Related pages: CD mail order and cost breakdown • CD basics, types and standards

CD release activities
pressing, packaging and paperwork

Releasing CDs

This page covers the activities between a final stereo mix and CD release, apart from promotion.

CD duplication

Audio mastering

The last stage in preparing CD content for duplication is mastering. You might need to think about it when you’ve got your CD recorded.

Mastering was introduced to make grooves on vinyl (and earlier) records cut and play better. Mastering treats the tracks with EQ, sophisticated compression and sometimes acoustic enhancement. It makes a better sounding, more consistent CD and ensures it will sound more or less the same wherever it’s played. Almost everyone recommends proper mastering which by definition is a professional job.

This expertise costs money. Obviously, whether you need it or not depends on how good the masters sound in the first place—we don’t have those cutting problems with CDs and there are different consistency issues with downloads. It is as much an art as a science and you must get a recommendation for an engineer who specialises in your kind of music.

If your CD is mastered you’ll get the results professionally recorded and a good mastering engineer will provide the right material for the duplicator. If not you’ll need to burn a master CD-R yourself.

Otherwise CD masters can be burned from a computer playlist tool unless you want to run tracks together, change the gaps or add information such as ISRCs to the disc. To tailor CD tracks you’ll need software like Toast with Jam.

To burn top quality CDs you’ll need a pro burner, pro software and high quality discs. But you can make good CDs with standard equipment and a little care. You will need to understand data requirements and ID coding.

For download masters the main question is file format but you may also need to burn master CDs (e.g. for distribution).

Choosing a CD duplication format

There are two options for mass producing your CD.

CD-R v. CD
CD-RsBurned and verified on a machine that takes bulk blanks
CDsStamped and finished from scratch in a pressing plant

Burning is cheaper than pressing for small amounts (up to about 1,000) but there’s a catch. CD-Rs don’t play on every CD player because they aren’t optically the same as pressed CDs. CD-Rs are designed for burning. Standard audio CDs are pressed rather than burned and have better optical tolerance for different players. If you use CD-R duplication you’re bound to get some rejects from customers. (Note: CD-R is OK for an audio master because the mastering or duplicating service will be able to read it.)

CD-RWs are different again and only play reliably on CD writers.

Your first run of CDs will probably be 500 to 1,000. Bear in mind that a serious promo mail-out is normally 2-300 depending on your genre and expectations (I’m not talking about sending demos to record companies here).

Choosing a CD duplicator

There are many more duplication agents than CD pressing plants, you will probably never deal with a pressing plant. These agents act as brokers and offer a variety of services based around CD pressing. You’ll need to check for a current recommendation on a music technology or engineering forum, get in touch with the duplicator and check any extras you need are covered in the price. Make sure they’re responsive because you will need to talk to them again during the process.

Burning CD-Rs

I don’t recommend burning your own CDs in bulk (hundreds or more). Even if you’ve got a fast burner it’s very time intensive and some of your customers will have problems playing CD-Rs.

If you do burn your own CD-Rs I don’t recommend paper labels. You can get inkjet printers or adapters for printing directly onto CDs—they’re much safer and give better results. If you’re determined to burn your own CD-Rs you might consider getting blanks pre-printed in bulk rather than doing it yourself.

On-body printing for pressed CDs (next) is part of the package.

Pressing CDs

CD pressing is the only way to mass produce perfect CDs. Duplication services don’t always say what kind of duplication they’re offering. If they mention media it’s CD-R and if they mention glass mastering it’s standard pressing. Pressing has an extra stage to make a glass master which is used to make the stamp. This costs money as part of the first duplication package but you can re-use it for the next run (I don’t know how many stamps they can make before the master wears out).

Although you can research and get quotes online you’ll probably want to speak to the duplication service before you commit to a run of CDs.

A CD package

CD cases

The options include:

Jewel cases tend to be cheapest because they’re most common but I’m not keen on using so much plastic. Aside from the Green issues the standard jewel case is heavier and costs more to post. I probably won’t use any other packaging but duplicators can supply a wide range including:

Unless you need to use different bar-codes on the same run of CDs it’s best to get them printed on the inserts.

CD body art-work

Some duplicators offer design services or you can make your own art-work, or get a graphic artist to help. Most duplicators take standard Mac, PC and other graphic files but you’ll need the right software to save in the right format. I’m trying to avoid expensive software (Illustrator, PageMaker, etc.) so hopefully AppleWorks, PowerPoint or PhotoShop Elements will do. I managed to make this site without any special graphic software but the CD and pdf are a bit more demanding.

Duplicators will specify insert formats, and templates for the printable area of different discs. There are numerous CD and packaging specs online but it’s important to get details from your duplicator because components and machinery are not standard.

Clear the rights to any photographs, images or trademarks that appear in your art-work as you would with audio samples. Some logos, e.g. Compact Disc Digital Audio, are owned or restricted and require special arrangements. Unless you know what you’re doing it’s best to leave this to the duplicator who will have the experience to do it properly.

Make sure you agree proofs of on-body artwork before they print a run. Colours and graphics can come out different and sometimes wrong—you’re the only one who knows how you want it to look. If the run is different to the agreed proofs you should get it redone free.

CD booklets and inserts

Although the cost saving is small I’m not planning detailed booklets or inserts. I’ll keep CD details on the site and make up a pdf with more information to download. Other than simplicity and space the big advantage is that information on the site can be updated but no one ever updates booklets. I’m also told that printing is the part duplicators get wrong most often.

Printed card and paper parts of the package include:

You can get these designed and printed separately but the paper size, type and weight, staples, and printed areas must match the duplicator’s specifications, cases and assembly equipment. There are clear advantages in getting it all done under one roof by the duplicator if possible.

As with CD body art-work, clear the rights for any photographs, images, logos or trademarks. Bar-code graphics can be made with special Mac or PC software or barcode web sites but unless you know what you’re doing it’s best to leave it to the printer or duplicator. If you’re going to the expense and trouble of getting bar-codes, make sure they’re readable.

Make sure you agree proofs of booklets and inserts before they print a run. Colours and graphics can come out different and sometimes wrong—you’re the only one who knows how you want it to look. If the run is different to the agreed proofs you should get it redone free.

CD information checklist

This is a summary of the information you might need to include on a CD package. You could simply copy ideas from any commercial CD, but everything on the package should be there for its own mundane or artistic purpose. For example, you might need to consider:

Some of these are simply your own preferences, but others are important to ensure glitch-free duplication and to credit contributors. It’s worth thinking about this in advance because correcting printing mistakes or omissions is expensive.

What information goes on a CD package?
ArtistArtist name
CDCD title
Disc numbersCD identifiers for multiple packages
EditionRe-issue, re-mix, re-master, special edition, etc.
Record labelName of the record label, country
Catalogue numberRecord label catalogue number (serial no.)
Bar-codeOptional UPC or EAN product identifier (MCN)
Content and credits
Track detailsTrack numbers, titles, running times, lyrics
Writing creditsWords and music writers, publishers, copyright
Sample creditsWords and music writers, publishers, copyright
Recording creditsProducer, engineers, label, copyright
Performance creditsInstruments, performers (by permission?)
ISRC numbersOptional IFPI PPL track identifiers
Art-workGraphics, photos and text credits, copyright
Non-audio detailsOther content (text, video, etc.), credits
Other information
Contact detailsWeb site, email, telephone, postal address
PromotionTours, merchandise, mailing list card
Sleeve notesBiography, discography, recording info
CD body logosCompact Disc Digital Audio, band, label
Insert and booklet logosBand, label, management, distributor
Package creditsPressing, printing, thanks to…

There are no hard and fast rules about what information goes where but your record label name and CD serial number should appear on every part (the duplicator might insist on this to avoid mistakes). I’d also recommend including full rights information on the actual CD itself because credits can easily be overlooked by commercial users or subsequent releases.

If you burn the CD-R master using a playlist tool like iTunes all the basic information about track numbers and timing is automatically included in the right format. If you want to add the ISRCs and MCN (Media Catalogue Number, the CD bar-code number) to the CD itself you’ll need something like Toast with Jam.

If your CD is professionally mastered you’ll need this information ready for the engineer.

go to the top of this page  go to the main menu for this page  go to the home page

Related pages: CD mail order and cost breakdown • CD basics, types and standards

© Rob Cumberland 2002–2013, all rights reserved • This is a UK web site • About Bemuso