As with anything else in the business world, in order to succeed, you've got to have some product that another person thinks is valuable enough to pay money for.
That holds true to recording musicians as well. It really isn't that hard to put out a CD; I'll show you how easy in just a second. What is hard is getting people to buy them...assuming that's your goal.
If all you want is to "have" a CD, and you really don't care if anyone likes or buys it. Then this is your lucky day. But if, as I suspect, you really do think you have talent and can put out a product people will want to buy, read on my friends.
First you need a list of songs to put on the CD (assuming it's a music CD).
Things will go a lot smoother if these are songs you have written, otherwise own the copyright to, or are public domain.
Then you need to actually record those songs.
That last bit is where most people get hung up;). Allow me to just set your mind at ease, shall we? If you have a computer with a sound card and a microphone, you can make multi-track recordings starting today, without spending a dime on gear or studio time. Just download the open source audio software called Audacity, and you are ready to rock.
If you need to buy a mic, you can actually get this done with a cheap plastic PC mic for about $5.00. But if you can afford to spend at least $25 on a USB microphone, that will be a quantum leap in sound quality. Now just open up Audacity (or whatever audio recording program you might have). For simplicity's sake, let's pretend your example song has two guitars, a tin whistle, and three voices singing 3-part harmony.
The first thing to do is to "lay down" your first track. Set up the mic, press the "record" button in the software, and have your rhythm guitar player play the song all the way through. That's track 1. Now have the lead singer sing along with the guitar track that was already recorded. For this, the singer will have to listen to the playback of the guitar through headphones. You don't want to record the speakers. Everyone should be on their own track. Then follow suit with the other singers, the second guitar player and the tin whistle. Now your song is recorded on six tracks in the software.
Time to Mix!
Adjust the volumes of all the tracks so they blend correctly. Then pan one guitar to the left side (sound will come out of the left speaker more than the right), and the other guitar to the right. Keep the lead vocal in the center, and pan the harmonies one left and one right. When the song sounds good, "mix it down" by exporting it as a stereo wave file. Now do the same thing with all your songs.
Once you have all the songs recorded, decide which order they will play in on the album, and burn them to a CD-R in that order. Now all you need is the artwork for the CD insert and label. No problem, there are lots of graphics programs out there to help, some for free like Audacity. Design 4 graphics files, a label for the CD itself, one for the cover, one for the back of the cover, which will be visible on the left when the CD is open, and one for the tray card. Most graphics programs have templates for these.
Making and Packaging Your New CD
Now you have a choice. You can manufacture these one-by-one, which I recommend you do at first, but getting empty CD jewel cases and printable CD inserts at an office supplies store. Print your inserts and labels. Peel and stick your labels on your blank CDs, stuff the jewel cases with the inserts, plop the CD inside, and your done. You could also but them into CD-sized jewel bags (a few pennies apiece) for protection and a bit more of a professional look.
If you' d like to step up the professionalism check out Kunaki, an on-line service that will make and ship your CDs on demand, after you get an album set up with them. This saves you having to keep large inventories of CDs around.
Make 10 or 20 copies, take them to your gigs with you and you're done! Just don't forget to tell your audience that you have CDs for sale at your show. In the next article I'll talk about how to go "global" with your CD. If you want to learn more about the recording process, check out the free videos below.