I’m filling in on bass for a band that’s gearing up to release their new CD. When filling in for a band, I try to take a back seat on the band’s business. However, I sometimes just cannot keep my big mouth shut.
In this case, the guys were discussing details of their upcoming CD release, and I had to chime in. Here’s a rant based on both my experience with my former band and quite a few drunken conversations with various bands over the years.
Mistake #1: Ordering too many CDs
If you hear yourself say, “Cool! We got our album done. Let’s order 1000 CDs!”, go take a cold shower and slap yourself twice. The reality of ordering this many CDs is having a box of quite a few hundred CDs collecting dust on a shelf a few years later. Worse, you will be out money since you didn’t recoup the costs.
Let’s break down what 1000 CDs means. You play a CD release show and sell 50 CDs in your home town. Great! However, you play next month in your home town and sell maybe 1 CD. What’s up? Well…your hometown fans already bought your CD and are now waiting for your next release. Now you have 949 CDs you need to sell.
Okay, so you just need to go on tour, right? In my experience, you can have good nights where you sell 10 CDs outside of your hometown. But, I’ve definitely played shows that I sold none. So you do a 10 day tour and sell 50 to 100 CDs if you’re lucky. Great! Well, now everyone has your CD. Your next time at those same places, those people may not buy again. They’re waiting for your next release.
Now you have 849 CDs and an uphill struggle to sell the remainder. You spent $2,000 and maybe you have got back $800 to $1000 in sales. See where I’m going with this? You’ve basically put yourself into a bad financial position.
The smart way to do it is to order just 100 CDs. You can always order more later, but at least you’ll have the money to do it! And if you’re going through CDs like hot cakes, by all means, order 1000! However, test the waters first before diving. It sucks when the water is shallow and rocky.
Mistake #2. Printing CDs yourself
I printed the CDs for my old band on an inkjet printer. I thought this was going to be such a money saver and earn myself cool points for DIY motivation. Hey, I can print them whenever I want!
Oh, shit, it sucked. And I’m pretty sure I lost money. And hours of my time I just can’t get back.
I got that inkjet printer and ordered a bunch of CDs and cases. After taking a long time trying to get the damn art to fit on the CD, I realized it takes quite a few hours to simply print 25 to 50 CDs. Not only that, you need to let them dry for 24 hours. My apartment floor would be covered with drying CDs.
Then, after 100 CDs, my damn printer broke. Well, shell out another $200 for a printer. Also, after 25 to 50 CDs, you run out of printer ink. That ink is EXPENSIVE.
After pricing it up, I realized I was spending about $4 per CD and wasting hours of my life. We were only selling CDs for $5, so I was killing myself for a $1 profit.
Worse, inkjet prints tend to smudge. Professional prints have a gloss to prevent smudging.
My advice, use Disc Maker through CD Baby. You will save money, save time, and increase quality.
And NEVER use those “stick-on” CD labels. If they get an air bubble, they could destabilize and ruin someone’s CD player. Do you want to destroy your fans’ CD players?
Mistake #3. Booking the CD release show before having the CD
You need to have your CDs in hand before you even think of booking that CD release show. Trust me on this one. I can’t even count the number of bands that have played their CD release show without a single damn CD to show for it. Embarrassing!!
So many things can go wrong. The album art is wrong, and all the CDs are screwed up. A former member sues the band for royalties on that release. The singer forgets to order the CDs early enough.
Until you physically have those CDs, don’t do that “release” show. And definitely don’t do that release tour!
Mistake #4. Not ordering CDs early enough
As mentioned above, you need to know how long it takes to get your CDs. It can take a couple of weeks. If you are counting on the CDs being somewhere at a particular time, order a few weeks earlier. Allow time for mistakes in manufacturing, as well.
If you need merch for your tour, don’t wait until the last minute to order. It’s really dumb to go on tour without any music to sell or give to new potential fans. I’ve been one of those dumb musicians.
Mistake #5. Overcomplicating album art
Album art issues have never been a problem for me, but I hear so many bands have their CD releases delayed substantially just over art. Images are in the wrong formats. The artist keeps getting the dimensions wrong. The drummer really doesn’t like that shade of maroon.
Simplify and do your research. Know the exact dimensions and formats for your artwork. Art is important, but it shouldn’t be the factor that prevents you from getting your MUSIC to people.
Oh, artists and photographers like getting this thing called money. They aren’t doing it for free just because you’re a cool band! If you don’t have the money to pay them, that’s something else that will delay your artwork from getting done.
Mistake #6. No digital strategy
Bands go through an extraordinary effort to get their CD released, but then drop the ball on getting a plan together for their digital release. Those songs need to be made available to all digital distributors and streaming services in conjunction with the CD release.
A fan at a show may not buy your CD today, but they may go to iTunes the next day. Is your music there for them?
In addition to the major digital distribution outlets, does your band have a direct-to-fans digital strategy? Using a service like Bandcamp, Topspin, or, even, Paypal, you can sell your digital tunes directly from your website (which you have, right?).
Also, potential new fans discover music through streaming services. For instance, I’m listening to Last.fm right now, and I’ve purchased quite a few albums I’ve discovered from there.
Mistake #7. No launch strategy
So you got everyone extremely excited about this upcoming album release, right? You’ve made a bunch of teaser videos and “leaked” a few samples, didn’t ya? Few bands do.
You need to build excitement for this thing. Tweet between recording sessions. Have a brief “behind the scenes” video on YouTube of your band in the studio. “Hey, guess what? There’s a couple of songs you’ve NEVER heard us play live before!”
Build a buzz. Have a strategy that gradually increases that buzz into a frenzy. You’re excited, but is that excitement really transferring to your fans?
Mistake #8. No post-release strategy
Finally, you played your album release show. Now what? Ummm…play more shows, I guess?
Your album release show is just the very beginning. With your music, you need to branch out. How often are you going to make videos? Are you creating relationships with music bloggers? What percentage of your CDs are promotional (free in business speak)?
Do you have a plan to keep the buzz going about this album and grow your audience? You need something that keeps people interested in you and makes them spread the word about your music. What is your plan until your next album release? When is that next release?
Mistake #9. No thoughts of rights and licensing
Protect your music with a copyright. Technically, you have a default copyright once it’s printed on a physical or digital medium (like on a CD or on your website), but lawyers are tricky individuals. If someone else steals your shit, but they have a copyright, that person may look more legit than you in court. You could lose the rights to your tunes.
Beyond copyrights, you should get your music ready for licensing for film, radio, and digital streaming. You want to have your music licensed so you can instantly get your music to services that want to give you money. If you haven’t registered with either ASCAP or BMI or SESAC, you could be missing out on opportunities. Music is the very last thing that movies and television need on a tight schedule. If you can’t give them legal rights to license your music, they will quickly pick the band that can.
Mistake #10. No contract on who gets royalties.
You should know exactly who gets what percentage of royalties from your album and the individual songs. If a band member leaves the band, they will want their fair share for what they’ve done on the album. If you don’t have a contract and clear understanding of how everything is split, you can run into really shitty legal problems. You’ll spend thousands on recording but not a couple hundred dollars on an entertainment lawyer?
It’s best to work this stuff out when feelings are all happy between band members. My old band has an entire album we couldn’t release because we had problems with a drummer. It wasn’t working out, so we kicked him out of the band. He was extremely pissed and refused to allow us to use any of the tracks he recorded. We even offered money, but he wasn’t having it. We’re friends now, but that album is now dead and buried.
Do you have any CD release nightmares?
Or do you think CDs are a thing of the past? Let me know in the comments!
(Chris “Seth” Jackson blogs over at How To Run a Band. Stop by and say hi!)