Manage for Success: Production (Newsletter #4, August 2001)

Do you have trouble getting your new releases out on time? If so, read on….

Production is one of those important areas of any record company that generally goes unrecognized (and frequently unappreciated) by the rest of the staff. It’s an unglamorous but extremely necessary function of the business. And doing it can actually be a lot of fun, despite, but also because of, the hard work required.

Production's involvement with a new release should start soon after an artist begins to record. The production person (or staff if more than one person is in the department) should start coordinating with the artist, A&R, package designer, and Marketing at the earliest possible time in the planning of a release. This will make it easier to see that all parties agree on the direction the project should take, and also agree on when the project should be released.

A file should be started as soon as possible, which will make it possible for Production to keep track of all aspects of a release. (If Production also handles A&R administration -- the subject of a future newsletter -- it should start tracking the project even before the start of recording.)

At this time all significant production milestones or deadlines should be listed on a simple but graphic form, working from the projected street date all the way back to start of recording. Some of these milestones would include the following (from earliest to latest):

Designer Assigned to Package (as early as possible)
Photography or Illustration Completed (1 or 1 weeks before next item)
Cover Approved (at least 1 week before Editorial Completion)
Business Affairs Approval (at least 1 week before Editorial Completion)
Mechanical Licenses Obtained (at least 1 week before Editorial Completion)
Recording Completed with A&R and Staff Approvals (at least 1 week before Editorial Completion)
Editorial Completed (1 to 2 weeks before next item)
Print Materials Proofed & OK’d (1 to 2 weeks before next item)
Print Order Placed (a few days before next item)
Films to Printer (2 to 3 weeks before schedules shipping if print materials)
Label Film to Manufacturer (as soon as available, but no later than when printed materials are sent to Manufacturer)
Mastering (1 day to 1 week prior to next item)
Masters to Manufacturer (1 day to 1 week prior to next item)
Manufacturing Order Placed (prior to next)
Printed Materials to Manufacturer (2 to 3 weeks before next)
Manufacturing Completion (at least a few days before next)
Manufacturer Ship Date (usually about 2 to 3 weeks prior to Street)
Street Date

The times between events listed above are simply my suggestions. You will need to establish them as necessary for your particular needs and situation.

If you wish, you can add additional items to the above, such as when Notices of Use have been filed with publishers, when the SR form has been filed with the Register of Copyrights, etc. You might also want to add such items as New Release Information sent to Distributor, Shipping of Promotion Copies to Distributor, Bill of Materials to Manufacturer, etc.

It is essential to keep close and careful attention to the progress of a project in order to meet the milestone dates. Also, it’s generally a good idea to allow a little bit of "flex" or extra slippage time in the schedule to make it easier to meet deadlines.

How will you keep track of all this when you’ve got more than one or two projects happening at the same time? Well, there are a number of ways this can be done, from relatively simple to very sophisticated. The simplest is an outline chart, perhaps done in Excel, because it makes grids very easy to design. In fact many projects can be kept track of in a more complex grid, still using Excel.

More sophisticated software could include a project scheduling program such as Microsoft Project (PC only) or Fast Track Scheduler (available for both PCs and Macs.) Some labels track all aspects of their production in a relational database, such as FileMaker, using it for other aspects of running their operations as well as for Production. All these tracking methods can be made multi-user if more than one person is involved. All you have to do is keep the main file on your server and give writing access only to those who must have it (such as production staff) but allow others with a "need to know," such as senior managers, to have read-only access.

In a very small label one person many be handling many of the above functions, whereas in a larger label there may be a few people who handle production exclusively. Some labels have Production also take care of filing for mechanical licenses as well as handling editorial matter (assembly and approval of all of the copy that goes into the CD booklet, etc. This includes track listings, lyrics where applicable, musician credits, publishing credits, other credits, and legal notices, such as the copyright/legal lines.)

Once you've established your deadlines, it's imperative that you keep track of the actual dates that milestone functions are completed, as opposed to when they should be. These dates can be very important to you, and make up the "history" of the project.

How do you go about accomplishing this? First, especially if you’re in a company with more than just a handful of staff, you’ll need to politely stay in the face of everyone who must keep you aware of how things are progressing. This starts with A&R keeping you informed of progress in the studio and assisting you (or editorial) in gathering all of the important recording credits. This is one of those seemingly minor items that tends to be ignored until the last moment. Don’t let it happen if you’ve got to meet tight deadlines. It also means that you must stay well-coordinated with the package designer and/or your art director to be sure that a photo session (if applicable) has been scheduled in sufficient time to meet your deadlines. If you're in a start-up or small company this is easier, because one person will probably be performing many of the functions.

If for any reason it looks as if a significant deadline is going to be missed, it’s essential to inform senior staff right away to avoid unwelcome surprises. This should allow sufficient time for them to shift the release date if that seems warranted, or to apply sufficient pressure to the recalcitrant artist, designer, or other individual or department to avoid missing the deadline completely. This is another reason it’s a good idea to allow for some slippage time within your schedule to avoid having to delay a release. It’ll certainly make your CFO happier as he or she is probably relying on this release getting out on time to ensure future income that may have been projected.

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Talking about keeping your CFO happy…

If you're experiencing difficulty running your label, and would like to discuss management solutions tailored to your particular needs, please contact me.

Also, if you have topics you'd like discussed in future newsletters, feel free to email suggestions.

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But what about your suppliers, you may ask? How can I get them to stay on schedule?

I recently received an email from one of my newsletter readers wanting to know how to deal with this situation:

"My printers and manufacturers are in various parts of the country. Some are on the West Coast and I am on the East Coast, so the time difference makes it hard to communicate. Many times my printers and plants are slow in returning my calls and emails.

I know I am an Independent label and they do jobs for many people. But how can I get them to treat my jobs with the same priority with that of a major or larger independent? I can only "scream" at these people for so long and I don't want to be perceived as a hassle.

My turnaround times have been suffering and my boss is asking why this is."

First, allow sufficient time for your suppliers to give you what you need within a standard timeframe. For example, find out from your printer and pressing or manufacturing plant how much time they normally need to complete an order. If it’s normally a two-week turnaround time, then consider allowing three to four weeks in your schedule for the process. This is the flextime I referred to above. However, if you need a faster than standard turnaround, be sure to communicate that to your supplier well ahead of time. For example, tell them when you expect they'll be receiving the necessary films (or master) and when you realistically need them to ship. Don’t ask for "rush" service as a matter of course, but only when you really and truly need something done extremely fast. On the other hand, if you’re way ahead of schedule, let your supplier know that as well, so they can place somebody else ahead of you. This way, when you need a favor, you’re liable to get it.

On the other hand, if you find a supplier is consistently late in delivery, assuming they’ve received all the necessary materials from you, don’t continue using them. This may be the time to switch. By the way, it’s a good idea to have more than one supplier for a particular commodity. You may give the bulk of your business to a single printer, for example, but it’s good to have a history with another printer as well, because they may be able to bail you out in an emergency. My rear has been saved a number of times by a secondary supplier who desired the bulk of my business and then gave me extraordinary service when I needed it. They frequently ended up becoming my main supplier.

But the best way is to maintain very good day-to-day relations with all your suppliers. Just because you may not be one of their larger customers doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to the same (presumably excellent) service large customers get. In fact, if you treat your suppliers properly and with respect, you may be able to get better service; especially if you keep them up to date as to when they’ll receive your materials and give them sufficient time to do their job. Not insignificantly, paying your bills on time helps tremendously! When it comes to supplier relations, one hand washes the other!

And if a supplier's performance is occasionally not up to snuff, don’t yell and scream at them, but be firm yet understanding of their problems. They should do better the next time. However if they're consistently late or perform ineptly, switch immediately to another supplier. Remember…the customer (you) is almost always right. Just be sure you are right, and are not being unreasonably demanding.

By the way, most distributors don't ship new releases every week, but only once or twice a month. Therefore you might want to set up a grid that shows those release dates for the entire year, and all the other dates the distributor has established that it needs essential information and materials from you. This grid can help you in establishing your production schedule.

Finally, you should be able to enjoy the responsibilities of Production because of the regular interaction with artists, designers and the rest of the staff. And once you've got your production ducks in a row, it will turn out to be a lot of fun.

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Copyright 2001 Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.
You may share this message in whole or in part, but copyright and attribution should always be included.