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How to make a CD - Part 1
In preparation...

There must have come a time in a committee meeting of every brass band in the country when some bright spark has piped up with the idea of your band making a CD. The idea that getting your band to make a commercial recording that will hopefully sell enough times to ensure a profit yet retain your artistic integrity is a little more difficult than would at first meet the eye.

4BR has therefore got in touch with a man who really does know about CD’s – Trevor Caffull, the Sales and Marketing Director at SP&S Ltd, and asked him to talk through the processes involved in making a CD that will hopefully make a bit of dosh for your band. It’s a bit more complicated than you may think, so listen to what he has to say – it could be the difference between a CD that sells like Will Young’s latest or one that sells like “Hear Say’s” next release. These are his very wise words………..


The first question you have to ask yourself when considering making a CD of your band is...

What is your primary reason for making the recording?

There are two basic reasons why a brass band considers making a CD. The first is for commercial purposes – ie. to make a profit and put some hard earned cash into the coffers, whilst the second is for pure artistic merit.

The first reason should outweigh the second – unless of course you can guarantee that whatever repertoire you do record will be hungrily bought up by the discerning brass band public – and there are very few brass bands indeed who can release a CD on pure artistic grounds safe in the knowledge that it will be snapped up quicker than out of season items in the NEXT Directory sale.

Being practical outweighs being speculative every time.

Now that you have made the first difficult decision about your venture, the second question raises itself into view – If we do make a CD, how are we going to sell it?

To make a CD a profitable success you must do your market research – and understanding your potential market is like tying to understand why kids love hamburgers and chips, yet don’t like peas, broccoli and anything their mothers out on a Sunday dinner plate. Trying to please everyone all the time isn’t going to work, neither is trying to second-guess what you think your potential customer is going to like.

Guess what? – there are loads of casual brass band lovers out there who simply can’t get enough of the type of stuff you and your fellow players may hate to play, yet who don’t care a fig for a beautifully controlled and balanced performance of the second movement of the Area Test Piece – the one that took you and your colleagues six weeks of blood, sweat and tears to get into shape. Remember – the customer will always be right.

Again – be practical and find out in advance at your concerts, through your supporters, or even through a vote on the band website, what people would like to listen to. You may be surprised by what may come up, and you could find that there is a niche for a possible “Theme CD” such as tunes from the shows, Hollywood Blockbusters, Welsh Hymns or even second movements of great brass band test pieces!

Think seriously about what market you are aiming for – there are only so many CD’s you can sell to your family and friends or to your Aunty Nelly for a Christmas present. After the usual suspects have bought one or two, you have still got to sell a lot more before you turn in a profit, so knowing that you can sell a CD that has a broad appeal is always a good starting point.

The Reality Check

After these two questions have been met, the biggest obstacle – the financial “Chair” at Aintree racecourse so to speak, will loom into view. You may have decided what type of CD you wish to make, and have identified your potential market, but now comes the “Reality Check”.

The Reality Check is all about finance. Forget the assumptions and half baked notions you may have heard from someone down the pub and look at the cold facts. Making a CD is going to cost you money, and the truth of the matter is that in this business, you only get what you pay for.

When you get a quote for a production run of 1000 CD’s do not think that only buying 500 will cost half the price – it doesn’t. Forget the back street set up merchants as well if you are going about the process in a really serious manner. Booking someone who has just finished a CD of a heavy metal band for £300, who doesn’t know much about brass bands and has got a couple of mikes and a mixer desk the size of a postage stamp will mean that your end product will sound pretty awful.

You have to have a realistic budget, because there are certain costs that have to be met in full if the CD is to sound like a Championship Section product.

Production Company Costs.

The biggest cost you will have to meet is that of the Production Company. A good company will of course cost more, but you can’t skimp on quality and pre production costs are high because a good company will take the time and use the expertise of people who know what they are dealing with. Venue costs, recording costs, editing costs, recording equipment, hardware costs (the price of paper and printing, CD covers etc) manpower (paying for a quality sound producer) etc will eat into a budget, but are essential if the CD is to sound top class. Get any of these "on the hoof” and the CD will sound as “Cheap as Chips” as David Dickinson says.

The actual manufacture of the CD doesn’t cost that much, but a good production company will first produce an “edit disc” which they will send to the Musical Director of the band so that he can listen to the “first draft” of your output. (Not many back street merchants will do this) This will give the opportunity to highlight glaring errors, split notes (there are bound to be a few!) and to generally identify areas that the digital “box of tricks” that a top class company has at it’s disposal can be used to edit out those little faux pas moments.

A second disc will then be produced – the “Master Disc” and this will be the one that will contain the actual final recording. A good company will only issue this when they are satisfied that both parties are happy with the standard of the recording that has taken place and that the MD has done all they can to make you sound like YBS.

Design Costs

The final costs involved at this stage will concern the CD design itself, and here’s where a lot of bands think they can save themselves a bit of money by trying to become “Artistic Graphic Designers”.

Unless you have someone in your band who is actually a top class Graphic Designer or who works for Saatchi and Saatchi, then do not – and I repeat, do not try and design the art work for your CD yourselves – it invariably looks terrible and will put off more potential customers than you car to imagine possible. Leave it up to the experts – although do give them some ideas that you would like to see incorporated, such as the band or sponsors logo etc. Do not as a rule go for casual portraits of players in the bands latest sweaters – it is plain awful (and there is a famous terrible example of this to be found on a CD featuring one of our very best composers – I’m not telling which one though!) or for a picture of the band with conductor on the front cover – players and MD’s come and go don’t they?

There is also the question of typesetting, logo designs and insert notes – make sure they are done professionally with correct grammar and no silly mistakes. Making a bloomer here and you are stuck with it for eternity.

Licensing Costs

This is something brass bands tend to forget about. If the band is going to pay for everything and produce a CD under their own efforts and release it under their own label, then they will be responsible for all of these costs and will have to budget them into the final overall cost of producing the CD.

Licensing costs usually come in the form of payment to the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society or MCPS for short. It is they who ensure that hard pressed composers etc et their royalties from you performing their music and the cost is usually around 6.5% of the retail value of the CD itself. So, if you produce 1000 CD’s at £10.00 per CD, you will have to budget for £650.00 to pay for the license – a fair old amount eh?

If you employ a production company to release your CD under their label, they will incorporate this cost in the total cost they will charge your band to produce the CD.

It may mean you having to sell quite a few extra CD’s to recoup the money.

The Practical Issues

The practical issues have therefore been met – you have identified your market, you have agreed upon the content on the CD and you have gone through the reality check of the financial implications involved in making your CD – Now comes the tricky bit – Making the Recording - and before you even get to put lip to instrument, there will be a few things that will be needed to be sorted out.

4BR will be going through the full process of the actual recording process in the next thrilling instalment. All the things from booking a proper hall, making sure you have plenty of refreshments, the right music in the right order and even the thorny question of getting your players to be available for a bit of hard work!

It’s not as easy as you may think – but we'll hopefully guide you through the minefield that awaits!

  • Now read part 2 of this article: read...

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Butterworth CD - available with 4BR shopping