By Wah Lok
It has been nearly 3 years since I released my album "Every Time I Pray" and established my website www.tabernaclemusic.net. As of today, my website has achieved more than 550,000 hits over this period. The sales of my CDs have also surprised me personally. Originally, I thought of it as a small project which will probably sell 1000 copies to my friends to cover the recording expenses. However much to my surprise, the sales have now far exceeded my expectations. My albums are now being sold in Hong Kong and Singapore. In this article, I would like to share with you how I recorded my album and the difficulties I faced in marketing it over the last 14 months.
I hope this article will help some upcoming songwriters and Artistes to pursue their dreams and record their albums.
Here are the things you need to consider before recording.
1.0 Do you have a passionate message in your songs?
Before you think of recording, you must look at your songs first. Do you have good songs ? Do you have a message in your songs that will make a difference ? There are thousands of songs available in the market today. What differentiates between them is that some are birthed from real life experiences and have strong messages. These are the songs people want like to hear. People are looking whether you have passionate messages. Wherever I went, I shared with people why I wrote my songs. When they hear testimonies of my songs "Every Time I Pray" , "Approved in Every Way" and "We're here by Grace', many were genuinely touched. They discovered that these songs were written from the heart. The message in my songs helped sell my album.
If you have good songs with good messages, you should seriously consider recording them. But if you have average songs with weak messages, you will eventually find that it is very difficult to market your CDs.
2.0 Do you have a budget?
So you have your good songs. You need at least 10 songs for a complete album. The next thing you should ask is how much are you willing to spend on recording and how can you recover the cost of production and duplication of CDs. The cost of recordings vary significantly depending on the quality of recording you desire. It could be as cheap as RM 1000 per song to RM 5000 per song in Malaysia. In the United States, it could vary from USD 1500 -5000 per song depending on the choice of your producer. But if you are Michael Jackson, then it could cost you as much as USD 5 million per song (including his video clip).
Here is a simple budget for recording 10 songs and a calculation of the breakeven point.
Duplication of 1000 CDs:
Total costs for 1000 CDs:
So you will need to sell 1000 CDs at RM 30.00 to cover all your recording and duplication costs.
The table below will give you an indicative cost of various producers and how much they will charge to produce one song. Costs is inclusive of studio time, arrangement, musicians and singers
Table 1 - Cost to produce an album in Malaysia
|Cost to produce one song in Malaysia
|Quality of recording
(Usually for demo purposes)
|Mixture of live instruments and MIDI
||All live instruments
||All live instruments
|Singers and musicians
||Singers and musicians are all free and probably your friends
||Good musicians. Some are paid and some are your friends
||Good musicians All paid
||Professional musicians. All paid
||Very little time given to sound engineering
||Reasonable sound engineering
||Good sound engineering
||Excellent sound engineering
|Quality of producer
||Lesser known producers
||Good producer with less expensive studio time
||Very experienced producer with well known track records and expensive studio time
You can see for the above, it is very difficult to quantify costs. You get what you pay for. To produce a very good quality album, the prices are so high. If you do not have the market, it would almost be impossible to recover the costs from the sales of the CD. On the other hand, if you produce a very cheap album, people will listen to your CD once and put it away. They will never buy a second album from you. Your music career will stop with the first CD. That is what happened to many Malaysians for the last 20 years. They stopped after the first CD. Either they could not sell enough to cover the high costs of recording or their recording was so bad, people would never buy their second CD.
So calculate your costs well. Every CD produced must be of reasonable quality and sales should be able to recover the costs of recording and duplication.
3.0 Select your producer
So you have got your songs and your budget. Now, you will need to find a producer. A producer is someone who is experienced in latest recording techniques, arrangement of songs, selection of musicians and knows the industry well. He is also knowledgeable of the resources available. Most people who have not recorded an album before often think they can do it themselves. However when they do this, the albums fall far below the expected minimum quality. In the recording industry, even stars like Amy Grant or Celine Dion do not produce their own albums. A professional producer does it for them.
The selection of your producer depends on the budget you have. So get a producer to fit your budget. Some famous and very experienced producers are very expensive and you will not be able to afford them. But there are cheaper producers who can produce a reasonable album. The producer will help you with the following:-
Select your best songs
You may think all your songs are very good but your producer being very experienced may tell you one or two of them are average and not worth recording. It does pay to take some advice from your producer.
Arrange your songs
He will arrange your songs according to your instructions. So work closely with him. You can give him some ideas how you want it and often, his arrangement may be much better than what you originally conceived.
Record the instrumental backing tracks
The producer will know all the available musicians and their costs. He can often find the sessionists who can play for your album if you are unable to find them. It is good to get professional musicians in your albums rather than those in your church (unless your church musicians are better). You can rarely find sufficient talent in one church to record a good album.
Do a first mix of the instrumental track
Often, the producer may not be a sound engineer. So he hires a sound engineer to do the mixing for him.
Record the lead vocals
You need to determine the lead vocalist of the song before arrangement as the key of the song is pitched for the lead vocals. One live instruments are recorded, it is very difficult to change the key of the song.
Final mixing of the album
This is done by a sound engineer. Most producers are not sound engineers.
Arrange to master the final tracks to produce the master copy
4.0 Package your CDs well
Make sure you package your CDs well. The front cover should be done by professional artists especially if you want the CDs to be marketed in the shops and overseas. Make your covers attractive and informative.
5. Marketing your CDs.
So you have finally got a professionally recorded CD, with good songs and messages and good packaging. The next task will be to market the CDs. I suggest you should consider this point way before you start your recording because marketing a CD is not a simple as most people think. Here are the facts.
A CD rarely moves by itself in the shops
Unless you are a famous label like Hill Songs or Integrity Music or a star like Britney Spears, your album will not move by itself in the shops. Most people think that their CDs can sell in the shops. If you are an unknown name, your CD will absolutely not move in the shops. When my CD was finally completely, I approached several shops. Some of them turned down my CD. At first I wondered why. Later I found out that almost all local CDs did not sell well in the shops. But don't get too discouraged. Shops are not the only place you can sell CDs.
Move around to promote your album
People want to see a face before they buy a CD. That is why young people buy Britney Spears' albums in the shops. They have seen her face everywhere, in the MTV and the newspapers. But for an unknown name, no one has seen your face. So you will need to move around widely to promote your album. Take lunch meetings, sing in churches, organize concerts etc. You need to move around widely to promote your album. Otherwise, it will not sell by itself even with the most anointed songs. But if you have songs with good messages, your albums will sell quickly when your move around.
Print promotional materials. eg posters or brochures
Establish a website and a mail list
Interact with people via a website. Place your album in the internet. Allow free downloading of your songs so people can listen to your songs.
Unlike in some countries where they have Christian radios to airplay songs, there is absolutely no such facility in Malaysia. People rarely buy an album unless they know the songs in the album. So the only other way is to allow some free downloads of your songs in the internet.
Marketing your CD is critical. Unless you come from a church of 5000 people, you will not be able to break even your recording costs with sales to your friends and your church. Your CDs have to be sold across the country. You should also try to develop the overseas market if your album is of good quality.
You need a series of CD before your really make it
Often people stop at the first recording because they are discouraged the CD did not sell well. Well, the truth is, it is almost impossible to make it with one CD. But if you keep at it and release a second and a third, people will begin to take you seriously and you will eventually have a following who will buy whatever CDs you release.
One owner of a shop told me once to pray for the CD sales to increase. Well, I told her I have been praying for 20 years. I am also the author of the song "Every Time I Pray" and I have written numerous articles on prayer. But my songs did not go anywhere for 20 years. Finally when I recorded my CD and moved around to promote the album, the songs finally touched more lives. We need both prayer and leg work to have a successful album.
5.0 Look beyond Malaysia for your market
The Malaysian market for Christian albums is small. The Malaysian market by itself cannot sustain expensive recordings. However, if you look to the overseas market and project sales exceeding 10000 CDs, then you can increase your budgets extensively and hire expensive producers to produce international quality albums. That is my ultimate dream.
Well, I hope this simple article will help and inspire you to record your good songs. But remember again the following critical points.
You must have good songs with good messages before you record.
Produce a CD of good quality. Friends are forgiving, but strangers are not. If your first album is not good, people will never buy your second one. You music career will end with the first CD.
Employ a good producer.
Package your CD well.
Move around to market your CD. Do not depend on the shops.
Look beyond your country for your market.
About the author Ng Wah Lok
Ng Wah Lok has written over 100 songs in 23 years. His song "Every Time I Pray" written in 1981 is widely used in Asia. He has released 2 albums, "Every Time I Pray" and "Shining Stars". He has also co-written 9 songs in the album "Favored Chick" by Barbara Tipper. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit his website www.tabernaclemusic.net to read his other articles on music and songwriting.
© Ng Wah Lok 2002 All Rights reserved
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