CD’s Rule!

Here’s a big secret that has been lying right underneath peoples noses for some time now – CD’s are actually a big seller. Not only are they a big seller but they are in many ways doing better than ever before, especially for live bands. They represent a huge chunk of sales for a lot of labels and I think that for a touring band there are very few things that you can do to better supplement your income than to fund a run of a few hundred CD’s. We are going to get into all of the details here, and I know that you are protesting because CD’s are not ‘cool’ or ‘don’t sell in my genre,’ but I assure you, not only are CD’s cool, but they are a huge part of what drive the industry in 2018, even in an era of streaming and vinyl. I want to address all of this as well as what you can do in order to optimize your bands CD sales so that you can have a piece of the pie too.

In 2017 the music industry in the USA sold $1.1 billion of CD’s. For context the industry sold $395 million worth of vinyl. So CD sales are roughly four times as relevant across all markets in the country. Now obviously this isn’t always going to be relevant to the underground, and you as an independent artist are probably dealing with a more vinyl heavy crowd. Still, my experience with a variety of labels suggests that at worst you are looking at a 50-50 split on sales, even for labels that cater to collectors. I know countless artists who seem to think that they just need digital downloads and vinyl but end up leaving people disappointed. This is a major issue, even in 2018 when everyone should be streaming music anyway. I don’t fully understand who these people are other than the folks who don’t have aux chords in their cars but do have CD players, but they are a very relevant and significant demographic that people are actively missing out on.

There are of course a lot of great reasons to love CD’s too. First and foremost, CD’s can get you a higher sound quality than vinyl and streaming. In fact, for most traditional releases, CD’s actually represent the absolute highest sound quality available. If that isn’t exciting to music nerds then I don’t know what is. Beyond that, I think a lot of people like the format because it is a great way to get all sorts of cool info about the band with lyric sheets etc in an affordable format. It’s a tangible item too, so even though you might be making your lyric sheets and art available via your website or whatever they won’t hold the same value to the customer. Our brains do not respect digital products as a thing that matter in this world and won’t spend time with them the way they will with something tangible. The thing is CD’s probide the best of both worlds. Furthermore, I think that there’s a fair amount of people who just like CD’s because of a nostalgia factor. After all, they drove sales in the industry for a quarter century, peoples memories are long.

Now I totally understand that a lot of this might sound weird because when it really comes down to it, CD’s have nowhere near the visibility that vinyl does in this day and age. People aren’t posting pictures of their CD collections and hashtags like #CDporn aren’t out there trending the way vinyl related ones are. The CD push has been much more low key, much like the fans who buy them. Still those fans are out there and they are making an impact. People want the format that is specifically catered to them and for whatever reason, this is what works. Again, none of it is easy or straightforward but it is where we are at and if we don’t embrace it then we are collectively missing out on a great money making opportunity that could really drive all our bands and allow this scene to collectively rise which is what we should all be trying to make happen in the first place.

Here’s the thing from a band perspective. CD’s are a relatively easy sell, a lot of people like them as evidenced by the raw numbers and not only that but they are fucking cheap. If you aren’t going for a fancy layout etc then you can pick them up for less than two dollars a pop if you order in bulk. If you want some sort of gatefold, digipack or insert they are still pretty cheap and will be easy to make money off of. I know that it may sound crazy but they are really the only merch item that I am aware of which you can mark up this dramatically. That’s a really cool and exciting thing if you are a hungry band on the road trying to make some money. Sure it might detract from your ‘cool points’ but fuck it. If it’s going to make fans happy and consequently make you some money then why not just go for it? There’s a minimal overhead and they can be turned around in a matter of days if you use a service like DiscMakers.

So give it a shot, what’s the worst that can happen? If you print 100 CD’s today you only need to sell like 20 at $15 a pop to be making a decent little chunk of money. That’s not a lot of money to need. Seriously guys, don’t fuck up and miss an opportunity. I do genuinely think CD’s will go away within a decade or so, but right now the numbers are still significantly stronger than those for vinyl, even within communities that are vinyl heavy. While your band might be some sort of weird exception, isn’t it worth being proven wrong when the cost of entry is so low and the odds of you making back your investment so high? Just got for it, take the risk and watch people end up grateful to give you money for the content they crave.

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