How to make a CD - Part 1
There must have come a time in a committee meeting of every brass
band in the country when some bright spark has piped up with the
idea of your band making a CD. The idea that getting your band to
make a commercial recording that will hopefully sell enough times
to ensure a profit yet retain your artistic integrity is a little
more difficult than would at first meet the eye.
4BR has therefore got in touch with a man who really does know
about CD’s – Trevor Caffull, the Sales and Marketing
Director at SP&S Ltd, and asked him to talk through the processes
involved in making a CD that will hopefully make a bit of dosh for
your band. It’s a bit more complicated than you may think,
so listen to what he has to say – it could be the difference
between a CD that sells like Will Young’s latest or one that
sells like “Hear Say’s” next release. These are
his very wise words………..
The first question you have to ask yourself when
considering making a CD of your band is...
What is your primary reason for making the recording?
There are two basic reasons why a brass band considers making a
CD. The first is for commercial purposes – ie. to make a profit
and put some hard earned cash into the coffers, whilst the second
is for pure artistic merit.
The first reason should outweigh the second – unless of course
you can guarantee that whatever repertoire you do record will be
hungrily bought up by the discerning brass band public – and
there are very few brass bands indeed who can release a CD on pure
artistic grounds safe in the knowledge that it will be snapped up
quicker than out of season items in the NEXT Directory sale.
Being practical outweighs being speculative every time.
Now that you have made the first difficult decision about your
venture, the second question raises itself into view – If
we do make a CD, how are we going to sell it?
To make a CD a profitable success you must do your market research
– and understanding your potential market is like tying to
understand why kids love hamburgers and chips, yet don’t like
peas, broccoli and anything their mothers out on a Sunday dinner
plate. Trying to please everyone all the time isn’t going
to work, neither is trying to second-guess what you think your potential
customer is going to like.
Guess what? – there are loads of casual brass band lovers
out there who simply can’t get enough of the type of stuff
you and your fellow players may hate to play, yet who don’t
care a fig for a beautifully controlled and balanced performance
of the second movement of the Area Test Piece – the one that
took you and your colleagues six weeks of blood, sweat and tears
to get into shape. Remember – the customer will always be
Again – be practical and find out in advance at your concerts,
through your supporters, or even through a vote on the band website,
what people would like to listen to. You may be surprised by what
may come up, and you could find that there is a niche for a possible
“Theme CD” such as tunes from the shows, Hollywood Blockbusters,
Welsh Hymns or even second movements of great brass band test pieces!
Think seriously about what market you are aiming for – there
are only so many CD’s you can sell to your family and friends
or to your Aunty Nelly for a Christmas present. After the usual
suspects have bought one or two, you have still got to sell a lot
more before you turn in a profit, so knowing that you can sell a
CD that has a broad appeal is always a good starting point.
The Reality Check
After these two questions have been met, the biggest obstacle –
the financial “Chair” at Aintree racecourse so to speak,
will loom into view. You may have decided what type of CD you wish
to make, and have identified your potential market, but now comes
the “Reality Check”.
The Reality Check is all about finance. Forget the assumptions
and half baked notions you may have heard from someone down the
pub and look at the cold facts. Making a CD is going to cost you
money, and the truth of the matter is that in this business, you
only get what you pay for.
When you get a quote for a production run of 1000 CD’s do
not think that only buying 500 will cost half the price –
it doesn’t. Forget the back street set up merchants as well
if you are going about the process in a really serious manner. Booking
someone who has just finished a CD of a heavy metal band for £300,
who doesn’t know much about brass bands and has got a couple
of mikes and a mixer desk the size of a postage stamp will mean
that your end product will sound pretty awful.
You have to have a realistic budget, because there are certain
costs that have to be met in full if the CD is to sound like a Championship
Production Company Costs.
The biggest cost you will have to meet is that of the Production
Company. A good company will of course cost more, but you can’t
skimp on quality and pre production costs are high because a good
company will take the time and use the expertise of people who know
what they are dealing with. Venue costs, recording costs, editing
costs, recording equipment, hardware costs (the price of paper and
printing, CD covers etc) manpower (paying for a quality sound producer)
etc will eat into a budget, but are essential if the CD is to sound
top class. Get any of these "on the hoof” and the CD
will sound as “Cheap as Chips” as David Dickinson says.
The actual manufacture of the CD doesn’t cost that much,
but a good production company will first produce an “edit
disc” which they will send to the Musical Director of the
band so that he can listen to the “first draft” of your
output. (Not many back street merchants will do this) This will
give the opportunity to highlight glaring errors, split notes (there
are bound to be a few!) and to generally identify areas that the
digital “box of tricks” that a top class company has
at it’s disposal can be used to edit out those little faux
A second disc will then be produced – the “Master Disc”
and this will be the one that will contain the actual final recording.
A good company will only issue this when they are satisfied that
both parties are happy with the standard of the recording that has
taken place and that the MD has done all they can to make you sound
The final costs involved at this stage will concern the CD design
itself, and here’s where a lot of bands think they can save
themselves a bit of money by trying to become “Artistic Graphic
Unless you have someone in your band who is actually a top class
Graphic Designer or who works for Saatchi and Saatchi, then do not
– and I repeat, do not try and design the art work for your
CD yourselves – it invariably looks terrible and will put
off more potential customers than you car to imagine possible. Leave
it up to the experts – although do give them some ideas that
you would like to see incorporated, such as the band or sponsors
logo etc. Do not as a rule go for casual portraits of players in
the bands latest sweaters – it is plain awful (and there is
a famous terrible example of this to be found on a CD featuring
one of our very best composers – I’m not telling which
one though!) or for a picture of the band with conductor on the
front cover – players and MD’s come and go don’t
There is also the question of typesetting, logo designs and insert
notes – make sure they are done professionally with correct
grammar and no silly mistakes. Making a bloomer here and you are
stuck with it for eternity.
This is something brass bands tend to forget about. If the band
is going to pay for everything and produce a CD under their own
efforts and release it under their own label, then they will be
responsible for all of these costs and will have to budget them
into the final overall cost of producing the CD.
Licensing costs usually come in the form of payment to the Mechanical
Copyright Protection Society or MCPS for short. It is they who ensure
that hard pressed composers etc et their royalties from you performing
their music and the cost is usually around 6.5% of the retail value
of the CD itself. So, if you produce 1000 CD’s at £10.00
per CD, you will have to budget for £650.00 to pay for the
license – a fair old amount eh?
If you employ a production company to release your CD under their
label, they will incorporate this cost in the total cost they will
charge your band to produce the CD.
It may mean you having to sell quite a few extra CD’s to
recoup the money.
The Practical Issues
The practical issues have therefore been met – you have identified
your market, you have agreed upon the content on the CD and you
have gone through the reality check of the financial implications
involved in making your CD – Now comes the tricky bit –
Making the Recording - and before you even get to put lip to instrument,
there will be a few things that will be needed to be sorted out.
4BR will be going through the full process of the actual recording
process in the next thrilling instalment. All the things from booking
a proper hall, making sure you have plenty of refreshments, the
right music in the right order and even the thorny question of getting
your players to be available for a bit of hard work!
It’s not as easy as you may think – but we'll hopefully
guide you through the minefield that awaits!