Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Recently, CD Baby announced it was ending its physical CD distribution service, and that seems to have caused some confusion among artists about Disc Makers and our CD manufacturing. Before I get into the story and history of the partnership we’ve enjoyed with CD Baby, let me assure you of one thing:
Disc Makers is still making CDs, and we will continue to manufacture them for as long as you need them.
This includes brand-new titles from new and past customers, reorders of previous titles, and other physical formats, including vinyl, USBs, and DVDs.
We’re called Disc Makers for a reason! And we expect to provide manufacturing and other services for independent music artists, just as we’ve done since 1946.
A brief history of Disc Makers
When Disc Makers was founded, it was to press records for local labels in Philadelphia, where we were located at the time. Today, we’re in Pennsauken, New Jersey, just across the river from Philly, where we set up shop in the ‘90s to expand our manufacturing capabilities. Over the decades, we’ve offered every technology format that the music industry wanted: LP records, 8-tracks, cassettes, and CDs.
In the mid-‘80s, Disc Makers pivoted from manufacturing predominantly for labels and began specializing in manufacturing for independent artists. I came on board in 1987, after having played in several bands and releasing an album while in college.
Back then, getting your physical record distributed was the holy grail for emerging artists. After all, if your record couldn’t get into Tower Records, how were you going to move product and build a fanbase?
Of course, the reality was that record stores were not particularly interested in stocking records from emerging bands nobody had ever heard of. And therefore, distributors didn’t want to carry your records either. This is understandable, because distributors and record stores are in the business of moving product, not storing product.
The birth of CD Baby
To solve this problem, a guy named Derek Sivers started a little online store called CD Baby back in 1998. He would stock five copies of any artist’s CD and sell them online, directly to fans. Now an artist had the opportunity to sell their CDs globally, even if they didn’t have physical distribution!
In 2001, right after Napster and digital file-sharing exploded, I made a deal with Derek to allow Disc Makers’ artists to sell their CDs on CD Baby. Now we had a direct pipeline for our customers to get distribution.
The best of both worlds
Shortly after that, in 2004, Derek took a copy of every CD in his inventory — of which there were thousands — ripped them to a couple of hard drives, and drove them to Apple headquarters in Cupertino, CA. When Apple launched the iTunes store, CD Baby was a launch partner, putting them in the digital distribution business as the world’s first independent digital music distributor.
A marriage between Disc Makers and CD Baby was a perfect fit: it allowed both companies to offer the full spectrum of disc/physical manufacturing and physical and digital distribution to independent artists.
Then, In 2008, I had come to an agreement with Derek to buy CD Baby. For the next decade, CD Baby continued to grow as Disc Makers’ sister company, while Disc Makers kept serving artists’ physical media needs.
A new music landscape
Ten years later, the music landscape had changed significantly. Physical media distribution was no longer a significant revenue driver, downloads were on the wane, and streaming had become the major growth driver for the music industry.
Every week, we’d get calls from companies interested in getting into the digital distribution space, and in 2019 we sold CD Baby to its longtime music publishing partner, Downtown Music Publishing.
Through all this, CDs remained critical to artists to drive revenue from their music, which wasn’t happening from streaming. So, after CD Baby was sold, we focused 100 percent of our attention on running Disc Makers and our sister company BookBaby.
CD Baby, under new ownership, focused all its energies on digital distribution and building ancillary services to artists, like publishing administration, YouTube monetization, and sync licensing.
In 2021, CD Baby shut down its online CD and download retail store, to the disappointment of many artists. I was disappointed too (I had several CDs for sale in the store), but I understood the business rationale: with the growth of streaming, online CD sales had declined, maintaining a retail store required constant work and investment, and, frankly, a superior retail alternative had emerged in Bandcamp.
Today, the business case for online physical CD distribution has become more difficult to make, and CD Baby has decided to end its physical distribution service.
Physical distribution and independent CD sales
Over the course of 25 years, CD Baby built a physical inventory of hundreds of thousands of titles. Many were sold in its CD Baby store, and the company also struck an agreement with distributor Alliance Entertainment to distribute CD Baby CDs to physical and online retailers around the world. Did that mean CD Baby artist CDs were getting put in store racks at brick-and-mortar retail? Mostly, no.
There were a handful of titles from artists who were moving enough units that they ended up on retail shelves, but all other physical titles were available for “special order” or online only: a CD title would be added to Alliance’s catalog, and if a store had an inquiry from a fan, they would order that title from Alliance, who would order it from CD Baby, who would ship it to the buyer. This was a valuable service for artists with demand for their CDs and vinyl LPs.
However, the reality was the vast majority of CDs in inventory at CD Baby were not selling through distribution. Instead, CD Baby needed more and more disc storage space, which was getting increasingly more expensive as commercial real estate rates rose.
As you may have experienced yourself (as I have), CD Baby did several purges of non-moving disc inventory, but ultimately it wasn’t enough. The cost of carrying physical inventory exceeded the margin from selling physical units, which led CD Baby to the decision to discontinue physical distribution.
What are CDs for then?
With streaming becoming the dominant music listening format, the role of the CD has changed. We no longer need a physical product to listen to music. But with the transition from physical to digital, artists lost a few really important things.
While streaming has been great to get your music in front of a global audience, the biggest loss for artists from streaming is revenue. It is impossible for an artist to make a living from streaming, and the CD is perhaps the single best tool to make money from your music. CDs are affordable to make, and the profit margins are huge — 80 percent or more in most cases. It would take close to 3,000 streams to make the same profit you would make from selling just one CD at a concert!
How (and where) do you sell CDs today in 2023? Well, despite the closing of CD Baby’s distribution service, CDs today are sold the same way they’ve been for the past decade: at your merch table at concerts and on your artist website or Bandcamp. Selling direct to fans is how independent artists build their brand, and how they drive revenue. How do you find those fans? Through streaming. Today’s smart artists use streaming as a discovery and promo platform and then find ways — through social media and email — to get those listeners to their website and to their concerts, where they sell them concert tickets, CDs, vinyl records, and other merch to sustain their artist career.
One of the things we all miss most about streaming is that there are no album graphics to peruse. The little thumbnail image of the album cover on my phone just doesn’t do the trick! Fans love to learn more about artists they love, and the graphics of CDs and vinyl were always a significant part of their appeal. Studying the album cover, reading the liner notes, and the extra photos and lyrics in the booklet were — and still are — key to building a relationship with a fan.
A physical connection
CDs and records are a great way to bond with a fan. The ability to hold something physical, turn it over, page through the booklet, pop that disc into a player… those are all small physical connections between the fan and the artist, and they are more meaningful than just clicking on a song link.
But, the biggest impact of the CD is when the fan buys that disc at your merch table and gets to meet YOU for a few minutes. It’s a physical connection that can only be made with physical media.
A premium experience
Nowadays, the CD has become a token of sorts — proof of a person’s fandom of your music. Not only can a fan feel gratified that they have helped support your musical endeavors by buying your CD, they can proudly display that CD for all to see. And, if done right, a CD can create a lifetime memory for that fan.
When a fan buys your CD at a concert, that CD will always remind them of the concert they attended. And when you make it extra special, by autographing the CD for them at your merch table (and maybe by taking a selfie with them), they will have a memento they will cherish for life! And you, dear artist, will have a fan for life.
Of course, there are more reasons why CDs remain important, like using them as demos (you can’t just hand someone a stream) and sending them to radio stations (some of whom still prefer physical media). All are key reasons why artists today need CDs. Without them, it is much harder to build a passionate fanbase and sustain a career.
So… why Disc Makers?
Let me tell you a little secret: I’ve spent my whole career at Disc Makers. Literally, I’ve never worked anywhere else. From back in 1987 when I started here (while also playing gigs at night) to today, I’ve been 100 percent committed to our mission of helping independent artists build successful, profitable music careers. For that reason, I’ve dedicated my life to building Disc Makers into the world’s best partner for artists who need physical media.
If you’re ready to take the plunge and try CDs for the first time, here are a few reasons why you need to look no further than Disc Makers.
- Buy direct from the manufacturer. Disc Makers is unique among replicators in that we do everything in-house. We replicate your discs (starting with polycarbonate pellets which we melt and mold into discs), we print your inserts, jackets, and Digipaks, and we package it all together. No one else in the country does this (despite what they may say on their websites).
- Fastest turn times anywhere. Because we make your discs and do your packaging in-house, we can deliver faster than anyone else — in as fast as four days (or even overnight sometimes)! This can be a lifesaver when you have a CD release party on a tight schedule and need those discs to be ready.
- Amazing quality. Our print shop delivers world-class quality no other replicator can touch. Your inserts (or Digipaks, or wallets) will look amazing. And our replication facility and on-disc print quality have won awards! You don’t want to risk your artist reputation with an inferior product.
- We love small orders. Since we do everything in-house, we’ve been able to optimize our equipment and production processes for the needs of independent artists. And so, whether you need 1,000 CDs or just 100 units, we’re happy to work with you.
- One stop convenience. When you’ve decided to release your music on physical media, we’ve got you covered. Not only do we manufacture CDs, vinyl, and USBs, we offer an amazing cover design service and our SoundLAB mastering service can make you sound like a major-label artist!
- We’ll be around when you need us. Disc Makers was founded way back in 1946. We’ve manufactured every physical media format that was ever commercialized and we continue to be the global leader in manufacturing for independent artists. This is kind of a big deal, because you’ll want your replicator to still be around when it’s time to reorder your CDs.
- We stand behind you 100 percent. Because we do everything in-house, we can stand behind everything we do. If you’re not happy with our product, we’ll work with you to make it right.
Speed, quality, convenience, trust. This is why Disc Makers has been around for 77 years and is still the market leader. Formats come and go, but there will always be a need for physical media because fans want that physical connection.
Get an instant online quote at www.discmakers.com, or just call us at 1-800-468-9353 weekdays from 9 am – 8 pm EST and talk to one of our friendly, helpful product specialists.
Tony van Veen is the CEO of DIY Media Group, the parent company of Disc Makers and BookBaby. As a college student, he played in indie bands, created his own LPs, cassettes, and t-shirts, and sold them at shows. Today, he collects CDs, vinyl LPs, and concert t-shirts to support the artists he loves.
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