Steve Dix...Comedian?

Raptus Regaliter

Foraging for food in the bins beside the Information Highway.

28.04.2005 11:01 - Distributing Music on a Shoestring

So, how did a then-unemployed musician press an album on a shoestring?

Quite easy, really, and most of it is due to the plummeting costs of technology, and the ability to download free software.

First of all, record your album. I won't go into details here except to say that you can record a very good-sounding album with an old 300Mhz computer and a soundcard that can be had for pennies. You can even record your masterpiece on an eight-track or four-track cassette machine, then mix down to your computer and get good quality.

Secondly, you need some way of creating a CD. Again, CD-burners are ubiquitous - if you haven't got one, find someone who has. You can probably pick up a 2nd-hand one from someone who has upgraded to a DVD-burner quite cheaply.

Next, you need the CDs and packaging. CD-Rs are available quite cheaply via any number of stores. I bought a 100-CD spindle, enough for my release. Try and get a good name-brand, as some CD-Rs are more subject to corrosion as time goes on. You will also need a set of labels. You can produce a perfectly good set of labels using an inkjet printer. Beware ink costs, though, as the cartridges are expensive. Avoid colour label designs for this reason. You can buy ink refill kits for the cartridges, and the print-head on most cartridges will withstand three refills before it wears noticably. There are some special brands of printer/CD-R that allow you to print directly on the CD itself, but do some calculations before you go in that direction. As for software to print on the labels, you can get a free program to do that for you from or similar.

The CD case itself is easy. You can pick up cheap slimline CD cases for pennies - I literally got enough for one run for ten euros in a sale.

Now you will want to have some kind of insert or booklet for the CD. You'll need some sort of photo for the cover. Find a friend who is an amateur photographer, and buy them a roll of film and ask them to take some photos of you. Film will be better than digital snaps, because you can then get the photos digitised to a high resolution for printing. Some developers will even make a CD of your shots for you, meaning that you have them already-digitised for your use.

If you don't have a photo, then take a look around the net, as there are a lot of websites which contain royalty-free snaps, where the photographer has waived all rights for use.

Now you need to design your cover/booklet. Again, here's where the internet helps. You can download a free copy of the old version of Serif Pageplus at their website. You can use this to design the inlay - it even comes with CD inlay templates. Once you have designed it, you're ready to print . FORGET USING INKJET PRINTERS. The result looks poor, fades quickly, and is easily water-damaged. What you need to do is find a print-shop, preferably one close to a University, because they'll be pricing accordingly due to demand from Students. Try and find one that is high-tech, and is equipped with computers and a colour laser, as high-resolution as possible. They may also be able to help with digitising your photos to a high-enough level for print work.

So, you now need to get your design into a format that they can work with. You will need a colour postscript printer driver - download it free from Adobe. Set your copy of pageplus to output to a file using the colour postscript driver. You will then need to "distill" this file into Adobe PDF. This can be done using another free piece of software called "Ghostscript". You can then take the PDF to the printshop, and they will be able to read it into their software (probably Quark), alter it if there are any problems, and then print out a high-resolution master copy. They can then use this to make good colour photocopies. You will then have the trouble of cutting out and putting together the inlay. Some places will do it for you, at extra cost. The printing will be the costliest part of the operation. If you really don't want to bother with printing, just get the labels done, and instead of cases, use plastic cd sleeves.

Now all you have to do is put the lot together. Hey presto, your own limited-edition run album.

Copyright © 2003-2011 Steve Dix