What information do you need on your CD (to make money)?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Record-Producer.com.

Friday May 24, 2013

Getting the music done is one thing, getting the artwork finished is another. But what about all the other information a CD needs?

I was listening to a CD the other day, and looking over the booklet and tray card while I did so. The music was great, the artwork was effective. But there were a few things missing.

So it prompted me to write a few words about the little details that need to be on your CD package, or it's going to cost you lost sales or royalties.

Writer credits

The most significant thing missing from this CD was any listing of writer credits. I would at least want to see, "All songs by..." even if the band as a whole were credited as the writers (not ideal) instead of the individual writers (doubleplusgood). The best place to credit writers is after each song title. That way the information can easily be found by someone who wants to pay you royalties. You can put the information among the lyrics inside the booklet, but I'd say 'as well as' rather than 'instead of'.

If you actually want to get your hands on the royalties then you will need to be a member of a collection society, such as PRS for Music, ASCAP or BMI (or the society that works for writers in your country).

I don't have any particular order of importance for the other items, except to say that if your CD doesn't have a barcode, then you can say goodbye to sales in shops. This one fortunately did.


The © and p-in-a-circle symbols on the label - Your disc should have them. The © is your claim of copyright ownership on the product package, which includes the artwork, text and even the order of the tracks. Your music is already copyright, but you will have to register your tracks with your collection society. The p-in-a-circle, which the Internet doesn't seem to have a character for, indicates your ownership of the recording, which has a separate copyright to the music. In both cases, the symbol should be followed by the year, then the copyright owner. Don't combine these notices into one line otherwise it can be argued that they are invalid.

All rights reserved

"All rights reserved..." (which this CD did correctly have) tells anyone who buys the CD that they can listen to it, and nothing else. It isn't there really to prevent the owner of the CD doing what he or she wants with it, like copy it to their iPod, which is still technically illegal in the UK. It's more like a backstop, so that no-one can profit from your work without a license from you, so that you can rightfully share in any profits anyone else makes by whatever means.


The Compact Disc Digital Audio logo. Once upon a time this was a mandatory feature, except on a picture disc. These days it is often omitted. But why not just slap it on there? It takes almost no effort and it says clearly that this is a CD-Audio disc, and not any other kind of disc. This is one of the bees that have been angrily buzzing in my bonnet for some time now. People commonly send me discs, in random packaging, incorrect packaging or no packaging at all. Then I have to find out for myself if it's a CD-Audio disc, CD-ROM, DVD or DVD-ROM. Sometimes it's just blank. Believe me, it's irritating. By the way, if you source the logo in .png format with a transparent background, it will work over any artwork.


The name of the label. If your band is on a label, then that's taken care of, and the label should be attending to all of the matters I mention here. But if you don't have a label, then maybe you should. I don't know of any reason why you have to be on a label (I am open to reliably-sourced information on the topic), but since every successful artist or band that is out there already is on a label, then you should be too. So set up your own...

Catalog number

Now that you have your own label, your disc will need a catalog number, which normally has a two or three-letter prefix. Now I nearly got into trouble over this when I set up a label back in the 1990s. I chose a prefix without asking the MCPS (in the UK) first. Fortunately no-one else was using the same prefix. But if I had pressed my CDs and the prefix had already been taken, I'd have had to scrap them.

ISRC codes

The CD I was listening to had them, which is excellent. These are embedded in the data on the disc and identify each recording uniquely (not the song, but the recording). These can be used for automated royalty payments when your recordings are broadcast. You'll need to register...

Country of manufacture

I had this explained to me, but the details soon became so complex my brain begain to poach. Basically however, if you want to sell your CD in other countries, then import duty may be payable in that country. But if there is a trade agreement between your country and the importing country, then it gets in free. Like a CD made in the UK can be exported to any European Union country with no duty payable.


Sorry to shout, but if I'm a major-label exec and I like your self-produced CD, then I want to sign you up. And offer you a humongous advance to ward off the competition. So who do I call? Where's the number? OK, you don't see a telephone number on a major-label release, but putting an e-mail address prominently on your own CD is a no-brainer. You won't just get messages from industry execs, you'll get messages from people who like your music. Start your fan database right now. (You could, and should, include your website address, but if someone wants to contact you, they need your e-mail now, not after rummaging through your site.)

Well that's it for this time. I think I've covered pretty much all the basics. But one more thing...

Tray card spines

Look at the books on your bookshelf. Notice how if you bend your head to the right, you can read the spine of every book without exception. All the spines are printed the exact same way.

Now try the same with your CDs. CDs have two spines. The one on the left is (almost) always correct, like a book. But the one on the right is often upside down. Both spines should read like the spine of a book, whichever way round the CD is placed on the shelf. No-one, at least not to my knowledge, intentionally places their CDs upside down so the right-hand spines read correctly. It's such a simple thing to get right too. (In a different universe, life-forms are known to say that both spines should read correctly when a CD is placed flat on a table. But who reads the spines like that?)

P.S. Don't forget to submit your track names and other info to Gracenote. This way anyone who loads your CD into their iTunes will see the track names rather than just numbers.

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