Making Your Own CD: It's really not as hard as you'd think

By Jim Cocke

Have you ever thought to yourself: "God has blessed our church with some talented musicians and singers. It would be awesome if our group or choir could release our own CD. Naw...it’s too hard, too expensive. You have to be more ‘professional’ to do that. I don’t even know where to begin."?

Good news! Recording and manufacturing your very own CD or cassette project, with the same professional quality of a major publisher or record label is easier and less expensive than you think!

Whether you’ve been through the process before, or you need to start at CD manufacturing 101, I hope the following tips will help you along the way and inspire you to produce your own project.

RECORDING

Technology has made recording easier and less expensive than ever before. Ask around and see if anyone in your congregation has connections. Even "home" studios these days are capable of a professional quality recording. Visit the studio before you decide. Ask if they have recorded any groups similar to yours. Discuss your needs and get a cost estimate. Ask about "Block rates" which can sometimes be a better deal. Pick a studio that’s right for your project. A less expensive studio may meet your needs better than a high dollar facility. Talk to the audio engineer at your church. In some cases, your church might have the equipment available to make a good recording.

It’s important to be as efficient as possible with your studio time. Remember: time is money in a recording studio. Be prepared! Rehearse the songs BEFORE you go into the studio. Develop a game plan beforehand that will make the best use of your time. Choose songs that are well within the talent level of your group. Minor mistakes that go undetected in live performance can stick out like a sore thumb on tape! If you wrote your own songs, it is best to obtain a copyright prior to recording. Check your local library or the internet for the proper forms and more information. If you are recording songs written by others, for example choral music or popular praise and worship songs, it is best to contact the publisher of each song prior to recording to obtain the necessary licenses. If possible, record a few more songs than you plan to include on the project. Inevitably, things sound different after they are recorded and you will have the freedom to pick and choose your best performances.

MASTERING

Mastering includes sequencing songs in the correct order and adding, correcting or changing any last minute details. Most studios can do your mastering for you. The preferred master for duplication is a Recordable Compact Disc. (CD-R). VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure you listen to the master thoroughly before you send it to a manufacturer for duplication. Mistakes can occur at the studio! You want to make sure that what you are duplicating is exactly what you want. If making cassettes, be sure to indicate the Side A/B split point.

CHOOSING A CD/CASSETTE MANUFACTURER

You can find many audio manufacturers advertised in most music-related magazines, in your local yellow pages or on the internet. Due to the number of variables involved, pricing can sometimes be confusing. Some manufacturers have all-inclusive "package" deals. These are often economical but may not fit the needs of your project. Ask about any "hidden" charges like shipping, or "fill deviation." This market is very competitive so most manufacturers are willing to deal. Send a written quote from one company to another and ask if they can beat the price. ALWAYS get a written price quote before you begin the order. Most companies will require a deposit with the balance due on receipt. A manufacturer is going to ask questions about quantity, packaging, inserts and artwork (see below) in order to provide you an accurate quote. Make sure you have the proper information available prior to shopping around.

QUANTITY

Most companies will manufacture as low as 300 units with price breaks at 500, 1000, 2000, etc. Usually 1000 units is where the price begins to be the most economical. For example: My company sells 500 packaged CDs at $750.00 while 1000 is only $440.00 more. Plus, the industry standard for printing CD inserts is a 1000 minimum, so even if you manufacture fewer CDS, you still have to pay for art, film and printing of 1000 inserts.

PACKAGING

Unless you are doing a very large quantity, a standard jewel box with insert and wrap is the most economical and popular packaging. If you are not concerned with "fancy" packaging you can save some money by not including a printed insert and package the CDs in a paper or cardboard sleeve. Different CD manufacturers have different packaging in stock so ask what the most economical packaging is to meet your needs.

INSERTS

If you are packaging in a standard jewel box, there are several insert sizes to choose. Unless you have an unusual amount of images and text (such as lyrics) to include in your artwork, I would suggest a 4 panel CD insert. A 4 panel insert is one page folded, (like a birthday card), giving plenty of room for several graphics and a good amount of text. CD inserts always come with a "traycard"- the insert that fits in the back of the jewel box. To save money, use a 4/1 print. (Outside color, inside B&W). You’ll need to decide the number of colors you want to imprint on the actual CD itself. Two colors are standard for most manufacturers, and I’ve found are usually sufficient for an attractive design.

ARTWORK

This is the most confusing aspect of CD manufacturing, so do your homework before you begin the project. There are three steps to producing a finished CD or Cassette insert: 1)art design, 2) film output and 3) printing. Most manufacturers can do all 3 steps for you or you can provide any of the appropriate materials directly to the manufacturer. If providing your own art materials, make certain that you follow the manufacturer’s exact specifications.

1. Art work design: This is taking your photos, ideas, credits, lyrics, concepts, etc. and designing them (usually using a computer graphics program) to the exact specifications of a CD/cassette insert. Unless you or someone you know has experience designing specifically for CD inserts, I would strongly advise that you let the manufacturer’s experienced graphic art department design the project for you. A good graphic artist’s goal is to accurately recreate your vision for the project. Give them as much detailed information as possible. Can’t come up with any ideas? Go through your CD collection. What kinds of things do you like? Does your church have a cool logo? How about some photos of your group in action? Work with your graphic artist to bring the best ideas together. Be sure to proof your artwork completely before going to print.

2. Film and color proofs: Film negative and color proofs are generated and used to make the plates for printing.

3. Printing: Your church may have a relationship with a printer, however I would suggest that you have the manufacturer quote the printing for you. Most CD printers use the industry standard CMYK, 4-color process printing method, and "gang" several projects together to help cut costs. Also, by printing with the CD manufacturer, you are assured that the inserts will be to the proper specifications.

TURN TIME Most CD jobs can take as little as two weeks or as long as six weeks depending on what services are needed and manufacturer work load. (October - December is traditionally a busy time for audio manufacturers due to Christmas products.) Always coordinate any deadlines with your manufacturer and have them give you an estimated due date. Be proactive! Call your customer service rep throughout the process to check on your project.

CD projects are a great way to promote the music ministry within your church or remember a special event like a Christmas program. Most projects are so economical that by selling your CD’s at $10.00 to $15.00 each, you can easily pay back the recording and manufacturing costs and use the profit as a fundraiser.

Most of all, your music on CD is a practical way to spread your message of Jesus Christ through song. And isn’t that what music ministry is all about?

Jim Cocke is the worship leader at North Highlands Bible Church in Dallas, Texas, and is head of sales at Crystal Clear Sound Audio Manufacturing. He can be reached

at (800) 880-0073 or via e-mail at: jim@crystalclearsound.com.