Take the time to pick the best one for you.
6. Is your timetable realistic?
Having a realistic plan in place is the first step on the road to success in planning an album release. Planning for delays might not sound sexy, but it could be the ticket to a well-run manufacturing and promotional launch of your CD. The rehearsal process usually takes longer than expected; recording, mixing, and music mastering rarely run precisely on schedule; and designing and manufacturing a CD sometimes requires back and forth between parties to make sure all the pieces are looking and sounding perfect. Managing the hiccups in the various creative processes will make for a smooth and stress-free run for you and your team.
Have more than one thing happening at a time may get you there sooner. For example, if you intend to include lyrics, thank yous, and liner notes in your album art, don’t wait until the last minute to draw it up — keep a running list going throughout the rehearsal and music recording process. If you plan to include a band photo (or other special shots) on the cover or in the album art, plan for it and have it completed well before you’re collecting your materials for CD manufacturing. Determine your album title and gather all the images you intend to include in the art ahead of time, as well.
7. Do you have permission to use that art?
It’s almost too easy to grab art from the Internet and claim it as your own — be sure NOT to do that for any image or piece of art to be included on your CD. Just like you need a Mechanical License to record and distribute someone else’s composition, you need the proper permissions for any piece of art you want on your CD. If you haven’t created or commissioned photographs, graphics, logos, and artwork, check and get the appropriate permission from the owner or make sure to purchase stock images or use royalty-free images.
(By the way – this is just, if not more, important to video footage you may use later in your music video!!!)
8. Did you pick/allow for your CD manufacturing turnaround time?
Some manufacturers/pressing houses have different delivery options and timetables (and pricing sometimes) – such as Economy, Standard, and Priority.
Some things can’t/shouldn’t be missed. You should allow time for the manufacturer to check and sign off as ‘manufacture ready’ the artwork and music master. Unless they are just ‘copying’, they should send you a proof of the artwork as laid out for their production run so you can do a final check of spelling and colours, etc. Then there is delivery/collection method and so much more.
The number of days will vary based on your specific CD packaging, whether replication or duplication, their work load and delivery/collection method – but can range usually 1.5- 4 weeks delivered.
Which manufacturer/pressing house to chose?
Don’t leave this till the last minute. Do your investigation early and lock the choice in early and even tentatively book the job in (that way – as long as close, you are ‘in the queue’ – the timing will be based on delivery back from your mastering people and graphic designers). So check options, ask a number of people who have done it before (see who happy, who not, who goes back to the same ones etc etc), contact them and discuss/understand their operation, delivery turnaround times etc, get firm quotes – make a decision.
9. Did you proof all your materials?
When preparing your CD manufacturing order and collecting your raw materials (art files, audio master, forms) for CD printing, you can save yourself time and potential disaster by having a third-party (someone other than you) read everything and check for typos. Same goes for your audio master. The more thoroughly you check your materials for errors, the less chance of a costly or embarrassing mistake finding its way to your final product. Make sure your audio master sounds exactly the way you want it to, (including song order and song spacing). When you receive your design proofs, make sure to give everything another thorough check before giving your final approval.
10. Is your audio master mastered?
Regardless of what people may say to you – in our opinion – your album isn’t ready for commercial release until it’s been professionally mastered.
To us it is not an optional step — every album released on a major label is professionally mastered, but it’s a step that an independent artist may be tempted to skip. You’ve poured your heart into your music and recording, so why stop short of making your album sound the best that it can? Professional audio mastering brings important enhancements to your album (including but not limited to commercial and consistent overall volume, clarity and punch that may be missing in your mixes, balanced EQ, custom spacing or cross-fades and that extra shine and sparkle you hear in commercial mixes, etc)
We will often do some ‘pseudo mastering’ for a client near the end of a project so they can hear something close to what the final product will sound like – but we don’t profess to be mastering engineers. While many recording studios and platforms offer a music mastering component and our production studio may even have mastering software etc – it is rare that the mixing engineer is also the best place to master as well (unless you are on an extremely tight budget) – I know of only a couple who have the ears and gear I would trust for our clients (if they were mixing for us as well).
Hiring a third-party mastering engineer is often a good idea. Having another set of ears mastering your project with monitors and an environment specifically dedicated to audio mastering can make a huge difference in your final product.
11. Do you have everything prepared for manufacturing your CD?
You need five things when you send your manufacturer/pressing house your CD order:
1) your audio master on CD-R or ready to upload (DDP master etc),
2) your CD design files ready to mail in or upload,
4) Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) documentation (proof of sign off if using someone else’s works), and
5) a signed order form.
12. Do you know how many CDs you want to order?
It’s a good idea to develop a budget before deciding what CD packaging and how many units you want to order. Based on the number of gigs you play a month, how many CDs you think you’ll sell at each gig, the amount of email and web promotions you’ll do, potential music downloads and online sales, figures from past CD sales, and any other relevant data you can assemble, come up with a sales figure for the number of CD’s you think you’ll sell. From there you can determine what your sales might add up to, what profit you want to keep, and how much you have to budget for disc manufacturing. There are other costs to consider (rehearsal, recording, promotion), and other potential sources of funding (savings, fan-funding, gig revenue), but this is a good exercise to go through to keep your efforts and spending based in the real world.
This will also let you determine if you are requesting replication or duplication in the manufacturing process, which does effect the cost per unit. Obviously the more CD’s you get produced the less per unit each one will cost – but you have to be able to afford (and sell) the larger quantity overall order.
Our best advice to you – as well as affordability …….Be realistic!!!!!!
There are too many people we know who have ‘guessed’ or dreamed their CD sales potential – and 5 years later still have 2-300 (or more) CD’s from the original manufacturing run under their bed//in cupboards somewhere.
13. Do you want a UPC code?
A Universal Product Code (also UPC or bar code) is a must for retail sales. Stores won’t sell products without them. You can get a bar code through industry suppliers, often through the ‘manufacturer’ where you will have your physical product pressed, or through your aggregator (CDBaby, Tunecore) if loading digitally or for online sales through them. Prices vary from (at the time of posting) $20 through CDBaby, to $100 with some pressing houses I know or more.
Once you have the barcode, then more stores (especially chains) will be willing to consider stocking your product, the aggregators and their partners can track (and if you register your bar code with SoundScan (which is free and easy to do) or similar, your sales records will be tracked by that industry leader or similar).
14. Do you have ISRC codes?
While the UPC or bar code is the recognition for your overall album, International Standard Recording Codes (ISRC) are the international identification system for sound recordings and music video recordings. Each ISRC is a unique and permanent identifier for a specific recording (each work). The ISRC provides the means to automatically identify recordings for royalty payments and, in many territories, is increasingly becoming a tool in the fight against piracy. By identifying all sound and music video recordings that are released, regardless of the format that they are released in, the ISRC enables the tracking and tracing of these recordings through the music value chain…… it becomes a digital footprint for each of your works worldwide.
The ISRC codes are usually permanently encoded into your master for pressing can be added to the metadata/embedded into your MP3’s and supplied to aggregators for incorporating in their uploading process.
ISRC codes can be supplied by your publisher, some production houses (we arrange for our clients who want them) or through the local ISRC management body. Google search ISRC code supplier in your territory (for example, in Australia its ARIA).
15. Do you need promotional materials and is your online promotion ready?
Do you have your message, promotional ‘speel’ for the CD ready? Is there an angle, something unique, a message that you want to convey? And have you put that in words and images ready for the release?
Have you worked out your website, facebook, ReverbNation, email, etc ‘release look’ and have it in place ready to go?
Of course, not everything happens online, you know! Printed promotional material like stickers, flyers, full-color posters, and postcards can help you spread the word at gigs and on the street. Soft copies of those can be emailed, sent out, uploaded as pics, etc
And then there is the ‘launch’ and the ongoing marketing and promotion …… mmmmm!
Yes there is a lot to consider, arrange and do – but if you are spending the time, effort and resources to produce a commercial quality musical product in the first place – shouldn’t you support in a way that gives it the best chance of success (whatever that may mean to you).
If you wish to discuss any of the above (or any other aspect of the production, manufacturing or marketing process), please do not hesitate to email us or private message us.