After our second artist album, Tweekend (Interscope, 2001), we — Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland — started DJing a lot more as the Crystal Method. Because we were having so much fun doing it and found the experience so rewarding, we decided that we wanted to put out a mix CD. Our first one, Community Service (Ultra, 2002), had a collection of remixes that people did for us and remixes that we had done for other people (remixes that didn't have a proper release around the world). We knew that as soon as we were finished promoting our next studio album, Legion of Boom (V2, 2004), we would go back in the studio and follow up with another mix CD, which resulted in Community Service II (Ultra, 2005). After a few years of dealing with the creative and business sides of releasing mix CDs, we've discovered a few things. Here's some advice based on what we've learned.
What's the protocol for licensing tracks? How can DJs who are putting together their first mix CDs ensure a return on their investments after paying licensing fees?
When we are putting our list together of tracks to be licensed — including our own tracks because, basically, we have to license from ourselves or from the labels that put out our tracks — the only thing we have to do way in advance is identify the tracks that are on major labels. We get those rolling ahead of time because of the labels' red tape. It's not always on the priority list for major-label people, who are working day and night on other projects, to immediately get back to you. Tracks from independent labels or unsigned acts can usually be licensed quickly. We prefer licensing tracks from indie labels, small labels and unsigned artists because it's a lot easier to get things done.
An example from our current mix is the Smashing Pumpkins remix by the New Originals, two guys out of the UK. When we first heard this track, it was a promo-only bootleg that these two artists had done because of a love for “1979.” They were using it to play in their DJ sets, and we got a copy of it and really loved it. We thought it would be amazing if we could get this particular track licensed for our mix CD. Fortunately, our management knew somebody in Billy Corgan's camp and sent it to him to approve. We heard it's the only remix that he's liked of a Pumpkins song, so he allowed us to put it on our mix CD. We had to pay for it, and we compensated the original remixers. It worked out in the end, and that was due in large part to our management and the capacity of all the people involved in the project for that particular track.
Also, one good way to get tracks easily is through friends. We had a couple of remixes that hadn't come out yet sent to us directly, so we, our management and label dealt with them outright.
How is creating a mix CD different from crafting a club DJ set?
DJs will have sets that are usually two to three hours, and, usually, the normal CD is at most 70 minutes. Sometimes, you'll be able to put out a double CD that extends it, but you still want to compress your normal set — maintaining the energy — down to 60 or 70 minutes. It's difficult because some of the tracks that you may play in your set are impossible to license, whether the artists aren't into having them licensed or you can't get them done in time. We think about listeners hearing that record not in clubs with amazing lights and a thousand people around them, but in their cars, on their iPods or in some other environment. The mix should keep the listener interested. Nobody wants to listen to something where they have to fast-forward past tracks they don't like. Spend some time listening to your mix outside of the DJ environment to help you figure out what works for the CD format.
Aside from saving money, what was the benefit of masteringCommunity Service IIyourselves? How should DJs shop for a mastering engineer for a mix-CD project?
Mastering is very important and can save a CD. Bad mastering can cause ruin. The bottom line is to end up with a final stereo master that doesn't need a lot of help while still giving attention to every track. We found that a lot of mastering engineers, when given a mix CD, just give it an overall EQ and compression, which doesn't help the individual tracks. Use outside mastering for the final mastering because it's a whole different mechanical world that most know nothing about. As for finding a mastering engineer, a helpful hint is to find a mix or album that you like and see if you can have the person who did the mastering work help you master your own.
What are some ways a DJ can get exposure for a mix CD aside from press and ads?
One important thing is to realize the state of the music business now — it's no longer about coming up with a good project, hoping that a major label puts you out and becoming a star. It's so much more difficult now to sell music, and mix CDs pretty much have to be sold as CDs. They're not typically downloaded, even from iTunes or any of the legal sites, because a mix CD is by nature one giant file. We try to tie in with as many positive crossover promotions as we can and work hard after finishing the project with promotion and touring and everything else. Come up with a great product first; then, work really hard to give it as much exposure as you can.