Keeping it real while going digital (Part 2, To CD or Not to CD)

In my last post, we looked at an issue facing working musicians today: Should you make CDs just because you’re making a new album? Everybody’s different, so we asked a few questions to clarify how things are working right now, and the financial & emotional impacts of such a decision. Let’s look at how to proceed with that information, then get wildly creative!music-download

  1. Separate facts from feelings
    Both are real and valid reasons, just don’t confuse the two when making your choice. If you make a decision based on feelings, don’t pretend that it’s going to be factually correct. For instance, you might make money, you might not, you’ve pre-declared that this doesn’t matter. And if you decide to go by what makes sense (financial or otherwise), don’t expect it to feel good. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, either way no feeling should stop you from following through on your decision.
  2. Examine what you’re avoiding
    Anything that you are vaguely worried about, identify exactly what it is. If that’s a feeling, like disappointing a fan, list it out. If it’s a fact, like the lost sale of a disappointed fan, list it out. Specific solutions only tend to appear for specific problems.
  3. Overcompensate
    Look at your list of all things you want to avoid, then brainstorm creative solutions! This is the fun part, turning problems into advantages.

Some examples:

Avoidance Advantage
“Downloads are too impersonal”
  • Make an interactive (sound-making or tactile) object available free with every download code sold at gig.
  • Sell download codes only as add-on to larger merch purchases (T-shirt, hat, etc.) at gigs.
  • Celebrate every download purchase at a gig by working buyer’s names into a song performed as an encore.
  • Collect names/emails of every download buyer possible and send them a personalized thank you note, asking them what they think about the album.
“Not enough artwork or liner notes are available”
  • Make high-res downloadable info/art/lyrics available digitally for printing.
  • Make blog post or YouTube video for every track on the album. Include info about the songwriting and/or recording process, the credits, interviews or pictures of the musicians & crew, etc.
  • Make short-run of CDs with handmade art casing for fans/supporters (great for Kickstarter-only rewards!).
“I can’t sign download for a fan at a gig”
  • Give every buyer an awesome selfie with the band for every download purchased (full band selfie only available for fans who purchase before/during show).
  • Sign physical object that comes with download.
“CDs sound better than MP3s”
  • Sell on Bandcamp or other service offering high-resolution download options, let the fans choose.
  • Offer compressionless “upgraded” downloads to fans who can document their purchase on other stores.
“I like CDs and don’t want to give up making them”
  • Create a work of art or a song that truly expresses this statement. Use at every gig to engage others who feel the same way. Incorporate cassette tapes, 8-tracks, vinyl or whatever is appropriate to your genre aesthetic and/or sense of humor. Let others in on on it.
 “Downloads aren’t as good for sending to radio stations”
  • Make short-run CDs with custom packaging specific for promotional use. PLEASE make sure your metadata is correct (radio stations will trash incomplete/incorrect tracks, and curse at you!).
  • Scoop up a bunch of MiniDisks and USB sticks for cheap, send those instead (many radio stations still use MDs as carts, the rest use playlists so direct file transfers are actually best).
 “No one else is abandoning CDs yet”
  • Work with PR/Marketing Advisor to draft a press release making your digital-only release newsworthy.
  • Send a statement to your fans about your intention. Ask them what they think, and let them help you solve the problem.
  • Write a song about your decision and make it a bonus track or free download

For my friend Badi Assad who I mentioned in part one, I recommended the following for her forthcoming album titled “Hatched“:

  • egg-shakerMake branded shaker eggs that come with a download code. Price it around $20 or so, available only at live concerts. Announce this near the beginning of the show, then have one song near the end in which everyone who has purchased a shaker/album can play along from the audience. The whole song will be a reminder to people to buy the new album, and a way to interact and be a part of a larger community precisely because they did so. The hard costs involved CD production and custom shaker egg production will be roughly the same, it’s easier to order these products within different touring regions (so customs need not be involved). If it doesn’t work, you have a bunch of shaker eggs left to sell as low-cost merch or use for promotion for the release.
  • KickstarterCDMake a short run of CDs only available via Kickstarter. Set it as a $40-$60 tier reward, downloads for $15-20. Make the CD packaging extremely unique and appropriately artistic, like handmade by your own hands. How many of these will you need to make? You’ll know the exact number in plenty of time to make them, and you can put a cap on it in your Kickstarter too. Say you’re making 100, and see what happens. If your demand is 200, maybe you make more. If your demand is 1000, now you know to press more CDs.
  • heartOffer a free perk to anyone who can document their digital purchase. Make it something virtual like what you’d give a Kickstarter (expanded artwork or access to information about the album, personal contact, etc.). This is a nice thing to do, an easy thing to do, it creates community, and it also gives you a direct interaction with fans you would not otherwise have access to. iTunes doesn’t tell you who bought your album, Amazon keeps that info to themselves. Fans who purchased once are way more likely to purchase again, and you really want to know who they are.

Instrument Maintenance Floss
Once upon a time, back when I had a music career, I ordered a bunch of custom-imprinted containers of dental floss with my One Mouth Band logo on them. I called them “Instrument Maintenance Floss” and included them in every press kit, offered them to every promoter, sent them to every booking agent, dropped them on every DJ, and handed them out to pretty much anyone else that I wanted to remember me. It worked like a charm, and a decade later people still remember me by these stupid little $1.50 items. If I were making a new album in 2015, I’d print up a sticker with a unique download code, slap it on the floss, and sell it at every gig.

InstrumentMaintenanceFlossRemember, anything that costs about as much to make as a CD, can be sold at CD prices (or higher!) with a download code. Get creative, get silly, get real, get noticed, get results! Happy music making…