Jumping through 5" plastic hoops
March 12, 2012 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Will my album get more exposure if it exists as a CD?

My last album was a digital-only, pay-what-you-want release on Bandcamp. Which works great if you're Amanda Palmer, but for the unestablished artist I worry it smacks of illegitimacy. Certainly many avenues of promotion are closed. Review sites and radio stations expect you to mail them physical CDs. Pandora won't play anything that can't be ordered from Amazon.

So I'm thinking of going physical with the new album, but even a tiny production run is a little much for me to pay out of pocket. And I haven't found a lot of places that review experimental dark ambient music, so what if everyone I send it to ignores it? Have any of you made this jump, especially in a niche genre? Was it worth it?
posted by squidlarkin to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Physical copy vs downloadable: the downloadable version is not less legitimate for the end-user. I can't think of anyone I know who doesn't listen to digital versions of music. even people who buy a fair bit of vinyl like a downloadable version for convenience. Whether or not that's going to make a difference to reviewers is going to vary.

For a physical copy, the artwork is going to be the most important element. I see bands that press a small run of stuff but the packaging looks like an afterthought, and I think, "why did you bother making a hard copy?"
posted by dubold at 1:45 PM on March 12, 2012

As far as I've been able to tell, the only benefit of a physical CD is to appease live venues who won't book an act that does not have a physical CD.
posted by The World Famous at 2:14 PM on March 12, 2012

My first instinct would be: if you can't Kickstart/bandcamp/merch your way to $750 for a basic 500-CD release, then a CD release is unlikely to get you useful exposure. Unless you have a realistic plan for selling/distributing all your CDs within 5 years at most, this is an easy way to end up with 450 CDs that'll sit in the basement until you toss 'em... in a lot of ways you need exposure to get exposure, and I think your ability to raise funds with what you're doing is a good measure of this.

That said, if you need physical promos there's always DIY. I know a guy who draws simple designs on his death metal band's shirts using acrylic paints, and they sell well precisely because they're so unique. You could paint/draw/stencil/blood-splatter/whatever your own paper CD cases and then sandwich a CDR inside ("full-length dark ambient blah blah blah on Squidlarkin Records! Limited to 25!"), and they'd at least stand out in the stack of CDs on the reviewer's desk. You could sell them on bandcamp for a couple bucks, too.

Pandora won't play anything that can't be ordered from Amazon.

You can get your mp3s on the iTunes/Amazon/etc store via Tunecore. I think this would be a better intermediate step than jumping to CD.

As a niche-genre reviewer I get a ton of digital promos, so it's not at all true that you have to mail a CD... but I rarely bother with unsolicited digi-promos unless I'm already familiar with the band or label (same with CDs, really, but I'm more likely to at least listen to those). So that's your next step: build some relationships. Play local shows if possible, build word-of-mouth via forum posts and facebook, do remixes/covers/reinterpretations of better-known bands in the genre, put up youtube videos for your songs, email the folks who run those review sites, etc. If people know you they will go out of their way to help you out; if not, you're just another artist, and there are a thousand of those.
posted by vorfeed at 2:27 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, you can very cheaply produce the CD itself (and in really short runs, like 50 pieces, which is usually pretty cheap) but splurging a bit on the design and printing of the insert is wise.

It is true that the majority of the CDs you get produced will go to clubs and radio stations and reviewers, but isn't it worth investing $100 or $200 in that? If you don't have the upfront cash for it, maybe an IndieGoGo whip-round is in order.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:30 PM on March 12, 2012

I guess it depends on what you mean by exposure. Exposure to your fans seems to be working for you using your digital method, but you sound like you want to get your work out to places that don't use digital release. In that case, a physical CD may be the next step.

My group is on the other side of this issue. We have gone with physical CDs through this last one, but we are now considering the benefits of going virtual. You are correct that the outlay of cash for the printing is pretty high, but it's not much when compared to the cost of recording, mixing, and mastering in a studio.

The CDs themselves (including the jewel cases and the liner notes/artwork) cost less if you purchase a large number of units, but how many you can afford will depend on how many you expect to be able to sell. We go with a local house, which will not press a glass master for fewer than 1000 units, so that is what we print in a single run. I don't recall the total cost, but you might want to look around at your local CD houses to see their rates before you make a decision.

Basically, you need to calculate how many CDs you need to sell in order to make back the expense of recording and pressing, and then see if you can get it done within that budget.

Good luck!
posted by blurker at 2:30 PM on March 12, 2012

Seconding vorfeed's suggestion of Tunecore. I have several friends who have been very happy with them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:31 PM on March 12, 2012

When I was booking djs, if I didn't know you personally, I didn't even listen to your CD, and if I did know you, then I didn't care if it was a professionally printed CD or a 10 cent walmart disc you ran off on the way out of the house. I also would have been just as happy to listen to an emailed mp3.

Nobody is going to be fooled by a 'professonal looking' cd into thinking you're a legit act if you aren't a legit act, and if you are a legit act, the medium doesn't matter. Networking and making personal connections is a much more valuable use of your time.
posted by empath at 2:33 PM on March 12, 2012

Response by poster: Is Tunecore really much of a step up from just using Bandcamp? It's already super easy to download my stuff, if you've heard of it. The challenge is to get it in front of more people's ears. Will people find it just by virtue of it being on iTunes?
posted by squidlarkin at 3:48 PM on March 12, 2012

Is Tunecore really much of a step up from just using Bandcamp?

I've used Tunecore in the past and not been all that impressed, primarily because you have to keep paying to keep your stuff on there. For one of my current projects, I've been using both Bandcamp and CDBaby, so that people can buy the album for less money on Bandcamp and CDBaby gets it onto Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, etc. without me having to pay a subscription fee like I did on Tunecore. I've been happy with both Bandcamp and CDBaby.
posted by The World Famous at 4:41 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tunecore gets your stuff on Amazon, Spotify, iTunes, etc. But if CDBaby can do that for less money, I would go with CDBaby (and will tell my friends to consider switching--I am very pro-CDBaby).

The thing is you have to get your stuff on Amazon and iTunes in order to be on Pandora, etc., which is a step you're missing now. You need to fix that step even if you don't go with running a pressing of CDs.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:55 PM on March 12, 2012

Response by poster: According to Pandora's artist FAQ, just having MP3s on Amazon isn't enough, you actually need a CD for sale. But I'm not sure if getting on Pandora is worth the effort -- I suspect it might work out like last.fm, where I still haven't gotten enough plays to reach the threshold where it knows who to recommend me to.

Someone memailed me the idea of Kickstarter, which I've considered, but all the success stories I've heard of involved someone with an existing fanbase. Guess it couldn't hurt to try, though.
posted by squidlarkin at 6:31 PM on March 12, 2012

Just wanted to make sure you knew that CD Baby also will make discs for you. $229 for 100 CD-Rs in jackets.
posted by troywestfield at 6:16 AM on March 13, 2012

Response by poster: Ok. For posterity, I've weighed the options and I think I've found the solution that combines the least crappiness of all worlds.
  • Buy my own UPC code to keep my manufacturing options open.
  • Sell the CD on Amazon Createspace; their cut is exorbitant, but that doesn't hurt too much since this won't be my main distribution path. The key is that I pay nothing out of pocket.
  • Use Bandcamp for downloads like before. No reason not to, they're awesome.
  • For my own copies to give away or sell at gigs, I'll use Kunaki. $1 per disc is so much nicer than Amazon's $4.95.
Thanks for the advice, everyone!
posted by squidlarkin at 12:31 PM on March 14, 2012

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