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BIRNAM CD TURNS 30 YEARS OLD!

11/02/2016

 

BIRNAM CD TURNS 30 YEARS OLD!

 

We ‘re finding it a bit hard to believe, but 2016 really is our 30th anniversary year.*

In the spare room of a farm cottage near Galashiels in the Scottish Borders, “Birnam Tapes” made a very humble start in 1986, armed with a reel-to-reel tape recorder + ten cassette decks. Our first job was to produce 250 cassette albums for the Scottish folk trio “Blackeyed Biddy”.

The independent music scene has grown substantially since then and we’ve grown with it. After a couple of name changes (Birnam Cassette Duplication, Birnam CD), we are now “Birnam CD Limited” and, to kick-start 2016, we have already made and delivered a total of 16,000 CDs just for clients launching new albums at January’s Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow.

And we have a great list of top-notch projects lined up for the months to come.

So, as we look forward to what is a special year for us, we would like to thank all of our clients, both past and present, for having entrusted us with their creativity, both musical and visual.

We’ll be looking back as well as forward in the coming year and, from time to time, posting some images from our early days right up to the present.

* To put this into a bit of context, the year we established the business was the same year that:

The UK & France announced plans to build a Channel Tunnel;

Argentina, helped by Maradonna’s “Hand of God” goal, went on to win the World Cup in Mexico;

Desmond Tutu became South Africa’s first black Anglican Church bishop;

The M25 was officially opened

and

Matt Groening created The Simpsons.

Music

Birnam CD: Pressing Matters

15/10/2015

Birnam CD: Pressing Matters

Martin was invited to contribute a guest article for the Traditional Music Forum blog. In the article he discussed what we at Birnam have found over recent years – that many musicians are choosing to release music themselves. With so many artists opting to release music independently, we wanted to share the article here to highlight that Birnam are ready to help them (you) every step of the way.

Birnam CD offers a comprehensive support service for musicians from CD pressing to digital delivery to PR and design.  Managing Director Martin Hadden tells us more.

I found the title of an article in last month’s newsletter depressingly downbeat – ‘Ian Green and the Legacy of the Folk Label’. For me, the word ‘legacy’ suggests something which belongs in the past or, at the very least, something with not much of a future ahead of it.

Ian describes the impact on Greentrax Recordings of the recent downturn in CD sales in straightforward, honest terms. I would expect no less from a man whose reputation for honesty and integrity is second to none in the Scottish music scene. However, though I could certainly empathise with many of Ian’s comments, I also found some of his observations to be at odds with our own current experiences here at Birnam CD.

You see, as the record labels have been forced to cut back on the number of albums they release, an increasing number of artists have turned to releasing their albums independently. The vast majority of the artists we work for do this.

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

Whether they have previously been with a label or not, most are taking on the task for the first time and it is a steep learning curve. There’s an awful lot to be done once the recording is finished – designing the packaging, getting the albums pressed, registering the tracks to ensure payment is received for any airplay, securing the airplay in the first place, getting reviews, making sure that the albums are easy for folks to find and buy both physically and digitally.

The list is extensive and consists of all the things that any record label worth its salt would do for an artist to support a new album release.

In response to this, we have added to the range of what we can do for artists beyond designing, pressing and delivering the finished CDs. We’ve been doing that for a couple of decades now, but for the past few years we have also been offering media promotion, downloads and streaming, online sales via Amazon etc., physical distribution and any sort of promotional materials we are asked to produce.

The difference between us and a record company is that we ask for no rights to the recordings or to the music itself. All of those rights remain the property of the artists.

And as more folks have turned to us to help to make their music more widely available, our buying power with the CD pressing plants has increased. This, in turn, has allowed us to buck recent trends and significantly lower our prices for pressing CDs – which attracts more artists to come to us to get their albums pressed and to take us up on the other services we offer. For us, it’s proving to be a productive treadmill.

Here’s just one current example to illustrate how this trend is impacting on the scene:
The ‘long list’ of nominations for the 2015 ‘Album of the Year’ award at this year’s Trad Music Awards has just been announced. We produced nine of the twenty albums listed, and eight of these are independently released by the artists themselves. Being signed to a label is clearly no longer the perceived necessity it once was in order for creative musicians to succeed and to be recognised for their work.

I wonder if things are drifting back towards how they were a few decades ago. Getting a record deal is not so easy any more. Record labels, particularly the ‘specialist music’ labels, have to be a lot more careful these days about which albums they choose to release. The current habits of the music-buying public dictate that they can’t afford to take a chance on a new, upcoming artist as the investment required in doing so could take years to recoup – in fact, may never be recouped at all. It may be that artists will soon find themselves signing a record deal only when their music sales reach a point at which it becomes unmanageable for them to handle their recorded output on their own. Having reached that point, they are likely to find that they need the support of an established and experienced label to take on the administration and to handle the tasks required to keep on top of things.

In that sense, the act of securing a record deal may soon regain some of its former prestige and value as artists won’t be offered a contract unless, or until, they have clearly established a profile significant enough to offer the realistic prospect of selling an awful lot of albums across a range of different formats.

When I joined Silly Wizard in 1976, the band was already in the throes of disentangling itself from an existing record deal. In the following 12 years, until we split in 1988, we signed deals with 4 more labels in England and the USA. We were young, we were ill-advised and we made some poor decisions. People often contact me to ask how they can get hold of our earlier albums. Although I am now in the perfect position to make them available, there is little that I, or the rest of the band, can do about it as neither the albums, nor the music we created and committed to them, belong to us in any physical sense. We’re the Bay City Rollers of the folk scene.

If we had known then what we know now…Or if Ian Green had founded Greentrax about 5 or 6 years earlier than he did, we would have signed with Ian in a second and would never have regretted doing so.  Of that, I am certain.

Wishful thinking aside, I think it is important that the current issues affecting the record labels should not be misinterpreted as necessarily being trouble for the music itself in the wider sense.  People always have, and always will, make music – great music. The current Scottish music scene is in rude health. It’s bursting at the seams with some of the most skilful and innovative young performers and composers I have ever heard. In my opinion, having been involved in it for forty plus years now, the scene itself is more exciting, vibrant, inclusive and uplifting than ever before.

And, however it is released, the music is being more widely heard than ever before.

As with so many matters these days, being independent seems to be the sensible way forward.

 

Music

Copyright – some things you should know

11/09/2015

Copyright – some things you should know

We are often approached by our clients with requests for information on the subject of copyright and / or publishing royalties.
When releasing a single, EP or album, it is obviously important that you comply with the law surrounding these issues.
Here are a few of the more common questions we are asked with a bit of (hopefully) helpful information in reply to each point.
Please note that, to avoid repeating the options, we have assumed that the product being produced is a CD album.

“What is MCPS?”.
MCPS stands for the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society. The society represents the mechanical rights of its members (composers, songwriters, publishers). When one of its members’ works is recorded and reproduced as a physical product such as CD, vinyl, cassette etc., MCPS will collect the due royalties and pass these payments on to the member(s).
The society administers a range of licences depending on the type of release.
If you plan to release a CD album, for example, you must apply to MCPS for the appropriate licence.

“How do I do that?”
You first register with MCPS so that they can supply you with an account number and log-in details enabling you to access the online application form. The most common licence used is called an AP2. You will be asked to provide a number of details such as artist name, album title, quantity to be manufactured and, most importantly, a list of the track titles and, if known, the composers and publishers for each. Don’t worry if you don’t have all of the requested information – supply as much information as you can and the MCPS database will almost certainly fill in the blanks. You will also be asked to confirm the selling price for the album, as any royalties payable are based on a percentage of the selling price. This can be either the “Retail Price”, i.e. the price you intend to sell the album for direct at your performances or the “Dealer Price” – this is the unit price which a shop would pay to purchase copies.

“Do I have to pay royalties on all the CDs produced?”
No, on the first pressing of any album, you are entitled to claim a “promotional” allowance of 25%, up to a maximum of 250 units. Royalties are not charged on these copies, but there are certain conditions attached to this, most notably that the promotional copies must be clearly marked as such and that they must not be offered for sale.

“What if I / we wrote all the songs on the album?”
If all the material on the planned release is original, and has not been published, then MCPS will have no claim in respect of royalty payments. However, you must still submit a licence application to confirm that no royalties are due. If this is the case, then MCPS will issue a “Notification of No Claim”, confirming that you are not liable for any royalty payments.
The same will apply if the recorded material is in the Public Domain (exempt from royalty payments as the composer has been dead for at least 70 years).

“Do I need a new licence if I ask for more CDs to be made in future?”
Yes, you must provide a licence to cover every CD manufactured. MCPS will supply a “re-press licence application” form when the original licence is issued. This is a simpler form to be used when more discs are required.
Please note, this doesn’t apply if you were issued with a “Notification of No Claim” for your first order of the album in question. So long as none of the circumstances have changed (none of the songs / tunes have been assigned to a publisher since the original pressing), then the “No Claim” will cover as many discs as you want to press.

For more information check out these links:
http://www.prsformusic.com/users/recordedmedia/Pages/default.aspx
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanical-Copyright_Protection_Society#cite_ref-2
http://www.fairwagelawyers.com/most-famous-music-copyright-infringment.html

Music

Esme’s Adventure Beats Charity Target, And Then Some!

17/07/2015

 

Esme’s Adventure Beats Charity Target, And Then Some!

 

Esme Morris Macintyre sadly passed away in 2013 at the age of 18 after battling a brain tumour. A tribute CD, Esme’s Adventure, was created with contributions from many of Scotland’s top harp players, and a fundraising page was set up on the Just Giving website. The original goal of this fundraising campaign was £10,000, with all money being donated to the Teenage Cancer Trust. At the time of publishing this post, that fundraising page has amassed £22,855. A massive well done to everyone involved!

 

Esme wrote a searingly honest account of the challenges she faced through her Facebook page, facebook.com/EsmesAdventure, and she worked tirelessly to raise funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust.
She made a wish list of people to meet, things to do and for harp tunes to be written for her. The result is Esme’s Adventure, demonstrating the great diversity and talent that abounds in Scotland’s harp community today. It is a fitting tribute to a remarkable teenager and is being sold in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust.

 

The Just Giving page is still active and accepting donations. Please consider donating to this wonderful cause. Esme’s Adventure is available from our shop. All profits from the sales of this CD are being donated to the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Live Music

Mairi Orr’s Album Launch

25/06/2015

Mairi Orr’s Edinburgh Album Launch

 

On Saturday the 20th of June, I attended the first launch concert for Mairi Orr’s debut album Jenny Does Burn along with Martin and a very eager friend of mine. I say that it was Mairi’s first launch concert as the singer held a second on the 28th of June in Glasgow. The concert we attended was in Edinburgh at The Voodoo Rooms, a venue I had never visited before, but one that I fell in love with straight away. The concert was in a cosy room covered in dark drapes and illuminated by candles burning from each table as well as tiny lights dotted around the coverings. It was a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

Mairi and her band elected to do a straight run-through of the album for their live set. Opening number The Drover gently lulled the audience into the evening. Don’t You Wed Another Man Maggie took things up a notch with its fast-paced brand of bluegrass. Title track Jenny Does Burn told the tale of the last woman to be burned as a witch in Scotland to an oddly charming tune, given the subject matter. By the end of the set, and subsequently the album, Mairi had very effectively demonstrated her grasp of a variety of genres with no song sounding like the one before it.

Following rapturous applause from the audience (and then some), the band returned for a rendition of Dirk Powell’s take on traditional song Moonshiner. Feet were tapping, hands were clapping, it was a great concert from start to finish.

Mairi’s debut album Jenny Does Burn is available now from Birnam at our own shop, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. It is also available digitally through prominent platforms such as iTunes, Amazon MP3 and Google Play.