Monday, August 16, 2010

Making and selling a CD

African Numbers CD

An indie album from start to finish

This is a simplified list of the processes I use when making an album. Sometimes the order will 

change slightly and some methods may differ to suit a particular project. I'm not going into any detail, 

but rather highlighting each step along the way.


Conceptualise, compose, compile

Brainstorm sessions, write, rewrite, scrap, start again, write, rewrite.
This part of the process can take (from my experience) anywhere from a few weeks to a
few years. The rewriting continues through many stages of the project, tweaking along the

The skeleton

Once the writing process is complete I record rough versions of the songs. I utilise a
couple of different methods, depending on the project: 
1 . "Band in a Box" is a wonderful program that is primarily a practice/learning tool. I
sometimes use it to map out the geography of the songs and to experiment with
different tempos, styles and keys. I then export the song as a midi file into Sonar
(Cakewalk Sonar Producer Edition is the audio recording package I have used for
many years) 
2 . Lay down rough guitar rhythm and melody tracks (or get vocalist to sing the melody) in
Sonar. I often use a quick and easy general midi VST instrument like Cakewalk's TTS1
during these early stages. The sounds will be replaced later by real instruments and/or 
better quality VST instruments
Very little (if any) of the skeleton is likely to remain in the finished track.

Tracking and programming

Once I'm pleased with the tempo, key and geography of the song, the real recording
process begins. Vocalist lays down a guide vocal (if they haven't already done so). Then
the rhythm section: find suitable bass/drum sounds (these may change later). Record a
more suitable bass line and drum track. Lay down guitars, and keyboards. Other instruments
such as brass, percussion, strings are added.


Sometime before, during and/or after the recording process a designer is briefed on
the look and concept of the CD cover. Track order and final CD credits are usually only
forwarded to the designer later so that no musicians' names are left off the cover.

Barcode and online distribution

I use CD Baby as my online aggregator. I begin the registration process with CD Baby and purchase a barcode from them. (purchasing a barcode directly from them is cheaper than
buying one in South Africa and there's no annual fee). The registration process will be
completed later, once the album is complete.

Mixing and mastering

Once all the tracks are recorded, the final mix can begin. I constantly do rough mixes
during tracking, which makes it easier to do the final mixes. Once mixed, I burn a CD of all
the songs and test it in various systems: my car stereo, the cheap hi fi in my living room etc.
I also try to get a friend or two (who's judgement I trust) to listen to the CD and comment on
the mixes. Then back to the studio to tweak the mixes. Repeat.
On albums for commercial release I prefer to take the CD to a professional mastering
studio rather than attempt to master it myself. A decent mastering job adds a little "polish"
to the final mixes.

Manufacturing, paperwork etc

Get quotes from manufacturers. Before manufacturing can begin, clearance must be given
by the Mechanical royalty societies (there are currently 3 in South Africa). Songs must also
be registered with the relevant society for performance royalties (that would be SAMRO in
S.A.). The master CD and artwork are then taken to the manufacturer. Copies of the final
product need to be sent to CD Baby in the U.S.A
Around this time payments need to be made to the mastering studio, graphic designer and

Pre release sheet

The pre release sheet is a one page document with CD title, cover art, bar code/Order
number, price, release date and a short description of the album and any planned
marketing campaigns. This document is then sent to customers so that they can pre order
the album.

Press release/marketing

I usually draft a press release then ask kind friends who work in P.R. and marketing to help
me edit and proof read the text. Once the press release is done, it needs to be sent (along
with the CD of course) to the media. It is pointless sending out unsolicited mail, so relevant
media people need to be phoned, mailed or met with in person.
Marketing strategies, both short and long term must be decided on and acted upon.
Website and Facebook pages need to be updated with photos, album artwork, links to
purchase the new album and links to listen to it. These pages need to be regularly updated
with press clippings, news and reviews and contests relating to the album.
People on mailing list (and Facebook fans) need to be contacted with news of the new
release, details of contests etc and where they can buy the album.


Old customers need to be phoned or called on in person to be made aware of the new
release and they are usually given a free sample of the CD. New retail outlets/avenues
must also be explored. Existing customers must be contacted at regular intervals to check
on sales.

The Future

When the CD is ready for marketing and distribution, I begin conceptualising the next
album, and the cycle repeats itself.

Our album African Numbers is due for release late September 2010.

Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated to or endorsed by any of the companies mentioned above.

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