What to Look for Before You Leap!

by SaskMusic

August 5, 2009 in Recording & Production

These days, it seems like if you're in an independent band that doesn't have an album released, you're in the minority. Assuming that your band is a tight unit already, has a store of exceptionally written songs, and has the financial capital to proceed…

Top reasons for putting out a CD

- You've had enough requests for CDs that you know you could sell 100-200 units right now. If this is the case, you've also been collecting these names on fan lists at your shows (and/or website) and will be able to contact them once the album is available for purchase.

- You really, really, really want the accomplishment of having your a) name b) voice c) musicianship d) all of the above on a CD, and don't mind that you may not recoup the cost of the album.

- Your material is a format which has no real (local) live audience or venues to perform at - rap, techno, etc. and you have a viable strategy for tapping into the markets in larger centres through commercial or college airplay, booking shows in those areas, or alternative promo-tion/distribution avenues.

- You've already spent a ton of cash producing professional demos. You're confident that your arrangements and songs are "the best that they can be", and are ready to be commercially released.

- You have a solid commitment/contract with a distributor ahead of time.

Not so good reasons to put out a CD

- You've had ten people ask for your CD, and you hate to disappoint any of them.

- There's a "buzz" about your band. Unfortunately, "buzz bands" are only buzz bands until someone better comes along (about two weeks). Unless you work at keeping the buzz going through live shows, interviews, etc., the buzz will fade long before your CD is actually ready for the market.

- An A & R guy (or similar industry professional) has shown interest in the band. Keep in mind that this person may have no influence over who is actually going to be signed, even if they absolutely love you. As well, if you release your indie CD and then get signed to a major, chances are they will require you to re-record, remaster, redesign, or totally scrap your album and start over. And you will be stuck with the cost of your indie album, PLUS the huge bill for the new album, which is recoupable from YOU.

- All the other bands are doing it.

Some points to consider

- How many people are actually requesting your CD? If you play a show to 300 people and 7 people ask if you have an album out, how many shows would you have to play before you've sold 1000 units?

- Before you jump ahead to doing a full album, have you cut your "studio teeth" with professional demos?

- "I have found that the bands or artists who know their material inside out do ten times better in the studio. This may sound like a given, but I can't count the times I have recorded bands who insist they're ready when they're not. When I think of ready, I imagine a player who can sit down with a metronome (or click of some kind) and play their entire part to a given song- WITHOUT THE BAND! Think about it. Can you play your parts without having to rely on your fellow musicians or do you have to wait for your drummer's fills to cue you on certain parts? Or your singer? You should be able to perform your instrument solo. For those of you saying, "We're more creative if we just wing it..." I've found that those who are well prepared "wing it" far better than those who are not." - Chad Austin, Secret World Records

- Making the CD is only the first step of a very long & expensive process. Depending on your marketing strategy, you may be hiring a radio promoter, publicity agent, printing press kits, stickers, t-shirts, paying postage fees, etc. Don't budget all your money for the studio, leaving none to market the album with.

- If you've been turned down for an Independent Artist Loan through FACTOR, you should seriously review whether you're really ready to make an album. Your package is reviewed by a minimum of two separate panels for a yes or no recommendation. They are listening for things like quality of songwriting, musical talent, originality and sales potential, and (this is important) checking if you've done your homework on a marketing plan. FACTOR, however, is limited by the funding available to each program.

- Using only well written songs is crucial to the success of the album. Artists should have a stock of 30-50 songs to choose from. They should record demos of all (even a live mix will do the trick), take another listen, and come up with a short list of about 20.
Listening to these demos can help you hear the difference between what sounds good live (or feels good to play), and what will sound good on tape.As a songwriter you will always have a soft spot for certain songs you've written. If you can't be objective about them, take them to someone who will give you an honest opinion. If you have only three really strong songs and plan to record "filler" for the rest of the album, you're not ready. Why would someone else want to listen to songs that you yourself don't LOVE?

- Allow enough time in the studio. If you're booked in for the whole day but just can't get the groove right, don't push it. Move on to the next song, or call it a day, and try again when you're all in the right frame of mind. Don't compromise the quality of the finished product just so you can "get it released by Christmas". Do it right or not at all.

- Don't release a demo - make sure you're ready for commercial sales first.

You are the one gambling when you produce a CD. With all the dreams and excitement wrapped up in your first album, it pays to keep a cool head - and your feet on the ground - while you put your money where your heart is. Good luck!

By Lorena Kelly for SaskMusic. Originally published April 1998.

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