May-June 2014


By Dennis Roger Reed

how-to-make-and-sellThings change in the music business, sometimes overnight. The whole big record company/radio/television thing that dominated the music business for many years is no longer in place, or at least not in the same manner.

At the beginning of my “music business career” an artist who wanted to record had one primary goal: to find someone to sign them to a record company contract. There was little or no concept of recording, releasing and marketing a recording outside of the “system.” For folk or folk related artists, the field was significantly smaller, as were the record companies.

The concept of self-production was so alien it sprang a book in 1979 called How to Make and Sell Your Own Record: The Complete Guide to Independent Recording by Diane Sward Rapaport. Since she has periodically revisited the subject, this is still a great book that goes into all the aspects of self-production.

But one can argue that the point behind a self-produced recording is now remarkably different than even a few years in the past. One of the great things about how the music business has changed is that just about anyone with an appropriate amount of cash can make a recording and get it out to the world. One of the terrible things about how the music business has changed is that just about anyone with an appropriate amount of cash can make a recording and get it out to the world. The market is flooded, and as is the case in popular music, about 90% of the music is just plain awful. Yes, 90%. Not all of this number comes from non-professional musicians. Recording careers now can last a lifetime, though often talent does not. No one really thought they’d see senior citizen Rolling Stones, but we have. The truth is that these guys can record and release (and sell) just about anything they want… although Mick’s solo recordings may prove that last statement less than totally true.

So what to do? Recording is still fun, and for some odd people, so is promotion. If that’s the case for you, then by all means, record and release. But if you don’t want to go the full route of releasing and promoting, should you give up on recording? Absolutely not. CDs and downloadable music has become so prevalent as to be the rule rather than the exception. It’s possible that you will need recorded music to land even that low paying coffeehouse gig.

Many sites now sell downloads, so you really don’t have to make a physical CD. However, having something to hand a prospective employer may be a better idea than handing them a slip of paper with your URL on it. And there are ways to at least partially recoup your investment. I have almost completely eliminated a closet full of my first two CDs by placing a sign near the tip jar and CD display at my gigs: “CDs are FREE! Tip jar donations gladly accepted!” I still have to pay sales tax, but I need only provide a minimum dollar value per CD, the same as I would if I were sending them for promotional reasons.

So as your paper business cards are disappearing, perhaps it’s time for a digital replacement. While you’re at it, remember to go out and enjoy some live music. Pick up a free CD, and drop in a sizable tip. You’ll sleep better at night.

Dennis Roger Reed is a singer-songwriter, musician and writer based in San Clemente, CA. He’s released two solo CDs, and appeared on two CDs with the newgrassy Andy Rau Band and two CDs with the roots rockers Blue Mama. His prose has appeared in a variety of publications such as the OC Weekly and MOJO magazine. Writing about his music has appeared in an eclectic group of publications such as Bass Player, Acoustic Musician, Dirty Linen, Blue Suede News and Sing Out! His oddest folk resume entry would be the period of several months in 2002 when he danced onstage as part of both Little Richard’s and Paul Simon’s revues. He was actually asked to do the former and condoned by the latter. He apparently knows no shame.


All Columns by Dennis Roger Reed