To CD, or not to CD…?


Now that this happened…

Should you make CDs just because you’re making a new album? Or, as my marvelously talented & beautiful friend Badi Assad 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. Badi herself has 14 albums in her discography, plenty of awards/press, a wikipedia listing, tours internationally, and is a true professional by any measure. At some point in the not-too-distant future, this will no longer be any question at all for musicians at any level. 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 sale?
    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). And jewel cases tend to break, but you still have to pay for them. 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 unlike Badi you’re just starting your music career and this is your first album, what is the minimum number of CDs you can press to meet your “I made it” milestone? Know that when you do this, you will never sell them all, you will never make this money back, and this is not a financial decision. That’s okay. You’ll probably do it anyway because it has emotional meaning to you.

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?

Ah, the ill-fated music store. How I miss thee...

Sadly, we won’t be heading here. Ah, the ill-fated music store. How I miss thee…