Manufacturing Records and CDs

Format Issues.

After months of trying to impress record companies, managers, promoters and the like with demo tapes, only to find that they treat you and your work with little more than polite disinterest, there may come a time when you and your band decide to go for it and make your own record or cd. When this time comes there are certain mysteries to unveil. Most of these are easily solved with some basic research and a bit of good old mathematics. Some of them are a bit more difficult and are to do with the technical details of manufacturing both the chosen formats, eg vinyl or cd, and the artwork. This document is an attempt to demystify some of this.

The first problem is to decide which format you want to use for your release. This decision will depend on a variety of factors. These will include; taste, convenience, dictates of style/genre, cost.

Taste

It is very possible that you prefer a particular format for purely personal reasons. There is nothing wrong with this so long as the format you choose matches the market preference you are aiming at. Most markets prefer CD these days but some specialised areas of the music industry still prefer vinyl. The dance music scene in its various guises, for example, seems to prefer vinyl. These are very often for technical reasons, i.e. it is easier to mix using turntables playing records than with CDs. There are CD mixers available but they are in their infancy and do not find favour with most of the DJs that I have spoken to, although this may change in the next few years.

Convenience

Many people feel that CDs are more convenient than records for various reasons. Most of these are to do with storage, but from a manufacturing and releasing point of view CDs, mainly because of their size and the availability of computer technology, they are easier to prepare. For example; CD-Rs can be made and PQ encoded without the need for incurring both the cost and timetable limitations of using the manufacturers. Artwork can be designed and formatted on standard modern personal computers, assuming the relevant software is available.

Dictates of Style/Genre

Some genres of music seem to favour certain formats at various times and for various reasons. Some of these reasons have been touched on already above. I have found that the genre I work in mostly still has a taste for vinyl. The reasons for this are complex, but are probably a combination of a resistance to change for its own sake (conservatism) and the false assumption that vinyl is cheaper than CD and therefore more 'DIY'.

Cost

Cost is the main factor for me which makes CDs favourite as the format to release on. CD manufacturing costs are coming down so much and so quickly that vinyl manufacture is being forced out of the market. Looking at the manufacturers' price lists and catalogues it is possible to say that the forcing out of vinyl is deliberate by these companies. Firstly, many of the manufacturers no longer cater for the making of records. Secondly, the prices of CD manufacturing are decreasing at some speed. For example, DocData (formerly Mayking) have dropped their per unit pressing prices over the last couple of years as follows;

Year

Price

1995-6

85p on 500 copies

80p on 1000 copies

1997-98

65p on 500 copies

60p on 1000 copies

1998-present

60p on 500 copies

58p on 1000 copies

This represents a decrease of something like 25-30% over the period. Note: these figures are based on estimating an average figure from my experience of releasing material, they are not published anywhere as far as I know. You may find prices different to these when doing your own releases.

Whatever you decide to do regarding the format of your releases it is a great help having some understanding of the processes involved to have some idea of what exactly you are paying for, why you are paying for it, and to be able to consider alternatives.

Where to find Manufacturers

You will find contact numbers for many CD and record manufacturers in the back of most trade papers and some in the general music press, eg NME, etc.

Good books for all kinds of contacts are The White Book & Music Week Directory. However, these tend to be expensive and/or difficult to get hold of.

Whatever you decide to do regarding the format of your releases it is a great help having some understanding of the processes involved to have some idea of what exactly you are paying for, why you are paying for it, and to be able to consider alternatives. The two links at the top of this page, 'vinyl' and 'compact disc' lead to pages showing simplified explanations of the processes involved.

There are chapters of books written on this subject which you should read if you want to know more details. In my experience all the books are quite good on the subject but neglect to mention what a nightmare it can be to a newcomer looking through the different manufacturers' price lists and catalogues. One of the first obstacles to understanding a release project is that there are no standard descriptive terms for the manufacturing processes.

Now go to the pages which deal with the individual formats for details of processes, names and costs, etc.