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One Two Tactics

Getting A Record Out

Article from One Two Testing, January 1986

the hidden tricks

How to take your own fab waxing in hand. Jon Lewin gets your music into the grooves.

The best rejection slip I ever had from a record company came from Virgin Records (or was it Stiff?) in the form of a multiple choice postcard, with boxes ranging from "The cheque for your £100,000 advance is in the post" to "You are a talentless bastard, leave us alone"; naturally, all the worst options — "Dear Cretin" to "piss off" — had been ticked. With burgeoning adolescent fury, I tore up the card and determined there and then that I would release my own record...


... is record some music and put it on a record and go on Top Of The Pops and be famous.

First priority for the potential pop star is the best recording that they can afford. Most 8-track studios offer reasonable quality, though portastudios are definitely pushing it a bit (even if Danielle Dax did release an excellent EP record on 4-track). For more advice on making the most of your time in the studio, consult OTT No. 23, June '85.

How many songs? Since this is almost certainly your first release, we'll assume you are planning a single. Should it be 7in or 12in?

Pressing and printing costs for a 12in are remarkedly higher than they are for a normal single, but the profit you make of each sale is greater, therefore you begin to break even (dare we say make a profit?) after selling fewer records. You spend more money, but you get it back faster.

Another argument in favour of 12in singles is overseas sales: independent-label 12in records from Britain sell abroad, regardless of press, radio, publicity. Perfect Vision (wot I play for) sold 300 across the Channel out of an initial pressing of 1000 — an encouraging start for the debut single by an unknown group.

Go for 12in, and put three or four songs on it (no indie band likes being accused of rip-offery). But make sure you know which song is your best. Even if they're all good, you need to be able to state categorically when asked, play that one. Do not, as happened blushingly to me when confronted by Janice Long's producer Mike Hawkes, stammer, "Er... they're... er... all of them?" (He didn't play any.

You should come away from the studio with a clear idea of which ditty you are promoting, and a ¼in master tape in a nice box with all sorts of information neatly scribbled on it, such as tape speed, type of noise reduction, tail in/out, type of tones (don't worry if it doesn't have these, as they're only a rough guide for the cutting engineer), name of the band, track listing, and timings if you know them. But now what?


Take your tape carefully home, avoiding tubes (but not the TV show) and other big magnets that might antagonise your carefully arranged ferrous particles. Now you have to think about turning said tape into polyvinyl chloride, aka records.

This means cutting an acetate, pressing the record, preparing sleeve artwork, printing the sleeves, finding a distributor to sell your record to shops around the country, and getting the money together to pay for this.

After the initial cost of recording and purchase of tape (between £200 and £300 at minimum), the above necessaries for 1000 12in singles will set you back somewhere in the region of £700-£800. This is big money, and not to be sneezed at, particularly when you bear in mind that this does not take into account any monies you might spend on mailing out records, travel, bribes and the like. Promotion costs money.

It's hard work if you do all of the above yourself. But there are ways of short-circuiting some of these processes. Have you heard of the Cartel?


The Cartel, in their own words, is a loose association of regionally located companies dedicated to undermining the industry at large and in so doing support themselves by selling music that they collectively enjoy.

The seven (or eight, if you include London distributors Jungle) companies cover the whole of mainland Britain, distributing independent label records to anyone who cares to deal with them.

While they may not be quite as subversive as they like to suggest, they are definitely a vital part of the indie scene — the heart that pumps the lifeblood of small labels around the country and abroad. But there's more: because they have a natural interest in and knowledge of the music being made in their respective territories, no-one is better placed... to give help and encouragement to people developing new musical forms... at a time when they may not be ready for national exposure.

Even so, the nationwide set-up of the Cartel means that regionally-based indie records are available throughout the country via the other retailers.

These Good Samaritans go on to say if a band is serious enough to have got together the resources to make its own record, then [we] believe it probably deserves and will almost certainly welcome the services [we] can offer. Too good to be true, eh?


The various branches of the Cartel offer M&D (Manufacturing and Distribution) deals to independent labels without the resources to finance their own pressing and cutting. The Cartel pays for pressing and printing costs, having advised you which companies to use; it also handles distribution here and overseas, and can assist with a certain amount of promotion through its own contacts.

This is, in effect, a loan: when the record starts selling, all monies up to the break-even point go to the Cartel to cover their initial outlay; the break-even point does not include any of your expenditure on recording. This means — for our example of a 12in — you would have to sell around 600 copies before the band saw any money at all. For a 7in, the break-even is nearer 800 copies, as profit-per-sale is less.

You may have read of "all-in" deals being offered by recording studios, where for a fixed sum a band can have 500 copies of its session pressed up. While it is tempting to surrender the whole caboodle into someone else's hands, these deals are frequently unsatisfactory — I hesitate to use the phrase "rip-off", but they are usually expensive, offer poor quality, and leave the band with the further job of finding distribution. Take care if you agree to this type of arrangement.

In my personal experience, Cartel M&D deals are neither financially nor morally questionable. The Cartel is not a big operation, and it tends to attract employees with an ideological, rather than financial interest in music. But this can have a reverse effect which is not so hot, in that sometimes money is in shortish supply, which makes M&D deals harder to come by.


Send or take a cassette of your songs or your future record to your local Cartel offices (see page 78). Remind them that no-one is too small, too unorthodox, even too unfashionable for consideration and that all that matters is that the product itself is good. If the Cartel person likes it, arrange an interview/meeting.

You will need to convince said Cartelperson not only that you have faith in the music, and have energy and enthusiasm, but also that you have press, radio and TV contacts. Anyone who can help you sell records should be marshalled on to your side as evidence of the future success of your band.

If you succeed, the following will happen. (If you don't succeed and still want to put a record out, the following will still happen, only you'll be footing the bill.)

Firstly, you will turn your tape into an acetate in the cutting studio (see August '84 OTT). Your tape is played, and through the wonders of a sort of reverse hi-fi, grooves are cut into a virgin disc, known as lacquer. As with a hi-fi, it's possible to change treble and bass settings slightly and also speed, but nothing more than that. Beware of the temptation to alter sounds too drastically, for after the cutting, that's it for the music. Check the way your tape sounds on both big and little speakers as you would in the recording studio; check it with modified EQ in and out, and opt for the clearest — after this stage, sound quality deteriorates through each successive reproduction until the record.

These successive reproductions take place in the pressing plant. While it's important for a member of the group to attend the cut — where the music can be altered — it's very unusual for anyone to attend the pressing. Your lacquer is coated in nickel, from which a metal stamper is made, with the negative impression of your record inside it. This is what presses the lumps of vinyl into the shape of a disc.

After a seemingly interminable delay (usually two weeks or so), test pressings will appear from the record plant. Take no shit: if they crackle, buzz, and fart in places where your original song does not crackle, buzz, or fart, then send them back. Complain.

Bear in mind that test pressings are done in spare moments, usually on dirty machines with low grade vinyl, but it is still worth complaining. Eventually, a reasonable record will turn up; even if it is only one good one from a batch of ten, it will represent the type of quality that the pressing machine will turn out when correctly set up. Give it the OK and wait another two weeks.

While all this has been going on, you will of course have prepared the camera-ready actual-size artwork of the sleeve, and have it sent down to the printers ready for its hard plastic contents. Camera-ready means what it says: designs should be accurately drawn, lettering Letrasetted, everything ready for the printer's steady gaze.

Keep the number of colours you use down to a minimum (a full four-colour sleeve puts the cost of a 12in single up to £1.19, as compared to 90p for a two-coloured sleeve model).

The printers will advise you on what combinations you may use, and what colours are available when you deliver the artwork (you were going to deliver it, weren't you); check with them on any possible difficulties (fine detail can occasionally get lost).

It's of great assistance to the printers (and also to your budget because otherwise they charge for it) if you separate colours into their different areas and outline each on to its own sheet of tracing papers; overlay the original design with these sheets, making sure you mark clearly how they coincide — put Xs at each of the four corners, for instance.


The whole shebang will take around a month to work its progress through the guts of the industry. When your records come out the other end, you'll need 50-100 for your own devious ends; don't think of these as freebies, as they're all paid for in the end — the more you give away, the higher your break-even point.

Try and co-ordinate your publicity drive (like a whist drive, but bigger). Send copies to the music papers for review as soon as you can, but delay inundating the radio stations until you know the record is actually in the shops. Telephone the DJs and journalists, anyone at all, and hassle like mad, even if it seems out of character to do so; wherever possible, meet the people fact to face. Check that your local stores are stocking the record. Don't relax just because you've got a copy with your name on it, try and make sure everyone you know has one.

Taking records to sell at gigs is all very pleasant for the band and the audience, but by doing so you deprive yourselves of shop sales, and the possibility of not breaking even rears its ugly head.

If you have an M&D deal with part of the Cartel, stay in touch with the people. Discuss with them how you can plug the group better, and how they can help out. They're interested in your music, otherwise they wouldn't be selling your records. Which is more than can be said for most of the major labels.


Whether you are spending getting on for £1500 of your money or the Cartel's, it is vital that you are aware of the advantages of joining the Performing Right Society, the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society, and Phonographic Performance Ltd.

These are a collection of obscure bodies whose arcane rituals are beyond the comprehension of normal mortals (anyone I've ever met). Through their own occult methods (haruspication a speciality) these organisations calculate the royalties a performer is entitled to receive from radio/TV broadcasts of their work, and pay that sum to the performer's publisher.

For details on how they work, and how to register, contact MCPS at (Contact Details); PRS at (Contact Details); and PPL at (Contact Details). Don't be deterred by the complexities of this side of the business — if you get played on the radio, you are entitled to make money out of it. Don't lose out.

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Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - Jan 1986

One Two Tactics

Feature by Jon Lewin

Previous article in this issue:

> Van Hire

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> Playback

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