So far I’ve said that in order to get on the radio you need to have 1) a song that people want to hear – don’t want to turn off, 2) that you need to define your audience, define who your listeners are and 3) you need to produce tracks that are broadcast ready, that sound professional. The next step in getting your song on the radio is duplication and packaging. What’s the big deal? A great song is a great song, right? Yes, true, but this is something that has people divided. Some people really care about the total package, others don’t. Many stations, especially commercial ones, won’t play anything that isn’t professionally packaged – artwork, booklet, UPC and replicated. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each, and why this varies.
Lets take a look at the artwork first. No matter what anybody says about anything else, everyone agrees that the most important thing is that your name – whether you are a band, solo artist or singer/songwriter- must be on the artwork and clearly readable. It’s your brand, it’s how people know you. Make sure people can see it.
Your name should be on the booklet, the tray card, the spine and the disc itself. You can have the coolest, slickest graphic design, or artwork, but if the person who picks up your disc has no idea who it’s by, it will be discarded. Make sure you or your designer incorporates your name into the design. Sounds silly, but I have seen this happen. In the 90s I was guilty of releasing a CD without the band’s name on the disc, just cool artwork. It was a popular thing to do, but cool or not, it’s definitely not cool when you have to play the disc to find out what band it is.
Now why does anyone care if you have artwork at all? To some people, having artwork shows that you are ready to play with the big boys, or you are in fact one of the big boys. If you care enough about the presentation, then you care about the music. You aren’t just an artist with Garageband and a color printer, you are serious. Some people won’t even look at a CD that has a plain white label with the band name and song listing. But, that’s not true for everyone. Think about point 2, define your audience. For example, if you are in the DIY punk scene or in the dance music scene you can probably get away with a white label. Record companies still distribute “white labels” and they still get played on the radio. For those of you who never heard of one, a “white label” used to be a 12-inch single that had a plain white label with the song title and artist name stamped on it. They were sent out to radio stations and DJs as part of an album’s promotion, before the commercial single was released. It may be considered cool to do a white label for your genre. So, either way, if you have the choice between artwork or white label, I’d say go with the complete package.
Getting a UPC for your disc is also something that can take your CD from demo to album. Again, this shows you are serious, you are committed to selling your product. This is also kind of silly considering you can get one for free from virtually every place that makes your CD. Having the UPC says to the PD that this is a commercial release, if they play it, people can buy it.
Here’s something unusual that I never thought mattered-case selection. If you have a choice between slimline or jewel box, which do you choose? The answer is go with the jewel box. I have heard so many complaints about the slimline from PDs, editors, reviewer and other industry people saying they never want to see another slimline case again, and will ignore them. The problem is that if your slimline CD is in a stack of 50 other CDs it won’t be easily found. There is no spine to display the artist and album names! Seems like such a tiny thing, but they want convenience. If your CD is in the rack with hundreds or thousands of others, or in a stack on a desk, it won’t easily be found. This has become a deal breaker.
The last consideration, do you replicate or duplicate? What’s the difference between replication and duplication? With replication your music is stamped into the disc, with duplication you music is burned onto the disc. Deciding which to go with can be tough, and is often made depending on your budget and quantity of CDs you need. If you are short on funds you might want to go with duplication. But, if you have the cash you you should go with replication. You must also consider this: replicated discs are perceived to be better quality than duplicated discs. It’s for this reason that many radio stations won’t play a CD that is burned, or duplicated. The real deal here is not really the quality, it’s about whether or not the CD will play on the CD player. Depending on how a CD was burned-if it was burned to Red Book standards (standards set for music CDs for consistent playback), the bit rate, and the speed it which it was burned-it may not play on all CD players. And you want to make sure your CD plays on every CD player.
These all may seem like silly things, but are all very important. Remember, you are competing for the same radio time as thousands of releases by major labels. There are only so many programming hours and you need to make sure your CD gets at least half the chance a major label release gets.
Now that you’ve got your songs, a great recording, your audience defined and your package, the next step… the paper work. Yup, you’re not ready yet, still a few more things to do! Stayed tuned for part 5.