I’m probably not the right person to write this column; there are many people out there who know more than me, I’m sure. I’m just a dumb punk rocker who wanted to do something for the scene and for my friends’ band. I decided that a record label was the way to go. I started “Murder and Mayhem Records” about two years ago and had no clue what to do. Anyway, I wanted to put out a debut “seven” by The Louts. The band members have all been my friends for many years, so it was easy to work together.
They were eager to finally have a release, so I researched how to do it. Luckily, I’ve found a good bit of info on various web pages whose urls are completely out of my memory. First, I found out the band and studio need to do some work. Yeah, you can probably use a 4-track and a cheap cassette, but we wanted something better than that. The Louts went to the studio and recorded their songs on a Digital Audio Tape (DAT). The DAT might be the most important thing in putting out a vinyl release. You can always use cassette, CD-R, reel to reel, or other media, but I like the DAT format for its small size – it’s easier to ship.
The next step is mastering, where the songs off the DAT are made into lacquers and metal parts to press vinyl. This is where the actual sound of the record is made. Bad mastering = bad record! Mastering is also very expensive; keep in mind that releasing music is not cheap. I had to borrow lots of money for this release. I thank my friends for helping me out. On a side note, The Louts’ 7″ is almost sold out, and I haven’t made a buck after paying my friends back. Starting a punk label is not the way to go if you want to be a millionaire. Mastering and plating can cost you hundreds of dollars, so I had to find an affordable place. Luckily, I found Aardvark Record Mastering in Denver, CO. They will master, plate and ship the average 7″ for $190. They charge a lot for editing so make sure the songs are in the same order on the DAT as they will be on the 7″. And make sure you have about the same time on each side–you cannot have side A six minutes long and side B two minutes long. Make them both 4 minutes long. That is what the bands need to know and to tell the studio guys.
OK, so now the band has recorded, and you have got mastering and plating completed. Now, you have to press this masterpiece and, oh yeah, you have to make covers and get plastic sleeves. Pressing is very expensive – the more you want pressed, the cheaper it is per record, but wait – we’re not Epitaph – we can’t press 5,000 EPs. Our band isn’t Blink 182, so we can’t sell that many, either. My usual run is 500 small-holed 33 1/3 rpm on black vinyl. This costs me $353 at United Record Pressing in Nashville, TN, which is actually cheap. That price includes black and white labels, 3 test pressings, inner white paper sleeves, and shipping by UPS. You can cut costs by going 45 rpm or with a large center hole; your price will go up with colored vinyl or more elaborate labels. Test pressings are going to cost about twenty bucks, but pay it. GET A TEST PRESSING! It is vital if you don’t want to be surprised by a bad master. Keep in mind that test pressings are on low-quality vinyl and scratch easily, so pay attention to pops and the overall sound. You get three test pressings, so if one pops or skips, play another one. If it doesn’t pop or skip, the finished product won’t either. The finished product will sound better than the best test pressing.
Now, we received and approved our test pressing and we’ll have our records soon, but wait – we made the same mistake I made with The Louts. I don’t have plastic outer sleeves, and where are my covers? I had The Louts’ covers pressed, not copied, and it cost me a lot of money and time. I had the actual records sitting around for a while before I could actually sell them. If you are going to press your covers, set aside at least $200 for a two-sided two color cover. It takes at least 2 weeks, so make sure you have your artwork dropped off before you have your test pressing.
So now you have your finished product: 500 seven-inch EPs of your favorite punk band. You spent a lot of time and money and tons of money putting every single record into its cover and sleeve. The next step is to have a party and celebrate! By the way, I don’t pay bands to record for me; I give them 20% of the press. I gave The Louts 100 copies to sell at their shows to make money back for the studio locally. How I did that is a whole other story, but you have to give a lot away to zines and radio stations for promotion and spend more money on advertising (zines, flyers, web sites, etc.) If you go my route and become a distro, which I do by trading my releases, you have to spend a lot in postage, but records can be shipped 4th class book rate.
Starting a record label isn’t easy, but you have to get the music out somehow. There are a few things you can do to keep your sanity. Take my advice: look around for your best deals, expect to pay a lot of money, and don’t plan on becoming a millionaire.