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Widening the Circle

by Clint Goss, December 4, 2008

This article appeared in Voice of the Wind, 2009, Volume 2.

Every musician should have their own CD.

That may be a controversial statement, but … There … I said it.

The process of crafting your music into a permanent recording has so many benefits and generates so much positive energy that I have come to love it almost as much as playing. I’ve done it six times now, and look forward to the seventh.

When we are crafting a CD, we play more, focus on our musical ideas in a larger scope, interact with other musicians, perceive our music more from the listener’s perspective, and spend many wonderful hours listening deeply to our own musical sounds. All good things! And there is nothing that compares with handing another person a little disc of polycarbonate and saying “this is my music”.

One of the big questions that comes up before, during, and after producing your CD is: How do I promote my CD? When you produce a CD, widening the circle of your listeners is part of the process. This article has some suggestions for how to get your music out there in gradually wider circles of distribution. We start from the smallest, closest circles and widen outward from there … starting for a self-produced CD for small-circle distribution up to a serious attempt to be an Indie artist.

This is my music

Most debut CDs by musicians I know are what I call a “This Is My Music” CD. It is generally the music we love to play, regardless of marketing considerations like specific genres, target audience, and packaging.

For a CD of your own music designed for friends and family, as well as limited sales at your own gigs, most people begin this way:

  • Burn your music to a CD-R on your computer, design a label for the CD on a computer graphics program such as PhotoShop, and give it away or sell it.
  • If you get tired of burning CDs one at a time off your computer, you could get a multi-disc CD burner (I have a Sandy Yang duplicator and it works well).

Alternately, you could use an outfit such as DiscMakers (www.DiscMakers.com) for "short-run" duplication. It will cost maybe $4-5 per CD in quantities of 300 and under.

This may be all you need! Personally, I believe all musicians should strive to have their own personal CD. Gifting your music to friends and family is a wonderful act … "This is my music" is your best calling card!

Getting more sales and exposure may be tempting, but it carries a tax in effort, organization, paperwork, and cost. Go as far as you wish, but keep tabs on the monetary and time cost.

"Niche" sales on-line

At this level you're looking to distribute directly to people who are beyond your own circle of friends and family. They may be in a circle of ardent fans of either your particular "niche" style of music or fans of your group itself.

  • Consider moving to CD replication rather than CD-R duplication. Replication is typically done by an outside house such as Discmakers (www.DiscMakers.com). Cost is typically around $2 per CD, but minimum quantity is realistically 1,000. The advantages of replication over CD-R duplication are many, but the big one is reliability. Replication uses a glass master/stamping process that is very reliable, as opposed to the reflective dye "burning" process of duplication.
  • Get a UPC bar code on your product. To do anything in the "real world" with your product you'll need a bar code. Typically the replication house will supply one, sometimes for free. Alternately, you can use CD Baby (see below) if you are still doing home production.
  • Sign up with CD Baby. This is the best thing you can do for yourself. They are incredibly useful and supportive in every dimension of what an Indie artist needs. For a $35 fee per CD, you get a dedicated web page for your music, listings in their often-perused catalog, distribution to a slew of digital download services (the big one being all the regions of iTunes), fulfillment of physical CDs (they warehouse your CD, take credit card sales on-line and fulfill them), fulfillment of digital download off their own web site, and provide a pile of advice.

For a flavor of CD Baby and for the really good advice they offer, check out their general advice for Indie artists:

 http://cdbaby.net/tips (DOES NOT WORK)

CD Baby does make many things easy, but there are many many things that they do not do. The big thing is that they do not actually promote your music … that's squarely in your domain. They do give you advice however ("when you do a gig, take a picture of the audience from stage and put it up on your web site the next morning - and tell everyone in the audience what you are doing so they rush to your web site to see themselves").

  • Get your songs into Gracenote/CDDB and FreeDB. These are the on-line databases that provide the title and artist information to your iTunes software when you import a CD into iTunes. To populate your information into the Gracenote/CDDB Media Database (www.gracenote.com), you can use the iTunes application itself and the Advanced->Submit command. For FreeDB (www.freedb.org), I use the AudioGrabber PC software.

Covering the legal and royalty bases in anticipation of royalty income.

  • Sign up with a Performance Rights Organication ("PRO"). A PRO handles royalties derived from airplay and performance of your music, and pays those royalties back to the songwriters and publishers. There are three organizations in the U.S. (ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC) but most other countries have a single organization.
  • Establish a relationship with a publishing company, or create one of your own. The publishing company receives 50% of many classes of royalties, so having you own company allows you to retain that portion of any royalties. Note that in the US, there is a complication because of the multiple PROs. In practice, your publishing company needs to have an affiliation with the same PRO as the songwriter. To handle this, most publishing companies have separate divisions, each registered with a different PRO.
  • Register all your songs with the Harry Fox agency (www.HarryFox.com). This is done by the publishing company and is a convenient way to collect mechanical royalties, in the case where someone else wishes to record your songs.
  • Register your songs for copyright protection. Typically done in the US through the Library of Congress, using form SR within 3 months of publication.
  • Register your music with SoundScan (www.Soundscan.com)
  • Register for an ISRC code prefix. ISRC codes are stamped onto CDs for track identification.
  • Register your songs with your PRO

For sales to a wider audience

  • Consider professional cover design. Your cousin might be great with Photoshop, but a professional graphic artist will make a huge difference to your shelf-appeal.
  • Consider professional mastering of your tracks. After mixing of your music, a mastering engineer will often provide a substantial improvement to the sound quality of your CD by balancing the sound level and EQ across the tracks, removing low rumbles, and adding ISRC codes.
  • Get your CD(s) on Amazon.com. There is a straightforward program for vendors called "Amazon Advantage".
  • Selling CDs directly to retail stores is typically done through distributors. There are many music distributors - I cataloged 206 when I was looking for distribution in mid-2007. Distributors tend to specialize in a segment of the retail market and/or geographic region. Examples include: CD "Bins" at truck stops, new age stores, museum shops, and "captive markets" such as airline style channels. For example, New Leaf and Music Design distribute to New Age shops, with New Leaf being primary for the US East Coast and Music Design for the US West Coast.
  • Consider submitting your music to Pandora.com - a very widely used service.
  • Consider your own web site. In particular, if you have more than one CD and wish to accept orders that you fulfill yourself.
  • Submit your music to AllMusic.com.
  • Consider various music awards such as the Independent Music Awards, International Acoustic Music Awards, and (of course) the Grammys!!
  • Consider using Pump Audio for promotion of your music to the video/film industry.

If you get to the point of being a serious, possibly full-time Indie artist or decide to become a record label and publishing company that represents and promotes other artists, there is an excellent book:

All You Need to Know About the Music Business by Donald S. Passman

However, it is not for the casual reader! (Unless you want to buy the book just to convince yourself that you'd rather spend you time on your music instead of descending into the legal and financial morass that surrounds the music biz).

 

 
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