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"The Secret Of Making A Record?"

  The nuts and bolts of the whole thing!


Do you Really Want To Make a Record?

Free This is a good question and makes a good starting point despite seeming to state the obvious. This question should focus your mind or the minds of your fellow band members on fundamental aims which your band hope to achieve.

If you are a relatively new band then perhaps you should take the time to work out a timescale of achievements that you hope to reach before committing to what will be an expensive project.


Dec says: it is most important in any business venture to set goals...financial, career and most of all time goals

Ensuring that key land marks in the career of a band have be attained may help to convince potential record companies, managers, production companies, banks or independent backers that you are a good bet for spending or lending money to. It may also convince the shy retiring types in the band that you are ready to take a big step forward.

When to make a record?

Free This is another key question and will obviously vary from artist to artist. Each career is different and records will become defining moments in the lives of the band and the individuals involved. However, there are certain times of year when the music business is more active than others, just before Christmas for instance.


Dec says: The key point to remember is that you only have 'one chance' to make a first impression. You have to have the music ready, the performance ready and most of all the 'look' of the band ready....and by the way, first releases generally come out in January, the quietest time for the record industry....and when they are all in Midem at the music industry festival

What to put on it?

Free The content is a vital decision. Not only should the music reflect the music of the band, it should also be of the moment. The styles which bands adopt change over time.

Dec says: Music changes imperceptibly every three months. And 'rock' music changes the most. Because to catch a record company's attention with 'rock' music needs the most innovative, different sounding music....it is the easiest genre, so there are thousands of bands competing with you.

How to put a record out?

Free How many ways are there to skin a cat? Outlined below are some pathways to achieve this aim. This is by no means exhaustive and the music industry continues to astound itself with new and diverse methods for recording, duplicating and distributing music.

Types of Deals?
Direct signing Vs Production Deal

Free For the purposes of this article let's assume that the term 'Direct Signing' relates to any record deal that is directly with a major or large indie record company, whilst a production deal relates to either a management company or to a small indie label that are looking to 'sell-on' an artist.

Record Company Deals

There are a variety of deals offered by Record Companies, in fact each deal is unique in its own way, tailored to fit the band, the circumstance and the fashion of the time. There is however, broadly speaking a simple pay-off between maintaining creative control and obtaining advances of money.

The bigger the cheque the more control you will give up. When you hear of phone number size advances it rarely is for unknown artists and rarely will the artist actually see much of the money as cash. Rather the money is literally an advance and it will be recouped once the recording begins to sell.

The money goes on marketing, touring and living expenses. If it is a relatively new band the recording may not be covered but it depends on the deal which was struck.

Licence Vs Assignment

A licence deal offers the artist the opportunity to retain the underlying copyright and have a large amount of artistic freedom. It usually gives the licensee (the person who buys the licence) the right over a particular recording for a set term that is normally around 3 years. After this term the rights revert to the artist. The artist usually retains some rights over the song and might even just licence the rights for one particular recording of the song and remain free to re-record or remix the song. The licensee would normally either offer a straight fee or a royalties deal.


Dec says: in the case of my band, we had a direct deal with the record company for the first few years. then, when we had proved our might in the charts we were in a position to re-negotiate and secure a licensing deal. We paid all the session fees and costs but got a much higher percentage on record sales.

If the artist assigns their rights to a record company then the artist loses the underlying rights to a song and would normally be recompensed for this. Some of the deals used when assigning rights are outlined below.

Exclusive Deals and Non Exclusive Deals

There are two basic types of licence deals:


This might be where a band has paid for the recording itself but needs some help with duplication, marketing and distribution from a small label. The label safeguards itself by licensing the music (therefore no advance) but signs the licence exclusively just in case it takes off - to protect their investment.


Obviously this is where the artist or band is allowed to punt the music to other companies at home and abroad. Not a very smart move as the companies will have no direct interest in the artist/band.


Free The license could either be world wide or just in the UK or EU. Usually if you were trying to get your music heard in France, maybe, or The States you would try to licence your music to a local label in that country rather than a small label in the UK.


Free A small label is more likely to put more effort in to promoting a release if there is an option for a follow up. This can either be agreed before the first release or left until the success of the first release is known. You can offer the label an option for a limited period of time from completion of the next demo, say two or three weeks to come up with a new deal before you take the song around to another label. This deal is called a 'first negotiating right'.


Dec says: A major Record Company will want an option/options to continue to release your material once they have established your success. These options should be negotiated by a top lawyer...a half point rise in royalties can mean $Millions over a career!.
real, successful music guys run this organisation...not faceless businessmen
The Boss, Dec, and Managing Director Vicci Esselle
active, successful music guys run this organisation...not faceless businessmen

Development Deals

Free This is where the record company keep the band on ice until they can make a decision on where the band is going. They will keep the advances low and send you into the studio regularly until they are ready to either commit to a proper exclusive deal or to dispense with your services.

They really have you stiched up a kipper with this deal.

They will want you to sign worldwide rights over to them and give them the copyright and performance rights for any songs you might have.

Any songs recorded for them where they pay for studio time will mean that the Record Company are 'First Owners' of the copyright as they 'commissioned' the songs.

If they do not want to take up the options on your contract they might sell you your own songs for the cost of the recordings.

If you aren't desperate for a deal, try to hold out for an exclusive deal or try releasing your own music (see below).

Exclusive Deal

Free This is the one which most new artists want to be offered.

In return for the exclusive nature of the deal, and the assigning of writing and performance rights, the artist should expect a reasonable amount of investment and commitment. The contract will usually be for one year, possibly six months if it is just for singles. The contract will expect you to write a certain amount of tracks within a given amount of time. The record company will be able to extend the contract if they want to; only the record company has options!

Most record companies want to have options on four or five albums, however, if there is competition from other companies for the band, then they may offer a 'Two Album Firm deal' where the company offer more commitment. This can sometimes be shallow as the company can always get out of a contract with a simple buy-off.


Dec says: Always remember that we are in the only business in the world where the goal posts shift dramatically in favour of the artist/band when the record reaches the top regions of the chart. Then, everything is up for re-negotiation. And that is where the top negotiating lawyer/manager comes in.

I always advise any band or artist to take whatever deal is on the table from a Company that has respect and credibility within the industry...with the re-negotiation in mind!

If you are confident in your own capability to have a Number One then the details of the first contract are of no relevance...I should know! You should see the re-negotiation we got up to. I was at Number 5 in the Chart and had NO CONTRACT! Beat that! I'll tell you about it come time!

Outline of a Record

Deal Budget

  • Personal Advances: £72,000
  • Equipment: £ 5,000
  • Transport: £ 5,000
  • Rehearsal Time: £ 6,000
  • Debts: £10,000
  • Professional fees: £ 7,500
  • Sub Total: £105,500
  • Manager's Commission: £16,900
  • Total: £122,400

Let's call it £125,000 - plus £35,000 for the hype which you have generated

Grand Total: £160,000

Cost Inclusive

The advances mentioned above are really for personal finances and do not relate to the costs involved in actually producing and selling a record. Some deals will also include an advance which covers the recording costs too. These kind of deals will normally be given to more established artists or artists with their own recording facilities. Otherwise all recording costs are recoupable and once signed the A&R department will negotiate with you about the amount they are willing to spend and the repayment schemes you have to adhere to.

The more acute the payments the more pressure will be exerted and the less freedom you will have.

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Recording Budgets

Free It is therefore important to be realistic about the budget you require for recording - whilst ensuring that the recording will be of acceptable standard. Paying a producer an advance of £3000 and a royality of 3-4% isn't unheard of.


Dec says: A major Record Company will want to use their own 'pet', 'flavour of the month' producer. He may be a Company man or an outside freelance guy...whichever, it is usually the artist who will pay the advance out of the 'advance' and the points from their royalty share. But all that changes when you have that first 'hit'.

Always remember that the top producers will only get involved if they 'believe' in the project...they have a reputation to protect.

So, if you walk in the studio and see Dr. Dre standing there...you know you are on a winner.

A good mixer will cost around £10,000 [or a top guy will want expenses plus points - provided he believes in the track/tracks - just like the producer]. Studio time is counted in hundreds of pounds per hour and musicians must be paid at least MU rates.


Dec says: Sorry to dissagree, but that thinking has gone way out the window. The punitive rates which the MU advised for overdubs, multi-tracking made the payments farcical. I paid a guy £678 for an hours work! I never used him again!
Today, a session singer can be expected to track himself/herself, sometimes, 40 times. With MU rates, a house could be bought within a week for that kind of dosh!
No, all sessions [apart from TV, Radio, Film] are negotiated sensibly.
It is therefore a really expensive business and easy to get carried away, especially when someone is waving a large cheque in your face to cover the cost (in the short term).

All these costs will come out of your part of the royalty money. Royalties can be calculated either on the dealer price or on the retail price.


Dec says: Sorry to dissagree, again. That was the old concept 90% of wholesale. The royalties are nowadays calculated on retail sales. There is an agreed amount deducted from the equation for promotion and freebies and the percentage is adjusted, yet agin, for low priced Supermarket/Garage sales and compilations. This means that you have to be careful about what you are being offered before you sign up. 18% of retail price is a much better deal than 18% of dealer price as the retail price is usually around 130% of the dealer price.

Before suggesting what a good royalty is I'll try to get across some of the arcane deductions and measures placed on the calculations of royalities.

Percentage of Sale

Relates to the days of acetate records, which were brittle. Most record companies still include a breakage allowance of 10% despite the reliability of CDs therefore the percentage of sales is represented as 90%??


Dec says: Again, that is such an old concept...unheard of today.


This relates to the cost of the packaging - but is, in fact, a scam to reduce the amount of royalty paid to the artist. This is usually between 20-25 % of the total cost

Mail order, record clubs

Reduced royalty rate of around 50%

So what would be a good starting royalty rate?

Free A good royalty rate for exclusive contracts - all things being equal is around 18% of the dealer price with 100% sales, and 20% packaging costs.


Dec says: a bit high! A normal rate after having a decent advance for new equipment and for the band to live on for a year would be 12%. Remember it all changes when you reach Number 3 in the chart. For exclusive licence contracts 20-22% is not unusual whilst non-exclusive licence deals usually are around 18% with no deductions.

Production Deal

Free This is not to be confused with a producer. The Production Company deal, or more likely small label, is a, realistic, good deal for the bands and provided the small label have done their research well they could be exciting and financially rewarding for both parties.

The way it works is that the Production Company finds a talented artist but haven't got the finance or clout to take the artist as far as they would like to.

The Production Company then begins to develop the artist with a view to 'selling them on' to a bigger record company.

The contract is not dissimilar to a recording contract - except the deal will be structured as a net receipts deal as opposed to one based on royalties. The big record company don't have to take as great a risk as normal, particularly where the small label or Production Company have a track record.

The Production Company has the chance of recouping their out-lay and getting a royalty deal in to the bargain.

They also get a huge buzz from discovering the artist and working closely with them. The artists get to maintain their artistic freedom whilst being exposed to the benefits of a large record company.

DIY Studio Costs

Free These can range from the price of tape to several hundreds or even thousands of pounds. It is important in lots of ways that this cost is bourn by the band, if a record company pay for you to go into a studio to record a specific piece with the intention of releasing it, then they have first ownership of the recording.

However, until you are signed, you can take your recordings around to the highest bidder and licence them out. Or you can produce your own records.

The Producer

Free This is normally a key component in the making of a record, however, unless your budget is going to run to Steve Lilywhite or Steve Albini, then you will probably have to make do with the house engineer or a friend with a good solid background in music and someone whose opinion you really respect.

The producer will work out the budget for the project with you and manage the whole thing to completion.

They will book the studio, arrange the specialists, get in the session musicians, ensure everyone works to contract and that every one signs the right bits of paper to ensure that you end up with the correct rights to your work, and that all the legal problems with copyright and using samples etc. are sorted out.

The idea is that, after the project is finished, the producer can sign the work over to you or the record company and you have a finished, ready to press article.

If you were to go into a studio on an exclusive record deal with big advances, with a real producer, the cost would be around 3-4% of your royalties plus a recoupable advance of around £3000 per-day.


Dec says: The percentage points are right but very few producers will demand outrageous expenses. Get the book 'Behind the Glass' by Howard Massey [ISBN 0-87930-614.9] for the real story on how the top producers operate....they love great Pop music and will almost give their services for nothing...just to get involved. Pete Waterman proudly says that he never charged more than £500 to produce a record but always had the points! I have always worked the same way.
I am famous for saying: "never go near a recording studio without the best producer you can afford".
Without a producer you may as well go to the nearest bridge and throw all the money you spend over....and I am serious.

The Mixer

Free This not to be confused with the producer or engineer, the mixer is a fresh pair of ears just when you need them. It will be their decision how to mix the final version, under guidance from the producer who has been involved in the project all along.

The mixer really comes in right at the end to do a specific job, it is highly specialised and a good mixer can cost as much as £10,000.

But don't be put off if you are on a budget, this could be the house engineer again or your local 'producer'


Free This is something which you need to check is included when you are phoning around for quotes. Often the advertised figure does not include producing a master from your DAT/CDR or multi-track.

This is another key moment in the process where it could all go horribly wrong and it is worth spending time and if needs be money to get it right. If you are producing vinyl [for dance tracks] then there are only a few places worth using - certainly Abbey Road is one, but the waiting list is quite long so you need to book in advance.

If you are mastering a CD then SRT at St Ives is a good bet. Despite the fact that they are local they are actually one of the best companies in the business for pro production. If you decide to use them to duplicate your CD then they include the time to produce the master as part of a one stop package.

Wherever you decide to get the mastering done it is a good idea to be there when it is being done [but don't interfere, says Dec....leave it to the expert!] . If you really can attend, then make sure you hear the master before you give the go ahead for the pressings.

You should try to hear it on a selection of stereos too - especially car sound systems. Try to pick stereos that are really poor or old and try to listen to it in different sized rooms too. Things always sound different on studio monitors.


Free Be careful, when getting quotes, to ensure that you compare like with like. A one man operation in the home counties with a computer and a series of domestic CD burners may be cheap, but will not offer the sort of quality you might need if your product is intended for sale in shops or for playing on the radio.

A reasonable all in price would be around £900 for 500 CD albums. This price includes printing, but not artwork, and your designers would have to submit art in a specific format to avoid paying extra to have it converted.

If you are thinking of using plants outside your own country remember to ask about how quickly they can turn round your order - especially if you need a re-run done quickly.


Dec says: be aware of the 'break-points' in the number being pressed. Any figure less than 1,000 will be duplicated on in-house fast CDR machines, and will be expensive as indicated above. Over 1,000 the big boys take over and set up a pressing run with a dedicated 'glass master'. This is an expensive master, specially made at the 'Mastering Suite'...slightly expensive, but it brings the cost of the pressing down dramatically to pennies.

Design & Printing

Free This is, obviously, vital to your bands image and a key component in the promotion. It is a good idea to get someone else to do it, but only if there isn't an artist in the band.

It might end up being a combination of the two, with an idea, that the band comes up with, being 'worked-up', or finished, by a professional.

Be careful, when submitting work, that you have the right kind of format and that it fits in with any templates that the record plant send you. If you do not, they will charge you for re-formatting.

Sometimes its cheaper to get a local graphic artist to do it for you than one attached to a record plant. The plant will put on a small charge for their 'profit'.

Be aware, also, that printing is usually the reason for a delay in the production of record or CD - rather than the actual pressing.


Free Check a list of distributors. You will see that a lot of them are record companies who claim to be distributors too, or that some are duplicators who claim to be distributors and some just claim to be distributors.

The bigger record companies will, of course, be all three in one and some other companies are trying to emulate that.

There are advantages and disadvantages in having the three rolled into one. The best idea could be to find a distributor who can also duplicate. This means that any run-ons can be accommodated and coordinated more easily than dealing with a separate distributor and record plant.

A Final Word From Dec

Free You now know that making a record can be a minefield. Do you record yourself? Do you approach a Record Company, a Production Company?

I would suggest that the best course of action is to 'learn your business', so that when you have to make the decisions, you know what everyone is talking about and what everyone is capable of...especially that rip-off studio owner in your local town!

Where do you learn all this stuff?

There is only one place that I know.... The Serious Writers Guild

You will get my personal phone number, on my desk in the studio...you will also get ten months of two books a month crammed with all the necessary tricks, knowledge and know-how to catapult you to recording success....you deserve it.



Adapted with thanks from an article by Richard Brown

web site 'Something In The Way'

  • SRT in St. Ives, Cornwall, UK [CD Duplication.]
  • 'Behind The Glass' by Howard Massey [ISBN 0-87930-614.9]
  • Abbey Road Studios, Abbey Road, West Hampstead, London [mastering]
The best reference book for all contacts is 'Uncle Dec's Lil' Instruction Book - Vol II' CLICK HERE



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