Another QuarterNote Heard From

Bill Sutton

home | new | faq | editorial | resources | community

Second CD

August 27 2001 Thanks to very specific comments, pointers, and hints from Eli Goldberg and others, I have made some Very Important Updates to this article, starting here.

Before starting this installment, I'd like to thank everyone for their comments and input on the last column. Check it out for other viewpoints and some really good hints from different people with experience!

This column will deal with making enough copies of your magnum opus for everyone who wants one. Nowadays, that could be as simple as converting your sound information to an mp3 and putting it out on the internet. Quick, cheap, but not likely to reach everyone you'd like to reach. It also isn't very likely to help you pay for all the work and workers and equipment used in the earlier steps.

You will probably want to use some form of mass physical duplication, so that your work can be picked up by anyone walking by, whether they have or use internet access or not. Most people expect CDs, though some still prefer cassettes.

Once more, the choices are to do it yourself or to have someone else do your duplication. Considering that I know no individual who can afford to buy plastic injection-mold equipment for manufacturing CDs, or bulk tape insertion machines for making mass cassettes, doing it yourself would mean using CD-Rs and/or copying your cassettes a few at a time.

The advantage of this is that you can make exactly what you need when you need it. It can be a bit less expensive per unit depending on how expensive you choose to go with your duplication equipment and how many blank cassettes or CD-Rs you buy.

The disadvantages are at a quality and consistency level. While a CD-R contains exactly the same information as a CD, it is created through a heat process rather than a molding process. This makes it more susceptible to temperature extremes.

There are also contents disadvantages to high-speed duplication of CD-Rs and cassettes. The higher the speed of duplication for a cassette the more of the music a fraction-of-a-second glitch in the copy process will affect. For a CD-R, higher speeds make it more likely that a buffer underrun will occur when transferring data from the source, whether hard drive or existing CD. Generally, more expensive equipment can get around these problems - but when you reach a certain point, it may be cheaper to switch to professional duplication.

If you decide to do your own duplication, try to get the best equipment that you can. A standard component stereo dual tape deck might have one deck running slow and the other running fast, for example. This would cause the resulting tape to be much slower than the master. If you know someone with studio grade equipment, borrow it if possible.

By the same token, just having a PC with a CD-R may not be sufficient to produce good quality CDs. Without going into too many geeky details, you want to make sure that you have a huge amount of memory for storing data before it goes out to the CD-R. You also should install SCSI (pronounced "skuzzy") disk drives and CD-R drives. Make sure your drives are defragmented before you start. You will want to test your setup to see what write speed delivers consistent results. Until you're certain, you will need to listen to each CD to make sure it isn't filled with clicks/pops/static due to buffer delays that weren't severe enough to cause your software to stop.

If you choose to have someone else do your duplication, shop around. Prioritize the following list and look for duplicators that meet your criteria:

  • Location: Does the duplicator need to be close enough that you can drop off material and pick up finished product?
  • Range of Services: Are some of these things important:
    • Shrink wrap
    • Printing services
    • Bar code availability
    • Distributor connections
    • Ecologically sound packaging
    • Enhanced CD duplication
    • Combined packages (cassette and CD)
    • Spine stickers
    • Ability to insert material printed elsewhere
  • Price: Don't forget to rank price in there!
  • Speed: You may pay more if you need things right away, so give yourself plenty of time.

Check with other people who have produced CDs. Ask them to be honest and to tell you what they liked best and least about the duplicator they worked with.

At this point, I have to put in an unabashed free plug for Oasis CD Duplication. You should visit their web site no matter what you are considering, because they have the most comprehensive package of information of any of the web-enabled vendors I have checked out. Their documents walk you through the process so completely that it doesn't matter how little you might know - everything seems to be there.

Anywho ...

No matter how you do the duplication itself, you need to think about the packaging. If you're only going to sell CDs from stage or from the filk circle, or if you're going to do most of your distribution electronically, then a simple presentation with a one-sheet cover insert might be enough. If you are going to try to get connected with a distributor, or you want your CD to stand out among all the other CDs on a dealer table, then you'll want to make your packaging more eye-catching and easier to handle.

Most people aren't buying the CD for the insert, though the cover art itself is an extremely important factor. This is another thing to be aware of if you want to do retail outlet sales, though - some places require that the lyrics be available. The typical way to do this is to print the lyrics in the insert booklet. Obviously, this adds an expense, but lyrics are always appreciated, especially in the filk world where people are always learning others' material.

You may choose to have the duplicator simply do the CDs themselves and send them to you in otherwise empty jewel cases. You have your insert (don't forget something for the tray card!) printed somewhere else and then spend many happy and mindless hours stuffing CDs. Of course, you could just do the number you need at any given time and store the rest away. Whatever works.

The other option is to have everything done at the duplicator. This is the only way to get a final product that is shrink-wrapped and has that annoying spine sticker across the top (assuming you don't have your own shrink wrap equipment, of course). If you have a local printer you want to use, then you should check with the duplicator to see if they can handle inserting material printed somewhere else. They will often charge something for this, and will charge extra fees if the material doesn't meet exact specifications, so pay very close attention to the requirements of your duplicator.

If you expect to get your product into retail outlets other than convention dealers' rooms, you will need to have a bar code. You're supposed to get your own bar code prefix from the Uniform Code Council, but many duplicators now provide a bar code for free or for a slight extra charge. Even though the UCC fee is one-time-only, it is certainly not cost-effective to pay $750 for your own bar code prefix unless you expect to produce a lot more than just one or two titles.

So, now you have a bunch of CDs and/or cassettes in your basement. How do you get rid of them?

Be prepared to send promotional copies to radio stations that feature your kind of music. Most cities have a folk music show, for instance. Contact them to get more leads and send more copies out. (See for an exceptional tutorial.) If there is one particular song you want to feature, mention it specifically, by track number as well, in your cover letter. If you have funny songs, send a copy to Dr. Demento and to these other shows that feature humorous music.

Finding a distributor might be a bit more difficult. The Orchard is one that is web accessible. I should point out that some clients have found their payments to be slow to non-existant. I have personally decided to give them a try - contact me if you want an update.

There are also some direct-web-retail solutions, including CD Baby and You might want to set up your own web site for sales, using something like PayPal or some other payment system. Oh, yes - don't forget to contact Filk dealers to see if they want to carry your stuff.

Expect a distributor to want to pay 30-45% of retail for your recordings. If you are selling directly to the dealer, you should be able to get 60% of retail. This varies greatly depending on the size of the distributor and dealer, so calculate carefully. If each CD costs you $5 total (recording, production, packaging) and your suggested retail is $16, a deal that gets you 30% ($4.80) means you lose $.20 on each CD you sell.

This is the 21st century. Any promotion or distribution must include the internet. I would not personally recommend using this as your only means of distribution - it's too hard to recoup your expenses, and you certainly won't approach making a living at it - but it is an excellent promotional tool.

If you're concerned about illegal copies, use services that only allow streaming access. is a good place to start. You can encode mp3s using a number of software packages. One big tip - use the ID3 header to store your copyright information. Yes, it's electronic, it can be changed, but at least you've made the effort to protect your work.

Next column: Planning and preparation

Previous columns:

Contact Bill

Comment Publicly in the Another QuarterNote forum!

Bill Sutton has been active in performing his own and others' music in public for fun and profit ... well, fun anyway ... for over 25 years. His column appears regularly fairly regularly when time permits sometimes as part of The Dandelion Report.

Copyright ©2001 Bill Sutton. All rights reserved.