making the cd

This is dull stuff, even if you were in Said Liquidator, but it might be of interest if you're planning your own release so here are my notes on how to manufacture and release your own CD.

Planning
I reviewed all of the Said Liquidator recordings in their various formats; DAT, audio compact cassette, vinyl and quarter inch reel to reel masters to find the best performance of all songs I considered worth releasing that were of an acceptable sound quality. Generally, performance of a song took precedence over the quality of the recording for example, there was an early studio version of 'Fey Charms' of better sonic quality than the one included on the CD release but the performance of the one chosen was so much more together and the vocal and woodwind sounded more assured that sound quality was a sacrifice worth making.

 

Master tapes and how to convert from analogue to digital
I gathered together the best quality sources for all songs. Where possible, I went back to the quarter inch masters and DATs of the band's studio recordings. Graham at Audio Restored handled all of the transfers of analogue music to digital. There was no master tape for 'How To Smile' so he had to take it from vinyl. To complicate matters, I discovered a small pressing fault on every copy of the record (it wasn't evident in the 1980s when I listened on my all in one midi system!). Graham removed this during the transfer process using an electronic filter and a manual edit.

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Transferring vinyl to digital at Audio Restored in Essex

Master Tapes and How to Bake Them
There were major issues with the quarter inch tapes. Graham told me they simply 'squealed' when he tried to play them. This was due to the effect of moisture absorption by the binder that holds the magnetic particles to the tape. However, being a man of science, Graham was able to bake the tapes for 24 hours in an industrial oven that ensured the temperature never went above 50 degrees. This temporarily reverses the problem and keeps the ferric layer on the tape and not smudging them onto the heads of the tape player. After baking, he was able to play the tapes and make a digital copy.

Transferring Audio Cassettes
The live songs on the finished CD were all taken from audio cassettes. Again, they were transferred to digital by Graham who used specialist software to reduce the hiss and boom without removing the natural feel of the recordings.

Mastering
Tim at Stone Premonitions worked with all the master tapes to reduce tape hiss and boost or reduce certain frequencies to make the sound work more evenly across the sonic spectrum for example more mid, more bass, less top etc. Put simply; give it more kick. Another technique to achieve 'kick' is to apply compression to reduce the difference in volume between quiet and loud sections - enabling the overall sound to be louder, but if overdone the dynamics can be flattened. There has to be scope for the contrast of loud to quiet. If everything is loud it sounds unnatural and is tiring to listen to.

Comparing the original versions with Tim's mastered versions, I think he got the most out of what there was to work with. He was often constrained by the sonic quality of the master tape i.e. the live cassettes. Working with material that was recorded in studios and was on Digital Audio Tape format (DAT) seemed to be more straightforward, but every song had to be treated individually so the degree of noise reduction and compression applied to every song varied. It wasn't possible to remove all hiss otherwise there was a risk of losing the dynamics when the top end is squeezed down.

Length and Sequence of Each Song
Tim also had to do some painstaking editing to extract the precise passage of music I wanted from the live tapes. Finally, he put the tracks in the correct running order and set the gap between each one and added title text for each song - this will display on your CD player if it offers the facility.

Digital Aggregation
Once the tracks were mastered, even though I was doing a CD release, I decided it was worth making a selection of the songs available as downloads but this required a distributor to get it to the main retailers. I used ReverbNation for this. By paying them $35 per year, they will distribute the songs to the 34 major download platforms (including Amazon, iTunes, HMV, Spotify etc). It took between 1 and 6 weeks for the distribution to complete so this had to be scheduled well ahead of the CD release date.

 

Reverb Nation offer various extras on their site, even without subscribing you can set up a store and sell downloads and various other merchandise such as t-shirts, CDs and even ringtones so if you're planning. I didn't go too far investigating that so I'm not sure if the terms are favourable or not. Regarding the 'digital aggregation' I did subscribe to; that costs $35 per year and when I don't want to continue it will cost a further $30 to terminate - they say they have to remove the songs manually.

 

Said Liquidator on ReverbNation: http://www.reverbnation.com/saidliquidator

 

CD Manufacturing
Before a CD can be pressed, the manufacturer needs proof that you own the copyright for the songs in the form of an AP2 license obtained from MCPS. Details are available on the Performing Rights Society pages:

http://www.prsformusic.com/creators/membership/how_it_works/musicregpolicy/Pages/musicregpolicy.aspx

 

The process is pedantic, but filling in song and composer details using the online form didn't take long. When scheduling your release, it's necessary to factor in the 3-4 weeks it for them to grant the license.

I used http://www.wyastone.co.uk/nimbus-disc-print to manufacture my CD. It cost £681 for 200 of the Said Liquidator two CD sets. This included colour labels, an 8 page colour booklet, inlay card, twin jewel case and shrink wrap finish. The price was dependent upon variables like the number of pages in the accompanying booklet. They provided a specification for all of the artwork, which had to be very precise and took a number of attempts to get it right. The discs turned out very well, but despite the very protracted process to agree proofs with Wyastone for the finished booklets, there was a wide variation in the finished batch - I estimate that 1 in 4 have been cut incorrectly and have images that push right up to the edge of the page when there should have been a border of 2mm. That is my only reservation about recommending this firm.

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Said Liquidator CD arrives: initial joy followed by the realisation that I don't know what to do with 200 of the bloody things.

Selling the CD
I've described digital aggregation as a means of selling downloads of your songs but selling physical discs is a very different process. I joined Amazon as an 'Advantage' subscriber -http://www.amazon.co.uk/advantage - another annual subscription (£28, I think), however, this status allowed me to create a new page in their catalogue for my product which they will then stock. When I gave them info on the release and they asked what the dealer price was, I regret not inflating it as, when they placed an order, they immediately gave themselves a 40% discount. Also, once the product was on the Amazon catalogue, I 'claimed' Said Liquidator as an artist and added photos and information via https://artistcentral.amazon.com/

[Postscript: I no longer supply Amazon, but instead - now that the product page exists, I sell it as an Amazon Market Place Seller. I dispatch it myself and give them less. I've also created a page on Discogs for it and sell it in the Marketplace there too.]

The main outlet for the CD has been this website where there is a shop facility that takes PayPal and can also process credit and debit cards. I've been to a few local shops and placed stock there on a sale or return basis. It's great to see it mixed in with other artists on the racks. I also took the opportunity to put posters up in each shop to let people know it was in stock.

Ripped CDs
I made the decision that if anybody 'rips' the CD on their computer, using iTunes for example, then the artist and track information would be automatically available to them online. This is achieved via the songs database Gracenote. Once I received the manufactured CD, I created the track details on iTunes and then used the option 'Submit CD Track Names' to export data to the Gracenote. Details: http://www.gracenote.com/about/faqs/ 

 

Promoting the CD
'Anything goes' or 'by any means necessary' are phrases that come to mind. To identify DJs that might be vaguely sympathetic to Said Liquidator I asked friends for recommendations and trawled through online tracklists. Also, near where I live, I stalked Jarvis Cocker while he was out walking his dog… I meant it when I said 'anything goes'.

 

I sent sample discs containing 8 of the most accessible songs to selected DJs and included a press release. I also emailed out press releases to various magazines. Then I crossed my fingers, hoped for the best… the best being that I won't have 150 CDs in my loft forever more.

Naturally, I put http://www.eccentricsleevenotes.com/ to work, played the only vaguely appropriate song on my radio show 'Post Punk Britain' and also plugged it on a Facebook group page that I launched called 'Newcastle's alternative scene in the 1980s'.

There have been some successes already and hopefully, a few more to come.  Here are the details of the airplay the CD has garnered on the radio.

Eccentric Sleeve Notes, Home Page Logo, Simon McKay, Said Liquidator, Newcastle Upon Tyne, punk, post-punk
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