How to Record Your Band’s CD: Tips on Lowering Cost

The first time I blew the dust off of my mom’s record collection was the last time I got a normal nights sleep. The Beach Boys, Santana (I didn’t even know who that was back then!), the Commodores (BRICK HOUSE!), but none of them hit me as hard up-side-the-head as Led Zeppelin. I spent hours playing mom’s Zeppelin II album, to the point where I wore new grooves into the vinyl! The album was an inspiration to me way back in the early eighties. I was a wide-eyed 11 year old, taking these mental notes on the perfection, the craftsmanship, the beauty, of something that, to me, was and is one of the pinnacle albums in the annals of rock.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Press the seek/scan button and search into the future, present-day, I’ve come a long way baby! At eighteen I left home, jump started a quasi-music career, made some moves, then I took a hiatus for a few years; the Miami scene died years ago, and all we do down here is struggle against one another, but that’s another story. My mind kept up it’s incessant wanderings through the mine field of music-industry-theory and now I’m here to pass on some of my advice, so take it for what it’s worth.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Anyone can make it! I’m sure you’re thinking “yeah right! JERK!” I almost made it, but I was young and dumb. Hopefully you’re an adolescent in the music “game” and maybe I can steer you away from some of the mistakes that left me wondering why I didn’t finish my English-Lit degree and take up teaching!Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Fist things first, make sure you have a “product”. Spend how ever long it takes you to get some music written, even If you have to hire someone to help you write it; there’s nothing wrong with co-writing/production help. I’ve come to realize that you really only need to have 4-6 originals on your first “album” (I use quotes because it’s really an E.P., or an Extended Play single). Instead of wasting tons of money trying to record your Magnum-Opus, “live the savings”. Here’s another tip on this subject, save your money and invest in the cheapest Pro Tools rig you can afford. The industry has become a file sharing mega-mart and having a Pro Tools session in hand when walking into the studio, will save you money in the long run. Disheartened by the amount of loot Pro Tools sucks from your wallet? Don’t sweat it! On the Digidesign (Pro Tools) website, you should still be able to download a “lite” version of Pro Tools that will get you started and works with almost any sound card. There are tons of entry-level DAWs (digital audio workstations) out there that won’t break the bank. If you use Mac, it comes with Garage Band and Garage Band is amazing. For the PC, check out Steinberg’s website, they offer “lite” versions of their Cubase software that will be easily upgradeable in the future (Cubase SE files work in the later versions of Cubase). There are ways to bounce your audio tracks into a format that works in Pro Tools, so almost any DAW will do. If you can’t get a computer, then give up! No WAIT! Seriously, some of us can’t get the funds together when we start out, I used to record with a regular Sony tape recorder, come to think of it I still do sometimes! If you can’t get all the gear, find a friend who has it already, but do yourself a favor, don’t show up to his/her house and expect to waste all of your time writing your tracks on the premises; your friend will start to hate you and either way you look at it, studios want you to come in prepared to record.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

This takes me to the second step. Practice! Practice your songs until you feel comfortable playing at any given moment. If someone were to come up to you and ask you to play something you should at least be able to give an impromptu performance of YOUR tracks! This will do wonders towards saving you time/money at the studio, and you’ll be “tight” enough to start getting gigs locally (step four).Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Step three, “The Package”! You Practiced, Recorded, and you’re ready to get out there and pilfer dinero from the pockets of your soon-to-be adoring fans. You have your product, or so you think. This is another stumbling block for a lot of new musicians, getting lost in package/marketing and the costs involved. I’ve helped locals design their CD packaging; I’ve designed websites for them, even flyers for gigs. These things are necessary but not as critical as one might think. The key is to get your music heard by as many people as possible, not to “WOW” them right out of the box. Of course, your thinking, “I have to WOW them, or I’ll never be noticed by the majors!” You’re correct to a certain extent, but packaging early on, isn’t the way to “WOW” the industry. The big-wigs (and the little toupees) understand that you’re a struggling musician so don’t sweat the small stuff like the book says. As long as your CD, and the insert, say the same thing you’ll be fine! What should the both of them say? You need to include the title/number of tracks, the name of your band, and your contact info, that’s all. Later when you start making some money and writing more songs, you can go with the holographic-electro-hovering-trans-dermal-dispersion packaging (too bad it only exists in my twisted brain) and simmer in your happy feelings of having “arrived” so to speak. The idea in the beginning is to save a ton of cash by making the CDs yourself. Do-it-yourself is the name of the game. The big CD makers will charge you about a buck fifty per CD, in a jewel case, with art work on the cover, but you have to buy at least a thousand copies. $1500.00 is a bit much in the beginning, when you can easily make your own for $0.50 a CD and only burn twenty at a time (just enough to sell/give away at your shows).Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Step four; Taking over the local scene. Get out there and make the fans notice! Start going to local clubs where your fellow musicians play the type of music you do. Listen, pay attention, and learn. Bring a few copies of your CD, one for the guy at the club that sets up the performance schedule, and some extras for anyone you meet that seems genuinely interested. It’s very important that you learn how to “network” with the local crowd of industry peeps. These settings are great to share a beer and give away your E.P. Get to know everyone that works there, even the bus-boys, they can become friends that wield power one day. At some point if you keep this up, hitting every live act club in your local (even state-wide) area with a great attitude, making friends along the way, you’ll start getting gigs! After that it’s up to you to make sure you perform well. When you do play, try and help-out the sound guys as much as you can (the guys you hopefully met earlier) that way they put a little more effort into making you sound good. Most importantly, make sure that you hand out your CD during your shows! It’s up to you whether you sell them or not. I like both selling some and giving some away, it shows you care about your fans, but that you’re broke and need the money at the same time. As far as your set list, well that’s up to you; I like to play all the tracks on my CD and then fill in the rest of the time with new material and covers. Everyone loves covers and by playing new material, you get to test it out on the best test subjects you can steal: YOUR AUDIENCE!Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Beyond this article there’s a bunch more to learn. Marketing is key! If you will, spend some time learning about how marketing works (as well as grabbing hold of any book you can find about music contracts/the BIZ). Keep this in mind also; the entertainment industry is a “marathon” not a “foot-race”. Sometimes it’ll take years, even a decade before you grab any attention, so don’t ever give up. With this little bit of help, and some dedication/practice, you’ll be sprinting over hurdles in no time and standing in the winners-circle, trophy in hand!

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