CD Manufacturing Woes
I released my first record in 2008. The whole thing was recorded in my bedroom and I had a small run of about 300 CDs made up. Most manufacturers will do a small run, with the downside being that the CDs are actually CD-Rs. That worked for me at the time though, and the process was extremely easy. I used the manufacturer’s templates to make my own art, uploaded the artwork and audio files, and in a few weeks my first CDs arrived. It was an exciting moment. There’s nothing like opening your very first box of CDs. All the hard work and practice suddenly is this tangible thing you can hold in your hand and be proud of.
So last year when I raised the money to record a full band CD through a fundraising site I was ecstatic. Being in a real studio with a producer and incredible musicians was a long held dream, finally realized. At the same time, there were so many costs I hadn’t even considered aside from the initial studio fees, like mastering and manufacturing. Even though money was very tight, I decided that I was going to get this record made properly. After all, it would be silly to spend the money to record a real album, only to skimp on the physical product.
So I scrounged up the money somehow, and ordered 1,000 commercial audio CDs. The process was much more complicated and time consuming than I had anticipated. Everything took much longer than I expected and I began to panic a little bit as my release date was rapidly approaching and I didn’t have a product to sell.
But when those boxes arrived at my apartment, I was like a kid at Christmas. I could hardly wait to open the boxes and pull out my brand-new CDs. Unfortunately, the initial excitement wore off far too quickly. The art I had sent had many subtle details that showed up clearly in the proofs I was given, but most of that detail was lost when the packaging was manufactured. I was disappointed, but still excited enough that I immediately gave a copy to a good friend and fellow musician without even listening to it first.
Now I’m not going to name any names because both the manufacturer and I were at fault to some degree, but what happened next was a literal nightmare. My friend told me that there were popping noises between every track. At that point I was in a full-blown panic. My CD release party was a week away and I was out of money. I cried… a lot, and anyone who knows me will vouch that I’m not a big one with the tears.
I spoke with the manufacturer and they offered a compromise of re-pressing the CDs at cost, with the condition that I would have to repack each CD in the cases I had already received, and I wouldn’t be allowed to sell any at my CD release show since the new CDs would not be ready in time. That option just wouldn’t work for me. I had to give my fans something after the long wait for my album, and even at cost, purchasing 1,000 new CDs was almost as expensive as scrapping what I had and starting over. Since I was unhappy with how the artwork turned out, that option just didn’t make sense, and that was all the manufacturer was willing to do.
So I printed out a bunch of homemade stickers telling fans where they could download digital copies of the album, stuck the stickers on the back of the CDs, and sold them. I spent all night explaining the situation to friends and fans. I still had a great time playing the show, but it was a struggle.
After the release party, I was relieved that at least the digital version was fine and I could sell copies of the album through iTunes and other digital distributors. At the same time, I was frustrated that I couldn’t send the CDs out to press contacts or promote the album properly. I had no recourse, no money, no options. I can’t imagine what I would have done without my family. They heard what happened and decided to pay for new CDs. I was both grateful and humbled. It’s hard to be an adult and not be able to stand on your own two feet. Oh the things we do for music.
Needless to say, I went with a different manufacturer and I now have beautiful CDs with perfectly printed artwork and flawless audio. Here are a few lessons I learned for anyone thinking about CD replication.
- Make sure the company you use offers audio proofs. The first manufacturer I used didn’t provide audio proofs. If only they had, this whole mess could have been avoided.
- Know the reputation of the company you’re hiring. Talk to other people who have made CDs. Find out who they recommend and why.
- Leave yourself enough time before your release date. Don’t even plan a release date until you have the CDs in your hands. And once you do have the CDs in hand, give yourself at least 3 months before the release date to properly promote it.
- If things go nightmarishly wrong, think outside the box and don’t be afraid to ask your friends for help.
My very good friend and an excellent singer/songwriter, Lara Ewen, came up with the brilliant idea to use the faulty CDs in a photo shoot. I now have some incredibly cool photos with hundreds of CDs. Being an indie musician, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever have another chance to just throw hundreds of CDs around in a photo shoot. As my friend Robyn Shepherd put it, “what could be more satisfying, more decadent, than destroying your own artistic efforts on film?”
So perhaps the most important lesson I learned through all this, is that there’s always a way to turn something around. It’s the old adage, when life gives you lemon, make lemonade (but I’ll take a whiskey).
Photos by Nathaniel Johnston of NJohnston Photography