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Monday
Aug222011

10 Stupid Album Release Screw Ups

CDI’m filling in on bass for a band that’s gearing up to release their new CD. When filling in for a band, I try to take a back seat on the band’s business. However, I sometimes just cannot keep my big mouth shut.

In this case, the guys were discussing details of their upcoming CD release, and I had to chime in. Here’s a rant based on both my experience with my former band and quite a few drunken conversations with various bands over the years.

Mistake #1: Ordering too many CDs

If you hear yourself say, “Cool! We got our album done. Let’s order 1000 CDs!”, go take a cold shower and slap yourself twice. The reality of ordering this many CDs is having a box of quite a few hundred CDs collecting dust on a shelf a few years later. Worse, you will be out money since you didn’t recoup the costs.

Let’s break down what 1000 CDs means. You play a CD release show and sell 50 CDs in your home town. Great! However, you play next month in your home town and sell maybe 1 CD. What’s up? Well…your hometown fans already bought your CD and are now waiting for your next release. Now you have 949 CDs you need to sell.

Okay, so you just need to go on tour, right? In my experience, you can have good nights where you sell 10 CDs outside of your hometown. But, I’ve definitely played shows that I sold none. So you do a 10 day tour and sell 50 to 100 CDs if you’re lucky. Great! Well, now everyone has your CD. Your next time at those same places, those people may not buy again. They’re waiting for your next release.

Now you have 849 CDs and an uphill struggle to sell the remainder. You spent $2,000 and maybe you have got back $800 to $1000 in sales. See where I’m going with this? You’ve basically put yourself into a bad financial position.

The smart way to do it is to order just 100 CDs. You can always order more later, but at least you’ll have the money to do it! And if you’re going through CDs like hot cakes, by all means, order 1000! However, test the waters first before diving. It sucks when the water is shallow and rocky.

Mistake #2. Printing CDs yourself

I printed the CDs for my old band on an inkjet printer. I thought this was going to be such a money saver and earn myself cool points for DIY motivation. Hey, I can print them whenever I want!

Oh, shit, it sucked. And I’m pretty sure I lost money. And hours of my time I just can’t get back.

I got that inkjet printer and ordered a bunch of CDs and cases. After taking a long time trying to get the damn art to fit on the CD, I realized it takes quite a few hours to simply print 25 to 50 CDs. Not only that, you need to let them dry for 24 hours. My apartment floor would be covered with drying CDs.

Then, after 100 CDs, my damn printer broke. Well, shell out another $200 for a printer. Also, after 25 to 50 CDs, you run out of printer ink. That ink is EXPENSIVE.

After pricing it up, I realized I was spending about $4 per CD and wasting hours of my life. We were only selling CDs for $5, so I was killing myself for a $1 profit.

Worse, inkjet prints tend to smudge. Professional prints have a gloss to prevent smudging.

My advice, use Disc Maker through CD Baby. You will save money, save time, and increase quality.

And NEVER use those “stick-on” CD labels. If they get an air bubble, they could destabilize and ruin someone’s CD player. Do you want to destroy your fans’ CD players?

Mistake #3. Booking the CD release show before having the CD

You need to have your CDs in hand before you even think of booking that CD release show. Trust me on this one. I can’t even count the number of bands that have played their CD release show without a single damn CD to show for it. Embarrassing!!

So many things can go wrong. The album art is wrong, and all the CDs are screwed up. A former member sues the band for royalties on that release. The singer forgets to order the CDs early enough.

Until you physically have those CDs, don’t do that “release” show. And definitely don’t do that release tour!

Mistake #4. Not ordering CDs early enough

As mentioned above, you need to know how long it takes to get your CDs. It can take a couple of weeks. If you are counting on the CDs being somewhere at a particular time, order a few weeks earlier. Allow time for mistakes in manufacturing, as well.

If you need merch for your tour, don’t wait until the last minute to order. It’s really dumb to go on tour without any music to sell or give to new potential fans. I’ve been one of those dumb musicians.

Mistake #5. Overcomplicating album art

Album art issues have never been a problem for me, but I hear so many bands have their CD releases delayed substantially just over art. Images are in the wrong formats. The artist keeps getting the dimensions wrong. The drummer really doesn’t like that shade of maroon.

Simplify and do your research. Know the exact dimensions and formats for your artwork. Art is important, but it shouldn’t be the factor that prevents you from getting your MUSIC to people.

Oh, artists and photographers like getting this thing called money. They aren’t doing it for free just because you’re a cool band! If you don’t have the money to pay them, that’s something else that will delay your artwork from getting done.

Mistake #6. No digital strategy

Bands go through an extraordinary effort to get their CD released, but then drop the ball on getting a plan together for their digital release. Those songs need to be made available to all digital distributors and streaming services in conjunction with the CD release.

A fan at a show may not buy your CD today, but they may go to iTunes the next day. Is your music there for them?

In addition to the major digital distribution outlets, does your band have a direct-to-fans digital strategy? Using a service like Bandcamp, Topspin, or, even, Paypal, you can sell your digital tunes directly from your website (which you have, right?).

Also, potential new fans discover music through streaming services. For instance, I’m listening to Last.fm right now, and I’ve purchased quite a few albums I’ve discovered from there.

Mistake #7. No launch strategy

So you got everyone extremely excited about this upcoming album release, right? You’ve made a bunch of teaser videos and “leaked” a few samples, didn’t ya? Few bands do.

You need to build excitement for this thing. Tweet between recording sessions. Have a brief “behind the scenes” video on YouTube of your band in the studio. “Hey, guess what? There’s a couple of songs you’ve NEVER heard us play live before!”

Build a buzz. Have a strategy that gradually increases that buzz into a frenzy. You’re excited, but is that excitement really transferring to your fans?

Mistake #8. No post-release strategy

Finally, you played your album release show. Now what? Ummm…play more shows, I guess?

Your album release show is just the very beginning. With your music, you need to branch out. How often are you going to make videos? Are you creating relationships with music bloggers? What percentage of your CDs are promotional (free in business speak)?

Do you have a plan to keep the buzz going about this album and grow your audience? You need something that keeps people interested in you and makes them spread the word about your music. What is your plan until your next album release? When is that next release?

Mistake #9. No thoughts of rights and licensing

Protect your music with a copyright. Technically, you have a default copyright once it’s printed on a physical or digital medium (like on a CD or on your website), but lawyers are tricky individuals. If someone else steals your shit, but they have a copyright, that person may look more legit than you in court. You could lose the rights to your tunes.

Beyond copyrights, you should get your music ready for licensing for film, radio, and digital streaming. You want to have your music licensed so you can instantly get your music to services that want to give you money. If you haven’t registered with either ASCAP or BMI or SESAC, you could be missing out on opportunities. Music is the very last thing that movies and television need on a tight schedule. If you can’t give them legal rights to license your music, they will quickly pick the band that can.

Mistake #10. No contract on who gets royalties.

You should know exactly who gets what percentage of royalties from your album and the individual songs. If a band member leaves the band, they will want their fair share for what they’ve done on the album. If you don’t have a contract and clear understanding of how everything is split, you can run into really shitty legal problems. You’ll spend thousands on recording but not a couple hundred dollars on an entertainment lawyer?

It’s best to work this stuff out when feelings are all happy between band members. My old band has an entire album we couldn’t release because we had problems with a drummer. It wasn’t working out, so we kicked him out of the band. He was extremely pissed and refused to allow us to use any of the tracks he recorded. We even offered money, but he wasn’t having it. We’re friends now, but that album is now dead and buried.

Do you have any CD release nightmares?

Or do you think CDs are a thing of the past? Let me know in the comments!

 

 (Chris “Seth” Jackson blogs over at How To Run a Band. Stop by and say hi!)

Reader Comments (28)

Re: Mistake #1 After witnessing many of my friends print the minimum 500 CDs for a Replication job only to end up with 400 sitting under the stairs, I made the same decision you suggested here; I got 100 done. I now only have about 15 left as I've given quite a few to prospective business partners (read "industry types, radio stations" etc) in addition to selling to fans. So now I'll go and get another hundred done.

August 22 | Unregistered CommenterKristian Jackson

I'm assuming you're talking getting 100 CD-R's made and not glass masters? I only know of one place that will do 100 glass masters (retail ready) CD's. Most places require a minimum order of 500 and for only $200 more, you can get 1,000. This approach you outline is great for bands that aren't putting anything ina store, but distributors typically won't mess with CD-R's.

August 22 | Unregistered CommenterSean

CDs are a thing of the past. Last year, CD sales dropped significantly. More and more people are downloading or copying music instead of buying CDs.

The CD is going extinct. One has to go no further than a nearby sidewalk and see that almost all passerbys are listening to music on their iPods/MP3 players. Very few, if any, will have a portable CD player.

In addition, no major digital distribution outlets are needed. Many times so far, iTunes and other similar digital stores have been proven useless and ineffective. What is needed is an official website, a PayPal account, and promotion both online and offline.

August 22 | Unregistered CommenterSakis Gouzonis

I disagree with #1. Or at least how specifically it's phrased.

Some artists definitely need to order 1000 just as sure as some artists need to order 10,000 and other artists probably won't sell 50 in a year. The quantity should be based on other numbers the band has access to: show attendance, tour schedule, social media interactions, press coverage, etc. (Only counting genuine/spontaneous interactions here - those tricks you used to inflate your Twitter follows won't work for generating CD sales.) For some artists, ordering only 100 would mean having to turn away potential customers on the CD release night alone - in addition to paying much higher per cd printing costs.

Artists also need to consider (realistically) what they intend to do with the CD. Is it a masterpiece or is it a stepping stone toward recording and releasing a much better album? If it's the latter, go cheap. If it's the former, don't skimp on things like art or replication vs duplication - and similarly don't rush the release.

August 22 | Unregistered Commenterbjza

First of all, I loved the complete honesty in this article. I really felt that not only did you know what you were talking about, but that you were talking to me like two guys just hanging out on the street.

I realy do think you covered the absolute basics, but I think you should have talked some about advertising. I completely agree that building awareness about a new release through facebook or Twitter helps, don't underestimate the power to set aside some money for advertising. The more people have heard of you, the more they are likely to see you live and purchase your album (or even just tell other people about you). Make up posters to put in establishments for traffic to see. Your best chances are with privately owned shops that you frequent and who you are friendly with. Ask out of state friends to do the same for you. Take out some ads on indie music sites that have decent traffic. Make facebook ads which have been known to be hugely succesfull when it comes to marketing things.

My only disagreement with this article was the suggestion of going to Disc Makers for cd replication. In my experience they charge WAY more than a lot of other places and if you just search around a bit you can find places that will print 100 professionally made CDs for a fraction of the cost. I think they may be better at producing higher volumes of CDs that I agree is not what indie/DIY musicians should do right off the bat.

As much as I would agree that CDs aren't as popular as they once were, you still want them when playing live shows to have something for those who attend and when sending out press kits for various reasons most still want a CD included. Think of your CD more like your business card than anything else!

Free album download at www.facebook.com

August 22 | Unregistered CommenterChancius

@Sakis Gouzonis: I have to both agree and disagree. On a large scale, CD sales are dying. However, on a small scale, people still buy CDs at shows. They like having something physical to hold and collect. Plus, they like the artwork and lyrics handy. And, most cars aren't set up to stream music. CD players still rule the day. So, I agree CD sales are dying, but they're not dead yet for the indie musician.

I have to disagree with the "no major digital distribution outlets are needed". I think bands should have their music readily available wherever people shop for music. True, you might not be making bank, but I've personally seen friends make impulse purchases of local bands albums straight off iTunes onto their iPhone.

But I agree the better place is to sell from your website. PayPal is so simple to set up for purchases. Plus, services like Bandcamp really make it easy to do yourself. Selling download cards at the show can also do the trick.

Ooo. You just gave me a good idea! Instead of a download card, have a booklet with all the lyrics, artwork, etc, with a link to download the album. Sell the artwork which fans want!

Thank you, Sakis, for giving me this great idea!

@Kristian Jackson: Way to go! Out of curiosity, why are you not going to boost up your next order to 200? It sounds like you are confidently selling/promoting the 100 enough to also do 200. Just curious!

@Sean: Actually, I don't recommend CD-Rs. I used Disc Makers to make a batch of 100 CDs fully shrink-wrapped and bar coded. I was really happy with their service even though others are telling me there is cheaper duplicator/replicator services out there.

@bjza: Thank you for clarifying that. Definitely, if you know you're going to sell more than 100 CDs in a short amount of time, buy more. It's cheaper at the higher bulk orders. My post was aimed more at the band that hasn't done a CD release before, or they don't have a large following, yet.

For the masterpiece vs stepping stone, my initial reaction is that bands should operate within their budget as well as their following. As their following grows, increase the budget. However, I could be wrong here. Spending $10,000 on a studio and another $1,000 on artwork might help a band grow more quickly. I honestly don't have enough data to make an informed decision on that one.

@Chancius: I did skimp on the product launch aspect of the record release. Really, that is an entire article or series of articles unto itself. I like your idea of putting up posters in businesses you're friendly with!

However, I've had poor luck when I used Facebook ads. My ads would be viewed by 5,000, my fanpage would grow by 50 people, but not a single sale or new attendee at my shows. I gave up on Facebook and Google ads shortly after that experiment. Maybe I was doing it wrong, though!

I didn't look beyond Disc Makers to compare prices. I just heard good things about them, saw that I could still make a profit selling CDs at $5 a pop, and just went with it. After I get good service from a company, I get a little nervous about trying a new company. Plus, I liked their tools for putting together the album art and sleeves.

But when it comes to cost, you're right. I should probably have shopped around. The few others I looked at didn't do short runs of 100 CDs. Only 1,000 or more.

Not a bad article, mean-spirited, though.

Anyway, who's offering true CD replication in quantities of 100? I'd like to know. My guess is that most people order 1000 CDs because the per unit cost of ordering 500 is nearly the same. Am I wrong?

August 22 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Shattuck

Not a bad article, mean-spirited, though.

Anyway, who's offering true CD replication in quantities of 100? I'd like to know. My guess is that most people order 1000 CDs because the per unit cost of ordering 500 is nearly the same. Am I wrong?

August 22 | Registered CommenterJeff Shattuck

Two other things -

In addition to formats, I've seen too little time taken to review the spelling of names, song titles and so on. Not a great feeling when the you rip open that first box of CDs and find that you forgot how to spell the name of your band.....

Also related to formatting: Misjudging how legible lyrics and such are against a dark background. I've seen copies come back where not enough attention was paid to the color contrast between font color and background color resulting in, at best, very difficult to read liner notes.

August 23 | Registered CommenterDaniel Williams

An alternative to Disc Makers that oftentimes ends up being cheaper for the exact same quality is a new company called Veoba (veoba.com). They are based in Chicago and they're doing really great work. I got my band's CD through them and they gave us free digital distribution. The nice thing about their digital distro is its a one-time payment, they don't charge monthly or yearly like TuneCore or other services.

August 23 | Unregistered CommenterDan

So you guys are saying DIsc Makers will make GLASS MASTERED CD's in as few as 100? We're not talking CD-Rs right? There's a difference between duplication and replication. Either way, I think the industry is in flux right now, but CD's do still sell, just not as well. And my national distributor gets the music I release in WAY more outlets than any other place I've used. Folks usually want the music wherever they get it and don't want to hunt for it. I love hunting for it but this new generation wants is right away, or they forget. Great article!

August 23 | Unregistered CommenterSean

I've found that 1,000 is a minimum number of CD's to order. The radio promoters need a couple of hundred each, the publicist needs 150-200, the distributor needs about the same, then there are a few hundred for on-air giveaways, sales at shows, etc.

August 23 | Unregistered CommenterGlenna

I would also add to this list valuing your CD at the cost of manufacturing not the cost of creating. I've see many bands price their CD at $5 (or even as low as $1) under the theory that CDs cost "only" 75 cents per unit to manufacture. This price point, however, assumes your songwriting, instrument playing, singing, mixing, editing, mastering and arranging has no value. I know a lot of artists that forget to pay themselves. If the lead singer is also a talented music engineer, it would be a mistake to assume this "savings" should be passed along to the customer, thus penalizing the singer for being multi-talented. If you are confident your music better than the bubble gum pop artists on the radio, then why sell your CD for less than theirs?

@Jeff Shattuck: Bah!!! You caught my ignorance! :) You are correct DiscMakers does replication (glass masters) at a minimum order of 300. Thank you for catching that! The duplication service which I used allows 100, which was fine for just about everything I was doing.

I'll update my post with this info. I really appreciate you catching this!

@Daniel Williams: Oh, it's so embarassing when you have typos and misspellings. My band misspelled the name of a great booker in the area in our acknowledgements. "Brain" instead of "Brian".

That's a great tip, Daniel! Have someone else, outside of the band, review your liner art, CD art.

@Dan: Thanks for the tip. I'll check them out!

@Sean: You and Jeff caught me on my ignorance between duplication and replication. Doh! I just checked and DiscMakers does short runs of 300 for replication. Thanks for catching me on that!

People sometimes just like physical prodcuts from a band. CD retailers may be dying, but you can still make money from shows. I totally agree. Plus, limited edition CDs that are not digital on purpose could be a selling point. "5 songs you'll never hear anywhere ever again."

Yeah, always have that music everywhere possible. Plus, iTunes and AmazonMP3 allow for affiliate links, so your fans can actually profit from sharing your music to their friends.

@Sean: Okay, I schooled myself on the difference between duplication and replication. I also discovered that, fortunately, you don't need a replicated disc to sell on Amazon (which is necessary to getting your music on Pandora). They have a service they use called CreateSpace which allows you to upload your files in digital format, and they press your CD on demand. If you want to submit your stuff as a CD, they actually require the CD to be in CD-R/duplicated format.

So, for short run orders, duplication is best. For orders over 300, replication is best.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=14061721

Nice! I'm really happy you got me to educate myself on this! You rock! And now I know how easy it is to get music on Pandora. Happiness!

@Sakis Gouzonis
"In addition, no major digital distribution outlets are needed. Many times so far, iTunes and other similar digital stores have been proven useless and ineffective. What is needed is an official website, a PayPal account, and promotion both online and offline."

-------

I disagree with you to a point. It's always good to sell stuff from your own site no one will ever knock that but you obviously don't understand the how people shop and buy things otherwise you wouldn't have made your digital store comment.

Think about it. If every artists had their own store (we're talking physical here) selling their music would it be easier to go the store of each artist you like or go into Best Buy and purchase all of your music at one time?

While the internet has made it much easier to purchase from individual artists, it's still a lot easier to go to ONE SPOT to purchase everything you need...as opposed to going to three different sites for three different artists, entering your credit card and billing information 3 different times, etc.

That's the value of a store like iTunes. Plus you get the impulse purchases as well. People that came looking for one thing.. did a search... your music came up in the query.... listened to some soundclips... and decided to pick up your release as well.

@ Universal Indie Records

Universal Indie Records said: "I disagree with you to a point. It's always good to sell stuff from your own site no one will ever knock that but you obviously don't understand the how people shop and buy things otherwise you wouldn't have made your digital store comment".

Can you tell me how many indie artists have sold a respectable number of downloads / CDs through iTunes, CD Baby, etc.? Almost NOBODY. That's right. Almost NOBODY. Every time I ask an indie artist how many CDs he has sold through CD Baby or how many downloads he has sold through iTunes the last one year, the answer is ALWAYS the same: "I sold NOTHING" or "I sold 1 or 5 or 10 downloads / CDs".

Universal Indie Records said: "While the internet has made it much easier to purchase from individual artists, it's still a lot easier to go to ONE SPOT to purchase everything you need...as opposed to going to three different sites for three different artists, entering your credit card and billing information 3 different times, etc".

Do you really believe that an indie artist will be discovered just because he made his music available through iTunes??? I don't think so. He will give his precious money to iTunes, and he will most probably get nothing in return. iTunes is an extremely huge place, that's why it is almost impossible for an indie artist to be discovered and sell thousands of downloads.

Universal Indie Records said: "That's the value of a store like iTunes. Plus you get the impulse purchases as well. People that came looking for one thing.. did a search... your music came up in the query.... listened to some soundclips... and decided to pick up your release as well".

I don't see any value in stores like iTunes. Google is much more powerful and much more important for an indie artist than iTunes is. Google search engine sends a lot of traffic to my official website www.SakisGouzonis.com every day. I don't think that iTunes can expose my music to a respectable amount of people as Google does.

What an indie artist really needs in order to succeed is an official website, a PayPal account, and promotion both online and offline. That's all! It's so simple. Why waste my money on digital stores that will NEVER help me sell thousands of downloads / CDs?

August 24 | Unregistered CommenterSakis Gouzonis

@Seth - I was just clarifying for myself as well :) Glad we could help each other out. Now if a bands wants 100 GLASS MASTERED CD's, you can use a placed called http://www.mobineko.com. You can get 500 made for around $725 and that includes shipping. I don't work for them, but for folks on a tight budget, it's nice to get 200 professional CD's made for a decent price (I think around $500).

I was aware of the Amazon.com CD-R thing and other folks take them too. It just depends on the band's situation. For direct to fan sales, I think a CD-R (if you have to have a CD) is the way to go.

Great article!

August 25 | Unregistered CommenterSean

FYI - DoveCDs dot com is where I get all of my CDs pressed and they do a fantastic and quick job. They are cheaper than Discmakers and they do all of the artwork and layout for FREE! I think that Discmakers gives one shot at design and then there's a fee every time you go back and forth. I've e-mailed Dove back and forth several times trying different things. They are very easy to work with. All you do is send them pictures, text, and then let them get to work. I do not work for Dove, but I have had 5 projects pressed with them. Re-orders are a breeze. Their website is not nearly as flashy and pretty as discmakers' site, but nonetheless, they do excellent work. At least check them out before before going through discmakers. Wanna see their work? Check out my website: MartinMooreMusic(dot)com. Thanks!

September 21 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

@Martin: Thanks for the FYI! I've been turned on to quite a few places since writing this article. I'll add this to the list of services to check out!

September 21 | Registered CommenterChris Seth Jackson

I have been receiving catalogues from Disc Makers for YEARS and I have not pulled the trigger with them just yet. I really like what they do but I can't shake the feeling there are other services out there, thanks to those who posted a couple :)

If you are planning to release your next album, DO IT ON TIME! I have had numerous occasions where a project "should" be finished and ends up taking way more time than expected, leaving your fans thinking "WTF?" This can cause them to lose interest in your music or brand (band). If you have multiple instances where you need to push a release date back, make sure there's a good reason for it!
I admit I have been guilty of this, hey sometimes ya gotta learn the hard way LoL

Underground Style HipHop
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January 9 | Unregistered CommenterA.Sound.Surgeon

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