My friend, Carla Olive, is moving away from the city in which I now reside – Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
She has been a very influential musician on a local level. She has selflessly served as open mic host at several venues for many years, and dedicated herself to the growth of community in the Calgary music scene.
For personal and professional reasons (I won’t mention here), Carla has decided to move to Victoria, British Columbia.
That is a story in itself, but in this post I’d like to focus in on one humorous, but also pragmatic question she posed: “what do I do with all of these CDs?”
The End Of An Era
Like many other musicians that have dedicated themselves to their craft for years and even decades, Carla has accumulated a lot of unsold CDs of her original music. And naturally, the longer you’ve been at it, the more releases you’re likely to have.Carla has accumulated a lot of unsold CDs of her original musicClick To Tweet
“They’ve all just been sitting under my bed,” Carla said.
Because she’s moving, taking them to Victoria isn’t entirely practical. She’s already made the decision to throw them away, in fact.
We are firmly in the digital age, and CDs sales are on the decline. A lot of people still listen to “owned music” as we’ve discovered in a recent study, but there are also many others that prefer not to store and save digital media on multi-terabyte hard drives. As result, streaming is a popular choice.
In a way, it’s the end of an era. I can still recall sending off masters and artwork to Canada Disc and Tape to get CDs duplicated. And there was always some kind of volume discount, which is why artists like Carla (and others I know) ended up holding onto a substantial surplus of product.
But those days are coming to an end.
But I Still Need CDs, Right?
You are 100% correct.
I am not suggesting that CDs don’t matter. They are still valuable merch items and marketing tools, despite the fact that digital media has become the norm.
There are still fans that prefer owning something they can hold in their hands, as opposed to downloading digital files off of an online store. Some of these people have found their way over to vinyl.
I have also found this to be the case with books, where even if people buy my eBook, they’ll sometimes buy the physical book too. And when I did an electronic-only release, there were a lot of people asking about hardcopies.
But that is a slightly different scenario. Bottom line – artists need to line their merch tables with something, and oftentimes download cards just aren’t enough. You still need a way to sell your music at shows, so CDs are not bad to have.
And as far as marketing is concerned, most radio stations still require you to send CDs. If you want to initiate a radio campaign, you will have to prepare physical CDs and mail them out one by one.
Some reviewers also prefer to receive CDs. Most music bloggers seem to like SoundCloud, since they can embed music files directly on their posts, but there are other reviewers that won’t even take you seriously unless you hand them a CD.
So What Do I Do?
If you’re regularly performing, and you want your music played on radio (which is still worthwhile, I might add), then you’re going to want to get CDs made up.
But there’s a bit of a dilemma here, as we’ve already established. You could get 1,000 CDs replicated and get your bulk discount. But unless you have a huge fan base, or you’re planning on sending out a ton of promo copies, you’re likely going to be left with surplus product sitting under your bed, doing nothing for you.
On the other hand, you want to be prepared in an eventuality where your music blows up. If you keep thousands of fans waiting when they are lining up to buy your music, then it probably won’t be long before they move on to something else. Realistically, this isn’t much of a problem since inventory is not an issue with digital media. But if people wanted your CD specifically and they couldn’t get it, then it might be an issue.
There is one solution you’re likely already aware of, and one you might not have thought of.
Naturally, there are a lot of companies that do short-run CD duplication and printing. You could have 100 or so manufactured, and even if you don’t sell them all, you could easily give them away or send them off as promo copies. No harm, no foul
The other solution you may not have thought of is print on demand.
CreateSpace is an awesome service that allows you to upload your designs and leave the rest to Amazon. You still earn royalties on your product, they provide you with a lot of distribution options, and setup is entirely free.
If your fans order from Amazon, for example, you don’t have to worry about inventorying or shipping. And if you do need a few copies sent to your door, you can order in as many as you want, at any time.
For me, personally, the most logical answer to this issue of surplus product is print on demand. Unless you’re being bombarded by orders, this is the way to go.
I am ambitious but pragmatic. I want to sell lots of music, but I know that a lot of people are going to stream it and listen to it for free. For those who really want a physical product, however, it’s good to have that option available.
I have to guess that most artists have at least thought about this before, so I might be preaching to the choir here. But if you’re still thinking about getting your bulk, cost-per-unit discount on your next release, I would encourage you to be strategic.
Giving away 1,000 CDs is a huge task of itself never mind selling 1,000 CDs. If you’re looking to get that many CDs shipped to you, you better know what you’re doing, or you’ll just end up with CDs under your bed.
As an aside, I think it might be possible to set up an Amazon Seller account and have Amazon fulfill orders on your behalf (meaning you would send all of your CDs to Amazon).
This certainly would not guarantee sales, but it might be a way to offload some of your CDs. If it works, you didn’t hear it from me. If not, I’m sorry.
I like physical products. I think they have their place in art.
But there’s no reason to sit on a ton of product, particularly if you don’t want to be tied down to a particular location. That’s kind of a big deal as a musician.
If you have any creative ideas for how to repurpose old CDs, I would love to hear your thoughts (make sure to leave a comment below).
Full disclosure: I once tried to get rid of my remaining inventory by creating a landing page on my website and offered incentives and discounts to potential buyers. Unfortunately, it didn’t work (sad face).