Music Business 102;
Everybody dreams of hitting the big time and making a large sum of money from their musical efforts. Getting heard by a large audience usually requires a CD and/or Cassette. This can be expensive - Should you take that risk?
In the October 22, 1994 issue of Billboard magazine, Ed Christman tracked a total of 90,347 albums (CD's/Cassettes/Vinyl LP's) using the point-of-purchase SoundScan system between 1991 and the end of 1993. The lesson learned from this is that only 554 albums sold more than 500,000 units, and that these accounted for 43% of all album purchases during that time. Of the remaining releases, 52,078 albums sold less than 1,000 copies each.
You can look at this 2 different ways, either as:
I prefer to view this as an opportunity. What if you have something to offer that is different and unique? If you measure your success in terms of block-buster releases, then you've forgotten that it sometimes takes a while to build an audience. You also need to realize that large record companies are not willing to take many risks because they (and the distributors) don't want to end up with a warehouse full of your music. They deal in terms of large releases - you don't have to.
This is one of the reasons that Independent Record companies exist. They are more willing to take a risk and often do so in terms of smaller release quantities; but even then, they need to make money too. If you look in the classified sections of the musicians magazines (ie. Guitar Player, Keyboard, Electronic Musician, etc.) you'll see that its not that difficult or expensive anymore to do a run of 300 to 1000 CDs or Audio cassettes. Its even possible to do a run of 5 or 10 CDs (using a CD-ROM burner and some PC or Macintosh based software). You can easily create a low volume run of Audio cassettes using your own home gear.
I don't play bagpipes and you probably don't either. The point here is that you need a method to promote yourself in a way that allows you to get into clubs, parties, planetariums, or get airplay on a local radio station. Nothing blocks your opportunities faster than not having something like a CD or a Cassette in your hand to let people hear what you sound like 'right now'.
Very few radio stations will play any of your music if its not on a CD. If you find a way to convince someone to play your music, you don't need to have a lot of CDs handy, just the one that they will be using.
I used to give away Cassettes of my bands music as prizes at parties and clubs. At the time, CD's were very expensive to make, and doing a run of under 5000 was not likely. I was able to burn off a dozen of my own Cassettes a few days before I needed them and people liked winning them. Today, CDs can be used in the same way. I know a number of bands who do 'concerts' and sell their recordings when they play. I know of other smaller acts who have recordings for sale when they play at resorts or local clubs. Some people set up at street fairs and play, selling their CDs/Cassettes to anyone who comes by. I have heard a number performers who will never have a release that sells 500,000 CDs or Cassettes, but I enjoyed the music and people bought the recordings.
A CD or Cassette lends an air of professionalism to your musical efforts. In some cases, it may open doors for you for bookings or other paying work. A Booking Agent will definitely show off your CD when they have the chance - the more you work, the more they make. Booking Agents want you to be successful, otherwise, its not cost effective for them to represent you.
Of course, there are always exceptions - some people just press a live performance or work done on their home 4 track studio (Bruce Springfield's Nebraska Album originated from a Teac 144 Portastudio - done entirely on CrO2 Audio Cassette tapes). Sometimes over-producing a recording is far worse than representing the music as it should be - Silence can build tension in music and is often employed to bring out dynamics in a recording. Don't make the mistake of losing control of the music you make - its very easy to assume that it needs a bit more of some effect or backing vocals or whatever - maybe it will benefit, maybe not.
You have anumber of options.
I can't advise you which is the best path to follow. The biggest disadvantages of doing it all yourself are:
You have to decide where you can contribute and where you need help. This will allow you to keep you costs down. The first project is apt to be quite an experience for everyone involved - frequently confusion and and an occasional bout of anger will erupt. This happens when you try to do too much at one time. People get tired and irritable when they have to do things over and over again; especially when problems occur as a result of inexperience on the people doing the recording. If you are in a professional studio, any time that you waste is costing you money.
You will probably have friends, or know of people who already own the right gear to help you create your project. You can save a bundle by finding ways to work with them to get the job done, however, they may not have the same vision that you do. They also may not have the skills or the capabilities to pull off the quality of work you need.
Expect to give away 50% or more of any CDs or Cassettes you make as promotional tools. With that in mind, you can start figuring out your costs and possible profits. Its quite possible that burning a very small quantity of CDs or Cassettes is a safe first step. If those turn out good, you can always make more from your masters. If they are not as good as you hoped, you won't have a large inventory to concern yourself with.
Don't get discouraged. Recognizing your weak points will give you definable areas to work on. Setting a schedule to address problem areas and following through will get you to a point where the results are far better than just if you show up unprepared for your recording sessions and mixing sessions.
If you plan to do some or all of your own recording, start buying gear that can be used both for live performance and digital recording. In particular, you want a very low noise audio mixer and effects (Reverb, Guitar distortion, etc.) to be very quiet. Some Synth gear is not appropriate for high end recordings - look at the spec sheets with this thought in mind. Get good quality microphones that are suited for recording that can also be used live where possible. In all cases you want very high signal to noise ratios on all of your gear (S/N of 90db or above if possible).
Learn about the current technology and don't take critical feedback personal. The more you know about this, the better chance you will have to organize the effort with results that you can both afford and like. There are many people who successfully produce themselves. They have taken the initiative to buy what is needed and learn how to get the best product in place. It takes more than owning the tools - you have to know how to use them. You can learn how to do this - It just takes time, asking for lots of advice and experimentation.
Sometimes advice will be wrong. Everyone has a different perception of what things should sound like. If the listener doesn't understand or particularly like your music, they may give advice that either makes no sense, or directs you off on some other path that alters your vision of what you are trying to accomplish. Many recording artists have been shaped by their producers (George Martin's work with the Beatles is an excellent example - he helped them find ways to get their musical visions recorded), some have benefited, others have suffered from it.
Seek out people who have done this before and learn from them. If there are Recording studios nearby, find a way to tour the studio and see what type of gear that they are using. Don't waste peoples time if you can avoid it when you visit someone. Make any meetings mutually beneficial. If there is a radio station that you can visit and talk with a DJ, find out what they listen for and who decides the play lists.
The investment in a CD or Cassette release can further your career greatly. Even a small quantity can be very useful to you. The only way to determine success in music is to take a risk and present what you have to offer. If you believe that you are ready to share you music with the world and try to carve out a place for yourself and you are committed to your music - I suggest you start planning to produce a CD and/or a Cassette - you'll be further ahead when you are ready and you'll have a plan in place to get what you wanted.
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