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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.