Independence Day (Part 2)
Concluding our guide on how to release your own record
Richard Walmsley concludes his investigation on how to release your own record
Last month I talked about the ins and outs of making your own records and where the pitfalls of such an enterprise might lie. Now unless you are only interested in impressing your Mum or your soulmate, the chances are that you will want to take the project a bit further. Making the record can actually be quite simple given a certain degree of common and musical sense, the real problem is to sell it and it is at this stage that the efforts of most would-be record makers founder.
In order to get the public to buy your record two basic tasks have to be accomplished. First of all you have to make the public aware of your record, and secondly you have to make it as easily available to them as possible. Distribution is therefore a key factor and has to be sorted out before any worthwhile promotion can take place, whilst the not inconsiderable cost of promotion must not be omitted from your overall budget. Distribution agreements vary a great deal, some being very useful or in fact indispensable to independent record makers, others being less so. If this is your first record there are going to be two basic options open to you, either to sell small amounts of records to individual distributors, or else to enter into an agreement with a single distributor. The latter deal can often be a bit deceptive, since it generally amounts to little more than the company agreeing to keep a large amount of your records in their warehouse on a sale or return basis, actual distribution only being undertaken as a response to orders coming in for your record...
Since the demise of Pinnacle last year, the main independent distribution network in this country has been The Cartel, made up of regional companies such as Backs in Norwich, Red Rhino in York, Rough Trade in London etc. Ultimately the deal to aim for through companies like these (although it's unlikely that you could get one straight off) is what's known as a Pressing and Distribution deal. Pressing and Distribution, or P&D as it's known by record company hacks basically means that the distributor agrees to advance you the money to cover pressing costs, which they then recover from the sales of the records, which they also distribute. Gary Levermore who runs Third Mind Records which releases music by electronic bands such as Intimate Obsessions (see tape) and Alan Rider who runs Adventures in Reality Recordings (mentioned in last month's article) were both aided in setting up their labels by a P&D deal. For Alan, this deal helps him to buy time, giving more space to manouevre a tight budget. Both he and Gary obtained these deals on the strength of earlier sales of cassette releases. Alan Rider was offered a deal by Cartel after he managed to sell 1,700 copies of a compilation cassette entitled The Last Supper. In theory at least, anyone with some kind of track record or a good line in verbal persuasion could get P&D, but it's more likely in fact that a company will offer you the deal if and when they think you are worth it.
P&D certainly doesn't solve your financial worries, it merely helps you to get a cash flow going. In addition there is, with Cartel at least, the problem of a thirty day invoicing system which you have to take into consideration when doing your accounts.
The names and addresses of distributors can be found in music weeklies, and yearbooks. The best way to initiate discussion with them is to write to them enclosing a sample of your product, then ring them up and tell them it's on its way. Then follow it up with a phone to make sure it's got there and is receiving attention.
As I mentioned last month if you want to thrive, or indeed survive, selling your own electronic records, you are going to have to make efforts to sell your records on the continent, since the demand there for this type of music is proportionally much higher than in Britain. So unless you're with a company like Rough Trade who will take responsibility for European and American distribution you will need to sort out distribution for yourself. What this generally means is contacting separate record distributors in various countries and selling them small amounts of your records, or negotiating with a British record export company. When initially contacting foreign distributors just write to them enclosing details of your releases and any publicity, artwork or press cuttings that you have available relating to the music. Enclose also an international reply coupon as well, since an SAE is useless to someone in another country. All this could very well be extremely confusing, so we've included some names and addresses of foreign distributors and exporters who have been recommended to us.
One aspect of promotion which you are likely to have dealt with by the time you reach this stage, is artwork. One of the main things to avoid is artwork that looks cheaply produced and falls too easily into some stereotypical independant category. Economics are unfortunately a fairly intransigent factor here since most artwork and printing can be very expensive, but the difference between a single colour print (eg black and white), and a two colour print can make all the difference to how eye catching a record is on the record shop shelf. However, the vital factor in visual appeal is imagination rather than expense.
For someone making their own records, promotion must seem a pretty soul destroying task since it not only entails a lot of work but also the giving away of large amounts of lovingly crafted records and posters etc. It has to be done whether you like it or not, however a little selectivity can pay dividends. The three basic places to send promo copies of the record are the radio stations, the music papers and, if it is a dance type record, various clubs up and down the country. In most cases personal contact is the best approach, or failing that at least follow up your promos with a phone call. The exception to this rule is radio stations who don't really have the time or the organization to see people. Being selective basically means getting to know the names of the DJs and the journalists at the various radio stations and publications, and finding out where their sympathies lie. You can never do too much good promotion, but sending say, left field electro, to the soul correspondent at Sounds, or to Steve Wright at Radio 1 is just a waste of good vinyl.
You should get your releases notified in the new releases section of Music Week, and make up press packages for the record news sections of the music papers. Include photos of the band and try to make them as interesting and eyecatching as you can; no music paper wants to have dull pages filled only with print (Oh yes we do - Ed.).
Commissioning large amounts of actual photos is not really economically viable, so the thing to do is to have them printed. The most well known company that do this in the London area is Walkerprint (01 580 7031) who will do 500 7" x 5" prints for around £45. Posters, if you can afford them are also a good idea and are much more impressive than something like A4 handouts for sending to record shops. High street printers like Kall Kwik or Prontaprint are not really the place to get posters done, rather have a look around your area for community printshops, Polytechnics or just a back street printer who will give you a good quotation.
Mailing out promo copies and press packages is quite a costly business. In fact if you are going to do your record justice on the promotion front you might expect to pay around £100 pounds on postage. There are however a number of postal schemes designed to help small and expanding businesses, which include such things as an initial free mail out of something like 200 missives. These schemes vary from area to area, but obviously such an offer could be a great help so do make enquiries at your local post office.
The only monetary compensation for all the freebies you send out is the royalties that will be owing to you if you are lucky enough to get played on the radio. Unless your music is fairly commercially orientated it's not likely that you'll have a publishing deal, and in any case many people who make their own records choose to maintain their independence by getting their royalties back through the Performing Rights Society. Membership is easy and is open to anyone who has has at least two songs either publicly performed, performed on the radio or releases on record (ie, the A and B side of your record). The society basically exists to go through the play lists of radio and television programmes, public concerts etc, claiming the royalties on the performances of its members' songs, and it pays these out four times a year. Don't get your hopes up though, you won't inherit a fortune, but royalties on radio play are something that you have earned and are entitled to, so you should make the effort to recover them.
A curious recent phenomenon is the fact that a number of young people releasing their own records are being 'aided' by the government. The Free Enterprise Scheme was set up by the government for the gestation of new businesses, and has been taken up by people like Gary Levermore, and by Jane and Leigh Bayley of Clapham based Wrong Records. Setting up a record label takes up a lot of time and effort and is often not possible for someone with a heavy day job. The Free Enterprise Scheme actually leaves you worse off than the dole, but for Leigh Bayley and others provides an alternative to worrying about DHSS snoopers etc. The main obstacle to getting on the scheme is the fact that you have to put up £1000 as an investment in your business. However, I am told by those on the scheme that the MSC is only interested in the money, and once you have got that together getting on the scheme as a 'Record Company' is no problem.
So finally, what are the sort of rewards to be gained by making your own records? Well one thing's for sure, it won't bring you fame and fortune overnight. Certainly there's a good deal of hard graft and determination involved, but it's like any small business; if you stick at it, the returns gradually build up. For instance, the first 1000 sales you make of any release basically just cover your costs, only thereafter do the profits begin. Your initial records enable you to establish a name and a following; then as your contacts with distribution and other outlets pick up, so gradually does a grass roots following. The whole concept of working in this way is almost totally removed from the world of Frankie etc, and unlike them, your best chances of being rewarded lie in establishing a consistent output of innovative, good quality releases. Aside from any financial considerations, the opportunity to make the sort of music that you are completely happy with and to establish an appreciative audience for it could well be reward enough.
Lipscombe Printing (01 517 5763) (Dave)
A4 Handouts, Overground Magazine, Martin Lacey, (Contact Details)
Front De L'est, (Contact Details).
235 Distribution, (Contact Details).
Normal Distribution, (Contact Details)
Wayside Music (Contact Details)
Merzbow, (Contact Details).
Laven Brikthandel, (Contact Details)
Recommended, (Contact Details)
Shigaku Trading Company Ltd. (Contact Details)
Feature by Richard Walmsley
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