Doing It Yourself: Records
By Kenny Leek
So, you want to put out your own music, eh? Pat yourself on the back for taking the initiative. Next, prepare yourself for a big pain in the ass. Be patient because it will be worth it.
I play in a band that has released all of its music on all formats - cassette, vinyl and CD. I will give you my best advice. If it fails, sorry. There will be some addresses and/or phone numbers of places I've had success with at the end.
First off, you need to get your butt into a studio. The best way to do this is to listen to a band's stuff that is similar to yours and see if you like the recording. Try to find an engineer that is familiar with recording the type of stuff you do. Studios can run anywhere from $15 an hour to $45. Usually, the more it costs, the better they do, but remember, you can have a pro who has produced a million glam bands but is clueless with hardcore. If you are just doing a four track recording and a buddy is hooking you up for free then cool, but it usually takes a knowledgeable person to make a four-track sound good. Be very practiced. For me, the studio is a very different environment and fuckups tend to occur more than usual.
Most likely, you will be mixing your stuff down onto a DAT tape. Make sure to have one with you. They run about $10 or $15 and you can get them at any Tower or other corporate music store. The less time on the tape, the better. In other words, if you have the choice of getting a 20 minute DAT or a 160 minute DAT, get the 20 (unless you plan to record more than that). Also be prepared to buy the reel (recording tape) that you will be recording onto. Ask the studio that you will be dealing with where they get theirs. They might have used ones they will cut you a deal on. I'm pretty sure Guitar Center carries reels. These can cost anywhere from $50 to $150 per fifteen minute reel. You might find a bargain, but be cautious not to get dicked.
OK, you have your finished DAT. Now what? Well, what do you want to put it out on? We'll start with cassettes. Cassettes are always cool because you can usually order 100 and still get a discount. You see, the more you get, the cheaper it costs, but not by a massive amount, so why am I mentioning this? You have to know you will most likely not make any money or even your money back unless you are very popular in your area or elsewhere. One of the big mistakes I made was to put a bunch of songs on the tape. I should have only put a maximum of six songs on there. If the tape is not a demo and is a real release, then put all your tunes on. It just helps for the if and when time of putting out vinyl or a CD because you have more unreleased material. This will also come in handy if you run into someone who is putting out a comp. Tapes run under a dollar each usually. Then it depends on if you want your text printed directly on the cassette, or on paper to put on the cassette, or no text at all.
So you have the cash to go for vinyl? Fuck yes! Vinyl rules. If you play punk, hardcore, emo, etc., you're in luck. Your audience is more prone to actually want a copy. Vinyl or CDs are superior to cassettes because you have a chance at getting college or community radio airplay. Vinyl does have a drawback as far as the younger crowd goes because they don't know what vinyl is. We have had many kids ask us what a 7" is (my cock, or my enlarged clitoris, is always a good answer). We have even had a few kids ask us if they were mini-laser discs.
The person who I have dealt with and did me right is Bill Smith Custom Records. There are a few things you must have ready to send him to get started:
- Art work for the middle of the 7", 10" or 12" itself. When you get in touch with the record manufacturer of your choice, they will most likely tell you what size it should be.
- At least half the money of the total cost. Different companies have different policies, so it will vary.
- A code for them to identify the record by. This code will be scratched into the vinyl on the part where the record ends. They will let you know how they want it. This is so they can keep track of your shit and which side is which.
- The DAT. Obviously, you must make sure to specify which songs go on which side. 6 1/2 minutes a side is usually the maximum amount.
I would suggest you order the minimum amount of pressings possible because the first pressing will be close to two times the amount it costs for a second pressing. Let me clarify. When you get a record made, they have to master it and make what they call plates. The plates are what the vinyl is made from. The next pressing (if you get that lucky) will be very cheap because all you have to pay for is the vinyl, so you can get colored vinyl and neat shit like that for pretty cheap. I would also like to suggest you let Bill Smith or whoever else you choose take care of everything (mastering, stickers on the vinyl, etc.). There will be a service charge, but it's worth it. You see, when companies have an account with a certain mastering person or art work person, that account comes first. Your stuff comes last.
Fuck the old shit, you want CDs. Fine. It's understandable. They sell more than most other formats (to a general crowd), they get far more radio play, they are cheaper and easier to send through the mail and they are cheaper than vinyl. That's right folks, why CDs sell for more than vinyl is another corporate scam. Why the indie world follows this trend beats the hell out of me. The place I went was Optimax in Pomona, CA. I don't know if I would go there again. They are very cheap, but they send their stuff to Taiwan. I don't have anything against Taiwan, but more likely than not, the CDs are made in a Taiwanese plant that is owned by Americans, meaning you can have American products made at a very low cost. I'm not into supporting that type of exploitation in any way. I surely would have gone elsewhere if I had known the CDs were being made in Taiwan. Anyhow, this place is about 95 cents a CD. That includes a one-color printing of the text on each CD. If you want them to insert all the booklets, shrink-wrap them and what not, it costs more. Without recording costs, my band's CD came out to about $1.10 each. Remember, UPS costs money. Usually, the minimum order will be 1,000 CDs.
So what about the art work? Well, since you are putting this out yourself, put whatever the fuck you want on it. The trivial part is how deluxe you want it to look. If you're cool with Xerox copies, then all you need is a ruler, glue, scissors, art and a little time. If you want to beat out the corporates, you will be heading in a whole other direction. There is nothing wrong with making your product look professional, but professional or not, include easily readable lyrics. Bands that don't include lyrics are weak. No excuses here. Even if your lyrics are dumber than dirt, put them in there. Don't be weak. My impression of bands that don't include lyrics is this - they have nothing of importance to say. Therefore, the band is worthless. What is the point of putting your shit out and not having your ideas out there as well? I guess that's where love song bands come into play.
Back to the professional look. Either you or a friend can draw really cool shit, or you or a friend are a computer wizard with rad equipment. You take your final artwork (measure a CD cover to get it right, nerd) to a place where they can make it into film. The film then goes to whichever printing shop you decide to go with to make covers.
For cassettes, expect to wait about two weeks or less for their completion. For vinyl or CD, expect two months or less. Also, make sure to listen to the sample that is sent to you. Don't be an idiot and rush it.
For those of you who wish to get your music out there, here are some steps. Your first step is to go out and purchase Book Your Own Fuckin' Life. This has listings of endless references all over the world. For radio stations, don't bother sending out tapes. They will not get played. If a certain DJ has a demo show then you're in luck, but otherwise, you're wasting your time and money. When you send your stuff out, address it to the specific DJ that does the show specific to your type of music. If you aren't sure who this is, you can write what type of music it is. For example, at the bottom of the address, you could put "ATTENTION: PUNK ROCK." If the station might play your stuff in a regular rotation and not just on a specialty show, then address it to MUSIC DIRECTOR. Some people put in a stamp and ask for a playlist to see if they have been played. Few stations write back, but it is cool when they do.
As far as distribution goes, us DIY people are a little fucked. Most distributors only take on labels which have four or five releases. You may get lucky though. There are ways around this. The most effective way I have found to get on a person's mailing list is to write a distributor in Book Your Own Fucking Life and see if they would be interested in a sample. You can send out a few songs on a tape (lyrics included) or the whole release. Ask where they distribute to. They may only do mail-order. If they only do mailorder, then a good suggestion would be to deal with the mail order distributors that run ads in Maximum Rocknroll often. Some mail order distributors also sell stuff at shows. This is good. This is where you can help out the whole scene and maybe make a buck or two. Let me clarify.
A lot of these small distributors like to trade, that is, 10 releases for 10 of your releases. The beauty of this is you usually will not have to trade for 10 of the same releases. They sell your stuff through mailorder and at shows, and you sell their stuff at shows. I don't know about you but I love it when I go to shows and there is a distributor there. I usually find something I want. If you get lucky and find someone who will take on your release to sell to stores, it will most likely be on consignment until it sells well. It's good to know how much of a mark-up they have. Mark ups for distribution range anywhere from 15 to 25%. A good thing to do is make a poster or flier for every few releases that might be able to be hung in the windows of the stores the distributor deals with.
Now, legal bullshit. When you sell your stuff, you do not have to pay taxes. Your release (since you put it out yourself) is considered personal property and cannot be taxed. When using pictures or artwork, be careful not to get sued. There are lots of punk zines out there that you can snake pictures from. Just call them or write them and they will most likely not have a problem with it.
I sent stuff out to be copyrighted once and they sent me back a letter saying if you have sold your stuff, it is automatically copyrighted. If this is true or not, that's what they told me. I've also heard a rumor that if you mail your release to yourself before you sell any that you are copyrighted, as long as you do not open the package. It might not be true, but it doesn't hurt to try.
Finally, I will add some dos and don'ts. We'll start with the dos. Make sure to put an ad in Maximum Rocknroll. Although some people don't like this zine, it is by far the most widely read punk publication. If you are being distributed to stores, make sure to write down that stores may go to whichever distributor you deal with. Make your ad cool. Make it grab someone's attention. There are two billion other ads in there, so make yours stick out. Another do is to send, send, send! Send it to distributors, labels doing comps, radio stations, zines for review, zines for ads, other bands, etc. So what if only 2% of these people think your band is worth more than 3 cents? Connections pay off!
Now for some don'ts. Don't bring your beer drinking pals and girlfriends or boyfriends to the recording studio. Nothing bogs down a session more than spectators. The main reason is spectators need to talk. The more you have, the louder it gets. This is bound to drive the engineer crazy and put a damper on whatever it is he or she is trying to do. Don't send your crap to a distributor and expect them to make miracles happen. Most distributors have tons of bands (that probably blow your band away) to deal with. It is up to you to make the distributor need to reorder. Don't wait for some zine to call you up and want an interview. There are too many bands for this to happen. Since most zines run on contributions, find some idiot that will interview you. Some idiot with zine experience is your best bet. The final don't is do not, under any circumstances, restrict your ideas, artwork or anything else on your release. This is DIY.
PO Box 2530 Berkeley, CA 94702
BILL SMITH CUSTOM RECORDS
127 Penn St. El Segundo, CA 90245
OPTIMAX DISC INC.
3420 Pomona Blvd. Pomona, CA 91768
WINGSPAN PRODUCTIONS (Cassettes)
CUSTOM PRINTING (Tape, vinyl and CD covers)
LASER EXPRESS (Transfer art to film for covers)