Distributing an Indie Music Album - Part 1

... or "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the 'net."

So...  last month we finally got back the final, final masters of the album from Tyler at Number 7 Records.   I sat there staring at the master, with the thought running through my head: "Now what?" 

I had a pretty good idea, actually.  We had long ago decided to go with Discmakers for our duplication needs.  I say duplication, because our small order (short-run) did not make cost sense for replication, a process where by discs are stamped from a "glass master" disc.   On batches of less than 1000 units, burning CD-Rs is the way to go.  

I had decided on CD's in full jewel-cases over digipacks or slim-cases for a couple of reasons.  Mainly, though, it was for the ability to print an insert.  We wanted to put the lyrics and some other info in the package, and a clear-backed jewel case was the way to go.  This way, we had a front cover, back cover, inside tray and four-page insert to work with.  

Discmakers makes a short run a piece of cake, actually.  The hardest part was finalizing the art.   It had been designed months ago (with the help of Joel Klampert, who you should contact if you need any graphics work), but I had to fit it to the specific templates for the packaging we wanted. 

There was a lot of trial and error involved, because I had to be sure the art would be rendered at the exact correct size at the exact correct resolution of 300dpi.  I put the GIMP through it's paces, and it didn't let me down.  For short runs, Discmakers requests art in PDFs, which was easy.   I was glad for that - for larger batches they require CMYK images, and GIMP only supports RGB.  I didn't want to have to buy Photoshop to do this.  

Finally, it was time to upload everything.   Tyler had given me two different masters: an audio CD, and a disc with 16-bit PCM wavs.   Why 16-bit and not a higher rate?   Good question, for which there is a good answer.  Compact discs are pretty much old-school tech.  They are encoded at a 16-bit rate. So 16 is the best bitrate to encode your files at for making audio CDs - that way the burning software doesn't have to interpolate anything.  Everything is encoded from the DAW exactly as it is going to go on the CD.  And obviously, wavs are used because they are lossless.  (NEVER use mp3 files!!!) 

It was a simple (if lengthy) process to upload the files.  The wavs are pretty large, and each one has to upload, and then be verified by listening to it once it's uploaded.  The art has to be uploaded and then fit into the online templates.  Discmakers' website is very easy to use in this regard, and you can go back and forth throughout the project.   The whole thing took about two hours, all-told.  

After that, it's making distribution choices (more on that later) and setting up payment.  Stare at the screen a while.  Pray.  Stare at the screen some more.  Recheck everything.   Look at the clock- 2AM, May 7.   Press "Submit."   Yes, I'm sure.  (No I'm not.)   Please write down your order number.  

I didn't sleep well that night.  Did I set up the artwork right?  Did I listen to every second of every song? Did I spell all the lyrics right, get the copyright info correct?   The next (same) morning, there was a confirmation.  Your order will arrive no later than May 25.  Another email (the same day!)  Your order is in production.  Another one - here's your UPC number.  Another - here's your CDBaby login.  

Two days later, we were live on Digstation.   On May 14th, one week after I submitted the order, I got an email that the order had shipped.  It arrived at my house on May 17th, one week earlier than promised.  I was sweating as I opened the package.  And there they were: perfect.  Exactly as designed, exactly as planned, exactly as ordered.   

I wrote all that to say this:  that getting a CD professionally manufactured is no longer out of reach of anyone.  Do your homework, check your references.  We used Discmakers, but there are a lot of choices out there.   

A future post will go over the distribution options, including setting up an online store like this one.  
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  1. tons of congrats to you again!

  2. Fred, thanks so much.

    And I've STILL got that song in my head. I wanna play it, so you need to come up!


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