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Stop Printing CDs Already, It’s 2016!

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Constantly learning and growing as a person means that it’s not very often I look at something I wrote years ago without tearing it apart and wondering, “what was I thinking!?” My blog post about the state of the music business in 2008 is a rare exception. Though I wish I had done a better job of writing it and now have a lot more to add, I can still proudly stand by the majority of what I wrote eight years ago:

People don’t buy albums anymore — they buy songs. It’s important to understand and accept this concept (and not try to fight change) if you want to make music work for you in this new era. The days of record stores are numbered — iTunes, Amazon, etc. are here to stay. Songs, not albums.

Change like this can be difficult but it’s important to allow yourself to evolve and allow your mentality to change instead of concentrating your efforts on resisting change and hanging onto the past.

Ultimately, the thing that still matters the most is the music. No one, nor any company can change that. Your focus still has to be on the music. The packaging may have changed, but the product is still music. Make good music, and make more of it, more often.

I was talking to my wife the other day about the changing music business and was flabbergasted that some musicians are still printing physical CDs. In 2016. Seriously!?

I came up with an analogy using the milk delivery man. At one point, that’s just how everyone got their milk. I still remember the order forms! But today, no matter how much resistance there was to changing this, we all buy our milk from the grocery store. You could argue that the milk man provided better, more personalized service and perhaps even delivered fresher milk. The glass containers that the milk came in were less wasteful and probably better for the environment too. On the other hand, streamlining distribution is a simple way to reduce overhead, while taking milk trucks off the roads reduces both emissions and labour costs. This is how change works, you win some, you lose some. The important thing is to not find yourself hanging onto archaic practices while everyone else is changing around you.

Yes, people mostly buy songs now and not albums, that is, if they’re not subscribing to some unlimited streaming service like Apple Music or Tidal, among many others. Back in 2008 there was still HMV and Tower Records, you know, physical stores that sold music on physical media like CDs and cassette tapes. Today, that’s as passé as yellow phone books or the milk delivery man.

To be clear, I’m not saying that recording a full-length album is an outdated practice that should be discontinued and that you should only record songs. Not yet anyways. What I’m saying is that how you distribute that music cannot be through physical CDs anymore.

Bewildered by digital alternatives, or perhaps just hanging onto old habits, I still see musicians making the mistake of printing CDs. Just stop doing that already, it’s 2016!

Part of the problem, as I mentioned in my 2008 blog post, is not only that accepting change can be difficult but more importantly, for a lot of people the real challenge is in figuring out what to change or how to adapt. The solutions aren’t always easy to recognize.

I’ve seen some musicians confused by what’s changing and confused about how it affects them. They see the obvious need to take action but act in haste, make the wrong changes and end up losing their focus. Again, it’s important to know what to do, and for that matter, what not to do.

How then, if not through CDs, are you supposed to distribute your music? Digital distribution channels like iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Spotify, Tidal, etc. are plentiful and getting your music on iTunes via CD Baby couldn’t be easier. iTunes sells more music than all other digital retailers combined, so that should be an obvious first step.

But what if you just want to give away your latest single or a promotional copy of your album at your gigs? Just last week I was handed a plastic Dropcard with a link to download a full album. While giving me super easy access to their music, they also got me to sign up to their mailing list while the album downloaded. This problem has already been solved, years ago!

In the last couple of years I’ve received physical CDs from a handful of musicians. The problem is, I have no CD player anymore. None. I could only be bothered once to go to the Apple Store to borrow an Apple USB SuperDrive so I could add one of those CDs to my iTunes library. The rest of them sit in a drawer unopened and unheard. I’m not an outlier either — this is just the reality we live in today. If you hand someone a physical CD these days, they likely won’t be bothered to fiddle with a computer just to get it into their digital music library. After all, most people listen to music through their phones now, not CD players.

If you still need convincing, think about how much money you need to spend to get physical CDs pressed. In addition to pressing costs, you also need to get artwork designed, pay for printing costs and pay for a plastic case or sleeve for each CD. (It’s no wonder you need to sell your CD at $20, twice the price of any other album, just to break even!) Now what if you took that money and spent it on a professional video for your single instead, which you could upload to a popular site like YouTube and share on social media? That’s money much better spent!

Of course, you don’t have to always give your music away for free, I’m not saying that either. But times have changed and if your album isn’t available online and you’re relying on physical CD sales, you’re only selling to small niche while missing out on the broader market. You practically don’t even exist, and that’s no way to run a business. I’ll even go a step further and say that in today’s environment, when you print physical CDs you’re just wasting money.

Consider this scenario: there are two panhandlers on the street, one is holding a sign saying they’re down on their luck, that they have a job but just need help saving for a rent deposit, while the other is holding a sign saying they just wanna get drunk and high. Most people, (though admittedly not all), are more likely to give money to the first, while completely ignoring the second. People want to support worthwhile causes, not waste. So yes, people may want to buy your music and yes, some people may even be willing to pay twice the going rate in the name of “support”, but not if you’re showing them that you’re a wasteful person who prints CDs. And not if you’re making them work hard at getting your music from a CD to their phone. You need to make it easier than that!

Don’t get stuck in the dark ages distributing 8-track tapes while everyone else has moved on to cassette tapes, or printing CDs while everyone’s moved on to digital downloads. With just the tiniest bit of research you’ll find many far superior alternatives to CDs that there really is no good excuse anymore. Change with the times and stop distributing physical CDs already, because it’s 2016!