Producing A Scene Related CD

The production of a CD is much like betting on a horse… There’s a chance you are going to win, but there’s a bigger chance of failure. It’s all a very big gamble. The humble producer must have something very special about his product and for sure during these low budget productions a producer must somehow make the public take note. Every penny of every pound must be wisely and the product must be solid and proffesional. If you are gonna succeed in creating a CD for the scene there are several factors to be considered and these factor’s are to be done in the best way possible. We talk to Thomas Merregnon Boecker and Dan Audiophonik Wright about the difficulties and what needs to be considered when a producer creates a CD.

It takes a very dedicated person to produce a scene related CD. He possesses a passion for music and a passion for the CD. It’s a costly venture and a time consuming one too.

Thomas Boecker:
I have always been fascinated by movie and game scores. I have dealt with both since I was a kid and somewhere down the road I just had this idea of connecting both fields – and have my favourite composers of the latter create a soundtrack that was to tell a story in the same way motion pictures do.
Merregnon Cover

Dan Wright:
I've worked on three scene CD's: Escape (1994), Freedom (1995), and audiophonik (1999). The first two were music and data, the third music only. The idea behind the music/data CD's were to produce a scene CD so people would have an archive of the great demos out there. Also they would be able to hear and have a good collection of scene music on CD. The scene music for Escape/Freedom came from Christopher Mann's Music Contest.

A future product I'm playing a small role on is making a DEMO DVD. Basically it will contain the best PC demos release along with some of the old greats. Check out our site at for more details. And of course, be sure to vote for your favorite demos.

Audiophonik Cover

The early steps in creating such a CD can be vital, many things need to be considered, apart from cost, there's time and belief in yourself.

Thomas Boecker:
Naturally, while planning such an enterprise you are overzealous - and write down one idea after the other. That phase is important, thoughts slosh into your keyboard like a waterfall. After a couple of days I took out my notes again, crossed out, organized, and gave structure to everything in order to finally form it into a concept. That is how the foundation of the underlying fantasy story was developed, a list of potential contributors set up - and, of course, a first calculation for the production and promotion being done. This way, you come closer to the treatment which eventually can be sent to every possible prospect. As much as one might be dying to accomplish all that within only a few days - you have to be patient, and to avoid dissapointment on your side and even worse: the side of artists that might already have been contacted, the basis of the project should be apparent.

Dan Wright:
Depends upon the project. One thing is it helps to have several people working on the project. So, getting together good people to help out is a first step. Determine, if possible, how you will be able to sell your product. Or you could just do it because you feel/know others out there will buy your product. Escape and Freedom were very successful scene CD's in that I was able to sell out of my less than 1000 press run. But audiophonik sales have not been as good as I originally estimated.

It also helps if you have the money to support your project. Without money and support from others it will be hard for your project to see the light of day. You don't need moral support, you just need others to help with the project to lessen your work load plus with extra people you will come up with more ideas (art/promotions/etc) and be less likely to make dumb mistakes. Not everyone around you will think it is such a good idea. At least, that is how it seemed when I did my Escape/Freedom CD's. But, if you let others talk you out of things you won't get very far. The best time to take a chance is when you are young and can afford to lose because you'll have lots of time to recover. Plus you will learn from your mistakes.

Choosing a set of musicians is vital to the product as we all know but how do you negitote or discuss payment issue's...

Dan Wright:
For audiophonik I worked with Jeff (Darkness) of Imphobia and we arranged to pay an up front price for the first pressing plus several copies of the audiophonik CD. I studied the general music royalty structure and found it to be something quite low per X number of minutes per CD

Offering a reasonable price to composers/arrangers will get you along way... Research can help but a good experienced producer who's willing to help goes even further still. During the early development of Remix64 - The CD i have had some valuable assistance from various sources including many producers, but most of all from our publishers who have given a lot of time replying to my various, no doubt annoying questions.

Dan Wright:
We researched the subject, talked with other scene CD producers and offered an even better deal than the going rate. Most didn't seem to care about getting paid much, if at all. But our goal was to produce something we hope could make us a few bucks and perhaps finance future products.

Artists are needed, and a quality booklet always helps... Both Dan and Thomas state that it's very important to them to create a proffesional look.

Thomas Boecker:
A booklet is utterly important to me. When I go and buy a CD I want the music to be appealing on the one hand - and the rest too on the other. As for today's albums this is unfortuanately often being neglected, 2 pages filled with uninspired texts is not enough for me. How much you can add to the athmosphere can be seen on CDs like audiophonik or Back in Time 3. With 24 pages printed with 4 colors and a whole crew of artists and designers, Merregnon went all the way and set - as it did with the music - a new standard.

Dan Wright:
Next to the music this was the most important item for audiophonik. Our goal for the booklet was to provide an outlet for the artist to describe their music, their history and provide a direct contact for those who like their music to get in touch with them. We even included a picture of the artist so people who order the CD can see what these musicians look like.

I think it is very important to inform and please the eyes and ears. We did that with
audiophonik and I doubt any future scene product will top the package we provided.

Thomas Boecker:
The essential part here has been to find the right mixture. That is to say drawers - and on the other hand designers, who are experienced in DTP - production. It is not enough to come up with entertaining sketches and hand them over to the press shop, but instead have an experienced staff produce the material according to the specifications of a CD and its booklet and process them after dinstinctive rules, all of that meaning an enormous time exposure and should never be underestimated if you consider creating a professional product.

Dan Wright:
People we knew in the scene who did artwork for us previously. Jeff used PL for the booklet artwork. Xten did the CD label artwork. Previously PL did artwork for Jeff's Dreams CD and my Freedom CD. Xten also did artwork for my Freedom CD.

Jeff handled all the details and PL/Jeff came up with the ideas. We had a general flow we wanted to follow: Musician's picture and details about the musician. We also wanted to have our pictures/comments. We needed an introduction and closing--how to contact type details. Of course we couldn't forget to greet people. And I made sure the CD had a UPC so I could get it into the catalog. Cost my company around $500 to obtain a UPC number (one time expense).

So ok, say you have your finsihed mastered product you need to press the CD's. So what steps did Dan take to do this..

Dan Wright:
Jeff handled the pressing side of the CD. Making the arrangements with the same company he used for his Dream's CD's. It worked out very well and their costs were very reasonable. We used Duplisoft in Belgium. They did an excellent job and I can highly recommend them.

Possibly the biggest factor is time apart from cost. Everything takes so much time. The major time consumer is waiting for the musicians to come up with the score. If there's changes to be made then well time goes on. For me i've built a quality control team and posting beta's and waiting for feedback often takes several days. Though what i can say it's worth building such a team as the results often improve a piece of music. Though the quality control team is very small, our publishers have also given valuable impact. I even sent one piece to the original composer for feedback... The results of which was impressive and solved a particular problem we had.

Dan Wright:
It took us about a year to do audiophonik. But much of that time was thinking about it, trying to get the musicians to do a song. At times it was a struggle to get the music from the musicians and to pull everything together. But eventually it came together and we got it out the door. A couple hours a week for the producers would be about typical. It really depends on how much you are doing. If you are the musician/artist/producer it could take several hours a day for perhaps a month but you will probably burn out and never release anything.

Thomas Boecker:
Merregnon has not just been a hobby - it had quickly become the predominant subject-matter. It can be said that this CD filled an important part of my everydays life for over a year, otherwise we had not been able to accomplish that work within such a short timeframe. To Fabian Del Priore, the main composer, it was no different. Permanenty, new situations arise, so that it becomes a dangerous sacrilege not to check for e-mails for only one day. Right, we did not have to hurry that much, but then there is always the risk that if the production had have taken too long, the schedule of those who are involved had not allowed for their contribution any more - or their interest might have faded as soon as we could not have presented some new achievements."

Looking at the bigger picture a producer must ask himself do he love it... Does he really love it. Would he buy it!!! - if the answer is no then you are gonna be in trouble.

Dan Wright:
I wanted to release a CD of scene music that I knew I would like. And if I liked it I suspected others would as well. And, hopefully they would buy a copy and think this is really cool and let their friends know. With a little luck and word of mouth the CD would sell like hot cakes. But sometimes, most of the times, it doesn't work out that way. But you do all you can to get it out there and try to let people know about it then let the product speak for itself.

What we found mainly with time constraints is that i deal with the project soley, i should organise it, recruit musicians, work out the financial agreements etc.., while markus takes a back seat and gives input if required. We find it's working for us this way, but it also helps when get as much viable support as possible. Doing this helps in deciding important steps forward without waisting valuable time in consulting each other. We started this way and found it too time consuming and many decisions needed to be made quickly. Here dan explains the difficulties of two people working on a CD, and how the results turned out.

Dan Wright:
I put up half the money, promoted the CD, got it reviewed in several places, spread the word, etc. Jeff and I came up with the ideas who/what/etc and developed them. The tricky part was managing the whole project. Getting the songs from the musicians and trying to come to an agreement on items. The more people you have cooking in the kitchen the hotter it becomes. Both Jeff and I can be stubborn at times so there were definitely arguments over colors, songs, royalties, and etc. But, ask either of us and I think you'll find agreement in the fact that we both are happy with the results.

So the results turned out well in this case proving that the decision to go for two or one is no brainer.

Thomas Boecker:
As selfish as it may sound - first of all you have to think of a CD which you would like to purchase yourself. That is to say you build up and extend the project according to your very own likings. The advantage of such albums is that they do not aim at attracting a mainstream public. This way, you keep a high standard, which is, last but not least, extremely important for your incentive. Every day, the participating artists face the situation of doing remittance work - as for our project they were able to involve their own ideas. And still: Merregnon has been a huge financial success, being, especially in this case, evidence of the artistic value - all of that making it as perfect as it gets.

Building a scene related CD and producing a well polished product depends on one person... If it fails there is only one person to blame... What went wrong... Poor promotion, poor music... Whatever is the reason the producer has the success of the product soley on his hands.

Dan Wright:
If you don't manage the product it will never get done. Sometimes you have to make deadlines even if they are missed. Just to try to keep the project moving. For audiophonik" I think we miss all of our deadlines several times.

The biggest challenge is getting your music heard. Reviews, airplay, ads, whatever. If you do it well and you have a strong product then the sales will arrive. If you don't do it well you'll have a lot of product on the shelf and no one to blame but the man in the mirror.

It is very important to know your target audience and hit the target otherwise you won't find many buyers.

Thomas Boecker:
Without placing my own achievements in the foreground, I believe the work of a producer is essential. He oversees the complete assignment, puts up concepts, texts and makes sure that a competent and steady team is engaged. Beside legal and financial matters it is important to stay in contact with the employees, recognize possible complications in good time and if neccessary find alternatives. And even after the release of the CD his work is not yet done. Where before all arrangements for the pressing had to be set, he finally takes care of the advertising, which at that time should have progressed to its next to final phase concerning promotional contacts in the media. The producer has to take care of that all the time - from the early stages - untill the very end. What is especially attractive to me is the mixture of artistic and organizational tasks, in this composition being something you can hardly find in other areas. Required for such work is of course the ability to be inspired - with that stands or falls all the project.

So a track isn't quite there how do you go about telling an arranger that it needs adjustments. Remember they have put a lot of time and effort into creating there very own masterpiece. But yet it needs altering. A careful way with words is needed.

Dan Wright:
There are a few songs on the CD I would have liked to have been different. But for most of them I couldn't pinpoint how to improve the song. All I knew was I didn't like it as much as I wanted. It was good, but not great. Sometimes you have to settle a little or find different musicians and hope for the best there. But, if you keep doing that you may piss off your musicians and you'll never get a product to market.

What I do know is you have to be very careful when you are critical with a musicians work. For
audiophonik I had a bad experience with a couple musicians. One because I made a couple suggestions. In the end we resolved our differences but I suspect some friction probably still exists.

When the musician works on their song over a couple weeks for many hours it becomes a labor of love so to speak. It really takes a special kind of person to let the musician know areas they would like improved. Jeff is much better at this than me as I tend to be to blunt (straight and to the point). He was able to clean up a couple trying situations I got myself into with a couple musicians.

Promotion is the key to a successful product... Promotion = Demand. Though if you have a poor product then reviews can be damaging.

Dan Wright:
Demand. Fine out what people want and make that. Aside from that it is difficult to say. I would say audiophonik is a successful CD however it has not sold that well. It turned out surprisingly good based on my comparison of current/past scene CDs as well as mainstream music in a similar category.

In business terms (profits)
audiophonik was not a success for me. Jeff has done a little better with sales. I would have liked it to have been reviewed in more magazines. Seeing it get rejected for a review in several big magazines I was counting on was difficult to take. It all has to do with getting the word out. Getting your product heard and talked about.

Thomas Boecker:
It has to fulfil the expectations of three parties: a) the developer team b) the consumer and c) the critics - in this order. At least, Merregnon had to do so, because it has always been important to us that every participant would be able to include his own ideas. Sure, in some cases one has to think about compromises, but we just did not want any side to feel sold out. All aspects overlap each other and as soon as negative tendencies become evident, the whole picture is affected. As I said, I am talking about scene - CDs, that should be understood. I don't appreciate delivering everything on a silver tablet to the potential customer. Holding such an attitude often makes you end up with the exact opposite of what you wanted since you can never please everybody. It is still the best to trust yourself and follow your own personal taste.

Dan Wright:
Promotion of the CD starts early. Before it goes to press you need to be thinking about this--what magazines, sites, etc. are you going to target. Try to pre-announce your product (Released this January…!). And then if you get it early hold onto the product or send out review/promotional copies. But know your audience and try to hit all media print, radio, tv, internet related to your audience. If you try to do this X months down the road it becomes more difficult because now your product is OLD.

If you have a nak for selling/marketing then you should be able to do well. I really believe this will contribute greatly to your products success/failure in a business (profit/loss) sense.

If a new producer wants to have a go at creating a scene CD, Dan's advice is plain and clear...

Dan Wright:
Make sure you know what you are getting into. Are you up for the challenge? Does the scene need or want the product you will produce? Are there other similar products out there and if so how are they selling?

Will it hurt you if sales are not that good? Will you be disappointed even if your product is not greeted as the next best thing or as well received as you would have hoped?
Your biggest gamble is really time and money. If you enjoy doing stuff like that then the time spent will be enjoyed. If you can afford to lose the money then it will be time and money well spent. If your time is tight and you don't like the idea of losing money then it would be a bigger gamble for you. If you do it to make money then you are in it for the wrong reasons and you'd be better off elsewhere.

So what exactly would be a succesful figure...

Dan Wright:
I would consider 1000 sold in a years time successful. Or selling out of your initial press run, even if it is only several hundred, within a few months of offering the product.

Dan tells us that there were 1000 copies of Audiophonik made. However the Glass master has been destroyed. So after these 1000 copies have gone that'll be it.

Thomas Boecker:
As for Merregnon, the first pressing included 1.000 copies, for a simple reason: it is a numbered and limited edition. After a short time these CDs were sold out – by now we have a far greater amount of albums available. Promotion is an important aspect that should never be underestimated, which is something that unfortuanately still holds true for most of the scene albums. Merregnon received numerous, thoroughly positive criticism in big print and online magazines. Naturally, nobody will buy a product, however good it may be, if he does not know about it. Many of the professional CDs in this sector fail because of such shortcomings. As a matter of fact, it is indeed difficult to have an article written about a rather alternative topic – but it sure is possible, as we have proved it to be.

You can see here through this brief investigation how much really goes off. We decided to remove some of the financial details regarding the CD's as we thought they were unapropriate for this artcile.. We asked Thomas and Dan to add a few final thoughts...

Thomas Boecker:
The production of a CD is a huge risk connected with seemingly never-ending work – and sleepless nights. After the completion of such a project one might ask why he has undergone all the strain – and just longs for peace. But shortly after he knows what he has plodded for – as soon as first comments come in, people start to thank you for the album and so on. Then the flame awakes again – and new ideas rush through the mind. Because however burnt out you have been after that kind of enterprise – the glow probably never expires, and the fire blazes up again quickly at the new starting moments. It is difficult enough to establish one product out of a series – to create a second part, continuing the initial success, is a masterpiece. The challenge is enormous, but as far as I am concerned this is exactely what makes it interesting to create the Merregnon trilogy.

Dan Wright:
It is not all fun an excitement. There are times when it can be stressful and seem like work. But in the end it is quite a joy to see the final product. Each time, after I project I figure it will be the last. Yet, for some reason I continue. My next and biggest project will be a Demo DVD. It will be targeted at the scene but we hope to get some mainstream press to help sell all the DVD's. If the project goes well other Demo DVD's will follow (Amiga, C-64, PC Intros, etc.). The Demo DVD will consist of PC demos in VIDEO format so they can be watched on the television.

Remix64 would like to thank Dan and Thomas for their time. This article wouldn't have been possible without their help. Thanks guys..