Producing Your Own Recordings 
    
 
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Producing Your Own Recordings

Caveat: The information contained within this article is for guidance only and refers, in particular, to producing commercial recordings in the UK. Its content is believed to be correct but should it be found to be incorrect then the author or this site's hosts can not be held responsible for any loses incurred. We welcome corrections by email where appropriate.

Introduction


Over the last 10 years or so there has been a proliferation of small, independent, labels that have successfully produced commercial recordings in niche markets, in small quantities, and made it profitable!. There are a lot of reasons why this has happened, including:
  • Advances in digital recording/editing technology
  • More cost effective artwork and printing
  • Reduced red-tape in mechanical copyrighting
  • Economic small production runs at the CD manufacturer
  • Internet, MP3 etc..

These new labels have not exclusively been from the world's of acid-house, soft-metal, or from our leading classical performers, but have included in their number a few brass bands who have taken the plunge and gone ahead and produced their own.

Contained within this article we offer some useful advice and reference sources that should help you to look at the advantages and disadvantages of producing your own.

Do we? or Don't we?

Before you leap into producing your own you should consider if it is worth the effort. There are a few small UK businesses that specialise in recording brass bands and their services may be exactly what will do the job for your band. Get a quote, a view of the service level they offer, and compare.

The advantages of doing it through a business like this include: (1) fixed price, (2) their experience and track record, (3) known quality, (4) less effort and worry on your half. The disadvantages can include: (1) More costly?, (2) You don't own the masters?, (3) You loose some of the artistic control, (4) You may be trapped into returning to the same people for re-print.

Think long and hard about which is the best deal for you and your band. Only venture into producing your own when you have assessed the pros and cons and you are fully committed.

From hereon this article deals with everything that needs to be done after a decision to DIY has been made.

Exec Producer


Bit of a grand title but appoint someone keen enough to lead the project. You will need someone who is the point of contact for those people and organisations you will need to deal with over the coming weeks.

Budget


Before spending a penny you should make sure that you have a budget, so that you (and the committee) can see how much this is all going to cost. To give you an idea, you can expect to fork out more than £3,000 and if your bottom line number is not in this region then you may have missed something.

Below is a simple framework for budgeting that we have broken-down into 11 main areas. These areas are discussed in greater detail within the main body of the text further into this article.
  • Extra rehearsals/ conductors fees
  • Recording Permission/ Rights
  • Venue hire
  • Recording/ sundries
  • Editing/ sundries
  • Artwork/ copyright/ Printing
  • MCPS
  • CD Production/ delivery
  • Advertising/ promo
  • Administration
  • Contingencies
Once you have pulled your budget together you may decide that paying someone else to do it for you is the right option to take.

Clear the budget with you band's committee and give the Exec Producer the authority to go spend the money and make it happen.

Extra rehearsals/ conductors fees


Nearly always ignored as an additional cost. Your conductor and the band want what is recorded to be their Sunday-Best. Make sure you include the odd extra rehearsal that will be needed in the build up to that important recording day.

Recording Permission/ Rights


Now, we all know the pitfalls of music copyright - roughly speaking, if the composer died more than 70 years ago then you will probably be OK with any unpublished arrangement you want to use. But do check!

What is often missed is that there may be performance rights that are in-effect. Just because you have bought a piece of music, or hired it, this does not necessarily mean that you have the rights to record it. 99% of music will probably be OK but there are a few examples of bands paying several hundred pounds for the right to record a single work. Just take a little care - if you do not know, then ask the publisher or copyright holder.

One actual instance included hiring a work and then being told that we had to pay £450 for permission to record the 14 minute piece. We managed to negotiate the fee to less than a third of this number. Our advice is, therefore, such fees are negotiable.

It is useful to remember that a CD holds up to 74 minutes of music. You should make careful timings of the pieces you intend to perform and allow plenty of slack, say, keep it under 70 minutes running time. When the old formats of LP vinyls where about these would carry 10-15 minutes less than a CD should.

Venue hire


Choosing the right venue is essential. No matter how good your recording engineer is, s/he will find it all too difficult to make a bad acoustic into a good one. The better the acoustic the simpler balancing will be and the stress on players will also be reduced.

Other venue problems include background noises of traffic, bells chiming, other groups/people in the building, and doors slamming. These should be considered when deciding on the suitability of the venue.

Make sure that when you hire the venue that they know you are going to make a recording and require complete silence. If the venue is hired by the hour then be sure to include set-up and break-down time for the recording engineer (~2 hours).

You may be one of those fortunate bands that possess your own bandroom; a room that can adequately act as a recording studio - you lucky, lucky people.

How much time will we need to record our chosen music? To answer this question is generally easier than you would expect. When faced with deciding what time to allot you have to consider how much music, how difficult, how many solos, and how finicky everyone is about the end result. Real examples include a guest soloist taking over 4 hours to record a single piece and the band then going onto to record a very difficult test piece in a one take. This proves that when faced with a timing problem, everyone, conductor and players alike, will buckle down and do the job in what time they have left.

Just remember to be realistic. If you can book additional recording time, say a full day and a morning the day after, then do so. Have the option to cancel the follow-on morning if all goes well on day 1. More than likely you will not need that extra morning and save money in the process.

Recording/ sundries


Ensure that you choose a recording engineer with brass band or orchestral experience. Avoid the frightening prospect of someone who is only familiar with pop groups and is more interested in getting the right balance on the drum kit than that of any other section of the band. Ask for references or examples of their work before you commit.

The charges made by these people vary considerably but they will probably charge for travelling and an hourly rate for their time at the venue, including set-up and break-down. A rough idea would be £25-30 per hour. The recording engineer will probably also charge for consumables such as DAT tapes etc., so you should add a little extra for these sundry costs.

It is always worth the effort to discuss with your conductor the order in which you are going to record - most likely this will not be the order of play on the disc. Make sure that your soloists are happy with the recording order, too. A rough timing plan of the day's events is invaluable and you should consider the advantages of splitting the day into 60-90 minute recording sessions . Allow for balancing at the start of the first session, say 45-60 minutes, and plenty of lip-resting time between sessions. A long lunch break is essential. The better you manage your time during the day the less tired the band will be and the better the CD will sound.

If you plan to make another CD (in the same venue) with your engineer at some time in the future then it may be worthwhile asking the engineer to note all the microphone and balance settings for future reference. This means that the next time you get together you will not have to start balancing from square-one and you can begin to improve on what you have already achieved.

Editing/ sundries


Traditionally, editing was always done by cutting and splicing 1/4" tape and required a great deal of skill to do it blemish-free. Today, PC-based digital editing is readily available and not as expensive as it once was.

How long should we allow for editing? How long is a piece of string?

The factors that will dictate how long it will take to edit your recording include:
  • Length & difficulty of the pieces recorded
  • Consistency of tempi between takes
  • Number of spoiling blemishes
  • Skill of the editor
  • PC memory & hard disk capacity
  • Number of people wanting to check the quality of the edit
  • Your expectations of the end result
As a very rough guide, and seek the editor's advice on this, would be between 15-25 hours of editing for every hour of performance on the CD.

Sundry costs include the studio time that you will need to listen to what the editor has done and the costs of preparing the CD-R masters (CD masters sent to the CD manufacturer from which they make your CD's).

The editor will also want to know the track indexing that you wish to "burn" onto the CD. These are those boxed figures that appear on CD's that your player can jump to when asked.

When your editor is preparing the CD-R masters s/he may ask you for an ISRC number. This is a 12-figure reference number that is electronically added to each track of the recording to protect your rights. The basic reference is obtained free from PRS (Performing Rights Society - http://www.prs.co.uk). They will issue you a 5-digit code with represents you as a band from Great Britain (GB). The next 2 digits following this is the year in which the recording was made (01 = year 2001) and the remaining digits being added by yourself to represent each track. At this time you should also decide on a catalogue reference number. This can be anything but try to make it something recognisable and specific/recognisable to your band, eg. New Town Silver Band = NTSB001CD as a catalogue number.

Artwork/ copyright/ Printing


After you have argued about what your recording should be entitled you will begin to consider your CD cover options. Remember that any photographs, paintings, or drawings do potentially hold copyright and you should ensure that you have permission or paid for the rights to use them or checked that they are in the public domain. These copyrights apply to text also. Should you use someone else's words then copyright does apply and permission must be sort.

Laying out of the artwork is a much simpler process than ever it was. Advances in computing and clever graphics software has brought this on. You may even have someone in your band with the skills to lay the artwork out, themselves, saving you even more money. Obvious advice, but do take care to ensure that your artwork matches the tracks on your CD-R masters. Your editing engineer should provide you with a track and index listing so that this can be done.

If you believe you can sell your CD through a major high street retailer, like WH Smith or Virgin Megastores, then you will probably have to include a bar code into your artwork. There are lots on Internet businesses who will help you get a bar code.

Normally, a printer likes to run a minimum of a 1,000 copies of the artwork (CD booklets & inserts). To give you a rough feel, expect to pay £200-300 in total for basic printed CD materials. Obviously, the better quality paper you use, the more pages in your booklet, and the more colours and images you employ, will add to the costs of printing.

MCPS


http://www.mcps.co.uk

MCPS (Mechanical copyright protection society) is a body set-up to collect royalties from you as commercial record producer and then to distribute those royalties to the composers and arrangers of the music you have recorded. No CD manufacturer can proceed into production without a license from MCPS. These forms are straightforward and the helpful staff at MCPS will ensure that the form is filled in correctly.

The license fee is proportional to the retail price of the CD that you will eventually sell. For a CD that retails at £10 (500 CDs manufactured) expect to pay ~£410, £12 you pay ~£500, and at £15 budget for ~£620.

MCPS allows you to manufacture a small proportion of this number as promotional copies that do not attract royalties. There are strict controls on who and how these may be used, but they include free-bees for radio stations.

MCPS do publish helpful literature (free of charge) that guides you through the commercial recording/ CD production process - it is good stuff, too. This literature includes an "application for license" form that you need to complete when the time comes.

The application is in 2 parts.

The first part of the MCPS application deals with such things as:
  • Record company - your band
  • Contact details - your exec producer
  • CD title
  • Artist - your band
  • Format - CD and/or cassette and/or 7"/12" vinyl
  • Manufacturer - whoever is going to make the CD for you
  • Price
Now pricing of the CD is your decision entirely. Some rough guidance on other aspects of pricing are presented below, using an example of a CD priced at £10.00.

Retail Price£10.00 - you sell to Joe-public.
ex-Vat (17.5%)£8.51 - price before tax man gets his paws on it.
Dealer price£7.23 - you sell to shops who sell to Joe-public.
Wholesale price£5.60 - you sell to distributor who sells to shops.

The second part of the MCPS application deals with:
  • Title - each piece of music on your CD/cassette.
  • Running time - how long is the piece, if known. Your engineer can tell you.
  • Composer - who wrote and arranged the piece
  • Copyright owner - composer or publisher or public domain (out of copyright) or just leave blank if you do not know.
Send the completed forms into MCPS and a week or so later they will invoice you for the royalty fees. Send them the payment and you will then be sent notification that the license has been granted, all being well. Your CD manufacturer will be sent the license directly, you do not have to copy it to them. At this point, you can not go to another CD manufacturer without re-applying through MCPS.

CD Production/ delivery


http://www.technicolor.com (one of several producers)

You have the option to go directly to a CD manufacturer, such as Technicolor, or deal through a CD manufacturing agent. An agent normally is a pretty good option as they have negotiated special rates with the main manufacturers and they pass-on these cheaper prices to your band, hopefully. An agent may even offer a service of looking after the printing/artwork side of things on your behalf.

A CD manufacturer/agent needs an MCPS license, CD-R masters, artwork for on-CD printing, and your printed CD inserts and booklets to proceed.

Normally the minimum production run is 500 CDs.

The manufacturer will take the CD-R and will make an injection moulding - liquid plastic is injected into a metal mould cavity that produces the raw CD. So, if you find problems with the CD-R masters after you have sent them to the manufacturer you may incur costs of around £400 (single disc) to re-make this tool. Do make sure that the CD-R is what you want before sending it off to the manufacturer - you can play it like any other CD, so listen to it or preferably the "safe copy".

They will then manufacture the CD from this tool, print onto the face of the CD, and pack the CD into a crystal case with your printed inlays and booklets. For the whole service (tools etc.) the manufacturer will probably charge around £1,000 for 500 CDs. For special packaging, such as Digipak ( http://www.digipak.com), this will mean more money that may add up to £500 to this bill, if you take this more extravagant option. And for more artistic printing directly onto the CD face, such a picture of your band, this may add one or two hundred pounds to the overall price of CD manufacture.

Advertising/ promo


This can be anything and cost anything. From a few pounds for an advert in The British Bandsman newspaper to leaflets to a mail-shot to creating a web site dedicated to advertising your CD (and your band).

Determine who is likely to buy your CD and then decide the most cost effective means of letting them know what is on the CD and where/when they can buy it.

Administration


Phone bills, postage, and sundry expenses. Always under-estimated. Try using 5-8% of the overall cost of the project as a safe estimate.

Contingencies


How confident are you that your budget is a good estimate?

What could go wrong and cost you more money?

Think about this and then add on a contingency that reflects your confidence in the bottom line number. A contingency of 10-15% of the total cost of the project is probably a good idea.

Timescale of events


A generic plan of events is shown below. What should happen before the day (pre-recording) and what should happen afterwards (post-recording). Obviously, this must reflect your own band and their wishes, but this will give you a flavour for the timing of decisions and actions for a successful project.




Sure, you could do it quicker or slower, but the general sequence of events should help you prevent mistakes happening and wasting your time and your band's money.

Format


All through this article we have talked only of CDs. You may decide that the people you are selling to are more likely to own an audio-cassette player than a CD player. For the most part, the sequence of events for producing a cassette are exactly the same, copyrights, and licenses that you need.

For an audio-cassette (MC) you will have to consider that side A matches (roughly) the length of side B. This prevents your listener having to wind forward 10 minutes of blank tape to get to the other side.

There are lots of MC producers around (Accurate Sound Ltd., Tel: 0116 260 2064, as an example).

The frightening thing is that the costs of producing an audio cassette can be equal to those of producing a CD. May be the cost advantage comes in that you can order much smaller production quantities of an MC against that of a CD.

Conclusion


This brief explanation of producing your own CD is for guidance only. It gives you a little in-sight into what you and your band are getting into and what they can get out of producing your own. We all hope that if you choose to DIY, then it will be a great success and a best seller-profit maker for your band.

Best of luck!

Geoff Colmer, 1st June 2001


About Geoff Colmer: Geoff was the exec producer for the Stanshawe Label - recordings by the Sun Life Band. Geoff led a small enthusiastic team made up of band members that has produced 5 successful commercial recordings and is, as we speak, producing a sixth Stanshawe CD (posthumously). Email: Geoff@tubavillage.fsnet.co.uk.

Caveat: The information contained within this article is for guidance only and refers, in particular, to producing commercial recordings in the UK. Its content is believed to be correct but should it be found to be incorrect then the author or this site's hosts can not be held responsible for any loses incurred. We welcome corrections by e-mail where appropriate.