Before scheduling your album release, plan for the steps that lie between songwriting and disc manufacturing
Releasing a CD is a big deal for any artist. This is your baby, your calling card, the result of a lot of hard work, and your best chance to earn revenue. You spend a lot of time writing, rehearsing, and recording — and that’s all just leading up to the CD manufacturing process.
Before you gather your materials to submit for CD manufacturing, there’s rehearsing, recording, audio mastering, designing your package — and all these processes can take longer than you might expect. Then there are the numerous music promotion and sales activities, and much of your PR may require your CD printing to be completed. While it’s hard not to get excited and schedule your album release party when you get to the music mixing phase, being patient and creating a long-term timeline will help you maximize your efforts rather than racing to meet a deadline.
So here’s our DIY Album Release Checklist. We’ve compiled a list of questions to get you thinking about things you might not be focusing on while your head is wrapped up in the creative process. It’s by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start planning your new album release.
1. Are you including any cover songs?
If your CD includes any songs written by another songwriter or artist, copyright law requires you get a mechanical license. Mechanical licenses are issued by the owner of the copyright (publishers, labels, estates, songwriters, composers) and can be obtained easily from our friends at Limelight. Limelight charges a $15 fee, and the publishing royalty rate is a statutory 9.1¢ per unit for all recordings up to five minutes (it’s 1.75¢ per minute if a track is over five).
2. Have you copyrighted your songs?
As soon as you produce a copy of a song — including any recording, written transcription, or print-out of lyrics — your work is copyrighted. Still, it’s a good idea to register your work with the Library of Congress, as this gives you additional leverage if there’s ever a question of ownership. It’s $35 to file a basic copyright claim of an original work online.
3. Have you cleared your samples?
If your audio master contains any samples of previously recorded work, you are required to purchase a Master Use License and include proof-of-purchase with your project. If your project contains any material owned by a third-party (e.g. samples, loops). Manufacturing companies like Disc Makers cannot begin CD printing without your acquiring the proper licenses.
4. Who is doing your CD design?
Unless you, someone in your team, or someone you are hiring is an experienced (i.e. professional) designer, don’t try to do it on your own! Your album release represents all the hard work you’ve put into your music, and you’re competing against some pretty fantastic CD packaging art in the marketplace.
If you have a graphic designer you’re working with, make sure he or she uses the correct CD template and that all your files and images are formatted correctly for print. And don’t forget, we have an amazing team of artists assembled in The Design Studio at Disc Makers should you need someone.
5. Have you picked the right CD packaging for your album release?
Most CD packaging has a list of benefits and features that sets it apart — so take the time to choose the one that best suits your album release. Digipaks offer a great opportunity to integrate interesting cover art, and is a “greener” alternative to Jewel Cases — which remain the industry standard. Digipaks can have as many as eight panels, and both packages offer printed booklets of up to 32 pages. Eco-Wallets also afford plenty of design and booklet options, and the CD Jacket is a lightweight recycled stock slip sleeve that can still deliver a graphic punch. Take the time to pick the best one for you.
6. Is your timetable realistic?
Having a realistic plan in place is the first step on the road to success in planning an album release. Planning for delays might not sound sexy, but it could be the ticket to a well-run manufacturing and promotional launch of your CD. The rehearsal process usually takes longer than expected; recording, mixing, and music mastering rarely run precisely on schedule; and designing and manufacturing a CD sometimes requires back and forth between parties to make sure all the pieces are looking and sounding perfect. Managing the hiccups in the various creative processes will make for a smooth and stress-free run for you and your team.
One thing you can do to ensure your project runs smoothly is to multi-task. If you intend to include lyrics, thank yous, and liner notes in your album art, don’t wait until the last minute to draw it up — keep a running list going throughout the rehearsal and music recording process. If you plan to include a band photo on the cover or in the album art, plan for it and have it completed well before you’re collecting your materials for CD manufacturing. Determine your album title and gather all the images you intend to include in the art ahead of time, as well.
7. Do you have permission to use that art?
It’s almost too easy to grab art from the Internet and claim it as your own — be sure NOT to do that for any image or piece of art to be included on your CD. Just like you need a Mechanical License to record and distribute someone else’s composition, you need the proper permissions for any piece of art you want on your CD. If you haven’t created or commissioned photographs, graphics, logos, and artwork, get the appropriate permission from the owner or make sure to purchase stock images or use royalty-free images.
8. Did you pick your CD manufacturing turn time?
Disc Makers has three CD turn time options for most disc packages: Economy, Standard, and Priority. The number of days will vary based on your specific CD packaging, but here are the most common turn times.
Economy (10-day) production time:
- Four business days of pre-approval (which involves emailing a PDF proof and waiting for your approval).
- 10 business days of production time after you approve your proofs.
- Total turn time is 14 business days. Add in weekends and shipping, and that can add an additional six days for your CDs to arrive.
Standard (5-day) production time:
- Three business days of pre-approval (which involves emailing a PDF proof and waiting for your approval).
- Five days of production time after you approve your proofs.
- Total turn time is eight business days. Add in weekends and shipping, and that can add an additional six days for your CDs to arrive.
Priority (3-day) production time:
- Two business days of pre-approval (which involves emailing a PDF proof and waiting for your approval).
- Three days of production time after you approve your proofs.
- Total turn time is five business days. Add in weekends and shipping, and that can add an additional four days for your CDs to arrive.
9. Did you proof all your materials?
When preparing your CD manufacturing order and collecting your raw materials (art files, audio master, forms) for CD printing at Disc Makers or elsewhere, you can save yourself time and potential disaster by having a third-party (someone other than you) read everything and check for typos. Same goes for your audio master. The more thoroughly you check your materials for errors, the less chance of a costly or embarrassing mistake finding its way to your final product. Make sure your audio master sounds exactly the way you want it to, (including song order and song spacing). When you receive your design proofs, make sure to give everything another thorough check before giving your final approval.
10. Is your audio master mastered?
Your album isn’t ready for release until it’s been professionally mastered. It’s not an optional step — every album released on a major label is professionally mastered, but it’s a step that an independent artist may be tempted to skip. You’ve poured your heart into your music and recording, so why stop short of making your album sound the best that it can? Professional audio mastering brings the following important enhancements to your album:
- Increased overall volume
- Clarity and punch that may be missing in your mixes
- Balanced EQ
- Consistent volume from song to song
- Custom spacing or cross-fades
While many recording studios and platforms offer a music mastering component, hiring a third-party mastering engineer is often a good idea. Having another set of ears mastering your project with monitors and an environment specifically dedicated to audio mastering can make a huge difference in your final product. The professional engineers at The SoundLAB at Disc Makers have years of experience mastering every genre of music and they work in custom built mastering rooms that house some of the best monitors and recording gear available.
11. Do you have everything prepared for manufacturing your CD?
You need five things when you send Disc Makers your CD order: 1) your audio master on CD-R or ready to upload, 2) your CD design files ready to mail in or upload, 3) payment, 4) Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) documentation, and 5) a signed Disc Makers quote form.
12. Do you know how many CDs you want to order?
It’s a good idea to develop a budget before deciding what CD packaging and how many units you want to order. Based on the number of gigs you play a month, how many CDs you think you’ll sell at each gig, the amount of email and web promotions you’ll do, potential music downloads and online sales, figures from past CD sales, and any other relevant data you can assemble, come up with a sales figure for the number of CDs you think you’ll sell. From there you can determine what your sales might add up to, what profit you want to keep, and how much you have to budget for disc manufacturing. There are other costs to consider (rehearsal, recording, promotion), and other potential sources of funding (savings, fan-funding, gig revenue), but this is a good exercise to go through to keep your efforts and spending based in the real world.
13. Do you want a UPC code?
A Universal Product Code (also UPC or bar code) is a must for retail sales. Stores won’t sell products without them. When you order a CD package from Disc Makers, we’ll give you a genuine unique UPC bar code for only $20. And once you register your bar code with SoundScan (which is free and easy to do), your sales records will be tracked by the industry leader.
14. Do you need promotional materials?
Not everything happens online, you know! Printed promotional materials like stickers, flyers, full-color posters, and postcards can help you spread the word at gigs and on the street.
Planning Your Album
The Self-Released Album
Countdown to Your Album
Being Successful in Today’s Music Business: Working Backwards
To CD or Not To CD…
Making Money With Music Licensing — Part I: Copyrights and Revenue
Practice Safe Sampling — Copyright, Licensing and Your Music