TO CD OR NOT TO CD…?

by Sam Rogers

As a musician, should you make a CD just because you’re making a new album? Or, as my friend Badi recently asked me, “would it really matter to distribute an album in its physical form nowadays?”

I’ve explored this question for myself, my Dad, and dozens of other professional and semi-professional musician friends over the last couple years. At some point in the not-too-distant future, this will no longer be any question at all. Clearly, things will go digital-only for most artists within the next few years. The market has already spoken.

So the real question is: when does it make sense for you to make the jump to digital-only distribution? Once you know that you can look at how to do it in a way that works best for you and your audience.

Obviously this is a very personalized decision, and here are the 8 questions that I use to illuminate it:

1. Which channels brought you significant music revenue in the last 3 years?
Did you sell more on Amazon, iTunes, Bandcamp, live concerts, or retail (ha ha! I mean, sniffle). If you’re streaming content, is that working for you? And how much are those in total, and relative to each other? I arbitrarily say three years because those numbers should be easy to gather, and anything before 2012 probably doesn’t help as music buying habits have changed.

2. Where do you make the most revenue per album sold?
This is something every artist should know before promoting anything. Otherwise you may be directing people to buy in a way where you get less money, or in a way that your people simply won’t do.

3. What is the cost of NOT selling the new album to somebody?
What if someone can’t/won’t buy this new album in a digital form? Does that actually mean anything to your bottom line? Put another way, if you can sell them something that isn’t the new album, how much does that matter?

4. What are your pain points with handling physical product now?
For example, I know from personal experience that travel with boxes of saleable product is a hassle (especially international travel & customs). Jewel cases tend to break, but you still have to pay for them. Vinyl is big, heavy, and fragile. My friend Badi is from Brazil and has a sizable following in Europe, I don’t know what kind of multi-lingual packaging issues she has to deal with but I’m sure there are some. What are your issues? What don’t you like about hauling your music in it’s physical forms?

5. What do you do now with physical albums you don’t know how to do with digital albums?
You probably wrap them & give them out as gifts on occasion, or maybe send to radio stations, or hand out like business cards to industry folk. List out all those use cases that you may want to find another way to satisfy.

6. What other merch have you got?
Do you currently sell any T-shirts, posters, stickers, etc.? Have you considered other more creative/specific branded merchandise & promotional material?

7. Do you have any experience with download cards?
Have you tried to sell them before? Have you ever bought one? Do you think your live audience would buy one for your next release? Do you know any like artists who have done this, and what was their experience?

8. What emotions are engaged in this decision?
Try out how it feels NOT to make a physical album. It may make a difference to you as an artist emotionally, so explore that. What does it mean to you? For instance, if you’re getting started in music and this is your first album, know that you’re making it as a personal milestone in your life. Print the minimum number of CDs you can to meet your “I made it” milestone. You will never sell them all, you will never make this money back, this is not a financial decision…and that’s okay. You’ll probably do it anyway.

Take time to look at your answers to these questions. Then, in my next post (to be released on Thursday, sign up now to get it in your inbox), I’ll show you how to put it all together in a way that makes sense to you and maximizes value for your audience!

Maybe you can already see where I’m heading here…any guesses?

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It came out a critic of Pierre Bensusan’s performance at the Traverse Theatre, in Edinburgh/Scotland and it mentioned me :)
Thank you Rob Adams!

…”His fingerstyle playing is very spontaneous and there’s no sense of an audience being treated to a performance by rote. However, it did seem to take him a piece or two here to settle into the easy pacing that saw him naturally convey the rhythms of Guadeloupe on the short but potent Sentimental Pyromaniacs and get into the sort of mesmerising, pinging, dancing patterns associated with the Brazilian virtuosi Egberto Gismonti and Badi Assad.

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