As musicians who've practiced hard enough and long enough to go into the studio and produce something worth listening to, you finally have a finished recorded product on your hands. Often times up-and-coming bands spend their entire budgets on the recording process itself, forgetting the added cost of getting those discs printed and getting them into people's hands.
Let's be real: more listeners are likely to hear your music online than will ever pop one of your physical discs into their car stereo. But don't let that stop you from doing a physical release; it's essential to have a professional product with art that reflects what your band is all about! For sharing with family and friends as well as promoters, and making money on the spot at shows, the CD is still king.
In large cities like Milwaukee CD duplication services are readily available from all manner of dedicated and small-time businesses. While you can do all your CD duplication yourself, the result will not look very professional unless you invest in professional-quality equipment. This is a lot more expensive than you might think, even on online auction websites.
Scan through the classifieds or on the bulletin board at any rehearsal studio, and you'll find all manner of CD duplication service providers hawking their wares. Some offer great service and great prices, while others try to con naive bands out of extra money by promising to provide "full-service CD duplication, printing, distribution, band management, promotion, the works!". It's like the constraints of a record label, only you're paying someone instead of getting paid. These deal-bundlers are generally scam artists. They make a convincing argument that you need their wide array of printing, duplicating and promoting services, all for a flat payment. The problem is, if you separate out these services into individual transactions with specialists you can easily find yourself, you're still looking at a whole lot less green.
The best option is to contact a company that specializes in media production. Because they already own specialized equipment and make their living working with bands like you on a daily basis, they are able to offer CD duplication and printing services together as part of a package that lets you focus on the creative process. Have you tried pricing these services? From honest businesses, they are quite a bit less costly per unit than you might have imagined, especially as volumes increase. Whether you need an initial run of 200 or 10,000, each one should look professional.
Stop giving out CD-Rs at your shows with your name written on with a permanent market. It makes you look like amateurs who don't care enough about your band to work just a little extra hard to put together a reasonable amount of money for a professional product.