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Am I ready to make a tape?

by Doug Lipman

An earlier version of this article appeared in The Storytelling Coach Newsletter.

You may want to refer also to the workshop handout, Producing an Audiocassette.

Table of Contents:

Clarify your vision
Gather the money
Gather your team
Gather technical and marketing information
Plan your marketing


Question: Am I ready to make a tape of my stories?

Most people who ask this question want to know if their storytelling is at a professional level. But telling stories well is not the only consideration in making a tape.

Before you decide to make a tape, you also need certain intellectual and other resources:

  • A vision of the recording project.
  • The money it takes.
  • A recording team to assist you in the studio.
  • Information about
    • recording
    • production
    • marketing.
  • Plans about what to do with the tape once you have recorded it.

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Clarify Your Vision

First, think about your vision - your goals for creating the tape and what you hope it will be.

This is the single most important step of the whole process.

Clarifying and elaborating your goals is worth the many hours of thinking, writing, and talking to people that it will require. Your primary goal will determine each major decision about your project

If your primary goal is to make money from sales of your tape, for example, then your first priority should be to decide on how you will sell the tape once it's done. A tape to sell at performances, for example, might look and sound very different from a tape that will be sold by a mail-order catalog.

When your goal is to sell tapes, the requirements of the intended retailers come first. These requirements may determine every aspect of your tape, including:

  • what stories are on it
  • whether you record with an audience
  • whether you use music or sound effects
  • what's on the cover.

If your primary goal, to use another example, is to make money by using the tape to help you book more performances, you need to determine what your potential employers will be listening for - and then to make sure that every detail of your tape is consistent with your employers' desires and expectations.

Your primary goal may have nothing to do with money, of course:

  • You may wish to make certain stories more widely available, even if it costs you money in the long run.
  • You may wish to document your storytelling skills - in order to give your artistic achievement a concrete form or as a way of taking your own art seriously.
  • You may be most interested in the boost that will come to your storytelling skills as a result of fine-tuning and committing your stories to a recorded form.
As in the last case just listed, your primary goal may not have to do with a product at all, but with the process of creating a recording.

Whether the payoff is in

  • money
  • recognition
  • self-esteem, or
  • service to your audience,
clarifying your primary goal will help you make decisions that can bring you the results you most want.

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Gather the Money

You need money to record a tape:

bare bones budget $600-700
preferred budget $2000-3500
high budget $3500-5000

How can you make a tape on a "bare bones" budget? Do some or all of the following:

  • Record on less than professional equipment..
  • Get studio time for free or for barter.
  • Make a less-than-professional printed insert.
  • Barter for, beg, or do without professional services:
    • engineer, tape duplication
    • coach
    • photographer or artist
    • graphic designer
Obviously, some of these strategies will make noticable differences in the quality of your final tape.

The "preferred budget" is based on detailed calculations of the cheapest way to get professional results.

Why would your costs be in the "high budget" range?

  • If you want to use state-of-the-art equipment
  • If you want to use extensive music and sound effects
  • if poor planning or lack of coaching brings you back to the studio again and again.

You do not need to spend all this money at once. You can use one or all of these strategies:

  • Go into the studio and do all your recording and editing (usually $500-800), then wait a few months before printing and duplicating.
  • Duplicate just a few tapes, sell them, then use the sales money to have more tapes duplicated.
  • Color photocopy a few inserts, sell those few tapes, then use the sales money to have more inserts printed.

In some cases it is possible to find a publisher to fund the whole project - at a cost to you in per-tape profits.

Depending on your goals and marketing plan, you may also be able to sell advance copies at a discount or use other innovative fund-raising options.

Don't let lack of money deter you from planning a project.

  • If it takes months or years to raise the money, you probably won't raise it until you commit to the project.
  • In the process of detailed planning, you may become aware of possible sources of money.

Whatever your goal, a tape is an investment in yourself. Think creatively and positively about gathering the resources for this investment.

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Gather Your Team

Before you set foot in a studio, you need to gather a team to help you record.

Engineer
In every case, you need an engineer to operate the recording equipment. A competent engineer should also keep on ear on the technical aspects of your storytelling:
  • Are you popping "p" sounds?
  • Are you getting too far from the microphone?
  • Is your volume level consistent enough?
Coach
You need a second person who can judge the quality of your performance.
It's too much to expect that you will be able to perform at your best and simultaneously be able to decide whether a particular take was up to par or not.
Ideally, this second person will also be able to help you improve any below-par performing on the spot.
Detail person
Some storytellers - particularly those recording long or complicated stories - use a third person, whose job is to make sure that the storyteller includes all important details in the recorded performance.
This person can also take detailed notes about the various "takes" you record, thus saving time and money when editing.
Other team members
When I record a combination of music and stories, I have a music coach present as well.
You may also need team members who will not be in the studio with you, such as people who will:
  • listen to demo versions of your tape before you record
  • help you with design and manufacture
  • help you with marketing and sales.
A good consultant may be able to steer you to likely helpers.

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Gather technical and marketing information

Depending on your goals, you may just need an hour or two with a consultant (paid or otherwise!) who knows the basics about recording studios and tape duplication.

Or you may need to spend many hours talking to

  • experienced performers
  • publishers
  • people who represent your intended market.

This step is easy to overlook. Don't neglect it!

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Plan your marketing

If your goals include selling (or even giving away) your tape, you need to plan how to reach your intended audience before you ever enter a studio.

You will do best if you have at least outlined your marketing plan before you even decide exactly which stories to include on your tape!

For example, if you are planning to sell your tape of animal stories to the educational market, you need to know how to reach the decision-makers in this market and what they are looking for.

Their needs will determine whether it's better to market your planned tape of "panther stories":

  • as multicultural stories
  • as stories to complement a biology curriculum, or
  • as stories about an endangered species.
This marketing decision, in turn, may influence:
  • which stories you record
  • how you present them
It will probably also affect these further decisions about your tape:
  • title
  • cover
  • length
  • price.

If marketing seems like your weak suit, don't ignore it; get help with it.

The long-term results of your efforts will depend on how well you prepare yourself.

Are you ready?

If you're still not sure if you are ready to record, don't worry.

To help make the decision, begin gathering information and resources:

  • Start talking to people about your possible tape.
  • Begin to assemble your team of helpers.
  • Interview possible producers.
  • Set up informational interviews with people who may know about the market(s) you wish to reach.

Whether you decide to record now, later, or not at all, your art and your ability to promote it will be well served by the process!


Copyright © Doug Lipman

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This page was last updated on Friday, November 28, 2003
Copyright©2003 Doug Lipman