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« What does it mean to be a 'professional' musician. | Main | Could The TechCrunch Tablet Be The Final Nail In The Music Sales Coffin? »

Should you go digital-only, and skip the CD?

Should you go digital-only, and skip the CD?

The real question is: How much of your potential audience are you willing to exclude?

We’re in transitional times. A lot of people have iPods. But most still don’t. A lot of people get all their music online. But most still don’t.

If you decide not to put your music on iTunes or Rhapsody - (say, if you have cover songs and don’t want to bother with the paperwork) - your music will never be heard by the millions that get all their music on iTunes or Rhapsody.

But if you decide not to have your music on CD, your music will never be heard by the millions that still do all their listening on CD. (Even if they listen to streaming clips while sitting at their computer, they do all their real listening in the car, or on the home stereo.)

So the answer for 2008 is : if you’re serious about being a professional musician, you need to do both.

If you’re just playing around, and never expect even 100 people to want your music, then just upload to MySpace like everyone else does, and don’t make a CD.

But in these long-tail days with over a million bands on MySpace, having a professional CD - a beautifully designed and manufactured CD - really sets you apart and shows you’re serious to anyone in the music industry receiving your CD. Investing $1000 into manufacturing CDs shows that you plan to make at least $1000 selling them. Not spending the $1000 is like saying, “I don’t think I’ll ever make $1000 doing this.” Then you wonder why a booking agent or label is not interested?

To close with a telling example:

When visiting Apple iTunes, I had lunch with the guy who’s in charge of independent music editorial - the one who chooses who gets featured placement.

I asked him, “What’s the best way for me to turn you on to something I think you’ll love?”

His answer? “Send me the CD.”

I said, “Uh.. really? What if it’s already on iTunes? Shouldn’t I just send you the link?”

He said, “Yeah. I commute an hour each way to Apple’s office. I do all my real listening in the car, so I need the CD.”

Reader Comments (10)

I love CDs. And I loved loved vinyl back in the days. It is something you can touch. I still buy CDs and so do many. I love to have a booklet with lyrics and background information. After all, this is only a physical manifestation of data. But it is much more sexy than the mere bytes on a hd.
I'm shure the cd will disappear, but I guess there will be completely new ways of wrapping data in a way that it is attractive for our senses. Did the book die since we have e-books?
You can get the same book as e- book, paperback and luxury edition. All depending on your preferences and financial status. Let's be inventive, playful and visionary.

August 7 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Blue

Amen to both of you. I just want to add that an artist/band can't do without CDs anyway because you need something to sell/give away at your gigs or to even get gigs in the first place. If I would be looking for a band and some would send me a package with CD, pictures, infos etc. and others would send a note or an eMail 'check out our mySpace page' I'd go for the package guys. It's just much more professional and serious...

August 7 | Unregistered Commenteraudiot

In this day in age we have old and new technology existing side by side - more often we see people finding new uses for the older technologies - Vinyl for example is used by more than just a niche audiophile group, there is a whole musical art-form called Turntablism which I'm quite sure the inventors of vinyl did not consider in the beginning. To take Derek's idea a step further - putting your music out on vinyl could promote its use and distribution among DJ's and Turntablists. How cool is your band if you have music released on vinyl? Obviously not realistic for many indie acts due to price etc., but for those who can afford it - imagine what your merch table would look like with big beautiful albums displayed beside the CDs and MP3 download cards.

I think it is a very rare thing when a new technology completely disintegrates and older one - especially when said older technology is a good one that people use and love. There are many exceptions of course - considering cassette and 8-track - but is the CD that different from those two? Isn't the CD just another psychical/portable medium? Blu Ray may some day be the leader in the physical/portable medium - when that day comes I'm sure Derek and others (myself included) will recommend including it, along with the purely digital medium of the day, in your product offerings. To not would be to exclude potential fans - something no indie artist can afford.

August 7 | Unregistered CommenterJames Pew

i think vinyl is a good example when the debate is tough. for a guy like me i'd love to work with it but the cost is really high for just 500 records. on the other hand, it's a great promotional tool because there's an overload of digital music available now. DJs who still spin vinyl always love new releases. and i'll tell you i think their sets sound better than laptop(coming from a guy who DJs with a laptop himself).

CDs - to release a single on CD is a little strange though. i'd have to do a full album to make it worthwhile i think.

August 7 | Unregistered CommenterMr. Tunes

I think what stands out as different between CD's / DVD's and 8 Tracks, cassettes and even Beta-max video is the key word "Digital". It is this difference that has kept and will keep the disc format sustainable for much longer than those other mediums I mentioned.

It will evolve as it already has from mere CD to DVD and from mere DVD to Blu-Ray, etc. etc...but I sincerely believe the disc will remain relevant. I also agree that they are quite handy to have as merch (as well as vinyl) when you are out promoting yourself to the physical public.

I figure you make a small portion of your audio-video merch inventory disc / vinyl media and let the rest of your sales overhead cost rest on the Long Tail.

August 7 | Unregistered CommenterMilton

I agree with the first two comments…you DO need something to sell/give away at shows. Historically this has been CDs but this technology is unquestionably changing. One thing that most indie artists struggle with is the cost of pressing CDs. There are a few companies out there that have taken a serious look at this problem and are (I think) forging the path into the new music age.

I own a few small venues, and while searching for acts to book, I have received a number of download cards as promos/demos over the past year+ and I think they work great. The artists seem to like them b/c they are pretty cheap (but still something physical a fan can hold onto). The best that I’ve seen actually bring me to the artist’s site to redeem the music (therefore giving the artist a way to market to any individual redeeming the “free” downloads) as opposed to a generic site. I think this type of format is a nice way for indie artists to show they are serious about their music, but do it relatively cheaply.

(FYI - the card I was given most recently that I have in my hand now is redeemable from the artist’s personal site and is made by a company called out of Atlanta)

August 8 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel

Not spending the $1000 is like saying, “I don't think I'll ever make $1000 doing this.”

I'd suggest another underlying message: "I can't afford to drop $1000 on this."

August 8 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

It seems that the cd will become more of promotional tool in the future. The income from downloads is very small. Its a game of quantity since quality is relative judgment. I think the enhanced cd needs to be amped up if cds are going to viable in the future. Artist need to get more creative and collaborative creating experiences through enhanced cds. Not just links to websites. How cool would be to have a game based on your album or a well crafted visual presentations. Of course these things can be downloaded, but structure is not in place currently. You can't download the enchanced cd version of album off of itunes, yet.


The Spoken Word Hip Hop Poet
Check my new blog about the good in hip hop!

August 11 | Unregistered CommenterDLUX:THE LIGHT


I've been wrestling with this thought myself for the last little while.

I think that having a CD sold in today's world should be done with some consideration:

1. Are the fans of my music going to be young people who are growing up with P2P/Torrents and don't have any guilt for it.
2. Have people already been exposed to my music online and given me feedback that they actually want to BUY a CD/Vinyl/Physical Recorded Music Product.
3. Can I add value to the physical product by offering the digital download free, if the physical product is bought (or something like that).
4. Are ALL my songs good, or are only a few (hard to be the judge of that I know, but it's worth looking at). Everyone hates being disappointing after buying an album with only 1 or 2 good songs.
5. Would it be better investing in good quality merch to have at your shows (at least initially), so you have something to sell (the minimum orders for silk screen t-shirts are much less than most CD pressing plants).

Thanks again Derek for your post. You've given been a solid advocate for Indie Music for a long time. I wish you well in your future endeavors and hope to the continued success of CD Baby as it grows in new hands.

Have a stellar day everyone,


The New Rockstar Philosophy

Thanks Miguel for reminding me of DiscRevolt.

August 11 | Unregistered CommenterHoover

Im not in a position right now where I have to choose between both, but if I were, I would go with both for sure, but most likely advantage the digital download side of things.

I would use CDs for selling at shows and as a physical promo tool. Have a limited stock stock to send ou here or there, send them to the ppl who care, but I wouldn't stat trying to get my disc retailed in a record shop.

What counts above all is the quality of your music, stupid and obvious say maybe, but if you're music is good the rest should follow if you apply common sense business ethics. Meaning that If your music rocks and you have a steady following, your fans and those who appreciate what you do won't stop at purchasing your music only because they aren't satisfied with the format you distribute it on.

So I tend to think that if you sell only downloads, they'll buy only downloads, and the percentage of those who won't out of principle is going to be very minimal.

August 19 | Unregistered CommenterGigDoggy

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