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MUSIC BUSINESS ARTICLES
Making your own demo
Making a record.
by Billy Tweedie

Introduction

Of late, it is becoming more and more commonplace for bands to get their
own product cut onto record or CD, either for general release or to make
your outfit or band look more impressive than you would on your standard
TDK 90 demo cassette, especially if you're planning on using it to try
and get attention from a larger record label. Ultimately, you're looking
to get your very best material out to a much wider audience than you are
currently reaching. At the demo stage, this can also be a very useful
and important market research tool, where bands are able to get genuine
street reactions to their material. Nothing proves your determination
and commitment to succeed better than packaging and selling your own
music.

If you're planning on setting up a record label or want to have a stab
at doing it for yourself instead of waiting to get signed by that
elusive major record label, I have just three words to say: GO FOR IT!!!

You are now in control of the next phase of your journey to
(super-)stardom. Well, you know what I mean! But it's not going to be
that easy. And it's certainly not going to be cheap. It goes without
saying that you need to ensure your material is of a sufficiently high
standard. But you also need to have the right mental tools for the job:
persistence, initiative, creativity, responsibility, and so on - but you
knew that anyway, didn't you? Didn't you?

You need to be sure that you're actually READY to release your product.
Demos are still a useful tool which you can use to get the necessary
crucial feedback needed to develop
your songs/style/material. Don't forget that you can still get record
label interest from a decent demo. But if you've tried and tested the
demo route and found that there's still no one hammering on your door,
or your sick of getting the 'thanks but no thanks' letters and you truly
believe that your material can hold its own in the current musical
climate - then what are you waiting for?

However, it DOES pay to spend time doing a bit of research BEFORE you
embark on committing your material to CD or DJ friendly Vinyl!: What are
you pressing up ?
  a CD album,
    a CD single,
       vinyl EP,
         7 or 12 inch single???????
      And that's just for starters!

 Can you, and how will you, afford to do it? Are you sure that the
record buying public are ready for your unique flava?

Would YOU buy it if it wasn't you? (Be truthful!)
Is your flava in keeping with the current musical trends?
Would your style fit in with the current crop of music releases?
 If so, how could you be sure that your particular release would stand
out? Can your release stand on its own against some of the more
established artists releasing new product on the same day as yours?  If
your material is a bit more on the 'experimentally different' side of
the fence, have you found ways to reach as much of your target audience
as possible?

Do you REALLY have a thorough understanding of your potential audience?
Will your product be available only at your gigs or will it be available
instore? How will your product get into these record shops and retail
outlets? In which record shops would you want your product to be
available - High Street chains like K-Mart, HMV and Virgin, or select
specialist stores?

Is it the right TIME to be releasing your material ?- you wouldn't
really want your CD to get lost in the Christmas rush alongside Slade's
'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day', Released again for the 99th
time now would you?!lol!!!

If you find the disc hasn't quite sold in the numbers that you'd
anticipated, it would be worth your while looking into WHAT WENT WRONG.
For example, the promotion could have been so poor that nobody knew
about the release, or the market might not have been quite ready for
your 'Next Big Thing' or, quite bluntly, your material could just
suck!!! Sorry - but the truth hurts!

You may find there to be no commercial viability in your project at a
particular moment in time, but that's not necessarily the cue to call it
quits. Try for a change of strategy
instead. Remember not to be too over-enthusiastic with your quantities -
the last thing you'll want is 900 copies of your release in boxes in
your bedroom. Be realistic with your
expectations. you could always do a 'small run' and, if these sell out,
you can go for another pressing.

Major record companies are often seen to be lazy. With dance music in
particular, there has been a tendency for the smaller cutting edge
independent labels to act, in essence, as the street A&R for the majors.
For example, you put out a release on your small label and it starts
buzzing and all of a sudden everyone wants a piece of it. After you've
done all the hard work researching, promoting and pushing the releases
to all the right people, the Major just steps in, gives it extra
marketing glitz, possibly plugging it to radio stations, buying ads in
the music magazines and watches it soar up the charts.

There is also the argument that many of the guitar based independent
labels are now owned, or affiliated in some way, to major labels, with
the parent company only stepping in after the artists sales figures pass
the 'couple of thousand' mark. It could be you.

You can use your product also to help create a buzz about you or your
band and strengthening your all important reputation. Think of how you
can increase your current audience. There's no better way than to have a
highly demanded single or album available for sale. Think of the avenues
opening up to you: radio, television, magazines. Your product may start
to sell like hot cakes but, it's important to remember, that you may
still be a long way from earning X-amount of money.

So, you're still interested in the DIY style!? What's the first step?

First, You need to make your Finished Master Recording.

Recording

If you are in a band looking for that all-important big break, the only
thing you can be certain of is going into a recording studio at some
point. 'What makes a good recording studio?' is a question often asked,
but the answer will often vary from one individual to the next. What you
may hear is that 'such & such studio has got this desk and that unit and
24 this and digital that and blahdeblah who's done whatsit worked
there'. In truth, none of the aforementioned will be of any use without
looking at the important factor: those people  involved...........
 A good sound engineer with examples of their recent work is an
excellent start - ask some of the bands who have worked from that
studio, and ask how good that person is to work with. A constructive,
consistent, supportive and adaptable working atmosphere is infinitely
more crucial to good results than the equipment list. If you don't
appreciate what the engineer has to say, or you simply don't think
you'll feel comfortable recording in that studio, then DON'T. After all,
you're the one's paying! Shop around. Remember that a good studio cannot
be judged on price alone.

Where?

You may find it useful talking to other bands and musicians about where
they have recorded and getting their reaction to the experience. Were
they happy with the demo?
Was the engineer competent? You need to be sure of the available
technical support before you commit to a particular studio, especially
if your material consists of sequenced and/or sampled material. It would
be good to make the studio aware of your style of music, perhaps by
bringing your most recent demo or perhaps, another record with the sound
that you're after. You could find that a studio offering 24track
recording will suit your needs better than a 16track because you might
want spare tracks available to have alternative vocal takes or solos. It
is worth taking the time to consider sounding out which studio will be
right for you. There is nothing wrong in shopping around to find a
studio to suit your needs. After all, it's your money. And your
music.You may also want to think about owning your multi-track master
tapes. They could come in very handy if the vocalist decides to leave
the band just as you're about to get
your discs pressed and refuses to let you use his/her voice on the
recordings.....This has happened before! They're also handy in terms of
getting possible remixes done to your work. Talk to your chosen
recording studio about this before you start to record.

Pre-production

Going into the studio for the first time can be both an exciting and yet
daunting prospect. Having to commit yourselves to tape without making
any mistakes isn't going to be easy. That's where the following cliché
comes in: Practice makes perfect. The tighter the arrangement before you
get into the studio, the less tense it will be by the time you get to
mix-down. Don't waste valuable time that you're paying for by suddenly
deciding to change the middle 8, and throwing in a brand new chorus! You
also need to be sure that all your gear and equipment is in fine working
order and that you're prepared to act if things go wrong. Do you have a
spare set of strings, a drum key or, maybe, a backup disc of the
original sequence?

Don't underestimate how much time you will need to record and mix down
your material properly. Make sure that all band members know what each
other wants to sound like -it's good to talk. There is an extra approach
that many bands tend to overlook - the role of the producer and/or
arranger. If you really want to take your music to the next level, it
would be worth investing in an arranger, who would do just that: write
parts for different instruments and arrange them to provide backing or
accompaniment to your song. A producer takes control of the recording
session to create a particular sound and feel using your material. They
may advise on how choruses, instrumental breaks, effects and other 
aspects of your music should be assembled to create the finished recording. 
It would be worth looking at artistes who's material you particularly 
aspire to and finding out the names of the producers and arrangers. 
There are also a number of good local producers which you may be able 
to access through Music contact magazines. Some producers 
will only work on material that they personally like.

Although this could prove to be costly, imagine what the results would
sound like?! In progress.If you're looking for demo-tape quality, the
quickest that most studios will be able to accommodate is up to three
(or maybe even four) tracks over the course of two days. Talk things
over with the engineer if you want to lay the tracks 'live' as opposed
to multitracking separate instruments. In fact, talk to the engineer before
you start to ensure that s/he knows exactly what you're looking to get
out of the studio sessions. If you're not happy with a certain riff here or a 
wrong note there, then speak or forever hold your peace. In years to come, 
you may live to regret never having said anything about such an obvious 
'boo-boo', no matter how 'nearly right' it sounded at the time. If you had 
spent time shopping around, the chances are high that you will be happy with
any comments the sound engineer will make. Remember, their expertise
lies in knowing how comparative levels and EQ contribute to the overall
sound. Don't be afraid to comment if you feel the need. A good engineer
will give you plenty of opportunity to do this before committing the mix
to master.

You may feel it best to book a block of studio time as opposed to
fragmented sessions as this helps nurture the creative flow. If you just
book in a few hours here and then another few hours there, you spend so
much time listening to previous sessions and warming back up, then by
the time you start to 'get back into it' it's time to go. If you're in
the studio for a number of days at a time then, yes, it can be tedious
at times, but at least there is more chances of you all getting into
'the zone' where everything suddenly starts to fall back into place and
you find that you've covered X-amount of essential ground work on your
tracks.

Master mix

It is widely felt that the final mixes are best done at a later time
than the recording. Bear in mind that after listening to your material
twenty times, your ears may start to get  accustomed to the monitor mix
and you may end up not wanting to change from the sound already familiar
to your ears. Where possible, sleep on it or, at the very least, get
away from the studio for a number of hours so that you can start the mix
with 'fresh ears'. Most studios would have no objection to keeping the
recording and mixing sessions separate - but make sure that you've
arranged this beforehand! If you prefer this 'fresh ears' approach, you
may find it useful to take away a rough monitor mix of the  recorded
sessions to enable you to plan a few adventurous ideas, but if you don't
know what's troubling you about your sound then there may be no point in
wasting studio time and money hoping it will improve by endless
fiddling. Once you are happy with the sound of the track, the engineer
will commit this master mix onto a master copy, usually in a
digital format such as DAT or MiniDisc (my personal fave!), or you may
prefer the engineer to master on to Analogue Tape (although, this method
is used less and less today). If the material is all your own work, then
you're ready to go the next stage.

COPYRIGHTS ARE VERY IMPORTANT!

You should be aware that there are two copyrights on a record:
songwriter copyright and recording copyright. You may have come up with
a verbal agreement to split all royalties equally between yourselves.
Or, the actual songwriter(s) might ask to receive a larger share. If you
wish to record a new version of somebody else's song, you will need a
licence before recording that copyrighted work.

You will need to approach the record company and writers or publishers
of the original work for their written permission and then, if granted,
you can negotiate an acceptable royalty rate, known as a mechanical
royalty. You now have your finished Master Recording.Remember to keep
your final mixed master in a safe place. Many studios will let you buy
your multi-track recording master, that means that the final recording
is in your hands (or in the safe at your local bank in you prefer!).

OBTAINING THAT PRODUCT

It is worth noting here that there are many reputable companies who are
able to offer all of the following services in-house, which would save
much to-ing and fro-ing on your  part. However, it is worth talking to a
few different organisations before you settle with one. Find out who
else has used their services. If you want your material to sound as
thick as say, a Basement Jaxx tune or as zingy as a Grace Jones classic,
but don't know where to go - you could try looking at your own record
collection!! Somewhere either on the artwork, the label or even the shiny 
bit around the label, there will be something like 'mastered at...
or 'a porky prime cut'. Then look them up through Yellow Pages, 1800-555-1212, 
Directory Enquiries, Music Week Directory, White Book etc., and various 
industry contact lists.

Artwork

Label or CD surface artwork needs to be prepared before the
records/discs are manufactured. Cover and sleeve design needs to be
ready as early as possible. Artwork preparation and sleeve printing can
take up to a couple of weeks so make sure that you allow plenty of time
for this stage. There could be delays otherwise! Most importantly,
check to make sure that all your desired artwork meets the technical
specifications that the printers are asking for.  If you're planning a
white label dance release on record, then you can anticipate your
overall costs being lower. But on the other hand, your release will just
look the same as many other releases in your local specialist store, so
it might not even get a look in right  from the off. You can't always
rely on letting the music speak for itself. With so many other titles on
offer, you need to make your packaging look as attractive as possible so
that, at the very least, the punters will want to listen to your release
alongside the latest hot European imports that sometimes seem to cost
$25 more a disc in many stores! Even putting a sticker on would be
better than just having a plain sleeve.........

The Cut

You need to be aware that pressing plants now work closely with the
MCPS, an organisation which acts on behalf of its writer, composer and
publishing members. All reputable pressers will ask of evidence of a
license application before they even start the manufacturing process!! 
This licence application or Repertoire Registration Form (RRF) requires 
information such as track titles, song author(s),  arranger(s), duration, 
publishing details, pressing plant, etc. and will ultimately go some way 
to helping the process of collecting royalties from your material. 
This form should arrive at MCPS at least seven days before manufacture. 
If you are making a CD, you may be asked to ensure that you supply a Red 
Book Standard CDR Master that's "PQ-encoded", provided by a mastering 
engineer specialising in digital replication.

(What?!???? Billy what are you talking about??)

Well, what they are basically asking for is a master CD from which your
release will be produced from. Imagine you're about to release an album
having worked with different producers all recording in different
recording studios. The tracks themselves will indeed sound different
when compared with each other. Some  songs may sound very bass-heavy
whilst others may be a little on the 'bright' side. You need to reach a
compromise (for want of a better word) where there is not too much sonic
difference from one song to the next to another. All the tracks will
need to be sound relatively similar. This is the final chance to get
that required EQ and sound level matching.

A CD also needs a 'table of content' containing digital information
which basically says when a track starts, when that track finishes and
when the next track (if any) begins. The whole disc is mapped out in
this fashion. These form the PQ codes and enable any CD player to
understand that the CD contains X-amount of tracks on it. This
information is put onto a glass master CD containing nickel (which
stores the  information in a digital format). A reverse or negative
stamper is made from this, and it is  from this stamper that all your
discs will be stamped. If you're only producing a small run, then you
could consider buying or hiring a CD writer (the cheapest ones connect
into your computer, though you'd still need the software  (such as
SoundForge) to transfer the audio from your Sound card input onto the CD
in a user-friendly format. The software creates the PQ codes for you
using your selection track beginnings and ends.).

Vinyl: The Dance DJ's friend:

If you are making vinyl, the process of preparing the pressing master is
called 'The Cut'. This is where the final EQ and balance is made to your
final mixed Master Recording, and therefore is a crucial stage of production 
that you need to be present at. A good cut can enhance your tune, giving it that 
extra 'depth' and 'sparkle', but a bad cut could literally ruin your masterpiece! 
You will be presented with a one-off disc (an acetate) which can be played 
on a regular turntable to ensure that everything sounds OK. Make sure that
you like the sound of the acetate pressing before you proceed with the job.
A lacquer will then be manufactured. This is a soft one-sided disc from
which a metal mould is made and it is this mould which will eventually
stamp the grooves into the hot vinyl which, when cooled, will form your
record. 

NOTE: You will need two lacquers for a traditional two-sided
release  (one for each side). The lacquer cutting and processing can be
the most expensive parts of manufacturing your release. If required, you
can then order a quantity of test pressings which are just as their name
implies; Again, these can be played on any turntable and this is the
last chance that you get to make sure that you are happy with the 
results before you go full steam ahead and press up your vinyl in bulk 
quantities.  Be careful to check that the discs are flat and not
warped, and that the stylus arm is not swaying too much from side to
side. Once satisfied, you will then be well on your way to receiving
either your hot white labels or snazzily artworked finished copies.
Albeit after a further couple of weeks manufacturing time.

Distribution

Once you have the records what are you going to do with them? You could
take a car-trunk full of records round the specialist outlets yourself,
but they will probably only offer you 'sale or return' whereby you will
need to call back a month or two later to collect payment for any
product that's been sold, and possibly take back any remaining copies.
The shop managers should know their customers well enough to guess how
many might sell, but can you afford another trip before receiving any
money at all? Do you have the time to travel across the country lugging
boxes of records from shop to shop only to bring many of them home
again?

A physically easier option would be to let someone else get your product
into the shops. A distributor! Assuming they like your material, the
distributor will either place your records into retail outlets or at
least include them in their lists or catalogue from which  the shop
managers make out their orders. Every style of music has it's own
specialist distribution services and networks. To find out who would be
the best for you to approach, then pop into your local record shop and
ask who distributes the records by someone similar in musical style to
you. It will be worthwhile to finalise distribution plans before even a
single copy has been pressed. Send off your material on cassette/CDR to
as many distributors that you want to look after your material. In some
cases, you can arrange distribution with more than one  company, thus
ensuring your product has a greater spread as opposed to having all your
eggs in one basket and leaving all your records with one distributor who
only deals with reggae in the mountains of West Virginia!

Promotion

You should have already worked out your sales break even point - the
point after which you will have recouped all your expenses (including
any additional costs such as artwork
and delivery charges) and you can start to make some money. You will
need to know how much you plan to sell the discs for and how many copies
you can afford to give away free to radio stations, national and/or
local specially selected DJs and journalists to ensure maximum exposure.
You may need to make allowances for this. Where possible, try to ensure
that key media contacts have your product at least a couple of weeks
before the official release date so that a demand can, in essence, be
created for your release. The success of your product depends upon the
level of promotion and awareness of your product so be sure to pay
attention to specialist magazines who favor your music style and don't
forget to get a copy to the journalist who gave you the blinding review
and the promoter of that nice venue that you'd really like to play at.
You may find it useful to read specialist magazines catering to your
musical tastes to help you compile a database of press
contacts/reviewers, retail outlets, distributors, DJ's, etc., which
could form the basis of your promotional mailing list. When sending out
to the media, it would be more than worth your while to write a press
release to accompany your CD, so that the reviewer or DJ has a bit more
information and knowledge about you and your band. Remember, this mail
out is also going to cost you. Have you got enough funds ($$$)
available?

Depending on your budget, there are other marketing and promotional
options available. Pluggers are companies who actually plug your release
to regional and/or national radio
stations on your behalf, freeing up much of your time to do other
things. It is best to shop around and find out which, you feel, will
give the most exposure - be it through interviews or specialist airplay.
A good place to start would be to speak to your local radio stations'
Head of Music Programming and see which pluggers regularly send them
suitable or similar product. You could also employ a press officer who
will push to get you radio, press and television interviews, but check
to see who their previous clients have included.

written by Billy Tweedie ©2001 
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