Planning Your Album

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A checklist to help you plan your next album and win fans worldwide.

If you’re sitting down to tackle making an album, there’s a lot to think about; from clearing the rights for your cover songs, to converting the cover art to the right format. These issues can trip you up, or cause the album to take a lot longer than you planned. Some musicians get so lost in handling the technical production of the album that they forget generating publicity and buzz about a new release.

Planning Your AlbumPlanning ahead will not only help you make the album as good as it can be, it will let you focus on promoting your album to maximize your sales. But, keep in mind that doing-it-yourself does not mean do it all yourself. As Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby, likes to say, “whatever excites you, go do it yourself; but if something drains you, find someone else who enjoys it and get them to do it for you.”

Document who owns the songs and sound recordings
If you’re in a band or collaborating, co-writing, and co-recording your music with another person, you should document who wrote what while you’re making it.

Items you should document include A) who owns the copyright in the song and/or how writing is split among the songwriters and B) who owns the sound recording(s). Additionally, you should document who the publisher is.

Get permission to record any cover songs, samples, or loops
Cover songs are any songs that your band members did not write. For instance, if you decide to record your own version of “Freebird,” you need to get permission from the copyright owner and pay a license fee to duplicate it. All CD duplication and replication houses will ask you to guarantee that you’ve done this before printing any copies of your disc. This is true even if you have no intention of selling your version of the cover song. It’s the duplication of it that makes it a “copy” under the law, not selling it.

Additionally, any samples and loops you incorporate into your music need to be cleared as well. One way around this is to use samples and loops that are already pre-cleared and royalty-free. Most sample libraries or discs sold at music retail stores and sites are sold this way.

Replication and digital distribution
While the internet has brought about new formats such as MP3s and new distribution methods such as iTunes, Amazon, and file-sharing, there are CD players everywhere: in homes, computers, radio stations, cars, etc. If you want to get radio airplay or do a press campaign, they expect a CD.

While you may hear that CD sales are down in the mainstream media, the statistics for this come from the major labels whose business model was selling plastic. As an indie musician, you sell music, not CDs, and you need to make the best decision for yourself. This shouldn’t be based on the economics of a label, but yours. Indie musicians operate on a different scale and model than labels. Beyond legitimizing your album and helping to paint a complete story about who you are as an artist, CDs may be an integral part of your revenue stream.

For indie musicians, the decision to make a CD usually comes down to just a handful of factors:

  • Your projected CD sales
  • Your publicity campaign, and
  • Your radio campaign

Selling Live and Online: Press for sales
While online distributors such as CD Baby will sell your CD to the world, a bulk of your CD sales usually occur at shows. It’s one of the easiest ways that you can sell your music to someone, and it’s usually an easy sale: after a great show, fans often want to own their own copy of the music. Plus, CDs are usually the biggest money makers since the cost to produce them is far less than what you can sell them for. If you’ve released a CD already, check your sales from shows and see what that number is (and if you haven’t started tracking this yet, start doing so). Once you know this, you can usually come up with a break-even-point on how many shows you have to play to pay for the CD costs. This will help you estimate how many CDs to make.

Publicity campaigns: Press to impress
The press and media often judge your work by how things look. Imagine what you’d think if you were a journalist or music critic and got a CD burned from a computer with your band name scrawled in permanent marker on the front. Creating your own professionally-made disc sends the message that you’re serious about your music and they should take it seriously as well and give it a listen.

Of course the appearance is only one factor. Another is how many discs you want to print by hand in order to meet the goals of your publicity campaign. If you want to send a disc to 100 or more press and media outlets, it may make financial sense to do a CD run. Not to mention saving you time to work on those activities that matter more than sitting by your printer changing ink cartridges.

This is an excerpt from our brand-new eBook, Planning Your Album from Beginning to End A checklist to help you plan your next album, get it distributed, heard, publicized, and win fans worldwide. The 32-page eBook includes links to various online resources, checklists, and tons of real-world information exploring the details of making a CD: from preproduction all the way through the release and publicity phases. Click here to download your FREE copy today.

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