Linking your favorite traveling artists across the globe
Let's be honest. We had absolutely no money. I had maybe enough to press one thousand CDs and do some minimal marketing (around $3000).
Lucky for us, one of the band members owned a bedroom studio with some
sophisticated equipment, and is normally a producer and engineer. And
here I broke my own rule, and we didn't have a written agreement with
our producer/engineer, partly at his request, and this caused some
problems later on. This also has to do with the fact that we are all
friends, too, and at the time, a vague verbal agreement seemed adequate.
In all likelihood, if he had told me how much it was going to cost to
record, the project would have stalled right then and there.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I will be the first to admit that we broke a rule when we recorded, and that was because of the fact that one of us owned the
recording studio. We did do some writing in the studio. We finished the
lyrics, melody and general structure of the song, but we went into the
studio cold and with no or minimal rehearsal before we started laying
down tracks. So we weren't as efficient with our studio time as we could
have been. And so I declare
Music Biz Rule Number 3: PRACTICE! You should be able to play all your material in your sleep!
I had been in the studio before, recording demos. Demos for bands I was in so we could get gigs and demos as a songwriter to try to sell the
songs (or get the fabled record contract). The most I ever did was 4
songs, and I was a neophyte and let the engineer produce. I told him
what sound I wanted and he did it or something close, or if he had an
idea, I would let him go with it, and it turned out very nicely, even if
I didn't hear it that way when I had written the song.
This time the engineer was in the band, and was a co-writer, and a co-producer. Almost ten years had gone by since my last studio
experience, and I had some definite ideas of what I wanted on the album.
I took a page from Hollywood: since it was my cold, hard cash that was
financing this project, I became the Executive Producer, which meant
that I was ultimately responsible for the entire project. This included
scheduling, and attending every recording session, even if I wasn't
playing or singing that night.
There are many jobs that need to be done when your band is recording an album. Someone has to make sure all these little details
are covered Since I was the Executive Producer, and no one else was
stepping up to the plate, all these things fell to me:
Scheduling of recording sessions and musicians. This meant booking time in the studio and making sure that the musicians were
available to play and that they knew their parts. Of course in reality,
this didn't work as smoothly as it sounds. I decided that having "guest
guitarists" play lead guitar on different tracks would be a cool thing.
One of them lived 2000 miles away. It was an interesting experience
finding a studio over the phone and coordinating everything down to
sending a rough mix of the rhythm tracks on ADAT overnight mail. And of
course, my out of state friend's life decided to get completely out of
control just then, and she couldn't record the tracks.
Provide a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere for the performers. If you are freaking out or stressed, and your players know it, they are
going to be nervous too and you're not going to get the best out of
them. Know when to get out of the way, or have a trusted friend gently
remind you. You can come back in the studio and hear what's been done
later after you've calmed down.
Attending every recording session to make sure the tracks are being done properly. Even if you aren't playing in that session. I do
admit that I was unable to do this, and none of the other band members
were comfortable enough to make decisions. Even when I wasn't there in
person, I was there on the phone. I had to decide things like whether to
use tracks recorded in less than optimal conditions, or wait two weeks
until that player was available. And sometimes the decisions are hard.
Do you let the release date of the album slide out one month? Two
months? Will that make you miss the holiday buying season? Or do you go
with what you've got and get something out?
Attending the mixdown. If the final sound of your album matters to you, be there for the mix. The mix can make or break a song. Lots of
problems with recording can be fixed in the mix, and many engineers will
tell you that, especially if you are not happy with a recording you
just made. If you've got the time and the stamina however, do a retake.
The cleaner your original tracks are, the better the final product will
be. There are limits to what you really can fix in the mix.
And please, please, make sure you have your tracks put on some kind of stable media (like tape). A hard disk is only good until it
crashes. And it will crash at some point. Back up your data, or be
prepared to start all over again. If your studio uses hard disk
recording instead of tape, make sure that all your files are backed up
to another media. Things to request include backing up to a different
physical hard drive (not another partition on the same disk!), CD-ROM,
digital audio tape, or analog tape. Make sure it's in your contract with
your engineer. Anyone who has any length of experience with computers
knows that hard disk storage is not permanent. It's a matter of time
before the hard drive becomes damaged in some way. Yes, you can get
lucky and get 5 or even 10 years out of a hard drive, but play
pessimist, please. Assume that the disk will crash right after you've
done a rough mix, and that all your tracks will be gone. It's been known
to happen. So here is
Computer rule number 1: MAKE BACKUPS!
And while you are recording and doing all of that stuff, don't forget about packaging. The big companies have staff that takes care of all of
this for you, and many CD manufacturers also have staff that can handle
these jobs as well, and for pretty reasonable fees. However, being the
masochist that I am, I took on all of this stuff as well.
Cover concept and execution. This is what a potential buyer will see and it will factor into whether they purchase your CD or not,
especially if they haven't heard of you or heard the songs on the album.
The graphics and text should relate in some way to your music. Both
music and art evoke emotional reactions from people. The emotions should
be consistent (for instance, you probably won't see a fuzzy kitten in a
basket of yarn on a thrash band's CD cover). You want your listeners to
enjoy the music, and believe that their money was well spent. So
hopefully, they'll tell everyone they know how great your CD is, and go
and buy it.
Typesetting and layout for the insert, Jewel case tray card and CD itself. This can be a lot of work if you are not trained in graphic
arts. The look of your packaging is the listener's first impression. It
is well worth the couple of hundred dollars (if you have it) to have a
professional lay out your artwork and text. They know the formats for
the printer, and all the details like color separations, registration
marks, file formats, etc. Make sure that your proof prints are exactly
what you want, and that there are no defects. You will be asked to
approve them before production.
Photos of the band. These are very important. What is the purpose of the band photo? Are you putting it in the CD? Are you handing
our 8 by 10 glossies to fans? Are you making a press kit? If you can
afford a professional photographer it can be well worth the results.
Selection of manufacturer. Choosing a good CD manufacturer with a proven track record is really important. I say this only because I went
with someone I never heard of, because a good friend was working for
them at the time, and they undercut a market leader by a few hundred
dollars. What should have taken two to three weeks took four months.
Because of this delay, we missed out on many marketing and sales
opportunities. After being burned like this, I will say that you
basically get what you pay for. In retrospect, I should have cancelled
the job when they laid off my friend (which they did at the beginning).
Also, be aware that the time period from September to November is very
busy for CD manufacturers. That is when they start producing high volume
Christmas sales items, and small jobs get pushed aside.
Obtaining permission to use copyrighted material. You actually should have these before you start recording (because if you don't get
them, why spend money and time recording something you can't use?). You
can contact the publisher of the music, the performance society (such as
ASCAP), or the author him/herself for permission. You should get it in
writing, and make whatever royalty arrangements you need to make in
writing as well. If you don't know who wrote something, you can check
the copyright archives on line.
And because I didn't have enough to do, I started preliminary marketing in the form of the band's website. I admit that I really enjoy
doing websites, so it wasn't what I would call a hardship. There is a
lot to know about how to make a site good looking and also easy to use.
More than is appropriate for me to tell you here. All I will say for now
is that you can put a website up for little or no money, and every band
should have one.