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written by Greg Trampe

YOU'RE NOT READY YET. Why? What are you going to do with 950 CDs after you give 50 of them to your friends and family? Do you know what recording and duplication will cost? How long it will take? Where you should record? Artwork? Film? Separations? Mastering? For those of you who think you're ready, this is a master list of some helpful stuff.

BUDGET. If you're selling something, you need a good product. Produce only your best work. Nobody gets a deal by recording an average product. Spend the money to do a good job or don't do it at all. You can't really budget your money until you decide on the studio and CD manufacturer. Studios charge from $0.00 to $150.00 per hour. The efficiency of the engineer and the organization of the studio can make a lot of difference to your budget. An efficient engineer at 50 bucks an hour will even out with an inefficient engineer at 25 bucks an hour. Your friend Bob might really be a good choice, especially if he's free ­ but be sure he can do the work!

GOT MONEY? GET MONEY. Most of the logical ways to get money are: 1) Play a lot of gigs. It helps in lots of ways. Of course along the way, you have been developing your mailing list, right? 2) Take advance orders by selling to that mailing list you developed. Don't be shy. Your family and friends want to buy more than anyone else. You'd better have your act together so you have the product when promised. 3) Borrow from Mom and Dad, or a bank, or an uncle. Show them how you'll pay them back and when. 4) Save money from your real job. Remember, most record labels want to sign you when you're young.

GET READY TO RECORD. Should you spend time rehearsing in the studio, or at a gig? I'd say, surprise, a gig. If you're rehearsed before you go into the studio it will cost you much less to record. DUH! Your live show will stay more like your recording and the audience response is a good gauge to know what material you should record. Most projects are to land a label deal. If so, your recording will be the tool to get an A&R guy to come see you at a gig, hopefully more than once. You will be signed from your stage performance not your CD, so it helps to be gig tough. By the way, now's the time to get started on how you want your CD to look and feel (concept). Think about: title, cover photo, liner notes, taking photos at your gigs, copyright and publishing information, etc...

THE ENGINEER. The engineer is critical, and you depend on him for his input. You're going to spend a lot of time with this guy. You need to trust his judgment technically and creatively. A good engineer can draw out the energy you normally achieve live, which takes lots of experience. You want to use someone who will listen to you. You don't want an engineer that will bully you into doing something you don't want. LISTEN. You don't need a "say nothing" engineer. You need someone who will speak up when needed, back off when necessary and always ride the creative edge.

THE RIGHT STUDIO. Check out as many studios as you can. If not, you may pass up the place that's best for you. If you're doing a music project, pick a music studio. If you're recording a commercial, pick a commercial studio. In general, a facility is good at one or the other. If a studio costs quite a bit more during the day than at night, chances are their thrust is commercial work. As a musician, what if you work better during the day? I wonder if the quality changes at night? Don't be a secondary client. If a bunch of suits are walking around in the lobby and/or the magazines are about advertising, think twice. Unless you need the room, size doesn't really matter either. Keep your budget in mind. A basement studio can be just as good as a large facility, but not necessarily so. Make sure the feel of the studio is conducive to your own individual creativity. Ask for an appointment to have an engineer play material for you. Ask how much that recording cost, and how much time it took from tracking through the mix. Bring a CD with you that you know really well to compare. Ultimately, listen.

EQUIPMENT. Equipment makes very little difference (SHOCK appears on most faces at this point). Most every recording device ever made works well, in the right hands. Great gear in the wrong hands will never work well. Think about some of your favorite recordings. When were they recorded? Today, gear is out of date in five minutes or less. No one can stay up-to-date. If they are, odds are they don't understand the equipment very well.

MIXING. If it's at all possible, limit the bodies behind the console during mixdown. Leave the groupies, Uncle Al and Mom at home. For that matter, if you can appoint one person in the band to be the producer dude, you will save mucho time. Let the engineer do the job he's trained for. He will be more efficient without someone pointing out that a cymbal might be too loud. Remember that most engineers do this mixing thing everyday, and you should trust the reason you picked them in the first place. Also, don't be afraid to look ahead and go where no one has... Think different. No label signs safe. Normal is boring. If it sounds like now, you're too late.

MASTERING. What the hell is it anyway? Most people don't understand mastering. Simply put it is: putting the songs in order after they're mixed; making all of the songs the same basic volume; adding equalization to each song so you won't have to change while listening; adding limiting/compression or nominalizing to maximize the overall level of the CD (way overdone in lots of cases); fixing minor discrepancies in balance. All of this can be done in two ways: analog, using individual pieces of outboard gear, or digital, using a computer based system. Don't be confused with the guy who can "Master" in his home computer with an application that cost $300 or the professional who has invested $40,000 in his system. There is quite a difference in the equipment and how the music gets in and out of the system. Both ways of mastering, analog or digital, are fine in the right hands. Again, listen.

PRODUCT. Here is one of the important things to consider when ordering CDs: Make sure you know what you're getting. To compare apples to apples, you need to know what may be an EXTRA charge with some companies. Mastering included? (After 20 minutes of music, extra charge of $175.00 per hour.) When they say free artwork, does that include the color separations and film? Is artwork just the cover or all panels? Scanning included? (Is that more than one photo?) Is shipping included? (What kind of shipping and where?) Delivery date, usually four to six weeks is the industry standard. When does that start? When you place the order or when the artwork is completed? Also, don't book your release party until you absolutely, positively know when you will have the CDs in your hands. When you order 1000 CDs sometimes in the process you get 984 and sometimes 1032. This is called an overage or underage. You should be charged accordingly. Tax? Bar Code?

ARTWORK. "Damn it, I'm a musician not an artist, Jim!" ­ I've heard that a lot. Partly a correct statement. The first part is, you're creative and you know what you want. The second part is, you zone in on what you do best in the artistic world, and that's to create music and perform. Give your ideas to the designer and let them do what they do everyday. Let them develop something that looks like your music but not like everything else on the shelf. HOW MANY CDs SHOULD WE GET? The more, the cheaper. But if you don't need 'em, don't get 'em. You can always reorder.

BUDGET AGAIN. Oh yeah! Did you remember to have some money left to promote and market your stuff? At least a third of your budget should go into the pie after the product is completed. Unless the right people hear it....

FINALE. Write good. Play good. Record good. Sell good.

 


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