CD Recording Tips
Below, comments from:
Marvin O'Dell, host of Around the Campfire
Jeri Dobrowski, journalist, photographer, and Cowboy Jam Session columnist
Andy Nelson, poet, humorist, and host of Clear Out West (C. O. W.) radio
Smoke Wade, poet, writer, and reviewer who makes poetry selections for the Western Heritage Show
We've chosen some cowboy poetry and Western music CD packaging examples to illustrate the writers' points.
Marvin O'Dell, host of the Around the Campfire radio show on Heartland Public Radio:
On Maximizing Airplay for Cowboy PoetryThis past summer (2006), I decided to feature cowboy poetry for a full-month on my radio program Around the Campfire. By and large, I find cowboy poetry to be very interesting, entertaining, humorous, and oftentimes thought-provoking. However, finding poetry that can be used on the air is sometimes an exercise in frustration.After announcing that I wanted to feature cowboy poetry, CowboyPoetry.com posted a notice. As a result, I began receiving poetry CDs in the mail. However, I soon discovered that I couldn't just throw a poem on the air and expect it to be suitable for public radio airplay. Some of the sound/recording quality was very poor, and sometimes, the words were not acceptable for public broadcasting. And there were other difficulties I was forced to wade through.At the November, 2006 Western Music Association (WMA) event in Albuquerque, I gave a session to the Youth Chapter of the WMA on how to package a CD for marketing and for maximum airplay. These same points may be helpful to cowboy poets who would like to see more exposure on radio for their work. I'll list them here with some expansion that pertains to poetry CDs.
1. Put your picture on the front of your CD. When your CD is displayed alongside those of several other artists, the consumers will always look first at the CDs that show faces they recognize. Go to the local record store and look at the CDs of any successful artist in any field—almost all will have their faces on the front. Very few will have paintings or concept pictures. This is a matter of opinion, but I believe you’ll draw more attention to your CD with your picture than anything else.
Chris Isaacs' Out With the Crew
2. If you have a title that will draw attention to the CD, put that near the top with your name just under it. When you get national name recognition, then you can put your name at the top.
Andy Nelson's Full Nelson Shoeing
3. Spend a little extra for a good photo. Don't have it done by a friend who’s an amateur photographer. Use a professional. This says that the quality of the front insert speaks to the quality of the entire project.
4. Put your contact information (e-mail, website, and so on) on the tray card. Most poetry CDs I receive have no contact information; therefore, I cannot list the information on my playlist for listeners who may want to order the CD.
5. Be sure and list your poem titles on the back of the CD. I have a poetry CD that I received over a year ago with no titles on the tray card (back insert). I have intended for a year to type up a list of what I thought the titles might be, and then make up my own tray card. But I still haven't gotten it done. Consequently the CD has received no airplay.
6. Put the times of each track on the tray card. There are several times during a DJ's show that he needs a song or poem of a certain time length. He doesn't have time to look inside the front insert for the time or to put your CD into a player and punch up the digital readout looking for the time. If his hand falls on your CD, and he isn't able to quickly ascertain that there is a cut for the length of time he has, he'll just push it aside.
7. Make sure the track number is listed along with the title. The DJ shouldn't have to count the cuts to play the one he wants. Radio shows move too fast, and your CD will often be put aside if a track is not easily found. And – make sure they are in the correct order with the correct track number beside the title.
The BAR-D Roundup: Volume One (2006) back cover
8. Credit writers correctly, and show them on the back insert also. DJ's like to mention writers, and it’s also a courtesy to the writer.
9. Make sure your tray card is easily read—actually, this should be true for all your inserts. If a DJ cannot read the back insert, your airplay will be limited. Make sure you don't obscure the song titles with the picture on the back. Don't put dark letters on a dark background or light letters on a light background. And don't use fancy fonts that are difficult to read. I have a poetry CD from a good friend that receives very little play because I simply cannot read the titles easily on the back.
10. Make sure the spine of the CD reads from up to down when it’s on the shelf—like a book. Also—use a large, very readable font. Larger titles will get pulled when the DJ is in a hurry.
11. Put the year of the release somewhere on the CD. After a few years, DJ's will want to refer to the year of the recording, as will historians.
12. Spend a little extra and put at least a 4-paneled insert with your CD. This is something else that speaks of good quality. And make sure you put something on the inside—don’t waste space. If you're hoping that others will recite your poems, provide the words.
13. Don’t use a slim-line CD case. They get lost in the shuffle and do not stand out on a shelf. CDs in slim-line cases receive much less play than those in the larger case which is easier for the DJ to work with.
14. Make sure your CD is mastered so that the tracks are all at the same sound level.
15. Make sure your CD is mastered so that each track begins playing no later than one second from the time the DJ hits the play button. Three seconds is way too long—an eternity in radio.
16. If a song has a vocal intro, have it mastered onto the end of the previous cut. Radio isn't interested in talking intros. I have several poetry CDs that I just don't use because I don't want the listener to have to sit through the intro. Intros do not make for smooth, fluid radio.
17. Freely send or give your CD to DJ's. As Michael Fleming has said, "Your CD is an expensive business card—but it is your business card. Hand it out freely."
18. Create a record label and catalogue number. Some stations keep a log of everything they play. You look much more professional if you have a label and catalogue number they can enter. Some stations will not use any CD that does not have a label and catalogue number. (For example, "Musikode Records 1001.")
Marvin O'Dell's Letter to Molly (back cover)
19. If you have a poem on the CD that audiences particularly love—something you get a GREAT response to—consider titling your CD with that poem title. People will be looking for that it.
Yvonne Hollenbeck's What Would Martha Do?
20. Make sure your recording holds to a high standard for sound quality. If your recording has a lot of breath noise or other off-the-mic sounds that disturb your recitation, many stations will not play it. A cheap little foam device over the microphone will eliminate most breathing sounds. Chances are, if your recording sounds like it was made it in your basement on a cheap recorder, it won't get any airplay. The recording doesn't have to be made in a $40-an-hour studio—this is one of the nice things about poetry CDs—but it does have to sound good.
I hope these few pointers will help when you make your next cowboy poetry CD. There's no point in going out of the way to make sure no one will want to play your material. With just a little more time spent to package the CD correctly, not only is your airplay likely to increase but also your sales.
Cowboy poetry, along with cowboy music, seems to be enjoying a wider acceptance these days. I hope we can all take advantage of that.
© 2007, Marvin O'Dell, All rights reserved
This article may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
Jeri Dobrowski, journalist, photographer, and Cowboy Jam Session columnist:
Putting Your Best Disk Forward: designing a quality CD package
The time has come, you’re going to make a CD. All you have to do is practice the pieces you’re gonna do a few times, find somebody to record it, get some copies made and sell ’em. Nothin’ to it.
Actually, if you want better-than-average results, it’s more complicated.
A CD is more than something to be sold or swapped at gatherings. While it is a marketable commodity, don’t overlook its potential as a weapon in your marketing arsenal. Look beyond your short-term vision of people plopping down 15 or 20 bucks to take one of your babies home with them.
Consider your CD as a promotional tool to be used in securing bookings. It speaks every bit as much on your behalf as a live performance or a visit with a committee chair. Producing a CD is nothing to hurry through and no place to cut corners if you are looking to grow your entertainment enterprise. If you don’t do a good job on a CD, why would the purchaser/listener/booking committee expect you to be any better in person?
I am particularly saddened when I think of an artist whose live performances I adore. Personality, material, talent, delivery—they have it all. Unfortunately this singer's CD is a fright. It won't play all the way through in any of my players. And frankly, they sound much better in person than on the recording. I can't with good conscience recommend that anyone buy the CD, even though they'd be delighted to hear the singer in person. If this individual is using the CD as a promotional item, it's a huge detriment.
Having said that, do you need to spend a fortune on the deal? Do you need to hire somebody to help you?
I don’t advocate simply throwing money at the first person or company that promises to help you produce an album (or a book for that matter). I also don’t think going it alone is the answer. There are far too many factors that go into a successful recording or printing project to wade blindly into an abyss.
You’ll pay for professional design services. Will that guarantee brisk sales wherever the CD is displayed? No. But it will give you better than a fighting chance.
You may never regret spending money for quality design. But, sooner or later, you will regret having settled for cheap and shoddy. If you’ve already recorded three or four CDs, you understand. There are things you learned on your first projects that you won’t do again. You learned the hard way, probably have a couple hundred (maybe a 1000) to remind you. What you don’t know now may hurt you later. Do your homework before starting the project.
Look around. Ask around. Who does the kind of work you need done? Ask another artist—preferably one who has had some commercial success or won an award for a recent recording—who worked on his or her project. Did they use a studio with a staff that took the project all the way through to shrink-wrapped discs? Probably not. It’s more likely that they involved a few different folks along the way. Educate yourself on the stages, the costs and the time involved. Be aware that it will take longer and cost more than you expected—just like building or remodeling a house.
Include one or two short pieces on your CD, and include some in your regular working repertoire. This goes for both poets and singers.
By short I mean between a minute and a minute and a half. Too many performers getting started think every piece has to be an epic of five to 10 minutes. Au contraire! Most any piece can benefit from serious editing. It’ll move along more smartly, be infinitely more interesting and hold audiences’ attention.
When a DJ or emcee is trying to close out a show and is looking for "one minute," you or your CD can step forward and fill the bill.
Beyond being an audio representation of your music and/or poetry, a CD has a visual angle too. For the remainder of this discussion, I am focusing on packaging: on-disk graphics, jewel-case tray card, insert or jacket copy. For more on the nuts and bolts of studio production, see Marvin O’Dell’s discussion above.
Unless you’re a graphic artist or an astute student of design, spending money on these design elements will give your CD a better-than-average chance of selling. Think about it. You’ve seen the sales tables at gatherings and festivals. You’ve been in museum stores and shops that handle recordings. You are not the only bard or yodeler in town. You have got to stand out from the crowd.
Prospective buyers have absolutely no idea of the quality of the recording until they play it. You could be the best guitar picker since Chet, sing like George or have a quirky, creative mind equal to Baxter’s, but if the packaging doesn’t do its job, all that is meaningless. The front of your CD has got to be an attention grabber just to get shoppers to pick the darn thing up and consider buying it. If they sense the quality is off, if they can’t find the information they’re looking for, they quite likely will lay it back down on the sales table and buy something else that meets their requirements.
But, you say, my (select one) cousin, brother, sister, daughter, niece, wife, cell mate has a computer and is pretty handy with it. She or he can do all that stuff and save me lots of money.
Being handy with a computer doesn’t necessarily qualify an individual to design a graphics project that will compete with the thousands of CDs out there. If you or your cousin, brother, sister, daughter, niece, wife are computer literate enough to do your work, you are among the minority. Carry on.
But, even then, don’t assume the initial design can’t be improved. Ask a few folks whose opinions you value for input. Test drive the design past those who will give you an honest opinion. Stress that you aren’t looking for flattery but constructive criticism and suggestions. (There are a lot of really nice, knowledgeable people who, after the fact, would love to tell you what they really think of your pride-and-joy CD but don’t want to hurt your feelings. Ask ’em ahead of time and be big enough to take their suggestions.) Don’t limit your field work to only those who share your last name.
Whether you hire a graphic designer or have a pal tackle the job, do your homework. Peruse the CDs in your collection, along with those offered at festivals, gatherings and well-stocked shops. Step back. What immediately stands out? What draws your eye to a particular title? Look at the big names’ packaging. You can be sure they’re hiring a graphic designer and probably a pretty darn good one. What elements draw your eye? Make a mental note to incorporate some of those features into your cover.
In my estimation, there are several non-negotiable elements in a CD package. Satisfy these in black and white or 4-color and you’ve done the best you can to send your baby out into the world:
- Unless you are so well known that your face alone will sell a CD, the cover needs to tell shoppers whose work it is. Don’t make people read the fine print to find your name. Your name should be prominent. It need not be the first words on the CD cover. The title can be first, but make your name large enough to be read from a distance.
- One strong photo or image is worth 10 mediocre ones. Take the time to get a high-quality photo or piece of artwork for the cover.
DW Groethe's What Ever it Takes
- Don’t distort photos or graphics when enlarging them. This is one of my all-time pet peeves. In my eyes, disproportionately-stretched photos are akin to fingernails scratching on a chalkboard. Don’t understand what I’m talking about? Then, you shouldn’t be designing your own packaging.
- Get permission from, and give credit to, the people who took the pictures or did the artwork you are using. Not doing so is worse than getting up from the dinner table and not thanking the cook.
- Include a track listing on the outside of the package. If it’s not there, how will shoppers know what’s on the CD?
Pat Richardson's B. Y. O. S. (Bring Your Own Sheep) (back)
- Make the type for track listings large enough so folks wearing bifocals and developing cataracts can read ’em.
- Include times after each track. (A DJ friend of mine says this identical info needs to be on the disk itself. Not everyone keeps CDs in their original cases: take them out of the case and all the accompanying information is lost.) Disc jockeys and announcers need to know how long a piece runs if they’re going to play it. Period. End of story.
- Credits: If all the pieces are yours, include something like "All original material by YOU." Include copyright info for your poetry and songs. If you are doing others’ work, ask permission first. Then, give credit. Don’t know who wrote it? Find out. Can’t find out? Don’t use it.
Bob Petermann's Takin' Up Slack (back)
- Include your personal contact info on the packaging and on the CD: name, postal address, email address if you have one, phone number. Remember, the CD may become separated from the case/packaging at some point.
- Bar codes. Yep, bar codes—UPC codes. They’re not just for groceries anymore. If you're hoping to sell your CD in bookstores or museum shops, the packaging should include a bar code. While it may seem like computer gibberish to you, scanning systems read the numbers appearing within a bar code. They’re necessary for professional retail distribution. Wanna play with the big dogs? Big dogs have bar codes on their CDs.
You can buy your own bundle of bar codes or you can get one through your CD manufacturer. Any reputable, established CD manufacturer can take care of this for you. The larger companies provide it as part of the package. Make it easy on yourself and get one through them. (To be on the safe side, ask around to make sure that they aren’t charging too much. Some offer them "for free." Obviously, you’re paying for it in another part of the deal, but it’s one less thing to have to do yourself.
For more on bar codes, contact the Uniform Code Council at (800) 543-8137 or online at http://www.uc-council.org/.
Then, make sure your graphic designer leaves a spot on the back of the packaging to accommodate the bar code.Does all of this sound complicated?
Probably so, if you thought making a CD meant practicing the tracks a little and finding somebody to record them.
Maybe not, if you intend to put out a quality product—something you can be proud of for years to come. And, why wouldn’t you? Commit to making a good first impression with design done right on the outside, and leave folks with a positive, lasting impression with design done right on the recording project, too.
© 2007,Jeri Dobrowski, All rights reserved
This article may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.Journalist and photographer Jeri Dobrowski has produced a number of promotional pieces for poets and musicians, in addition to providing marketing and design services. Her clients have included Baxter Black, Ken Cook, Robert Dennis, DW Groethe, Yvonne Hollenbeck and Bob Petermann. She serves as assistant to Wylie & the Wild West. Her popular monthly column, Cowboy Jam Session, appears in the Tri-State Livestock News, Cowboy Troubadour, and at CowboyPoetry.com.
Andy Nelson, poet, humorist, and host of the Clear Out West (C. O. W.) radio show
Recording the Perfect CD
In preface I’d like to say that I have made most, if not all the mistakes listed below and it is only in the spirit of helping you avoid the same pitfalls that I offer up these suggestions.
In recording your poem or song, voice inflections can set the mood and add to the ambiance and tempo of your project. If you lull the listeners into turning up the volume with a passage of soft morning sunlight and then immediately hit them with a blast of the Pot Rustler’s breakfast bell, they’ll use your CD as a coaster. Pay attention to your projections.
Which leads to the next point: Have a professional master your CD (making the volume on all tracks sound the same) to ensure the comfort of the listener. If it isn’t comfortable to listen to or if the listener has to work too hard to hear your product, it won’t get played. In a perfect world, the listener should be able to put the CD in, adjust the volume once and leave it alone.
Save your pennies and then spend them on a professional recording. There are whole herds of computer programs out there that allow you to record on your home computer, but you still need to take into consideration microphone quality, room echo, ambient noises, mixing, mastering... the list goes on.
Poor duplication is a mistake you will only make once. You may save a penny now by burning copies of your CD on your home computer but it will cost you dearly later when someone buys your product and can’t listen to it. Not all burned CDs play in all CD players.
Don’t allow the professionals to “over-produce” your project. A slight, gentle reverb when applied correctly can be pleasing to listen to but it shouldn’t sound like you are in the bathroom shower. For voice recordings, I personally like a true, unadulterated sound.
Having the track length printed on the CD tray liner can be helpful to radio deejays, but erroneous track length information is worse than none at all. Check it, then double check it if you are going to print it.
I’m not a big fan of intros. If you feel a piece needs an introduction in order for it to make sense, make it short, concise and to the point or print the explanation in the liner notes.
© 2007,Andy Nelson, All rights reserved
This article may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
Andy Nelson is a poet, humorist, emcee, and co-host of the Clear Out West (C. O. W.) radio show. In 2006, Andy Nelson was named Poet of the Year by the Western Music Association (WMA) and he and brother Jim Nelson were named Disk Jockeys of the Year.
Smoke Wade, poet, writer, and reviewer who makes poetry selections on the Western Heritage Show
Here are a few tips that I can suggest to poets making CDs:
- Most importantly: take the time to produce a quality CD. It will get more air play.
- Put some pizzazz in a couple of tracks with music or recorded live sound, but make sure the music does not distract from the poem.
- Include the year of production.
- Include the producer's information
- Include contact information.
- Include the time of play for each track. It is very important for air play consideration.
- Make sure your CD plays on CD players other than your own. We get CDs that won't play at the radio© 2007, Smoke Wade, All rights reserved
This article may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
Smoke Wade is a poet, writer, and reviewer who also makes poetry selections for the Western Heritage Show.
We welcome your considered comments on this article and others at CowboyPoetry.com. Email us.
Find a list of other articles at CowboyPoetry.com about writing, performing, and similar topics here.
What's New | Poems | Search
Features | Events
The BAR-D Roundup | Cowboy Poetry Week
Subscribe | Newsletter | Contact Us
Authors retain copyright to
their work; obtain an author's
permission before using a poem in any form.
CowboyPoetry.com is a project of the Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry, Inc., a Federal and California tax-exempt non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization.
Site copyright information