This page is for other musicians that have stories to tell about making their own CDs. If you have made a CD, gotten airplay or have other success stories, write to me at hotmail.
Tom Rockwell is a musician from Rochester NY. Tom has received airplay on the Dr. Demento show as a rapper named "Sudden Death" and runs his own NY radio show, "Friggin' Here". Tom's most recent adventure involves the making of his CD, "Unplugged". I asked him to write about his experience since it was the most unique one I've heard to date.
Having promised both of my fans that the fourth Sudden Death release would be available on CD I figured it would be a good idea if I actually did it. I didn't think I could really afford it, but I went ahead with the plan anyway. Not that I really had a plan, though.
I had saved up about $700 which I set aside for this project. I figured it would cost more, and I decided to put a cap of $1000 on the project. And if I stood any chance of recovering any part of my investment I knew I had to get the CD done in time for AlCon on June 12, 1998.
Usually I try not to make plans is because when I do they almost never work out. But this time I had to. I had to set a time line and I had to stick to it. I decided that all the recording had to be finished by the end of March so that I could have April and May to produce the CDs. I was considering having the CDs professionally reproduced and I had absolutely no idea how long it would take. Of course, it didn't happen. That would have been too easy. You see, I live in Rochester, NY. The rest of the guys live in Connecticut - 360 miles away. The last week of March was my break from teaching so I went to CT to finish up the recording with the guys. When it didn't happen I had to finish up the last two songs in Rochester in April. Then once everything was done I returned to CT for a weekend to do the mix-down.
Doing the mix-down meant getting together with my friend Steve and using his equipment. He is a professional DJ who does weddings, parties, human-sacrifices, whatever you need. And he is extremely busy. So I thought I would have to borrow his stuff and do it myself. By a pure twist of fate he was available to work with me on one Saturday when he only happened to have one evening wedding instead of the usual two. So we mixed the songs onto a Mini-disc and then used his brand new Phillips CDR machine to burn a CD. I listened to it when I got home and it sounded great. I was happy. It was good.
Now. How do I get a few hundred more of these things to sell at AlCon? It was about to become May and time was running short. So I called Frank Scheidt Audio in Rochester. They are a great little family place who did the cassette duplications for the previous two Sudden Death releases- "Noise Pollution" and "Brain Dead." They do great work, very quickly, and don't charge and arm and a leg. Their ad in the yellow pages said they now do CDs! I figured I was set, so I called them. They told me they use CDRs and burn the CDs individually for $7-8 each. I asked about any kind of bulk-discount. He asked how many I needed. I told him I wanted between 200 and 500. He dropped the phone. He said that it wouldn't be worth me using CDRs for that many and that I should have them done professionally. He recommended a place in Buffalo called ESP and gave me their phone number.
So, I called ESP and got their catalog sent to me. I was pretty impressed with ESP's offerings, and they almost had my business. But it wasn't meant to be. After pondering the difference in price I decided to order 300 CDs which would cost me $780 (100 was $720, 200 was $740, and so on.) That's before tax, no including this that and the other thing which I figured would bring the total up to about $950. Still, it wasn't bad. I sent them the CD, a Zip disk with the design my girlfriend did for the printing on the CD, and a deposit in the amount of $680. That brought my savings account down to a whopping $13, so I figured the rest of the job would go on my credit card. 2 days later I get a call saying that everything looks good and they are going ahead with the job. 2 days after that I get another call saying there are "uncorrectable errors" on the CD and that they can't use it to make copies. It figures. After that stroke of luck I had with Steve being available I should have expected this.
By now we're about 10 days into May. They told me that the project would take 2 to 3 weeks to complete, which would have gotten it to me at the beginning of June- just in time for AlCon. But of course, now there is the little problem withe the CD. Basically I had two choices. I could cancel the order, or I could drive back to CT and make another CD with Steve which would delay the project for almost 2 weeks making it impossible for them to finish the CD in time for AlCon. So I cancelled the order. They sent me back my material and my deposit and I went back to square one.
Now the only way I stood a chance of getting this damn thing done was to do it myself with a CDR drive. I could have used Steve's, but unfortunately it is a "consumer" model. It's not a computer drive. It's a separate unit that hooks up to a stereo. That's fine, but the "consumer" level thing means that he payed a bit less for the unit, but now can only use one type of blank CDR in the machine. Generic brand CDRs won't work, neither will Sony or any of the other brands. It has to be Phillips Consumer CDRs which retail for about $8 each. 200 of those would have cost me a fortune and I would have had to sell the CD for $15 each to stand a chance of recouping my costs. And I was hoping to sell it for less than $10 each. I was shooting for $8. So that wasn't an option.
My then roommate Dave had a friend who had a CDR. I told him to ask his friend if he would burn 100 of them for me and I would pay him $100 or $200 for his trouble. Dave asked this guy and he said "sorry but you're S.O.L."
Wait a minute! Mr. Lee! Of course! Andy Lee has to have one! Andy Lee is a friend of mine from my days at R.I.T. He is the type of guy who has to have the best of everything. He was my roommate for a while and he had a great TV/VCR set up. Me and 5 friends had cornered a suite at the dorms in R.I.T. for our sophomore year. A suite is 3 rooms connected internally that share a bathroom. We cleared out one of the rooms, put Andy's set up in there with a couple couches that we stole from the floor's lounge and called it The Andy Lee Memorial Theatre. But I digress. I called Andy and sure enough he had one is computer. I asked him if he would burn 100 CDs for me and he was kind of leary about doing it. He told me that he'd be willing to do 20 for me if I couldn't find someone else to do it, but didn't want to do more than that because the drive he had was his second one. Apparently he had burned out his first one and thanks to some creativing fine print was unable to get it replaced under warrantee, so he had to buy another one.
OK, so that's my back up plan. Try to find some way to get 100 CDs, and if not at least I can have 20 that I can bring to AlCon.
I began looking to purchase my own CDR drive figuring that was the only way I'd be able to do it. After searching the web a few times over I came accross a company called Essential Data. Since I have a Macintosh I had to get a SCSI drive, which they had. The cheapest drive was $309, much cheaper than I thought it would be. I thought about it for a day, then decided I had to do it if I stood a chance of making AlCon. So I ordered it right on the web page. The drive was $309, 100 blank CDs was $160, (I actually had a lead on a guy who was selling 100 for $90, but he never emailed me back and I didn't have time to fool around), and the software was $50. Including shipping the order came to about $530.
Next day... DAMMIT! I forgot something. I knew the drive would work in my Macintosh since it's SCSI, but I forgot to ask about the software. I called the company and told them the situation. They said no problem. The Mac version of the software ("Adaptec Toast") costs the same as the Windows software so they would make the substitution for me. *whew!*
The package arrived on June 2. 10 days and counting.
Now, to install it. I knew basically what I had to do to install it since I had recently installed a new hard drive in my computer. Now, I have a PowerMac 7100. If you've never seen this computer, it's a desktop case which is designed for everything EXCEPT easy access to the drives. The floppy drive is on top, the hard drive is to it's left, the CD-ROM is under the floppy encased in the frame, and the RAM slots are under the CD. You have to have long, thin, strong fingers to install RAM in this thing if you don't know how to take the CD drive out (which I did't at the time). I took everything apart but I could not get the CD drive out for the life of me. It looked like it just slid out the front, but I couldn't get it out. I ended up calling somebody. He came out that day, pulled off these flimsy little metal pieces which were holding it in place, and the drive slid out nicely. That cost me $80.
He began to put the new drive in, hooked up the SCSI cable and power supply without any problems. Then he went to hook up the audio cable. It didn't fit! F*@#!!! He explained that the drive would still work, but I would not be able to listen to audio CDs from the drive until I got a new cable or an adapter. He left. I went to CompUSA to find the cable. Nothing. Screw it. I'll deal with it later.
Now, to install the software. Hmmm. The software is on a CD-ROM. My new drive won't work without the software installed first. D'oh! (Swap the CD drives again.) Install the software. (Swap the CD drives again.) I read through the software's instructions and learned how to use it. Since I don't have 2 drives (well, technically I do, but I have no way of hooking up the old one right now) I have to copy the CD's song files to my computer. This was just a matter of dragging and dropping them into the Toast window, then hitting the Extract button. That copied the songs to my hard drive. I put in a blank CD, my computer said "This disk is unreadable by this Macintosh. Would you like to initialize it? Eject. Initialize." I hit Initialize figuring I had to for the CD to be written on. Silly me. I selected Audio CD from the format menu and told the software to start burning. It said that the CD was formatted for data and could not be made into an audio CD. D'oh! Oh well. I ejected the CD and put it aside figuring I'd use it later to back up some data. This time I hit the Write Disk button before I put in a CD (actually, it doesn't matter as long as I hit the button before it asks me to initialize it) and then inserted the CD. It started writing. 11 minutes later (it's a 4X drive) it said it was done. I ejected the CD.
Since I can't play the CD in the drive itself without a new audio cable I hooked up my CD walkman to my radio and put the CD in there. I went over to the couch, collapsed, and listened to the entire CD all the way through.
It sounded great! It was beautiful! I was so relieved. Maybe this would happen afterall! That was 1. 98 more to go. *groan*
I burned 99 CDs successfully over the next 5 days. I had no problems at all with any of them. No coasters. Steve's friend has a drive that is less than 50% effective. Over half the CDs he tries to burn fail and end up in the scrap heap. I didn't have that problem, thank God. (I don't know what his problem is. He doesn't use a Mac, and I don't know what brand or make his CDR drive is, but to me 50% failures is unacceptable.)
Now, the insert. It is now the week before I am to go to AlCon. I've got about 6 days left to print, copy, assemble, and stuff 99 CDs. I had already done the cover art several months before so that was no problem. That was just a matter of scanning it. My girlfriend did the design for the inside. I gave her all the type and she went to work. I then did the South Park style caricatures of the 5 of us for the inside and told her to include it. She got the design done the following day and we went to where I teach and got laser prints of the cover.
Now, my girlfriend designed them as to how they were going to look side by side, not how they would have to be printed to get that way so she had to cut them out and glue them to another piece of paper with the proper pages side by side so that when we assembled them it would come out right. I used the school's high speed copier to make the copies but didn't like how the cover looked. The cover is a pen and ink drawing done in pointilism (lots of little dots.) That's not a problem, but laser printers have a half-tone screen which was clashing with the dots on the drawing. So I got a color print of the cover which looked a lot better since there was no half-tone screen so all the dots on the print corresonded to the dots on the drawing. I glued that one on top of the old one and went and made more copies.
I wanted the pages to be perfect. In the past we had used the paper cutter at Kinkos to cut out these things. But I decided to do them by hand with an X-Acto knife. That lasted for about 20 covers. And I had to buy a long arm stapler to staple the booklets together. After my back finally cramped up for the last time I decided to go to Kinkos and use the papercutter. Luckily I only screwed up 2 or 3 of them and since I had extras it was no big deal. The first 20 took me about 4 hours. The last 80 took me another 5 I think. It was a long, torturous day. I finished stuffing them on Thursday, June 10th at 1 AM. (OK, technically it was Friday morning at 1 AM. The point is, "Unplugged" was finally finished.) Friday we got up at 5:30 and drove 11 1/2 hours from Rochester to Chicago. Saturay we performed at AlCon, and I'm proud to say we had 97 CDs to sell. (Mine and my girlfriend's were left back in Rochester in case we sold out so we didn't accidentally sell our personal copies.)
Sudden Death performed at AlCon and we got a standing ovation. I sold 34 of the CDs that day, which I'm happy about. I gave a copy to Jon "Bermuda" Schwarts who helped me with the licence for my cover of Weird Al's "Happy Birthday" and I also gave a copy to "Weird Al" Yankovic himself who made a surprise appearance that day.
That Monday I sent a copy off to Dr. Demento. The following Saturday I got email from him saying that he received the CD and that "it made his day" and that he was planning on playing a few of the songs on his show. One of our songs from the CD, "South Park Junkie" had already been aired several times and even went to #1 for 2 weeks. (I had sent him a tape of the song a few months before.)
So now I have about 55 CDs left to sell, and I have this CDR drive to use for this or other things. (I have a shareware company, too, so this will come in handy.) Getting "Unplugged" done in time for AlCon was torture. It seemed like everything was working against me. I thought about giving up a couple times, but I knew I would regret it if I did. And I now have a CD which I'm proud of. I'm glad it's over, but I've already started working on the next one. When will I learn?
I can't believe I finally found this on the web. I have been searching and serching for so long to find something for musician's who like to do their own work. Sadly, though, we just finished our CD and yes we made plenty of mistakes but the bottom line is really good (of course that is like asking a parent about their child).
My name is Tom Hoobler and I play bass for a band called SOLEYduncan here in Phoenix, AZ.. We have so far, on our own (in 1 1/2 years), made our own CD, stickers, T-shirts, web page, business cards, have over 30 songs formatted and are playable, played in three states, and have made our band self sufficient for the most part.
The CD was recorded at Glendale Community College and the Conservatory of Recording in Tempe. It was recorded by students, so it didn't cost us a thing. We haven't been able to muster money for recording equipment yet but we have that in our near future expenses. We did basically everything we could ourselves. And, it was soooooo much fun. It is tedious especially when you swing at every curve they throw at you. Like anything if you keep at it long enough you will eventually starting hitting a few.
We are now getting to record three more albums. The first of the three will have a different approach then most. We want to go in a record a Jam session. What gets recorded is what we will end up with. No planning, No rehearsing, just having a idea in our heads in the direction we want to take it and going for it. The last two will be more commercial.
I know I am doing the "look at me -- see what I've done" thing. I just wanted to confirm that DIY is the way to go. So many bands are concentrating on getting "signed." That when they finally do their done. They learned everything there is to know about kissing the right ass, meeting the right person, that when they get there they have no idea what to do. What they don't realize is that music is what got them there. Learn about music (don't f-up your bizness though, take care of your bizness), and let the geeky gee-I-wish-I-knew-how-to-play-an-instrument cooperate fucks do their job not yours.
Let me just say thanks once again for taking the time to develop this page and I have definitely learned from it. If there is anything I could do to help let me know. Oh one more thing -- your deal about bands helping bands to sell CD's. I like it and have been thinking along those lines for awhile now. I would like to discuss what your plans are for doing this a little more. One thing I think that was left out of your plan was the Lazy Human Factor. But, like I said I would like to go over it with you in more detail. When you get a chance, please send me a e-mail about that.
Thanks once again,