5 things that can delay or degrade your CD/DVD project

1. Lack of quality photos for cover/insert

Frequently I am sent low resolution or poor quality photos for the insert and even for the cover. I usually recommend reshooting them, but of course it’s too late by the time people get to the design phase. So we “make do” and I have to try to work my Photoshop magic on substandard photos. If your music looks unprofessional, people will interpret your music accordingly.

Think ahead by hiring a photographer early on, and schedule several sessions with them. Don’t forget to get photos during your recording or filming sessions. A recording studio are a particularly difficult place to get good shots because of the lighting and tight space. Flash is not very flattering, especially in a tight space, so without a good fast lens, photos are often dark, blurry and full of noise (grain).

Quality photos can be used for more than your CD/DVD insert – you need good photos for your website, posters, promotions, newspapers articles, and of course for posterity when you need to publish your memoirs.

As a graphic designer who is also a photographer and a musician, I have a unique perspective on how I take photos. I take extra shots of backgrounds, details of instruments and with an eye toward what will work on a cover or interior spread. Other important features even many professional photographers don’t take into consideration are the proportions of how the image will be used – a CD cover is SQUARE (as are thumbnails on websites), DVD covers are tall while film is wide – and the key parts of the image (heads, feet, hands, instruments) should be well within the margins because the printed piece often cuts off a small amount of the outside of the photo (bleed). Leaving room for writing for a cover is also helpful.

Bonus tips:

  • Be sure to get a full release for all photos for indefinite and unrestricted use.
  • You cannot pull sharp, high resolution photos from video, even HD. Video is usually shot at a frame rate which results in about 1/250 of a second shutter speed, so any motion will be slightly blurred – by design – motion blur is actually what makes video look smooth and pleasing to watch, but does not make for a quality sharp still photo. That is why film productions always have a still photographer on set.
  • Proof potential cover images at about 1 inch to see how it looks when it gets used as a thumbnail on a website or catalog.

Further Reading:

Check out my full photo portfolio at www.photos.dianathornton.com

2. Packaging files not designed and formatted to correct specs

Designing CD/DVD inserts and packaging is unlike any other design, especially web design. Many designers are very talented with a wonderful creative eye. But when asked to layout and design a CD/DVD, they are not qualified. When I began designing CDs and DVDs I had been doing general graphic design for nearly 10 years, but when I designed my first CD, I felt like I was learning it all over again. CDs and DVDs have particularly tight specs, and every printer uses different templates. They also include required elements such as copyright, publishing and contact information that are often overlooked, even by seasoned musicians.

When someone calls me to get a quote on a project and they tell me they are doing their own graphic design, I grill them regarding who their designer is and what program they are using. This is because, more often than not, I receive files that are not printable – they are not in my templates, don’t have bleed, in the wrong format, and even low resolution. Then I have to explain what is wrong with their files, and we all wait for them to be fixed. I even had to start offering “finishing services” because I was getting so many unprintable files from clients and designers.

As an experienced CD/DVD designer, I recommend people use me or a designer familiar with CD/DVD design. I know budgets are tight, but your music is worth an extra 44 cents each to look professional and stay on schedule.

Bonus tips:

  • Start your design well before your master is finished. By having your files ready to go to print the moment you finalize your times and tracks, you can keep things moving along.
  • Digipaks can add as much as a week to your production schedule.

Further Reading:

 

 

Check out my design portfolio

3. Licensing not obtained early enough

Another delay is often caused by researching and getting your licenses at the last minute. The factory will not reproduce your CD/DVD without proof of licensing. Many projects can be held up because the licenses are not on Harry Fox or are held by an overseas publisher. This is particularly tricky when the publishing is held by multiple parties, and you have to track down and contact someone for 25% of a song. And sync licenses for film are a whole other level of complexity.

Once you know what tracks you’re including on your album, start doing your research. Find out who the publishers are and how you can obtain licenses for each (Harry Fox, etc.).

  • Bonus Tip: You don’t have to go through Harry Fox to get a mechanical license. If you know the writer/publisher, especially if they are local, you can get a written license directly from them. Here is an example of a license you can use.

Further Reading:

4. Missing ISRC codes

ISRC codes are not required for CDs, but they have become standard. I recommend purchasing your own code which is good for all future releases as well. You then assign each track a number and your mastering engineer will encode your master with them before creating your PMCD or DDP. Have these ready for your engineer before the mastering session.

Further Reading:

5. Master not finished/reviewed

Before you send your CD/DVD to the factory, you will need to have it mastered/authored and then review a COPY made from that master to be sure all is exactly right. When I started Crescent Music Services back in 1997, I was fortunate to have as my business partner mastering engineer Parker Dinkins. I learned a great deal from him. One lesson was that the production master (PMCD) should not be touched by anyone but the engineer and the factory (he sealed it in a ziplock). Instead, he made a REFERENCE COPY directly from that master for review. If the reference copy is OK, then you know the master it was copied from is OK. Many things can happen during the burning process, so without this final and careful review, you can inadvertently send the factory a master with errors, missing tracks, pops, clicks and cut off songs. They do minimal error checking, so it’s up to you and your engineer to provide them with an error free master. Just because the mix sounded great on the last CD you were given doesn’t mean your production master burned correctly.

I can’t stress this enough. Do not wait until the day you are sending the master to the factory to get it from your engineer.

Bonus Tips:

  • Always get TWO productions masters (PMCD) from your engineer – one to send to the factory and one for you to keep somewhere safe. That way if your master gets damaged or lost on the way to the factory you have another to send quickly. Remember to get a review copy from EACH master.
  • Even if your engineer uploads your music to the factory as a DDP (image file), request a PMCD and review copy for your own records.
  • Don’t send your PMCD to the factory via the post office. Use a trackable carrier/method such as Fedex. I’ve seen too many masters get lost on the way with the post office (even their trackable service). Package it in a jewelbox and in a solid outer box (don’t use bubble mailers).
  • Have more than one person review the reference copy.

Further Reading:

 

I hope these tips help your next project go smoothly and on schedule. Give me a call to discuss your design, photography, and manufacturing.

Please download my free ebook “CD Project Planner” for even more information.

Remote Design Sessions

Usually when I design a CD or DVD, my client and I can do everything over the phone and email. They upload their photos and text to me, we discuss the design concept they are looking for over the phone, I put together a draft and then email them a jpg or pdf to review. For most projects, this works well and smoothly, and allows everyone to focus on the design at their convenience. I’ve designed hundreds of projects this way.

But occasionally there are times when we need to sit down together at my computer and try different concepts or colors. Scheduling a session in my office or at a coffee shop can be challenging with everyone’s lives so hectic. Especially when time is tight and we need to finish the design fast and get it off to the printer to make your deadline.

What if you could just sit down at your own computer or tablet and see my computer screen as I move things around and try different ideas while we talk on the phone. No matter where you are – on tour in Seattle, at home with the flu, or at the studio between takes. No driving required. Clothing optional.

remotedesignsession

Group Sessions: We know how hard it is to get everyone in one place at the same time. With a group session, everyone involved with the design process can log on from where ever they are to participate.

  • All you need is a computer or tablet with a high speed internet connection.
  • No software is required – use any browser.
  • Any platform – PC or Mac. There are even free Ipad and Android apps.
  • Evening and weekend sessions also available to fit your schedule.

 

Fixed-price design packages now include a FREE 30-minute Remote Design Session if needed. Longer sessions available for additional charge. No extra charge for hourly billed projects.

Remote design sessions probably aren’t necessary for most projects, but it’s nice to know it’s just a mouse click away if you need it.

Give me a call to discuss your next CD, DVD or publication.

5 most forgotten CD design elements

When I design or layout a CD or DVD for a client, they are responsible for providing me with the text and photos they want to include. After over 400 projects, I have noticed a few commonly forgotten elements. I don’t have time read everything, as I am usually concentrating on the design, but I do try to watch for a few critical things.

#1 Contact info, website

This is probably the most obvious, important and the most overlooked of all, and the one everyone kicks themselves over forgetting. Try to only use websites or phone numbers that probably won’t change.

TIP: One great way to get people to actually USE your contact info is to post your lyrics and other exclusive content (more pictures, free downloads, etc.) on your website with a place for them to sign up for your mailing list.

#2 Track times

DJs need these times to schedule their playlist.

#3 Musicians and other credits

Anyone who has contributed to your album deserves to be listed. And by the way, DO be sure to spell their names right. It’s nice to also provide contact info for them if they want it (especially photographers, studios, etc.). Honor the people who have made the CD and the music possible. Good Karma.

#4 Publishing and copyright info

This is as important whether you wrote the songs or you are covering someone else’s.

#5 Photos of other players (especially of them playing)

Not required, but few CDs feature a single player. Fans love to see the faces and instruments of the music they’re hearing. They love to see you in a less formal setting and in the process of making music. Furthermore, it shows appreciation for your players, even if they’re a session player and not a regular part of your band. (Don’t forget to identify the people in the pictures).

A few other optional and often ignored liner notes ideas:

  • Discography of your other projects and how to buy them
  • Biography
  • Notes about each song, especially if they are originals. People love to learn about the creative process you went through, and what the song means to you.

BONUS

5 most common mistakes made in CD liner notes

1. Songs not listed in correct order (ouch)

2. Hard to Read: Tiny Print or text over background in a color combination too faint/dark to read. (This is generally my job, but I get a lot of requests for design concepts that aren’t readable that I have to speak up about. What’s the point if no one can read it?)

3. Misspelled words and poor grammar. Don’t rely on spell check.

4. Misspelled names. (big ouch)

5. Pointing people to a web address for your lyrics or credits and then not posting them! (Boo)

Proof carefully. Proof again. Show it to someone else. And then read it backwards.

However:

We are all only human and mistakes WILL happen, and when they do, don’t stress. It happens to even the big label names – Beatles’ albums are notorious for all sorts of errors. A Google search for “liner notes errors” returns hundreds of posts about big name mistakes. Fix it in the reorder and the first run will become a collector’s edition.

Further Reading

FREE CD Project Planner EBOOK

Writing Liner Notes

Preparing Your Text

Project Checklist

 

When I Do Your Graphics … What I need from you

Please allow enough time – 3-14 days is typical.

Compile all material that you want to include in your design: photos, text, original artwork to be scanned, logos, etc.

Text for lyrics, credits, song titles, liner notes, etc. in an electronic format.

  • Submit all text in a single file if possible. Please don’t send pieces, changes, etc. in many different emails – this can lead to our my missing something. It also makes it difficult for me to see an overview.
  • Don’t worry about formatting (making it look pretty) your text – that’s my job.
  • DO insert comments such as “back page” or “put band photo near this” to guide me.
  • DO mention items not included that you plan submit later so that I know to leave space (ex. “Thank you’s – 2 to 3 short paragraphs – to come by Friday”).
  • Don’t use spaces in place of tabs. Just use the Enter key twice to start a new paragraph.
  • Don’t use double spaces between sentences.
  • Don’t lay things in columns, especially by tabbing. Run your text straight down the page. If you want things in columns, let me know and I’ll format that on my end. If you tab over for a new column, I literally have to cut and paste the text out of that because it doesn’t flow the same in my program. Very time consuming and leads to things ending up in the wrong place.
  • I prefer Microsoft Word, RTF, or TXT, or you can email your text.
  • Non-digital (hand-written or paper printouts) text may incur additional input charges.
  • Spell Check and Proofread BEFORE submitting file to us. See “Proofing Checklist”

Photos, Artwork, Logos

COPYRIGHT: When providing artwork or files to Crescent Music Services, you represent you have the right to use and reproduce this image. You may not reproduce copyrighted materials from artists, photographers, or other authors of original works without express written permission from the author. Crescent Music Services is not liable or responsible for any inappropriate uses.

When shooting your photos or drawing your art, please consider the following:

  • The shape of a CD insert is SQUARE, not a rectangle
  • You will need room for your title and band name and other important cover text
  • Allow for about a 1/4 inch to be CUT OFF around the outside of the image (it’s called Bleed) if you want your photo to go to the edge of the paper
  • High contrast, colorful images work best for covers.
  • Consider the impact and message of the image. Does it communicate the message of your music or other content of your disc?

Digital Images:

  • If you provide your photos digitally, TIF is the best.
  • If you provide an EPS, do NOT check the box “include half-tone screen” in the save dialog.
  • Images should be either CMYK or greyscale at 300dpi or more at 100% of the size it will be used.
  • If you must provide JPG, save as largest file size possible to avoid degradation, and avoid opening and resaving the file too many times because that decreases quality each time.
  • SCANNING: Clean your scanner glass with a soft cloth before placing each item.
  • Digital cameras should be set to the highest uncompressed format your camera has. Avoid cameras under 2.5 megapixles.
  • Don’t send images in a Word file. I can not easily extract the images.
  • Pulling images from a website: DON’T.
  • Pulling images from a video: DON’T

Hard Copies: If you provide your artwork non-digitally:

  • Don’t supply inkjet-printed art unless that’s all you have.
  • I prefer prints of photos rather than slides or negatives. Slides or negatives will incur additional charges. Or you can take your slide to a local photo house (or even the local drug store) for digital conversion.
  • You can provide a photo in color even if it will be reproduced in greyscale (black and white). I can convert it.
  • I can accept artwork up to 11×17. Oversized art will incur additional charges for scanning.
  • The bigger (up to 11×17) and cleaner the artwork (such as a logo), the better it will scan.

Don’t have artwork?

  • I can search for photos and artwork if you don’t have anything. I have access to royalty free photos and artwork that might suit your purpose. I will spend a limited amount of time in this search for no additional charge. I can also point you to these sites to search yourself at no charge.
  • I can create custom digital art in photoshop (up to 1/2 hour for no additional charge). Check out my digital artwork in the portfolio.

Sketch and/or mock up of the layout to the best of your ability. This will give me a clearer idea as to how you would like your insert, traycard, and disc to look. These can be simple drawings on folded paper (or even a napkin).

Commercial Examples: If there are any other CDs or DVDs you like the look of, show me. You can just give me the name and I’ll look it up on Amazon. Or you can send/give me the real thing to examine (I’ll give it back!). I can emulate any style. Or if there is a certain color or font you want, show me to match as closely as I can.

File Submission:

I accept files in the following ways:

  • CDR
  • DVDR
  • FTP (File Upload)
  • Email (files should be zipped or stuffed) up to 5 MB
  • USB Thumb Drive

I will be doing your layouts in Adobe InDesign (for paper elements) and Adobe Illustrator (for disc art). I use Photoshop for photographic elements and special effects. I work on the PC, but can read most Mac files.

FONTS: TTF or OTF (I have about 12,000).

  • You can provide your files partially created in these applications, if you wish for me to finish and do the prepress. If you plan to go this route, please refer to my  designer guide in order to avoid file issues once I take over.
  • I cannot accept file formats such created in programs like Quark, E-Z CD and Neato labeller. I can, however, accept a PDF or EPS exported from many of these programs. Please speak with me before doing anything with these programs.

Proofs: I will provide you with PDFs of your layouts for proofing online. Modifications can be made until final approval with no extra charge (up to 3  drafts).

Typical Design Process:

First Meeting: Discuss concept, schedule, review your materials, look at colors and fonts.

  • I REQUEST THAT YOU PROVIDE ME WITH ALL OR AT LEAST MOST OF THE MATERIALS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE PROCESS. If you are still gathering a lot of stuff, it is usually better to wait until you have most of it.
  • You are welcome to schedule a preliminary design consultation before your official “first meeting” to review your project and determine what pieces you need to gather.

Drafts/Proofing: I layout, search photos, format your text, etc.

  • The first draft can take up to 1-10 days depending on complexity and whether I have everything..
  • This first draft might be very very rough if I am still working out the design or waiting on some elements, or it might be 95% there. Every project will proceed differently.
  • Your PDF Draft will be uploaded or emailed.
  • You review carefully and then give feedback, changes and corrections
  • Each additional draft incorporating new changes can take 1-3 days
  • I will provide up to 4 drafts with no additional charge.
  • Please read “Proofing Checklist” to help you avoid embarrassing and costly oversights. Also, please don’t assume I am perfect either – proof everything I do with a critical eye. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Approval: Final artwork must be approved IN WRITING by providing a written OK in an email.

  • Once you approve the final artwork I will submit the files to the printer for production. IF YOU GET BACK TO ME BEFORE NOON, YOUR PROJECT CAN GO TO PRESS THAT DAY. ANY APPROVALS AFTER 2 WILL START THE NEXT BUSINESS DAY.
  • Once the press is rolling you WILL incur additional charges if you need changes. How much more depends on where production must be stopped and how much work was done by the printer up to that point.
  • At this point I can tell you when to expect your discs.

Preparing Your Text

File formats

I prefer Microsoft Word, RTF, or you can email your text.

  • Submit all text in a single file if possible. Don’t send pieces, changes, etc. in many different emails – this can lead to something being missed. It also makes it difficult to see an overview of how much text there really is.
  • Spell Check and Proofread BEFORE submitting file. See Proofing section.

File Names

Whether you are submitting photos and text files to the designer, or complete production PDFs to the printer, you should practice good file naming etiquette. Name your files with the artist and/or project title, along with what part it is. For example, if you are submitting production files, you will be submitting “Abbey Road Traycard.pdf”. If you are submitting photos and text to a designer, you should name your files like “abbey road cover pic.jpg” “abbey road text.doc”, etc.

Read: Writing CD liner notes

A few quick tips as you enter your text:

  • Don’t worry about formatting (making it look pretty) – that’s my job. In fact, it can even make it harder for me when I have to clean out your formatting codes.
  • Use a SINGLE SPACE after punctuation.
  • Don’t use a tab to indent paragraphs. My program automatically indents paragraphs if I tell it to.
  • Don’t use spaces in place of tabs.
  • Don’t format tables or multi column lists: Type in a single column and then note that you want it in columns. If you tab over for a new column, I literally have to cut and paste the text out of that because it doesn’t flow the same in my program. Very time consuming and can lead to things ending up in the wrong order.
  • DO insert comments such as “for traycard” or “put band photo near this” to guide me.
  • DO mention items not included that you plan submit later so that I know to leave space (ex. “Thank you’s – 2 to 3 short paragraphs – to come by Friday”).
  • Non-digital text (handwritten or paper printouts) may incur additional input charges, delays and will create higher potential for errors.