The Story Biz Blog
Recording a Storytelling Audio
By Dianne de Las Casas
Recording a storytelling audio is one of the most exciting ventures for a professional storyteller. The sales of audio stories are booming! In addition to documenting your work, a storytelling audio can provide you with additional revenue, supplementing your performance income. It also gives you another way to connect with your fans beyond the stage. Recording is a big step. To create a quality recording, you should be confident in your storytelling skills and have a seasoned repertoire of stories from which to choose.
While many people still use cassette players, they are slowly being phased out. Therefore, my references to storytelling audios will be to CDs. In addition to CDs, there is digital distribution via the Internet, online downloading, and Podcasting. These are recent technologies that storytellers will have to explore as online music and spoken word recordings are exposed to the digital age.
Recording Live v. Studio
There are two choices to make when recording a storytelling audio: (1) record live or (2) record in the studio. If you are a performer who thrives on the rapport you have with a live audience, you may want to consider recording live. With a live recording, you can capture the audience’s reaction and their participation in your program. The disadvantage is that recording live is riskier because anything can happen and you have less control over the environment.
I opted to record all of my CDs, Jambalaya, World Fiesta, and Jump, Jiggle & Jam a studio. The studio allowed me a more controlled environment and allowed me to take my time with the recording. Because the reaction of a live audience is lost, I chose to enhance my CDs with music and sound effects. While I may one day choose to record live, I enjoy the flexibility studio recording gives. Whether you choose to record live or in a studio, today’s digital technology allows you to adjust sound quality, vocals, effects, and music tracks. Finding a good recording engineer and producer is the key to creating a top-notch storytelling audio.
Choosing the Recording Studio
• Research and tour recording studios. What type of equipment do they use? Do they record digitally? Can they edit your material and master your CD or would you have to outsource that for an additional fee? How do they bill time – do you pay a flat rate or are you charged by the hour?
• Find out who holds the copyrights on original music. If you need music composed, do you retain the rights to the music or is it licensed to you for use? As a recording artist, you will probably want all rights to any material on your CD. Be sure that your studio is providing work for hire.
• Check the chemistry between you and the recording engineer. Remember, you will be working with your engineer throughout your entire recording project. You want someone who will listen to what you want, yet add their own creative genius to your project.
• Become familiar with the equipment. Step into the sound booth. Check out the microphone. Can you see your engineer? Does the recording environment feel comfortable?
• Check the studio’s availability. Recording an audio should not be a rushed project. You want to put your best work out there. Be sure to allot enough time to complete your project.
• Provide your engineer with a rough recording (on a home recorder) so he can get an idea of what you have in mind for your project. If you have samples of work from other people that you like and derive inspiration from, provide those as well.
• Check on the payment arrangements. Are you required to provide a deposit? Will you be billed at the end of the project or do you pay at the end of each session?
• Ask for a written estimate and promotional materials from the studio before you leave. This will help you to make your decision once you are home and have time to think.
Recording the Audio
• Rehearse meticulously. Going into the studio unprepared is like flushing money down the toilet. Your material should be polished and ready to record, not in the development or experimental stage. You don’t want to waste precious recording time preparing and adjusting your work.
• Don’t try to do too much at once. Pace yourself and schedule your recording time in blocks. If you try to accomplish too much in a short amount of time, your audio may suffer as a result of being too rushed or too tired.
• Bring your outline or story/song list with you. Recording in a studio is not like performing live. There is no immediate audience feedback and you cannot adjust your material on the fly. Having an outline or list helps you focus and stay on track.
• Bring whatever you need to keep your voice and body in good working condition. If you know that your blood sugar drops at 2:00 p.m., you should be prepared for that. Recording for hours on end can also take a lot out of your voice. Arm yourself with plenty of water, herbal tea, Throat Coat tea, ginger lozenges, or whatever you use to nurse your vocals keep your voice healthy.
• Getting it right is more important than getting it done right away. If you are recording a piece and things just aren’t clicking, move on to the next piece. Perhaps you just need to take a breather from that particular piece. Remember, once the CD is manufactured and sold, it is forever. Take your time in creating a quality recording you of which will always be proud.
• Analyze rough cuts at home. Listen to them on a couple different CD players (every CD player has a different sound quality). Listen for sound quality, white noise, plosives (popping Ps and Bs) and sibilance (hissing Ss), heavy breaths, and mouth clicks. If possible, try listening on a CD player that has counters so that you can write down where your recording needs adjustment or editing. Doing this meticulous editing at home, will save you valuable studio time. With my second CD, my engineer and I did on-spot editing after each story. It helped but I still needed to take the CD home and listen to it for further editing possibilities.
• Listen to the entire rough cut before mastering the CD. Take a couple of days to really listen to your CD when you are finished recording. Ask friends and family to listen with an open ear. You may need to make last minute adjustments and you want to be sure that your recording is exactly how you want it before you have it mastered.
• Create two masters. You will need one master for yourself - to be kept in a safe, climate-controlled, fire-safe environment. The other master will be for your replicating company.
Working with the Artist and Graphic Artist
The artwork is a very important part of the CD. People make their buying decisions based on the look of the CD cover. Consider your target market. If you are creating a recording for kids, the artwork should reflect that. Consider branding yourself by placing your image on your CD cover. It gives listeners instant identification with the artist.
You and your graphic artist will work together to create the layout of the CD artwork. When the artwork is completed, have your artist and/or graphic artist provide you with a digital file. Your CD design should contain the following:
Front of CD
• Artwork and/or photo
• Artist’s name and/or logo
• Album title and subtitle
• If you are reprinting and have won awards, consider printing the award seal(s) on your CD cover (you will need to pay licensing fees for this).
CD Insert (a/k/a liner notes)
• Artist’s name
• Introduction or welcome note (optional)
• Artist’s bio (optional, but I recommend a short bio)
o Recording information – studio & engineer
o Producer’s name or production company name (even if self-produced)
o Players (credit musicians who played on your CD)
o Courtesy credits if another artist performs on your CD
o Photo credits (if you are using a professional photograph, do you have photographer’s permission and have you paid the photographer licensing fees?)
o Mastering engineer and company
o Artist/Graphic designer’s credit
o Manufacturer’s information
• Song Info (writer, copyright, publishing info (BMI/Ascap, etc.)
• Lyrics (optional, but recommended – can also be provided on your website to save printing costs. You can also provide lyrics on your CD if you are producing an enhanced CD, which combines sound and data)
• Story sources (optional, but recommended)
• Acknowledgements (optional but nice to say thank you to the people who helped you make it happen)
Tray Card (back of CD)
• Artist’s name and/or logo
• Album title and subtitle
• Track titles with times
• UPC (Uniform Product Code a/k/a bar code) Many CD manufacturing companies will provide a UPC for your CD. Check to see if additional fees apply.
• ISBN (International Standard Business Number) - recommended if selling to bookstores and libraries. Purchasing a block of ISBN numbers is a substantial investment but once you own them, you can place them on your CDs and books.
• Copyright notice
• Contact information
• Release number (usually on spine) My release number for my first CD is SCP-01, which stands for Story Connection Productions 01 (first release)
• Quotes (optional but if someone Influential and Famous previewed your CD, include a quote from them)
• Artist’s name and/or logo
• Album title and subtitles
• Copyright and publishing info
• Contact information
• Track titles and times (optional, but DJs need this information if you are looking for radio airplay. It also helps listeners identify the CD when it is separated from its case. I make sure that my CD by itself can stand alone in promoting me; on the CD, you will always find my photo and contact information).
If you want your CD to be a “best-selling” CD, it has to be able to visually compete with the “big boys.” Could your CD’s cover compete with the professional graphics of say, a Disney CD? My Jambalaya CD was reviewed by Georgia Family Magazine, right next to the Lizzie McGuire Total Party! CD (a Disney production) and Paddington Bear’s Musical Adventures CD. Image is everything. Invest in a professional photographer and graphic designer to produce the best-quality design.
Sending the CD to the Manufacturing Company
Be sure to obtain the exact specifications the CD manufacturing company requires. Provide artwork on CD (some companies allow you to send it electronically now). I also like to provide a printed copy of the artwork so they can see how it is supposed to look. I had my CD artwork printed on a laser color machine as a sample for the CD manufacturing company.
• Provide a master of the recording
• Choose container
o Jewel case (choose color for the inside tray – black or clear. If clear, you will need to provide artwork)
o Cardboard case, etc.
o Cardboard sleeve
• Type of insert (2 page, 4 page, 6 page, etc.)
o Color on one side (4/1)
o Color on both sides (4/4)
• CD Face
o CMYK four-color processing (highly recommended)
o One color
o Two colors
o White or silver base (white is recommended for four color silk screening)
• Provide the replication company with their requested forms. Fill out forms completely.
• Ask for turnaround time. Plan accordingly. There is nothing worse than planning a CD release party and not having your CDs on time.
• Budget for a 5-10% overrun. Sometimes, manufacturing companies over run the CDs. You will be provided with the extra CDs and charged accordingly.
• Find out shipping charges. Shipping charges can run several hundred dollars. 1000 CDs are very heavy. Don’t get caught by surprise.
• Ask them to ship via FedEx ground or UPS ground and obtain a tracking number.
• Find out what their policy is on goods damaged by shipping. Will the CDs be insured?
• What is their return policy?
• Always ask for a proof. This is the most important part of your manufacturing process. If you sign off on a proof, you are liable for any mistakes, even if it’s the manufacturing company’s error, because you have released them from liability.
• Compare the proof from the manufacturing company with the printed artwork from your artist. Check for:
o Spelling and punctuation
o Names are listed and spelled correctly
o Fonts are correct
o Images are correct and properly positioned
o Song or story order is correct
o Track order matches lyric order inside liner notes or tray card
o Times – Check and double-check times and be sure they are listed correctly. I have a permanent time mistake on the first run of my Jambalaya CD: it reads 7:64 instead of 7:46.
o Shifting text
o Contact information listed properly – address, phone, e-mail, website
o Panels are in the proper order
o Everything is correct on the spine
When the Shipment Arrives
• Jump up and down and shout with joy, then tear open a CD to admire your creative genius.
• Check every box to make sure there are no cracked or damaged CDs. If any CDs were damaged in shipment, notify the manufacturing company so that they can file a claim with the shipping company.
• Count all the CDs to ensure that you were sent the right amount of inventory.
• Set a price list and create inventory lists so that when you begin selling your CDs, you can keep track of inventory.
• Register your CD with the U.S. Copyright Office as a sound recording. The cost is minimal and will provide you with legal protection against copyright infringement. Forms are downloadable from the website, www.copyright.gov, as Adobe files.
Setting Up Accounting and Managing Your Inventory
Now that your CD is done and in your hands, it’s time to set up a proper accounting system that can generate invoices and track your sales. I use Microsoft Money Small Business, which has a feature that allows me to include book and audio inventory. The amount of the CDs are entered as soon as they are received. I subtract the amount allotted for promotional purposes. I like to designate 200 copies of 1000 as promotional copies. On promotional copies of your CDs, you will need to mark them so they cannot be resold. Take the tray card out of the back of the jewel case and hole punch through the bar code or, alternatively, draw a heavy black line through the bar code with an indelible marker. Then it's time to get down to business and get your work in the hands of your fans!
Into the Hands of Your Fans!
Breathe a sigh of relief. Your recording is done. Woo-hoo! All that loving labor in the recording studio or recording your material live has paid off – it’s finished, mastered, packaged, and ready to sell. Now you have 1,000 CDs (or more) sitting in boxes in the middle of your living room, garage, or extra room. Of course, you recorded the CDs to sell them but how do you get started? Next week, I’ll explore how to market your CDs.
NOTE: This was excerpted from The Story Biz Handbook: Managing Your Career from the Desk to the Stage by Dianne de Las Casas (Libraries Unlimited; Fall 2008)