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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Why CDs Are Still a Necessity for Artists
Thursday, May 28, 2009

The other day I was at an underground Hip-Hop show where one emcee was totally killin it on stage. His live performance was simply incredible. He closed it, however, by saying “you can find me on iTunes.” I cringed. While having your music available digitally is a great way to reach a worldwide audience, it seems many artists are forgetting about the audience that’s right in front of their faces.

In the scenario I just gave you the people at the show, which was at a small bar that looked packed with about 50-75 people in it, all dug the performance. Had the artist in question had a CD available at the merch table I have no doubt, based solely on his performance, he would have sold at least five copies. In retail this is called an impulse buy. It’s why they put candy and gossip magazines so close to the register. It’s there, therefore people buy it, almost unthinkingly. At a concert the merch table can act in much the same way, especially if CDs are priced at $5.

So this artist missed out on a potential $25. No big deal, right? In fact some may argue that with the cost to put the CD together it wouldn’t even be worth it, especially knowing that not every show will result in sales. While those things are true, the artist needs to, at least for a moment, stop being an artist and start remembering what it was like to be a fan. When you’re a fan of an artist, especially an underground artist you feel you discovered, you don’t keep their music all to yourself, you share it with all of your friends. That CD gets played during car rides and at parties, all the while with the person who bought it gushing about your live show. Because of this, many of said person’s friends are going to end up wanting to see you live. Yes, there’s a better than average chance all those friends will be burning copies of your CD rather than buying it, but at this stage in your career that can actually work in your favor as the more people who hear your music the more likely you are to draw them to shows and get them to pick up future albums, or other merch.

Let’s continue along this line and say the five people who picked up the CD shared it with five friends. That’s 25 people rockin out to your music, 20 of whom weren’t even at the show, but are now potential ticket buyers for your next performance. Would those same five people have gone home, remembered the correct spelling of your name, gone onto iTunes, found you among the litany of other similarly named artists, and then paid to download your work? Not likely, because with an impulse buy, the longer you find yourself being able to live without the product the less likely you are to make the purchase. Every minute that passes after your performance the crowd takes one step further away from purchasing your work. Do you really want to let them sober up and sleep on it before making their purchasing decision? Or worse, have them go onto iTunes and remember they wanted to buy something else? If you offer people nothing while they’re at your show don’t be surprised if you get nothing in return.

Yes, it costs money to put CDs together and there’s a chance you won’t recoup it all dollar for dollar, but the promotional impact of having something that people can buy when they’re fully motivated by your performance and then, in turn, share with their friends, is something that can only help you grow your fan base.

Online content is for the online community, and it’s a very important part of any artist’s business plan. You shouldn’t, however, forget about the living, breathing community you have right in front of you every time you perform. In a world of new technologies the basics for building a fan base still apply and always will.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:45 AM  
  • At 8:47 AM, Blogger Shaun said…

    Right on! some very good points made, Cds don't need to be used as Frisbees just yet!!
    Cds are very important as promo material, myself and music partner have made a little package with Cd labels and cover art work. when you share the costs - it doesn't amount to that much considering the benefits of a well presented product, will reflect well on yourselves as artists. After giving them out to people for free, we have already been offered paid shows where we can sell the same CD for £5 so it definetly makes sense to make an effort in pressing up own Cds.
    Nice work with the blog!
    peace from the wild west of London

  • At 10:14 AM, Blogger Thirtyseven said…

    I think you're giving too much clearance to the complaint that it's "too expensive" to make CDs.

    I think that, given the economics, you'd have to actively try to fuck up, in order to fail to recoup on CDs. It's just too easy. The least talented acts I know pay their way from bar to bar off CDs sales. Literally anyone can do it.

  • At 12:42 PM, Blogger John Book said…

    From vinyl to cassettes to CD's, and inbetween a little bit of 8-track and reel-to-reel action, I've been a fan of them all. I prefer lossless files over mp3's and use them when I create my podcasts, but I still like hard copy. I want to buy the CD, or get a CD from the label if I'm able to review something. It is still to me "the product" even though the concept of "product" is one of the things that caused the downfall of an industry.

    People are quick to say "the album is outdated", "CD's are an outdated technology", but I ask if they've ever really heard a good album? Of course that leads to format fetishism, but for me it is also an issue of sound quality. MP3's, I don't care if they're 256kbps or 320, I want to hear optimum and instantenous MP3's don't do that. They are instant, but I still want something to hold on to. Maybe that shows my age or the way I got into appreciating music. I want the music to last, even though I'm also actively looking for the next thing to give me the same feeling.

    To all artists, if you press up CD's, do not master them from MP3's. If you do that, it's a waste of everyone's time. You can go cheap or economical, but do not sacrifice sound.

  • At 1:40 PM, Blogger Red Stinger said…

    How much does it cost to press a CD, and also, how should I go about pressing a CD? Should I make it industry standard, or make it like all those album covers you see on street mixtapes? I'm curious, just for the fact that you prefer physical medium over the virtual kind, as evidence in "I Will Not Listen To Your MP3" blog some months ago.

    Even though we are in the digital age, I still want to consider the mediums of the past. Hell, I even thought about laserdiscs.

  • At 3:19 PM, Blogger John Book said…

    @Red Stinger, there are a number of people that will make low quantities of CD's, simply on CD-R's. If so, ask them what brand they're burning them on and at what speed. I get my share of CD-R's to review, and I don't mind, but if it's made at 32x or 48x, that leaves room for a lot of error. Even if I make an attempt to extract the CD to MP3's, it's a complete mess.

    Anyway, there should be a local and/or regional place that will make CD's in low quantities of 100 to 200, sometimes 50.

    I too am a fan of "dead media", and if someone can be made into it, I'm all for it. I talked about this elsewhere, but metal bands have taken the vinyl fire and are releasing records at a much faster rate than hip-hop, a genre that used to champion records. I know cassettes have made a tiny comeback, and a few are even releasing albums on 8-track.

  • At 5:58 PM, Blogger Red Stinger said…

    @John Book: Now that I've come across Laserdiscs (thanks to the Discovision and Pioneer bumper intros found on YouTube), I've come to the realization that maybe CDs, vinyl and now cassettes aren't a dying breed after all. In fact, one of the things I wanted to do once I become an accomplished rap artist is assign a contest where a select number of winners receive a music video collection engraved on the now-obsolete Laserdisc format.

    After all, I was born in 1983.

    "I love the 80's..."

  • At 4:28 AM, Blogger project2501 said…

    Yo Adam,

    That's a nice post man! I think you are right. Anyway now that we're talking about I tunes.. don't forget to check out my album there it's "Hidden Sources" by Tyn, not available on cd;)

  • At 8:44 AM, Blogger Adam Bernard said…

    Thanks for all the feedback everyone!

    And Thirtyseven: "you'd have to actively try to fuck up, in order to fail to recoup on CDs" should be the title of a chapter in a music industry how-to book.

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