Duplication and distribution

By now you should've recorded a killer demo/album, taken steps to protect the content, and be ready to unleash it on the unsuspecting world.

Making cassette tapes

You can either get tapes professionally done, or if you really believe in the DiY ethic, you can do them yourself. My experience shows that the demand for tapes isn't that high, especially if you're not playing live. Professionally produced CDs are cheaper than professionally produced tapes. Thus there's little incentive to get tapes done professionally (unless you're lazy). However, tapes do have their uses and it'd be nice if you had a few handy.

What I do is make my own tapes. In order to do this, all you need is a good tape deck to record to and preferably a digital source to record from. Thus if you have a computer where you can store your sound files with high quality, or own a DAT, then you can make as many tape copies of it as you want real time. The only thing is that you will be spending a lot of time doing it, though you probably would just pop a tape in and do other things (as I write this, I am recording tapes also!). You can also get a tape copying machine (I think you can get a machine for the amount it costs to run off a couple of hundred tapes commercially).

Labels can gotten for, and printed with, any laser or dot matrix printer and they look quite professional. What looks even more professional is getting rubber stamps of your name and logos and printing them on the cassette shell with white ink. You can even use the stamps for printing on regular labels with different colours, or on other correspondence. Thanks to Lee Damschroder for this idea.

The covers for tapes can be printed on a laser printer and photocopied. If you want colour, you can use colour photocopiers (remember to use multiple copies of the cover on a single sheet of paper so you save on paper and ink). You then need to cut the cover out yourself (which you can do easily with a paper cutter (not scissors!)). The same principle can be used to replicate lyrics sheets if you have any.

I usually buy 100 tapes at one time and then spend a whole weekend dubbing the tapes while I do other work. I just pause every half hour to rewind my DAT and pop in a new tape. Each time I need to send out a tape, I take a cover and a lyric sheet, cut and fold the necessary bits, pop it in an envelope, and send it off. It works for me! Look at the resources section in my Musicians across the Internet page for more information on blank media dealers.

Making CDs

At some point, you will need to get CDs your music, particularly if you want it to receive radio airplay. As of now, making CDs at home isn't the cheapest way to go about doing things (even though it is possible). However, CDs can be made for a rather cheap price. Contact these CD duplicating houses for brochures and pricing information. Look at the resources section in my Musicians across the Internet page for more information on duplication.

Costs associated with Making CDs and Tapes

I thought I'd spend a bit of time telling you how much making tapes and CDs cost me, and the decisions I had to make during this process. Note that all prices are rounded off so the final figures include miscellaneous and sundry items such as postage, shipping, and other costs incurred during the process of duplication. These figures are to give you an idea of how much things will cost without you losing anything (it even allows for a few free copies that will invariably be given away). Thus anything you charge on top of this should be pure profit.


Whether you are getting tapes or CDs or both done, you need to consider whether you need to invest in professional mastering. I got my album mastered by Phil Mendelsohn at Hotdish Mastering and I think that he did an excellent job and that I got my money's worth. I am not sure whether it was necessary, but as Phil put it, would you rather you have control of what the final output looks like, or would you rather leave it to the CD pressing plant? I like the mastered version of the CD, and it does sound more competitive with the rest of the releases out in the real world, but I also like the rough normalised mixes. In my case, there's not much of a difference between the mastered and unmastered versions, except that the mastered version sounds cleaner, less noisy, and more wholesome. I have decided that my CD and tapes will contain the mastered versions of the songs, whereas the online versions will be the unmastered mixes.

The costs associated with mastering depends on the processing you want (i.e., the changes that have to be made to your final mixes), the raw materials that will be used, and the amount of time it takes for the mastering engineer to go through your music. Thus the more music you have, the more it will cost in general. In my case, I had over 70 minutes of music in my first album and assuming the mastering engineer takes an hour to process 10 minutes of music, then they would 7 hours to go through your music. Assuming a mastering fee of $70/hour, and assuming the materials are "free", then that project would cost around $500. This is a cheap estimate. I have seen prices that far more expensive. The most important thing I can think of during this process is picking the right engineer for the kind of music you make, who has the patience to understand your aesthetic and gets the sound you want. I picked Phil because he was helpful and patient about my questions, and he seemed to know his stuff. I lucked out because he also did a great job for a low cost, but your mileage may vary. Be careful!

Jer Olson writes: the best comment I can offer on the subject is that mastering solves the "volume" "EQ" and "noise" descrepencies between "home/basement recordings" and "major label recordings." So when your engineer says, "Wouldn't you rather control the final sound rather than leave it to the duplicator?", he is raising a valid point. But far more importantly, your engineer should exercise greater care (in general) than the duplicator while making the necessary adjustments to your final mix, also giving you the opportunity to approve it on the spot. Many people assume that if they have a so-so mix, the mastering engineer will be able to raise the dead--not so! Only a great mix can lead to a great master. Every stage is important. It should also be noted that a mastering engineer (an incompetent one) can totally destroy a good mix. It's just as important as picking your producer and engineer.


Making tapes depends on the length of your album/demo. In my case, I had over 70 minutes of music and so I had to use 72 minute tapes. You can expect each such tape, along with the case, to cost around $1.50. Assuming copying of the lyric and cover sheets costs about about $1.00 (Kinko's here charges $1.00 for a single colour copy), and the packaging (for mailing of the tape) is another $0.50, that neatly works out to $3.00. This is exactly what I charge for a tape. In my case, all the mastering costs are carried in the cost of a CD since I don't plan to sell too many tapes. You could break down the mastering costs between the CDs and the tapes, however.


Making CDs have hidden costs associated with it, and thus it behooves you to make your decisions wisely. Aside from the mastering costs, there's the issue of artwork, case design, and whether or not you give away free CDs. Each of these play a role because usually CDs are manufactured in bulk (1000 units or more) and an additional 10 cents per unit can translate to an additional $100 for the 1000 units. Everything I am going to say here applies to getting 1000 units pressed (make sure you clarify this number when you ask for prices).

First of all, the prices for replication of the disc itself varies between various CD replicators. However, it is important to keep in mind that price of the disc alone isn't the deciding factor. If you know a company that makes CDs in Timbuktoo for 70 cents a piece and it costs 30 cents/unit for shipping, then you're better off dealing with a local company that charges you 90 cents. You might also have more peace of mind dealing with a local company. I'm going to illustrate the difference between getting your CDs pressed by a company like EMI Manufacturing in Jacksonville, Illinois (a big major label pressing firm), and Oasis Duplication in Silver Spring, MD (which specialises in independent artists and is local to people in the DC area).

EMI Manufacturing charges about 80 cents/unit, with two colour printing on the disc. However, they do not do any of the preparatory work for you (nor do they do any of the printing---you have to supply them with the paper components). You have to do the artwork/typesetting yourself and provide them with the film (which might work out to anywhere between $50-$100). Also, there's a shipping charge of 10 cents/unit associated with each disc. Thus if you deal with EMI, you can expect to spend $1.00/disc.

Oasis Duplication has offered readers of this page a price of quote $950 for a thousand discs (including 2 colour printing), plus shipping and film. If you live in the DC area, you could probably squeeze both shipping and film for $100 for the thousand discs. Thus if you deal with Oasis Duplication, you can expect to spend around $1.05/disc.

From the above analysis, it seems straightforward that if I dealt with EMI, I would be saving myself $50-$100 for the thousand CDs. This is the final decision I made, but it wasn't an easy one. [At the time I made this decision, the price quotes I got from Oasis and EMI reflected a price difference of $200, but with the latest price quotes included here, you might actually be better off going with Oasis since they'll do the preparatory work for you also.] The reason I chose to do it because I had the resources to all the prepartory work (making the artwork and the film). However, I almost considered going with Oasis Duplication because of their proximity to me, and because I knew if I had a problem I could just drive down there and work with them, and because they were willing to do the preparatory work for me. To EMI's credit, they were extremely helpful with my queries and their response time is fantastic---I had the CDs within ten days after I had sent the pre-master. The advantage of doing things yourself is that you learn a lot about the printing and duplicating process. The disadvantage is that you have to work to get things "exactly right".

The bottom line is this: if you don't have a tight budget, and you'd rather have someone else do all the preparatory work, and you want to have some peace of mind, I strongly recommend dealing with someone local to you. For those in the DC area, I have not been able to find a better deal than Oasis Duplication (which also offers some decent package deals). However, if you're willing to do the preparatory work yourself, and are willing to deal long-distance, I haven't come across a better deal than EMI Manfacturing.

Once you have the discs done, you need to decide what kind of case you need. You can always pick the standard jewel case option (the cost of which depends on the amount of artwork you have) or you can (as in the case of the tapes) do the packaging yourself. In my case, I have two packaging options for those who want to buy my CD:

The more expensive option is to buy the CD in a diecut gimmick CD case. This depends on the amount of artwork, size of the die, and colour process used, etc. In my case, it worked out to be about $3.50 per case. The diecutting and printing was done by Gamse Litho (in Baltimore, MD) and I think it's worth every penny I paid. The case is beautiful to look at and has a lot of art work, and it's original. One of the things that bugs me with regards to CD artwork is that it is too small---the new case option allows for large graphic designs. Also, the gimmick case doesn't have any plastic and it is more environmentally friendly. I thought Gamse were really professional in dealing with me, and they did an amazing job!

The less expensive option is to buy the CD in a vinyl sleeve. Here, like with the tapes, I assemble the final output myself. The lyrics sheets and the cover can be photocopied and inserted along with the CD into the vinyl sleeve. This makes for a nice and elegant looking packaging option, which works out to about $1.50/unit for me (this includes the cost of (sometimes colour) photocopying of the cover and lyrics sheets, the cost of the sleeve, and the packaging required for the mailing of the unit).

In my case, totalling up the costs, we have about 50 cents/unit from the mastering and $1.00 for the replication of the disc: so one disc itself costs $1.50. If you go with the vinyl sleeve option, then each unit will totally cost $3.00 (making a tape costs me just as much). If you go with the gimmick case option, it will totally cost $5.00. These prices plus postage is what I am selling them for. It's not bad regardless of which option you choose, given that you get over 70 minutes of warped and twisted music!

Getting your music out there

Once you have your tapes and CDs duplicated, you need to consider what it is you want to accomplish with your music. If it is just reaching a lot of people, then check out the Free Music Philosophy. You might even make some money by adopting it. Following the FMP, however, does not preclude you from signing to a label (for greater distribution). You could try to send your demos to many labels, but I doubt unsolicited demos will get attention. It might better to send your demos to people you know who are in the music industry and perhaps they can pass it to the respective A&R people. You could try sending your tapes to the many small independent labels out there and they are probably likely to pay attention to you (more than the bigger labels).

One of the ways to get your works distributed is to take it stores like Border's or Tower Records, and they will carry your stuff for you on consignment. I usually carry around 10 CDs and almost every music I goto, I ask if they're interested in carrying my stuff on consignment. Sometimes they say no, and sometimes they say yes. If they say "yes", then I'm in. While this hasn't been the best way for me to sell stuff, in the long run, it does sell stuff and I think it's good. If you don't want to worry about going to every store yourself and dealing with them, then you need to hook with a proper distributor.

For more info, read the next section on marketing/promotion.

Music ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || me@ram.org