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Everybody's Doin' It

Article from Sound International, February 1979

...multitracking at home, that is. Bob Clifford, he of the Frog, introduces us to the many ways of doing much with little.

In the past few years the number of small record companies, or in fact the number of individuals who get it together on their own, has grown to such a degree that many compare the situation in the UK at the moment to the height of the indies boom in the States in the late 50s and early 60s. Really, getting a record out on your own label isn't that hard, providing that you can get a little finance, that your project has some degree of musical validity, and that you're prepared to put your money where your minims are. I should know, I did it and have a 'hot' rockabilly album to my credit, a bit money in the bank, and a fair bit respect from people in the industry.


I did it at home in my front room, but then not too many people have Teac 4-tracks and Revoxes in their lounges. If you feel that you can get away with a front room recording, then go ahead and use the tape as a master, but do be sure before you make that decision. Remember, a 15in/s tape will have to be used for cutting, although 7½in/s can be used at a pinch. If it sounds good enough — use it. On the subject of music, try and use your own songs, and therefore avoid paying out the 6½% copyright to someone else. Also, I believe that people think more of the product if it's all you. If you can't get it together in your front room, search out a local, good, cheap 8-track studio. Ask to hear examples of their work, go along and look at the place, and remember — a studio is only as good as its engineer. Do have all your music worked out before going into the studios, as time is expensive, and only top bands can afford to spend valuable time working things out in the studio, and even financial security can't condone this waste of time and money. If you have a particular sound you want to get, take along an album you like and ask the engineer to get you close to it (depending on your musical ability naturally).


As most cutting rooms charge about the same, pick out a record you like the sound-on-disc of, and look in the run-out grooves to find the name of the cutting room. For example, Blairs: Chris Blair at EMI Abbey Road; Porky: George Peckham at Portway (ex-IBC): the sign of a lyre: Utopia, etc. Book cutting time, try and attend the cut, and once again use a reference of which you like the sound. Costs are about £30 per side (+ VAT) for albums and £18 per side (+ VAT) for singles. On an unlimited budget you can get playback acetates, but they are a luxury you can really do without. I cut at Utopia, because it's a first class room (the sound is quite flat/true), and both guys there, Ian and Gordon, are fun, efficient and know their business. On small projects like these I am tempted to add top to most tapes, to make up for loss of highs which inevitably occur in processing. But discuss it with the cutting engineer.


The sales to be gained from the export market are dependent on the music type, the price to the exporters and the colour of the record! Once again, hit 'em all, some will require 10 or 12 sleeves and up to three or four copies of the record to send to their foreign customers. Payment can take a long time, but try to consider the overseas sales and extras and very nice too...

Sleeve Printing

Once again, go to someone good. Find the names of four or five printers, from album sleeves you like the look of, and shop around for costings. West Brothers did my sleeves for about 13p a sleeve (including plates), and made my tacky artwork look quite good. I found that platemaking took a long, long time and I had to approve from the plates themselves, but proofs are normally supplied at no extra charge. For the first record, keep it simple, with one colour (ie black and white). It's cheap, uncomplicated and can look really good; the Yes album Time And A Word for example. Not generalising, but steer clear of local printers as they are not geared up to this specialist printing and make-up. On the type of finish on the sleeve, printers charge extra for a gloss lamination, but West Brothers do a very nice semi-matt varnish for no extra charge. It will make your sleeve look really great. (NB It's a good idea to order 10% overs for use in displays, export use and to hold the overs from pressing).


Shop around for prices and manufacturing time. Payment is naturally strictly on a pro-forma basis, and prices vary from about 30p per unit to 50p for albums. The minimum quantity is usually 1000. I went to Lyntone who were both good and efficient. They quoted three to four weeks from receipt of lacquers, labels and payment, but it ended up nearer five weeks (and now they're saying six to seven weeks minimum). They charge 5% for overs and give back the money for units not supplied. Test pressings are costly and really not too much good (by that time you've gone too far to get a record re-cut), but you should go along and listen to the metal-work — though the sound is a bit harsh, you do get a very good idea what the finished record will sound like. Most independent pressing plants tend to over-shine the lacquers and the resulting sound on record is dull and lacking in high frequency. Also, the pressings are a little rough until the stampers heat up at the beginning of the production run.


I've avoided exclusive distribution deals as they tend to tie you down with no real advantages, unless the deal is with a major (eg EMI, Selecta, Phonodisc, etc). Basically, hit every wholesaler/distributor in sight. Most of the very large wholesalers specialise in the majors' product and won't touch yours until it makes the charts but there are quite a few alternative wholesalers who will only rip you off a little bit!!

Although they all work on 7½% to 20% mark-up, they do try and stick a little bit on the price to the dealer, therefore resulting in an unusually high price in the shops. With some wholesalers selling at wholesale price plus 20% and some ripping off up to 40%, my album can be found at £3.17 to £3.99. Some distributors will ask for Sale Or Return. If your product is strong enough, hold out. Distributors work normally on payment within 30 days, but you'll have to chase most of them. Without stepping on wholesalers' toes too much, try and cover shops yourself, and earn that extra 20%. There are three types of distributors: — One Stops — Warehouses where dealers come to buy product over the counter; Van Sales — with vans going round selling to dealers; Mail order — mail and phone-outs.


Please go to someone good, don't try to cut corners. Working on the usual pro-formas, send the printers the running order, composer and publisher and all the label info, with the artwork for your logo, along with a cheque, and they will print, with proofs, and deliver to most main pressing plants. If the label design is very complex, it may be best to send artwork for the complete label which isn't that much more expensive. Before I went to Shalford Press, who I think are pretty good, I took artwork to a local printer who made labels on the wrong paper for pressing, and finished the labels so badly that they were unusable. The maximum amount of overs you will need is 15%... you don't need any more than this.

Promotion and marketing

The idea with promotional copies is to know where to stop. Obviously hit all the main targets: Radio One DJs (John Peel is always receptive to alternative music) and producers (info from the Radio Times), Local radio, MM, NME, Sounds, and any other important papers which apply to your music. Also, try Music Week and Radio and Record News, as they're always interested in new alternative product.

Every copy which goes out for press, radio or to distributors should have a biog, a picture, marketing plans, details of any live work, and obviously any press gained thus far. Also, include any freebies with the package. T-shirts are nice but expensive, and sweatshirts even more so.

Badges are cheap and very effective (Better Badges of Westbourne Grove are reasonable and efficient), stickers are cheap... as far as ads go, a full page in MM is now over £800, so try and find specialist mags/fanzines where a full page ad can cost as little as £15, and can do more good pro-rata than an ad in a major mag.

Handy References

Music Week Year Book 1978/79 (£3.00)
Radio & Record News Year Book 1978/79 (£3.00)

Both contain invaluable information on record companies, distributors, exporters, printers, pressing plants, music publishers, radio and TV etc.

Some final thoughts

The magical work seems to be crossover: when your specialist record starts to sell in the major market, through radio plays, a good buzz on the record and live gigs, and good reviews in the music press. It seems to be the only way to get into the high street retailers.

Look forward — if things start to move, think about a re-press. Just think how bad things could be if the record really starts to take off and you go out of stock and have to wait six or seven weeks for more.

When it comes down to it, the success or failure of the project depends on the effort which you put into the record, what the package looks like, and number one... the music; if it's good, it will sell. (If you're lucky — Ed)

Required listening

Al Roberts Jr. Rockabilly Guitar Man album on Prog Records (Frog 001).

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Town House Studio

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Sound FX with the Uher CR240

Publisher: Sound International - Link House Publications

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Sound International - Feb 1979

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Feature by Bob Clifford

Previous article in this issue:

> Town House Studio

Next article in this issue:

> Sound FX with the Uher CR240...

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