I just listened to “River Deep, Mountain High” by Ike and Tina Turner. This 60’s pop gem was written by Phil Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich was Phil Spector’s attempt to put Ike and Tina Turner at the top of the charts. It’s a masterpiece. How do I know this? Phil Spector said so. So did George Harrison and shit load of other people. When it was released it rose to #88 in the US charts and then dropped out of sight. Phil Spector was so bummed he quit the music business for two years and slowly, thereafter, became a homicidal recluse. The fact that it went straight to #3 in England didn’t impress him. He still felt that he had failed. I am now going to argue that he was right.
The damn record is a beautiful roar of overproduction. He, of course, is known for creating the wall of sound style of production and this single is the ultimate example of that over-the- top style. Unfortunately this buried the perfect song that should have carried the song into the whistling repertoire of every kid in america. It’s interesting to note that the song later became a standard live hit for Tina Turner. This just proves my point. It’s a fuckin’ great song. It sums up obsessive love in a few verses and says it in a way that can punch holes in your heart. Great song, overproduced = notable success without mega success. Phil knew what he was writing about. He’s an obsessive guy. He once gave his wife twin five-year old boys as a christmas present. He didn’t ask he just got them and gave them to her. Sure… that’s normal…. everyone gives other humans as Christmas presents. So he’s nuts. We’ve established that fact without even exploring his recent homicide conviction. Even so he knew how to write hits. That talent is priceless and the true key to making it to the top. Let’s look for some examples that prove the point.
Bob Dylan -ugly fucker, can’t play, arrogant asshole that’s subject to maniacal obsessions, brilliant writer = superstar writer
Tom Petty – ugly bastard with weird voice, great writer =superstar writer
Lennon, McCartney, Harrison – pleasant people, hipsters, undeniably brilliant writers = changed the world for a generation.
I can come up with hipper and weirder examples but it all points to the same thing. Songwriting is the core of what makes bands breakout into the rarefied air of superstardom. If you want to succeed learn to write a great song. One will do. Tons of undeniably brilliant songs would be better but that may be too much to shoot for.
Writing great songs is a combo of vision, some talent and lots and lots of craft. It is a process that can be improved and honed, polished and practiced. It rarely appears wholly developed in useable form. All the great writers learn from those that come before them. They listen to other great writers and absorb their themes. If you listen to a great songwriter, say Bob Marley, for instance you can see that he writes about universal truths…..”No Woman, No Cry”…Gee that’s simple and boy is it true. Great writers also steal with no shame. They don’t steal songs..well Zeppelin stole all their songs but they weren’t great writers…they steal phrases from the world around them. A friend says something true that’s clever or sad or funny and a song is born. They see an old movie and hear a perfect phrase and boom a song is born. Great writing is the process of seeing things clearly, seeing the truth, or hearing the ring of truth in the hubbub around you.
The inspiration for a song is a morsel of magic. There is no denying that. But the heavy lifting of writing is to work and rework until the whole song is condensed into a perfectly balanced slice of life. It doesn’t matter if the meaning of the song is lost on others, they will inject their own meaning, it still must ring true to the writer and this will come through to the listener.
So this week’s blog is short. It’s also of paramount importance. If you are the writer for your band learn your craft. Learn it from the great writers. Think about their themes and their tricks to reach your soul. That’s why they are great writers and that, if you want to succeed at rock, is what you must do….
So let’s swing back to the core of what a band does to promote itself – recording music. Recording, the private, back room activity that an active band engages in, should be central to a your band’s development. You should always be setting something down on tape. This could be demos, live tracks as the band plays out, major sessions with a producer, a running project to rerecord “Dark Side of the Moon” as a salsa album or collaborations with other artists. It all counts. It is all central to being a great band and it all should be DONE WITHOUT DELAY!!! Stop fucking around and make the record.
Over the course of my career I heard the same lame excuse with sickening regularity. There are many variations but it basically goes like this ” We’re waiting for Tyrone Mablamawitz to find time in his schedule so we can work on some tracks” The key word is “waiting”. Your waiting for the studio. Your waiting to finish writing two more tracks. Your waiting for label to show some interest. Your waiting until you buy that new compressor. Your waiting for your lucky groupie to get outta rehab…..Bullshit. Why wait? Never wait. If you are going to be a band that records songs then FUCKING RECORD AND DON’T BE AN IDIOT ABOUT IT! Great records are made by bands that actually push the RECORD button. If you are too timid to do it, if you are always finding an excuse why you’re not ready, then you’re not a great band.
You have to feel the fierce urgency of NOW!
Look at it this way. You’re in a band. You have the lives of four or five people tangled up and committed to the crazy campaign to make great rock. How long can this last? How long will the band hang together? How long until someone pisses off everyone else and things change? I have thirty five years experience in this subject and I can tell you with no reservation that answer to all of those questions is “Not long at all”. All bands are temporary. The only ones that stick around for decades are the ones that make it big. Once that happens you will have already figured out that you need to get it down on tape.
All of the arguments that you are not ready don’t really add up. For example if you find yourself arguing that the tunes need to be practiced in order to have enough polish then get to it and knock out the practices. That is part of the recording process. There is a subtle but important difference between “Yeah we have just been practicing” and “We’re doing preproduction practices”. One is the humdrum pace of a band wasting its time and the other is a band working towards a short-term goal.
Let me sum up this rant. ALWAYS RECORD WHAT’S GOING DOWN IN THE BAND. It all has use and if you are not recording then you damn well better be playing out live. Oh yeah, if you are playing live you damn well better be getting some of the shows on tape. Listening back to a live shows tape is a great way to figure out that it’s time to fire the drummer or that “I’ll cry over your puppy baby” really sucks and the band should finally drop it from the set list. (which, of course, will mean you can finally fire the drummer since it is his only song)
This post looks like a few random recording topics. Since there are always lots of brief comments rattling around in my skull I will occasionally spit out these disjointed posts. I hope that they fit in with all of the other more structured posts.
How do you get good tracks in the studio? How do you make a recording really special?
Getting great tracks—
This, of course, could be a huge post with lots of subchapters and scores of stories. Tonight, at least, I am going to give a few quick and dirty tips and rules to help ensure cutting great tracks.
1. Great tracks are based on great, relaxed, well centered playing. It all starts with everyone in the band being in a great mood (by great I mean appropriate and intense in some way) Everyone should be well fed, and focused. The band should try to record at the hours where everyone involved is working at their best. If your bass player just spent 14 hours unloading UPS trucks and arrived with no sleep and utter exhausted then you are on course to cut lousy tracks. Another piece of this core idea is that you should never work really long sessions. I have seen it tried hundreds of times and it has never worked. The best tracks are always cut when the band is relatively fresh and everyone’s ears are fresh.
2. Always keep practice takes and shoot for cutting the base tracks in one or two takes. If you find yourself playing a song again and again then you either need to go back into the preproduction rehearsals or the band needs a break. The ideal session should run around 10 or twelve hours maximum. This is important. If you think you are smarter than me on this one good luck. You will spend lots of studio time banging away at the same song and the tracks will sound lame when you go back and listen with fresh ears.
At my residential studio, Morrison Hotel, I always recorded from noon til twelve with a two-hour break in the middle. During the break I would cook a big meal. Get the band loose with substances of their choosing and tell them a bunch of rock stories to get everyone in the proper mindset. 80% of the tracks on my recordings at Morrison Hotel were cut during the two or three hours after coming back from break. The really great tracks, the ones that I can look back at and say they really rock were first or second takes.
If things start to get stale while recording take a break and do something fun. Go throw snowballs at the Hookers on the Avenue or go to the piggly wiggly as a group to see what trouble comes up. Stick together but take a break. When the lead singer needs to “go for a pilgrimage into the woods for five hours then you are going to be getting a new singer soon.
3. Break the rules and experiment when you hit a roadblock. Every band finds themselves frustrated and stalled at some point while trying to record. When this happens use some strategies to break out of it and reenergize the session. I think the key here is to do something creative and impulsive. Try to rewrite a Beatles song. Record the song with the structure backwards. Cut out the chorus and try rewriting a quick and dirty version of the song with new verses and a new bridge.
Brian Eno, one of the world’s most creative producers, invented a set of cards called Oblique Strategies in the early 80’s. The purpose of these strange Tarotlike cards was to shake up the creative process. I believe you can still buy them if you are curious. They looked like a Taro set. On each one was printed a command like “Erase and Start again” or “Take a minor element and make it a primary element”. When you got stuck you cut the deck and did what it commanded. Simple, brilliant, inspired. If you want to hear the result listen to “The fly” by U2 or any of the tracks on the Talking Heads “Remain in Light”.
4. Work on the band’s sound and get it to sound amazing before you put mics on it. Yes, the recorded tracks should be cut with the best mics and compressors you possess but the secret to a great sounding recording is to get the band sounding amazing and then capturing it. The mics, compressors, recording console and effects will not create world-class recordings by themselves. They can add to the sound. They can sculpt the sound but they can’t make it sound great when it sounds like shit in the tracking room. THe first thing you do is get the drums, guitar amps, bass amps, leslie cabinets etc. sounding like the Voice of the Great God Jupiter. Once you do that it becomes a simple process of capturing the sound on tape. Another way to put it is great tracks are not created in the mix room they are created by the players themselves using gear they understand. GET IT RIGHT IN THE RECORDING ROOM FIRST. MAKE THE AMPS AND DRUMS SOUND LIKE MAGICAL SPIRITS AND THEN PUT MICS ON IT AND HIT RECORD!!! That’s the way professional, world-class records are made.
OK that sums up tonight’s advice. Of course there will be more to say in the coming weeks…. stay tuned…..
Recording with your band is damn important. In fact many musicians see recording as the core purpose of being in a band. I, on the other hand, see being in a band as a balance between the studio and the stage. So far this blog has been about the stage and touring. Now I am going to turn some of my attention to recording.
Over the past 15 years the role of recording has changed drastically. Twenty years ago making recordings which were then turned into albums was the primary road to getting rich. Having a gold or platinum album on your wall told the world that you were set, that you have made it. This has changed. The advent of downloading has destroyed the value of a successful record. I won’t bother to discuss whether this is good or bad we will just accept it and move on. In today’s music scene a band’s recordings can make them money but the real riches must come from playing live since it’s the one thing that can’t be stolen. Don’t get me wrong. Just because making a recording and then selling it to the world is no longer a way to get rich doesn’t mean that recording is in any way less important than it was in the past. Actually the opposite is true.
Recording technology has gotten ridiculously cheap. Everyone can afford it and everyone does buy it. The end result of this major change is that recording gear is largely in the hands of amateurs. I am a big fan of amateurs. I also recognize that when it comes to recording amateurs don’t really know what they are doing.
What does all this do to the music that is being put out by bands? The quality of recordings is dropping. It is also a lot less likely that someone is going to spend 2 million dollars to lock a rock band away on some island paradise to make a record. Why would they when the day the album is released it will downloaded tens of thousands of times? This is a major change. It also offers you, my reader, a golden opportunity.
Since amateurs rule the world now, being a talented, knowledgeable amateur will pay off. Any recordings that you make in today’s market are essentially promotions tools. They may make you some money but that is no longer their purpose. Instead all recordings are sermons. When someone downloads your song or pops a disc in and turns their attention to your music you have the opportunity to convert them, forever, to your religion. The religion, of course, is you and your band. (Now christian rockers don’t get all feisty over my overuse of a metaphor) How serious should you take that opportunity? Do you think you are going to get many chances with each fan?
So there it is, the new world of recording is deadly serious, and, at the same time, a brilliant opportunity. Let’s approach recording with that in mind and one, extremely important , additional attitude. As some background I have been recording music since 1977, mostly in professional situations. I have produced or produced and engineered hundred of sessions. I am not even sure what the true number is any more. In all that time I have learned one essential lesson. Recording music must be fun!
Look at it this way. There are many important things people do. Open heart surgery – very serious, extremely important, never fun. Airline Pilot same deal. Making a kicking rock record? Well that should be a party in your head. It should be a trip to the circus, a nantucket sleigh ride ,a conga line full of pranksters, a day in morning sunshine that never fails, a crystalline snapshot of talent, in short it should be awful fun. The attitude that a band has in a recording session goes down on tape as strongly as the kick drum and vocals. So for Christ’s sake loosen up and have a good time. I’m sure some of you readers are saying to yourself ‘my music isn’t fun! it’s heavy and dark’. Yeah, yeah I get it. The rule still applies. When you listen to a really great heavy, dark , monster of a record, I’m talking a record that is flawless from track to track, you are hearing a great band RULE THE WORLD. Guess what, it’s all attitude. What you are listening to is four or five egos standing in a studio, a long way from you, both in time and distance, and they are strutting their stuff and ruling the world INSIDE THAT STUDIO. Take it from me because I’ve worked on some great sessions. When a band is cutting a track like that the studio is electrified with energy, it’s their energy, the energy of the band and they know it, they know they are burning down the studio around them and, in the end, if you really look at it, it’ all attitude.
So right from the beginning you can set aside the school of recording philosophy where people spend 9 days and three hundred and twelve takes to cut a bass line. If you want to learn about recording from that angle go somewhere else.
Throughout the eighties and nineties I listened to engineers and bands crazy theories about how to record. After a few years and a thousand or so hours of studio time I started to be able to predict what a musician or engineer was going to say before they would complete the sentence and by the end of the paragraph I would know what obstacles I had to overcome by getting them to unlearn some really bad studio habits. I now have enough experience that I’ve figured out how many of these bad habits got started and why, at some other time and some other place they made sense. I will try my hardest to cover a complete list of known bad habits. I may not remember them all just sitting at my laptop but I hope if I keep writing about the studio and how records are made I will cover all of the important ones.
What kind of bad habits? Well I’ll shoot some holes in one to give you an idea of the kind of thing I will cover in this blog. Also I should point out that my studio advice is not going to be based on just telling you what not to do. I’ll strive to tell you what to do and what not to do and, most importantly, give you some reasoning to back it up. I’ve learned enough about my personality, and how this blog is shaping up to know that sometimes I’m gonna say, “DO IT THIS WAY! JUST DO IT! WHY? DON’T ASK WHY, JUST TRUST ME!”. In that case just trust me.
So let kick off the Dear Abby Column Advice For Recording Bands with one of my personal pet peeves, CLICK TRACKS. Click tracks piss me off. I have seen them terrorize scores of bands and ruin hundreds of hours of high cost studio time. I’ve seen great, talented drummers fired because of click tracks.
Now ask yourself, if you’ve had a drummer in the band for three and half years and he has been fantastic. That is to say he has been fantastic as a drummer. His inevitable run ins with the cops and his habit of small scale arson are just quirks and don’t enter into this conversation. Now ask yourself why in the name of god would you fire this guy solely because he can’t play along with a click track? I’ve seen it happen, many times. This kind of action is classic band stupidity.
Let me straighten out the record. I have an advantage on this particular topic because I was recording BEFORE click tracks became common and, of course, I have seen 25 years of click track mania. I had to listen to lots of yahoos and turd polishers lecture me why click tracks are the foundation of recording. Often, these idiots would back up their lecture with a fictitious history of the click track lecture. My reaction has always been to tell them to shut up and sit down. If this fails I point to the door and growl and, as a last desperate action have the road crew kick the stuffing out of them.
Click tracks came into the studio from DANCE RECORDS. Remember disco? Of course you don’t. If you did you’d be as old as me. Well disco was a music movement that featured a steady 4/4 beat that clocked at 60 BPM, 80BPM,100BPM and 120BPM (that’s beats per minute) There was almost no change in tempo over the course of a whole record and never a tempo change within a song. It’s tempting to say that there was no tempo change in the whole decade of disco.
Another new fad of the age of disco was the drum machine. Can you see where this is headed? No? Ok, I’ll lay it out. People were making records with drum machines playing a relentless steady beat and if that wasn’t being used they were looking for the drummer to play a relentless, unchanging, steady beat. Since this was often, very, very hard to do engineers imported an idea from the world of classical music, the metronome. As another bit of background I will confess that from aged 7 until aged 16 I played classical piano. So I am extremely familiar with the proper use of the metronome. Now think for a moment. Think of a classical orchestra, there’s the strings, the horns, the kettle drummer, the woodwinds and there up front, on a podium above the rest is a giant metronome. Wait a minute, that’s not right!? Oh yeah there is some crazy guy called a conductor in a penguin suit. He flails his arms around and has great trouble controlling his hair… yeah that’s the right picture. So why isn’t there just a giant metronome? Well, it seems that the METRONOME is a device for aiding the PRACTICE of music. What orchestras do is PERFORM music. This is quite a bit different. In fact a classical score is littered with wierd words in Italian, like accelerando, ritardando, and oddly even Rallentando and Rubato. These wierd words mean go faster, go slower and oddly, get slower and slower and you been robbed! what? What the hell does that mean? Rubato actually does mean robbed in Italian and the term is used for a tempo that is devoid of rhythm. Well that’s pretty strange isn’t it. Why would you need terms like that? After all music has a tempo and you play along with that tempo through fiery attacks of demons and assaults of fans throwing panties right? NO! Music changes time, tempo, rhythm, volume, cadence, rhyme, …I could go on for quite a while. For the sake of this blog let’s just say it gets faster and slower. Don’t believe me? Take a classic rock record and set a metronome to it. You may run across a song with flat time but you’ll also run into many where the time varies . The reason a player works with a metronome is to learn to play flat time, when it is called for. This does not mean that all music, and certainly not all rock music, is performed in flat time.
Now I’m certain that I’m going to get email from people that have used click tracks. They will argue that in order to edit together different takes the band must be playing along to a click track. Oh really? If that’s true how did every band prior to multitracking, that is too say 1969 turn out hit record after hit record using countless edits without it ever being heard? Well, actually if you spend much time editing music you start to be able to hear edits on all records but that’s beside the point.
So point one on recording, forget the damn click track. Instead the band should be gunning for just the right pacing. If the track picks up a little speed as you go into the bridge or slows down as you go to the anthemic, triumphant chorus that’s a good thing. This is the way music is played.
So now I’ve done it. I’ve started to write about work in the studio. I will continue on with this in coming weeks. I will try to talk about subtle things like getting the “right feel” on a track and nuts and bolts things like what the hell does a compressor do and why would I want that done to me?
One final topic for tonight’s blog. It’s a big one and I will get started on it and it will come up in various ways from all kinds of angles. What should my band’s recordings sound like? Seems like stupid question doesn’t it? Well, if you do a decent amount of recording you will be faced with this question repeatedly.
On this topic I have some good solid advice for any band that still hasn’t made records that sell or moved up to larger shows with packed clubs, that is to say, most of you out there in interwebland. For the forseeable future your recordings should sound like your band does live. The other side of the coin is that your live show should sound like an extremely solid recording. Even if you have a jam band this is true. As a band gets its act together (isn’t that clever use of words?? Geez i is so smart) the band should be striving to develop a strong sound and personality that defines the band on every level. Your fans should be able to hear a verse and chorus of a live tape or recorded track and say “Hey that’s Arterial Bleeding! I’d know that sound anywhere.” Yes there is a place for growing changing, throwing your audience a curve ball, going acoustic etc. but first you HAVE TO BECOME SOMETHING EXTREMELY POWERFUL AND CONCENTRATED. Your band needs to have its own sound and this sound needs to be put down on tape. As part of learning to do that I believe quite strongly that early recordings should be cut live. That is to say, everyone playing together in the studio at the same time. Don’t worry about overdubbing your way through a record. At first you should cut tracks together and, as a result, learn to play together in the studio which is a completely different “feel” from playing together live on stage or in a practice. If you’re about to record tell the engineer that you are going to set up live and cut the tracks with just a “scratch vocal as a guide track”. This will annoy him enough to keep him out of your hair and it should be a few more sessions before he finds the time and nervous energy to meddle by insisting that you add bad keyboard sounds on the chorus of every song.
If you doubt me listen to “The Who Live at Leeds” or “The Beatles Revolver”. Both albums have many edits but the sound on tape is a band playing together live and doing it ridiculously well.
I’ve gotten quite a few requests to write about Labels. Record Labels that is. Most of the requests come from readers that would like me to discuss how you start a label. This is a topic I know a great deal about since I started a few along the way. In many ways the reasons I had for starting up a label had more to do with advancing the interests of a particular act rather than owning a powerhouse label that helped decide what played out of your radio. The last label I founded was called Absolute A Go Go Records (’87). It was far and away the most serious and successful of the labels I either helped start (Incas records ’83) or started on my own (precedent records ’81) For a good portion of my life owning a label was like being in a band or going on tour, it was just what you did. Everyone did it, didn’t they?
Looking back I now realize that starting up a record label had a long and honorable history and the era that I was a part of, the rise of that evil movement ALT ROCK, has more in common with the way bands become successful now in the internet age than the 40’/50’s R & B single jukebox era. That means that the promotions and distribution problems I encountered are essentially the same ones you’ll run into now.
So here we come to the question, how do you start a label? I am going to approach the question from the angle that you, the reader, would like me to explain, in detail, how to actually set a label up and run it.
It’s quite simple. Make up a name, like MegaMonsterHit Records and go to your county government office. There you fill out a form saying that you are starting a business. Hmm, now you gotta check those little government generated boxes, Sole proprietorship? (this means you’re the boss and the only boss. You’re the label and the label is you) Partnership? (You and your buddy(ies) are gonna own it which means you will eventually want to kill each other ) Corporation Sub Chap S? (this is like a baby corporation. Until you have a relationship with an ACCOUNTANT this is not the way you will go) or finally Corporation. (Yes, that evil giant octopus business that is part of the conspiracy to destroy the world. Once again you don’t want this until your ACCOUNTANT gives you a good reason why). Now that you’ve got that over you give the county people $25 bucks (about) and they give you a business certificate. This is just a piece of paper that lets you walk into a bank and open a checking account. So go do that and come back. I’ll wait. Ok, now you’re in business…let’s move on.
Soon you will need a bar code. That the little box with lines in it that you scan at check out. Without this item you can’t get your CD’s in any real store. The real name for this little baby is UPC code.
Here’s a link that covers that topic: http://guides.wsj.com/small-business/starting-a-business/how-to-get-upc-codes-for-your-products-2/
It can cost you about $750 bucks to get your own bar code. So you put that off until you absolutely have to do it. Remember though that it takes about 6 weeks to get one. That can feel like an eternity when you are waiting to launch a record. There are also some businesses out there that will give you a bar code using there master bar code number. This means you can get one for $50. That’s ok for your first release but if you are really gonna sell records you will need a bar code for your label. if you’re a hyper christian and you believe that the bar code systems is the mark of the devil and that is all controlled by the anti-christ then I suggest you write a few hit singles that say exactly how upset you are about it and that should balance some of your bad karma.
So now you’ve got the tools to actually do business and create a product. As I write this, physically manufacturing CDs is still essential. Sixty percent of music that is sold is still on CDs rather than downloads so for the foreseeable future you will be in the business of making CDs.
Now we got to stop and ask some basic questions.
Why are you starting this label? Is it just to promote your own band? Is it to help you make a mark on the local scene? Are you aiming to work your way into the big labels as a career? Are you starting your label with the ambition to become the next Richard Branson and build a mega monster multinational business. All of these are good reasons and there are quite a few more.
To add to these questions you’ve got to ask yourself are you going to sign other bands? Are you going to produce? All of the answers to these questions are going to help determine what you do to make your label successful. For this blog I’ll assume that you are starting the label to release your own band, release projects that you produce and with the ambition for the label to continue on after you’ve reached enlightenment and become a eerie ball of light that we all worship. I won’t follow this through all the way to the part where Mr. Spock does the mind meld with you and you bugger Simon Cowell.
So now you’ve got a label, and I’ll make another assumption and say you’ve got an album mixed waiting to be released. This is going to be the big step up as you launch your label and rise to fame. We’ll also assume that your band gigs regularly and that you can gig in a couple of cities within spitting distance of your home base.
So you’ve finished the record now you scratch together $750 and send the project to disc makers with a list of songs for them to put on the back and a picture of the band ROCKING THE WORLD for the cover. WRONG. You are far from ready to put the record out.
There are numerous things that you gotta do before you release a record. Skipping any of them is a good way to insure that your small chance of selling lots of records becomes much smaller. If you do follow these tips you will be set up for a decent shot at selling enough CD’s to get your money back, which is the key to running a label for longer than one month. If you just wish to blow $4000 on putting out a CD and you’re dying to have 2000 copies of the CD in your mom’s basement for the rest of eternity then you should just plow ahead.
Things to do to set up a release, either your own band or any band you sign to your label.
1. Have the finished, mixed down, album MASTERED. This means that a MASTERING STUDIO will take the recordings and change the EQ and Compression. They will make sure all the songs are at the same level and are as LOUD AS POSSIBLE. (this is a modern mastering thing and for rock it’s a must) They will make sure that all of the mixes blend together from the standpoint of playback EQ. This is essential. It will make the difference between an OK sounding demo and a POLISHED ALBUM THAT WILL ROCK THE WORLD. I will probably cover what you should do during MASTERING and how, on a basic level, it is done on another night. Great MASTERING STUDIOS are extremely expensive. You can’t afford them. Don’t worry about it. If you post a comment looking for a reasonable mastering studio I will email you a couple of names. You should be able to get a project MASTERED on the cheap for about $500. If you know a really good, pro studio with nice pro gear you can ask the engineer to Fix your record. Take it from me, they always need fixing. DO NOT USE THE SAME STUDIO WHERE YOU MIXED. If you do it is generally a waste of your money.
2. Plan and Design the CD cover art. This must involve someone that understands graphic arts and printing. Creating a great CD cover takes as much talent as writing a great song. Your package should stand out when it is in the CD rack. It should look professional and IT SHOULD SAY SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR BAND IT SHOULD HELP GIVE YOU AN IMAGE AND MAKE THE BAND LOOK SUCCESSFUL. Look at the covers of bands that are in your style of music. Which ones are great? Why? Imagine the CD cover as a T Shirt. Is it a smokin’ T Shirt that will make your girlfriend look like a million bucks? Some labels have built up the label image by having every release for the label have a certain “look” to the CD art. 4AD in England and Dischord in the US are two labels that used this trick to make the label famous and help the artists sell.
Part of the artwork process is working out credits and liner notes. I personally believe that a CD package that has something to read, something that fills out the band’s aura and image is a great help in turning a casual listener into a hardcore fan. Lots of bands have done this kinda thing well, look at Beatles (after Revolver), Rolling Stones (69 -79, with Sticky Fingers perhaps being one of the greatest LP packages ever), Pink Floyd, Genesis (Lamb Lies down on Broadway) The Clash (Sandinista)…….
3. Prepare a promo list. What’s a promo list? It is a list of names and addresses of writers, promoters and radio stations. You must compile this list before you send the record out to be manufactured. You also need to set aside some money to pay for postage. If you don’t do these two things before you order the record they will not get done later and the record will do nothing to help you get famous or help your label survive and flourish. It’s ok to only set aside $200 bucks it doesn’t have to be 3 grand. But you must spend some money promoting the record. It is better to order less copies at first, like 500 instead of a thousand in order to free up some money to promote the record. Not having enough records to sell is NEVER A PROBLEM. If you put out a record that goes wild and starts selling like cookies at a fat farm you will order more and they will arrive and that will be that. Never worry about how many copies you ordered. Only worry about how you are going to sell them. My record label Absolute A Go Go Records would always give away at least 750 copies of every release, usually more. You want to send copies to any writer that writes about bands like yours, any college station that plays any rock at all, any promoter that fits into the band’s current plans for expansion. Don’t send records to big commercial radio stations. Don’t send records to Rolling Stone. Don’t send records to promoters that are far outside the circuit that you have set up by following the instructions from my earlier blogs.
Ok so now you have done these things because you are crazy enough to believe me. (I did after all do this kinda thing for about fifteen years) There are a few things that you need to understand in order to run a record label. It doesn’t matter if the label is for your stuff or for band’s you find in the frozen food freezer at Wal Mart these are fundamental truths.
First, nine out of ten records will not sell. This applies to your band as well. Face up to it or you will never succeed at rock. Most of the records that you release will only serve as a very expensive but necessary calling card to help that particular band’s career. Get used to this idea before you spend your first nickel. If you don’t you are gonna end up depressed and walk away from something that you could have done successfully if you had the correct attitude.
Like I just said most records don’t sell. You should be trying hard to sell them but in the end if you sell enough to break even, lose a little cash or make a little cash then you are doing it right. That can’t be right!!! Well it’s true. Let me explain why. If you look at any label that survives and perhaps thrives they have operated in this manner. The secret here is that when you release ten records and nine of them flop you still have one that sells. The one that sells will make mountains of money and will pay for the other nine, plus a month in Rio, a new Mercedes and the legal fees from the lawsuit that the successful act’s drummer creates when he supplies Jack Daniels to his hometown middle school. Get used to this fact or don’t start a label. If the act that goes big is your band, great! Congratulations! But the odds are against it. If, on the other hand, your band releases 6 albums over five years and finally the last one sells well then the label served its purpose. The most likely way your band will make it big is to slowly, steadily become popular and grow to the point where a great song can become a hit record.
In a music market where downloads are rampant and will continue to be a fact of life it will be extremely hard to make money with a label. Instead you need to view the label and the CD’s it releases as a machine that helps the bands get ahead. The real cash will come from concerts.
Since this is the new reality it is only a matter of time before labels will demand, and get, a cut of the band’s live money. Perhaps your label will be the one that rewrites that part of the Rock Book.
This brings me to another point. The price of your new releases WILL BE $4.99 or $5.99!!!! This is not negotiable. Each release that is over a year old will be priced at $3.99!!!! The days when CD’s sold for $15.00 or $20.00 are over. The major labels will realize this fact when they are dead and buried. You need to realize it now.
Two years ago a Blue Grass band called Fetish Lane ended up hanging out at my house after a concert. They hung around drinking heavily and playing old country songs on guitar, fiddle and banjo. Nice guys living the dream of being Hillbillies. (I’m not sure what planet this dream comes from) This band played lots of hippy festivals during the summer. They had a couple of CD’s out and they were bragging about the fact that their CD’s sold about 2000 each per year. In Hillbilly land 2000 records is almost a gold record. With the cost of recording and manufacturing the CD and paying the girlfriend that hauled the merchandise table around they figured that they were making about $5000 a year on CD sales. Like everyone else they sold their CDs for $15. I was in a preachy mood so I ended up arguing with them until the sun came up about the price of their CD. Since they were living the Hillbilly Dream they did the idiotic thing and decided to listen to me. They lowered the price of their CD to $4.99. In the next year they sold TEN TIMES THE CDs! They made four times the money and, most importantly, they had TWENTY THOUSAND fans listening to the CD. Fans started buying extra copies for friends and relatives. If you are selling your CD for $3.99 you are doubling your money on each sale since even the most expensive CD pressing deal will cost a lot less than $2.00 per disc to manufacture and package. The idea that something you buy for a buck or two, must sell for $15 or $20 is insane. Most other businesses are happy if they can make 10 or 20 percent. The music business screams bloody murder if they don’t make 1500% or 2000% on their product. Smarten up. If you sell your CD for five bucks kids will buy it to support the band and not bother with the hassle of downloading it and ending up with a burnt disc with no art.
More on running a label in future blogs………………………………………………………………….