OnlineRock: Empowering Musicians  
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What's a Working Band to Do?
Part 7: CD Manufacturing and Distribution
by Erik Jay

“What’s a Working Band to Do?” is a practical series of how-to articles. It is not about describing the unified field theory or exploring the outer reaches of human philosophy; it’s about working in the music business in the real world, so it’s not even about being a star, okay? It’s practical, do-able advice.

It’s going to take a lot longer in the real world to get your PMCD (Pre-Mastered CD) done to Redbook audio specs (44.1kHz, 16-bit) than it took to read about it in this series of articles. It’ll be a lot harder, too — and cost you a little money (or a lot, depending on how you did it).

But here you are, ready to take that PMCD of your demo and get 100 or 1000 CDs made. So now what?

The first thing you need to decide is how far you want to go on packaging, seeing as how this is a three-song demo. You can make it look like a retail CD release — with four-color folding booklet in the front of the jewel case, a color insert inside the back, a couple of colors (even full color) on the CD itself. Or you can keep it low-cost (probably a wiser move) and just put CDs with one-color disc printing into the smaller slimline cases and stick a nice label or your band’s biz card on the back. Even though the latter route is the way to go for most of you, we’ll take a quick look at both options.

If you are not already reading EQ, Recording, Mix, Future Music, and/or other music trade magazines, well, you should be. Get a few issues of different mags (plus a copy of Performer mag in your region of the country, like West Coast Performer for the left coast) and start checking out the ads in the back. There are tons of different CD plants and manufacturers; check their websites for up-to-date information, and while you’re online go ahead and Google up some more.

All this preliminary reading will force you to make your first of several manufacturing-related decisions: how many CDs should you get? The answer to this will determine whether you get replicated or duplicated discs; the retail CDs that you buy are replicated, meaning they were pressed from a glass master, and duplicated ones are done on CD burners like your computer has. Look at the business (music) side of each kind and you will notice the difference right away: replicated CDs have a one-color, smooth metallic sheen where the tracks are, and the burned CDs have a slightly darker area, starting from the inside and working outward, where the tracks were burned.

Today’s CD players (since 2001 or so), whether portables or car stereos or components in the living room, play all manner of CDs, replicated or burned by your neighbor’s kid. So there is no longer much risk of sending out a burned CD and not having it play for someone. So, anyway, have you made up your mind as to how many CDs you really need?

Considering it’s a demo, you may just want to use a “burning service” and get a spindle (100 on each) or two of duplicated CDs with black text — remember to have your contact info, track data (name and length), band name, copyright marks, and maybe even the time of year (summer 2006) imprinted on them. Of course, if they’re good enough, you might want to have some to sell at gigs. However, remember that the first thing the CDs are, are demos for music biz people, A&R, booking agents, club owners, college radio stations, and so on. In fact, if you really want to take the bargain basement route, you could burn a hundred CDs at home in a weekend, print and stick on labels (get a “CD stamping” kit at the office supply store), and save some bucks. On the other hand, there are deals as low as $79 for 100 CD-R’s (burned discs) with one-color print; add another $20 for slimline cases, and you’ve got your demos for about a buck each.

Now, the manufacturing plants do not reach that level (a dollar) of cost-effectiveness for a full-on, retail-packaged CD until you opt for a 1000-CD package. Scores of companies charge between $900 and $1300 or so for these kinds of discs; the normal package includes standard jewel case, four-panel (two-sided, folded) front insert with color printing on the outside and black (or other one color) on the inside, a color tray card for the back, and up to three-color printing on-disc. Many offers include a free or discounted bar code and some will offer you add-on deals (many of them real bargains) for stickers or posters or postcards; think about what you really need, and be budget-wise.

The fact is, you probably shouldn’t spend so much on just the demo; the replication option should be what you choose if you are manufacturing your own CD for release. That opens up a whole other world of activity — from PR and promotion to distribution deals and radio campaigns — and you need to be properly funded for that. Still, many of the things you would do for a “real” release you should try for your demo, too, especially if it’s strong and “radio ready.” You can get simple, non-exclusive sales deals with CD Baby and other sites, download deals with iTunes and such services, and set up your own band site (and/or a MySpace or music site account) for both CD sales and paid downloads. Don’t ever forget, if you’re working with a demo and trying to build buzz, that you might need to give away one track to spark enough interest to sell the others. Something to think about.

You’ve got a lot to think about, frankly, and pretty soon you need to start fiddling with arcane and scary sounding things like codecs and bit-depth and sample rates, because you will need to convert your CD audio to other formats for delivery over the Internet. And it’s not just mp3 anymore; there’s RealAudio, .wav files, Ogg Vorbis, and all kinds of other formats and compression schemes to study up on.

Take a few deep breaths and get some sleep, because as soon as your order from the replicator or duplicator (or, again, the neighbor’s kid) is finished and you have your 100 or 300 or 1000 CDs, you have a number of important things to attend to, like streaming audio and downloadable files. Luckily, there’s yet another few articles left in this series to tell you how to take care of all this. And stay upbeat: You are in control of your own musical fate, and who better to be in that position with your music?

Erik Jay is a writer, designer, and BMI composer/artist who lives in L.A. with one wife and two dogs. At his site,, you can take Door #1 for his editorial and design work, or Door #2 for original music.

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