The Essentials of CD Design

by SaskMusic

July 29, 2009 in Marketing & Promotion

Looking at recent items coming into our office has inspired me to talk about CD design again. Many of you are preparing to release a new CD - and in the flurry of activity surrounding the actual recording process and excitement of the studio, it's easy to forget the little details that go into creating a professional looking release. However, looks are important, and a bad looking release can sabotage the hard work you did in the studio. If it appears you've put zero effort into your CD design, it might be assumed you've put zero effort into the music inside as well.

Be sure you budget enough time and money
to give your album the professional look it deserves. (Professional CD design can take months!)

Take a hard look at your finished design. If you were a radio programmer or media person who gets two hundred albums per month to listen to, would you pick YOURS out of the pack? Does it make you WANT to listen to it?

The CD and case should provide enough information so that if it's the only piece someone gets about you, it's all they really need. "Sparse and minimal" is a look that's definitely popular with some artists, but please don't shoot yourself in the foot by leaving off important details such as the following:

On the back of your CD (preferably, although can go inside insert if they absolutely have to):
  • Track list with tracks numbered, and length (time) of each song (especially important if you will be shipping to radio)
  • Your copyright notice (indicating year of production, your name, and the © symbol), also, copyright notice referring to who owns the master recording (indicated with the (P) symbol)
  • A statement prohibiting reproduction
  • A bar code - necessary if distributing to retail outlets. (Your manufacturer can usually obtain this for you.) It's not advisable to place a bar code into the design yourself - as manipulation may affect its "readability" by electronic scanners.
  • The MAPL logo - necessary if shipping to radio. (Unless, of course, you don't care about airplay.) This logo was created for a specific purpose - to GET CANADIAN ARTISTS MORE AIRPLAY! Canadian content regulations are a huge asset for us Canadian musicians. Canadian stations have a minimum 35% quota for CANCON so it's important that your product is recognized as being Canuck. (The U.S. doesn't have anything like it for their artists.) Why wouldn't you take advantage of it?
  • Sponsor logos - FACTOR logo if applicable, and/or any other required sponsors' logos
  • Your catalogue number (a.k.a. release or matrix number) should be placed on ALL elements of your album. It ties them all together at the manufacturing plant. Retail also uses it to track your product (especially if you are not putting a bar code on it.)

These items should be printed on the face of the CD itself:

  • Artist name and CD title (sure, YOU know that "totally black with no writing" one is yours. But does anyone else know whose CD it is?)
  • The MAPL logo
  • Your copyright notice (see above)
  • The "compact disc" logo - by law - must be clearly seen
  • Your catalogue number
  • Made in Canada/fabrique au Canada or a similar notice

On the CD insert/booklet…

  • If you can afford it, printed lyrics are really handy for those who will review your CD or consider it for airplay. (Think of radio programmers scanning prospective tracks for offensive words.)
  • Songwriters and musicians should be clearly indicated for each track.
  • Contact info. You wouldn't believe how many CDs don't include this. CDs often get passed around like trading cards - just because the person who bought it knows how to reach you, or where they bought it, doesn't mean that three people down the line will. What if someone wants to order another copy? What if a radio programmer gets passed one, and can't reach you for an interview?
  • Songwriting credits - suppose you DO get radio play. If you wrote a song, be proud of it! (The artist is not automatically the songwriter!) This should also include publishing information.

And the front cover...

Artist name and title of CD. Make it obvious which is which. Think about how your product is displayed on retail shelves. (No name or title, how are your fans gonna pick it out?)

By Lorena Kelly for SaskMusic. Originally published June/July 2002.

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