Secret Of Making A Record?"
The nuts and bolts of the whole
you Really Want To Make a Record?
This is a good question and makes a good
starting point despite seeming to state the
obvious. This question should focus your mind
or the minds of your fellow band members on
fundamental aims which your band hope to
If you are a relatively new band then
perhaps you should take the time to work out a
timescale of achievements that you hope to
reach before committing to what will be an
Dec says: it is
most important in any business venture to
set goals...financial, career and most of
all time goals
Ensuring that key land marks in the career
of a band have be attained may help to
convince potential record companies, managers,
production companies, banks or independent
backers that you are a good bet for spending
or lending money to. It may also convince the
shy retiring types in the band that you are
ready to take a big step forward.
to make a record?
This is another key question and will
obviously vary from artist to artist. Each
career is different and records will become
defining moments in the lives of the band and
the individuals involved. However, there are
certain times of year when the music business
is more active than others, just before
Christmas for instance.
Dec says: The key
point to remember is that you only have 'one
chance' to make a first impression. You have
to have the music ready, the performance
ready and most of all the 'look' of the band
ready....and by the way, first releases
generally come out in January, the quietest
time for the record industry....and when
they are all in Midem at the music industry
to put on it?
The content is a vital decision. Not only
should the music reflect the music of the
band, it should also be of the moment. The
styles which bands adopt change over time.
Dec says: Music
changes imperceptibly every three months.
And 'rock' music changes the most. Because
to catch a record company's attention with
'rock' music needs the most innovative,
different sounding music....it is the
easiest genre, so there are thousands of
bands competing with you.
to put a record out?
How many ways are there to skin a cat?
Outlined below are some pathways to achieve
this aim. This is by no means exhaustive and
the music industry continues to astound itself
with new and diverse methods for recording,
duplicating and distributing music.
Direct signing Vs Production Deal
For the purposes of this article let's assume
that the term 'Direct Signing' relates to any
record deal that is directly with a major or
large indie record company, whilst a
production deal relates to either a management
company or to a small indie label that are
looking to 'sell-on' an artist.
There are a variety of deals offered by
Record Companies, in fact each deal is unique
in its own way, tailored to fit the band, the
circumstance and the fashion of the time.
There is however, broadly speaking a simple
pay-off between maintaining creative control
and obtaining advances of money.
The bigger the cheque the more control you
will give up. When you hear of phone number
size advances it rarely is for unknown artists
and rarely will the artist actually see much
of the money as cash. Rather the money is
literally an advance and it will be recouped
once the recording begins to sell.
The money goes on marketing, touring and
living expenses. If it is a relatively new
band the recording may not be covered but it
depends on the deal which was struck.
A licence deal offers the artist the
opportunity to retain the underlying copyright
and have a large amount of artistic freedom.
It usually gives the licensee (the person who
buys the licence) the right over a particular
recording for a set term that is normally
around 3 years. After this term the rights
revert to the artist. The artist usually
retains some rights over the song and might
even just licence the rights for one
particular recording of the song and remain
free to re-record or remix the song. The
licensee would normally either offer a
straight fee or a royalties deal.
Dec says: in the
case of my band, we had a direct deal with
the record company for the first few years.
then, when we had proved our might in the
charts we were in a position to re-negotiate
and secure a licensing deal. We paid all the
session fees and costs but got a much higher
percentage on record sales.
If the artist assigns their rights to a
record company then the artist loses the
underlying rights to a song and would normally
be recompensed for this. Some of the deals
used when assigning rights are outlined below.
Deals and Non Exclusive Deals
There are two basic types of licence deals:
This might be
where a band has paid for the recording itself
but needs some help with duplication,
marketing and distribution from a small label.
The label safeguards itself by licensing the
music (therefore no advance) but signs the
licence exclusively just in case it takes off
- to protect their investment.
is where the artist or band is allowed to punt
the music to other companies at home and
abroad. Not a very smart move as the companies
will have no direct interest in the
could either be world wide or just in the UK
or EU. Usually if you were trying to get your
music heard in France, maybe, or The States you would
try to licence your music to a local label in that country
rather than a small label in the UK.
A small label is more
likely to put more effort in to promoting a
release if there is an option for a follow up. This can
either be agreed before the first release or
left until the success of the first release is
known. You can offer the label an option for a
limited period of time from completion of the
next demo, say two or three weeks to come up
with a new deal before you take the song
around to another label. This deal is called a
'first negotiating right'.
Dec says: A major Record Company will want an option/options to continue to release your material once they have established your success. These options should be negotiated by a top lawyer...a half point rise in royalties can mean $Millions over a career!.
The Boss, Dec, and Managing Director Vicci Esselle
active, successful music guys run this organisation...not faceless businessmen
This is where the record company keep the band
on ice until they can make a decision on where
the band is going. They will keep the advances
low and send you into the studio regularly
until they are ready to either commit to a
proper exclusive deal or to dispense with your
They really have you stiched up a
kipper with this deal.
They will want you to
sign worldwide rights over to them and give
them the copyright and performance rights for
any songs you might have.
Any songs recorded
for them where they pay for studio time will
mean that the Record Company are 'First
Owners' of the copyright as they 'commissioned'
If they do not want to take up the
options on your contract they might sell you
your own songs for the cost of the recordings.
If you aren't desperate for a deal, try to
hold out for an exclusive deal or try
releasing your own music (see below).
This is the one which most new
artists want to be offered.
In return for the
exclusive nature of the deal, and the assigning
of writing and performance rights, the artist
should expect a reasonable amount of
investment and commitment. The contract will
usually be for one year, possibly six months
if it is just for singles. The contract will
expect you to write a certain amount of tracks
within a given amount of time. The record
company will be able to extend the contract if
they want to; only the record company has
Most record companies want to have
options on four or five albums, however, if
there is competition from other companies for
the band, then they may offer a 'Two Album
Firm deal' where the company offer more
commitment. This can sometimes be shallow as
the company can always get out of a contract
with a simple buy-off.
Dec says: Always remember that we are in the only business in the world where the goal posts shift dramatically in favour of the artist/band when the record reaches the top regions of the chart. Then, everything is up for re-negotiation. And that is where the top negotiating lawyer/manager comes in.
I always advise any band or artist to take whatever deal is on the table from a Company that has respect and credibility within the industry...with the re-negotiation in mind!
If you are confident in your own capability to have a Number One then the details of the first contract are of no relevance...I should know! You should see the re-negotiation we got up to. I was at Number 5 in the Chart and had NO CONTRACT! Beat that! I'll tell you about it come time!
Outline of a Record
- Personal Advances: £72,000
- Equipment: £ 5,000
- Transport: £ 5,000
- Rehearsal Time: £ 6,000
- Debts: £10,000
- Professional fees: £ 7,500
- Sub Total: £105,500
- Manager's Commission: £16,900
- Total: £122,400
Let's call it £125,000 - plus £35,000 for the
hype which you have generated
Grand Total: £160,000
The advances mentioned above
are really for personal finances and do not
relate to the costs involved in actually
producing and selling a record. Some deals
will also include an advance which covers the
recording costs too. These kind of deals will
normally be given to more established artists
or artists with their own recording
facilities. Otherwise all recording costs are
recoupable and once signed the A&R
department will negotiate with you about the
amount they are willing to spend and the
repayment schemes you have to adhere to.
more acute the payments the more pressure will
be exerted and the less freedom you will have.
on over to the greatest site for
It is therefore important to
be realistic about the budget you require for
recording - whilst ensuring that the recording
will be of acceptable standard. Paying a
producer an advance of £3000 and a royality
of 3-4% isn't unheard of.
Dec says: A major Record Company will want to use their own 'pet', 'flavour of the month' producer. He may be a Company man or an outside freelance guy...whichever, it is usually the artist who will pay the advance out of the 'advance' and the points from their royalty share. But all that changes when you have that first 'hit'.
Always remember that the top producers will only get involved if they 'believe' in the project...they have a reputation to protect.
So, if you walk in the studio and see Dr. Dre standing there...you know you are on a winner.
A good mixer will
cost around £10,000 [or a top guy will want expenses plus points - provided he believes in the track/tracks - just like the producer]. Studio time is counted
in hundreds of pounds per hour and musicians
must be paid at least MU rates.
Dec says: Sorry to dissagree, but that thinking has gone way out the window. The punitive rates which the MU advised for overdubs, multi-tracking made the payments farcical. I paid a guy £678 for an hours work! I never used him again!
Today, a session singer can be expected to track himself/herself, sometimes, 40 times. With MU rates, a house could be bought within a week for that kind of dosh!
No, all sessions [apart from TV, Radio, Film] are negotiated sensibly.
therefore a really expensive business and easy
to get carried away, especially when someone
is waving a large cheque in your face to cover
the cost (in the short term).
All these costs
will come out of your part of the royalty
money. Royalties can be calculated
either on the dealer price or on the retail
Dec says: Sorry to dissagree, again. That was the old concept 90% of wholesale. The royalties are nowadays calculated on retail sales. There is an agreed amount deducted from the equation for promotion and freebies and the percentage is adjusted, yet agin, for low priced Supermarket/Garage sales and compilations.
This means that you have to be careful
about what you are being offered before you
sign up. 18% of retail price is a much better
deal than 18% of dealer price as the retail
price is usually around 130% of the dealer
Before suggesting what a good royalty
is I'll try to get across some of the arcane
deductions and measures placed on the
calculations of royalities.
Percentage of Sale
Relates to the days of acetate records,
which were brittle. Most record companies
still include a breakage allowance of 10%
despite the reliability of CDs therefore the
percentage of sales is represented as
Dec says: Again, that is such an old concept...unheard of today.
This relates to the cost of the
packaging - but is, in fact, a scam to reduce the
amount of royalty paid to the artist. This is
usually between 20-25 % of the total cost
Mail order, record clubs
Reduced royalty rate of around 50%
So what would be a good starting royalty rate?
royalty rate for exclusive contracts - all
things being equal is around 18% of the dealer
price with 100% sales, and 20% packaging costs.
Dec says: a bit high! A normal rate after having a decent advance for new equipment and for the band to live on for a year would be 12%. Remember it all changes when you reach Number 3 in the chart.
For exclusive licence
contracts 20-22% is not unusual whilst
non-exclusive licence deals usually are around
18% with no deductions.
is not to be confused with a producer. The
Production Company deal, or more likely small
label, is a, realistic, good deal for the bands
and provided the small label have done their
research well they could be exciting and
financially rewarding for both parties.
way it works is that the Production Company
finds a talented artist but haven't got the
finance or clout to take the artist as far as
they would like to.
The Production Company
then begins to develop the artist with a view
to 'selling them on' to a bigger record
The contract is not dissimilar to a
recording contract - except the deal will be
structured as a net receipts deal as opposed
to one based on royalties. The big record
company don't have to take as great a risk as
normal, particularly where the small label or
Production Company have a track record.
Production Company has the chance of
recouping their out-lay and getting a royalty deal
in to the bargain.
They also get a huge buzz
from discovering the artist and working
closely with them. The artists get to maintain
their artistic freedom whilst being exposed to
the benefits of a large record company.
These can range from the price of
tape to several hundreds or even thousands of
pounds. It is important in lots of ways that
this cost is bourn by the band, if a record
company pay for you to go into a studio to
record a specific piece with the intention of
releasing it, then they have first ownership of
However, until you are signed,
you can take your recordings around to the
highest bidder and licence them out. Or you
can produce your own records.
This is normally a key component in the making
of a record, however, unless your budget is
going to run to Steve Lilywhite or Steve
Albini, then you will probably have to make do
with the house engineer or a friend with a
good solid background in music and someone
whose opinion you really respect.
will work out the budget for the project with
you and manage the whole thing to completion.
They will book the studio, arrange the
specialists, get in the session musicians,
ensure everyone works to contract and that
every one signs the right bits of paper to
ensure that you end up with the correct rights
to your work, and that all the legal problems
with copyright and using samples etc. are
The idea is that, after the project
is finished, the producer can sign the work
over to you or the record company and you have
a finished, ready to press article.
were to go into a studio on an exclusive
record deal with big advances, with a real
producer, the cost would be around 3-4% of your
royalties plus a recoupable advance of around
Dec says: The percentage points are right but very few producers will demand outrageous expenses. Get the book 'Behind the Glass' by Howard Massey [ISBN 0-87930-614.9] for the real story on how the top producers operate....they love great Pop music and will almost give their services for nothing...just to get involved. Pete Waterman proudly says that he never charged more than £500 to produce a record but always had the points! I have always worked the same way.
I am famous for saying: "never go near a recording studio without the best producer you can afford".
Without a producer you may as well go to the nearest bridge and throw all the money you spend over....and I am serious.
This not to be
confused with the producer or engineer, the
mixer is a fresh pair of ears just when you
need them. It will be their decision how to
mix the final version, under guidance from the
producer who has been involved in the project
The mixer really comes in right at
the end to do a specific job, it is highly
specialised and a good mixer can cost as much
But don't be put off if you are
on a budget, this could be the house engineer
again or your local 'producer'
This is something which you need to check is
included when you are phoning around for
quotes. Often the advertised figure does not
include producing a master from your DAT/CDR or
This is another key moment in the
process where it could all go horribly wrong
and it is worth spending time and if needs be
money to get it right. If you are producing
vinyl [for dance tracks] then there are only a few places worth
using - certainly Abbey Road is one, but the
waiting list is quite long so you need to book
If you are mastering a CD then SRT
at St Ives is a good bet. Despite the fact
that they are local they are actually one of
the best companies in the business for pro
production. If you decide to use them to
duplicate your CD then they include the time
to produce the master as part of a one stop
Wherever you decide to get the
mastering done it is a good idea to be there
when it is being done [but don't interfere, says Dec....leave it to the expert!] . If you really can attend, then make sure you hear the
master before you give the go ahead for the
You should try to hear it on a
selection of stereos too - especially car sound systems. Try to pick stereos
that are really poor or old and try to listen
to it in different sized rooms too. Things
always sound different on studio monitors.
Be careful, when getting quotes, to
ensure that you compare like with like. A one
man operation in the home counties with a
computer and a series of domestic CD burners
may be cheap, but will not offer the sort of
quality you might need if your product is
intended for sale in shops or for playing on the
A reasonable all in price would be
around £900 for 500 CD albums. This price
includes printing, but not artwork, and your
designers would have to submit art in a
specific format to avoid paying extra to have
If you are
thinking of using plants outside your own country
remember to ask about how quickly they can
turn round your order - especially if you need a
re-run done quickly.
Dec says: be aware of the 'break-points' in the number being pressed. Any figure less than 1,000 will be duplicated on in-house fast CDR machines, and will be expensive as indicated above. Over 1,000 the big boys take over and set up a pressing run with a dedicated 'glass master'. This is an expensive master, specially made at the 'Mastering Suite'...slightly expensive, but it brings the cost of the pressing down dramatically to pennies.
Design & Printing
This is, obviously, vital to your bands image
and a key component in the promotion. It is a good
idea to get someone else to do it, but only if
there isn't an artist in the band.
end up being a combination of the two, with an
idea, that the band comes up with, being 'worked-up',
or finished, by a professional.
Be careful, when
submitting work, that you have the right kind
of format and that it fits in with any
templates that the record plant send you. If
you do not, they will charge you for re-formatting.
Sometimes its cheaper to get a local
graphic artist to do it for you than one
attached to a record plant. The plant will
put on a small charge for their 'profit'.
Be aware, also, that printing is usually the
reason for a delay in the production of record
or CD - rather than the actual pressing.
Check a list of distributors. You will see that a lot of them
are record companies who claim to be
distributors too, or that some are duplicators
who claim to be distributors and some just
claim to be distributors.
The bigger record
companies will, of course, be all three in one
and some other companies are trying to emulate
There are advantages and disadvantages
in having the three rolled into one. The best
idea could be to find a distributor who can
also duplicate. This means that any run-ons
can be accommodated and coordinated more
easily than dealing with a separate
distributor and record plant.
A Final Word From Dec
You now know that making a record can be a minefield. Do you record yourself? Do you approach a Record Company, a Production Company?
I would suggest that the best course of action is to 'learn your business', so that when you have to make the decisions, you know what everyone is talking about and what everyone is capable of...especially that rip-off studio owner in your local town!
Where do you learn all this stuff?
There is only one place that I know.... The Serious Writers Guild
You will get my personal phone number, on my desk in the studio...you will also get ten months of two books a month crammed with all the necessary tricks, knowledge and know-how to catapult you to recording success....you deserve it.
Adapted with thanks from an article by Richard Brown
web site 'Something
In The Way'
The best reference book for all contacts is 'Uncle
Dec's Lil' Instruction Book - Vol II'
- SRT in St. Ives, Cornwall, UK [CD Duplication.]
- 'Behind The Glass' by Howard Massey [ISBN 0-87930-614.9]
- Abbey Road Studios, Abbey Road, West Hampstead, London [mastering]