Making of the album...You Look Familiar Part Three: Backroom
In this third article we look at the unheralded but vital admin roles Jessica and Chris perform in the running of Mary Hopkin Music.
Being a nano-label, we have to do exactly the same things as the big labels. The only difference is that they have a cast list of thousands of faceless minions. We have us two and a budget of whatever we can find down the back of the sofa.
The creative and recording bit is the easy (albeit long) part - it's the actual business bit that's hard.
Some of the work that Jessica gets through includes licensing, registration, graphic design and Chief Postmaster. Some of the other roles Chris has include tea boy, Post Gofer and marketing whipping boy.
We'll look in depth at licensing elsewhere, needless to say it's an awful lot of work. Apart from making sure people get paid, it's important because reputable replication services won't press a CD without the correct licences in place.
For us to sell the physical products through Amazon and other outlets, we have to have a barcode. We struggled with this at first, because when our first barcode was supplied by the factory, they managed to put the same one on another album as well, resulting in much confusion when fans bought Live at the Royal Festival Hall.
To stop this happening again, we now buy a yearly licence which gives our own barcode. We can have practically unlimited releases all with our own unique identifiers on them, making sure that our products do not get confused with anyone else!
Another code we sort out is the ISRC codes. These are supplied by PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited) when you register as a label. They get embedded into the track at the mastering stage, and identify the songs when they get played on the radio.
ISRC codes are particular to each label. They have a unique label identifier, along with the year, album release and track number. In conjunction with the PRS (Performing Rights Society) licence these help to ensure that the artist gets paid for radio plays.
A large part of Jessica's time and brain power goes on the CD packaging. The manufacturer supplies a template and Jessica fits text and images to it, making sure that all the vital parts fit. Mary has created a beautiful painting for most of the albums which is then scanned or photographed, cleaned up if necessary, and slotted into the layout. Morgan took care of all of You Look Familiar and also part of the three 'archive' albums.
So, here's the checklist on how to make an album:
- Write songs
- Sketch out tracks and arrangements
- Record tracks
- Mix songs
- Obtain PRS licence, barcode and ISRC codes
- Create graphics and CD packaging
- Get album mastered
- Start early publicity
- Get CDs manufactured
- Sort out physical and digital distribution
- Crank up the PR and marketing machine
Admin and licensing may not seem the most glamorous of tasks, but without them we wouldn't have an end product. Hopefully this has helped highlight the process that goes on behind the scenes after the main studio work is done. Next week, we'll look at the final parts of the process, mastering and replication.
Jessica Lee Morgan is Mary's daughter and runs Mary Hopkin Music.
Christian Thomas sits in a darkened room and does techie stuff. He engineers, mixes and provides technical support to Mary and Jessica.