Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
When CD Baby announced they were going to shut down their warehouse and end their CD distribution service, we were inundated with artists asking two questions:
- Will Disc Makers stop manufacturing CDs?
- Where can I distribute and sell my CDs now?
I’m going to answer those two questions, and I’ll also talk about why it’s not a big deal for you that CD Baby discontinued their CD distribution.
Is Disc Makers exiting the CD manufacturing business?
Are we dismantling our CD manufacturing business? Hell no! CDs are alive and well. They represent great value — especially for independent music artists — and with a manufacturing cost of $1–2 per disc, CDs are a highly necessary tool for artists to make money today from their music. So, no, you can relax. We’ll be here to make your CDs for as long as you need them.
Where can you distribute and sell your CDs now?
The answer to this question is more nuanced and complex. With CD Baby’s physical distribution channel gone, for the average emerging artist without a track record of sales, there is no alternative. CD Baby was the only distributor who would take a few copies of any CD by any artist, whether there was demand for your music or not.
But that meant, frankly, that most of the titles in their warehouse didn’t sell. I’m guessing that, on average, they may have sold one CD per year for each title in their inventory. If they had 250,000 CD titles in their warehouse, maybe they sold 250,000 CDs in a year.
Of course, the way those numbers work in real life that means that there were a few artists who sold a whole bunch of CDs — dozens, hundreds, maybe — while the vast majority sold very few. For CD Baby, who had to warehouse all the titles that didn’t sell, that just wasn’t a sustainable business model.
So, I understand why CD Baby shut down their distribution operation. The question now is, what does this mean for you?
Where can you go for distribution?
There are a few distributors out there that take some independent content. One such company, for example, is AMPED Distribution. They’re a division of Alliance entertainment, who I believe is the largest physical media distributor in the country, and who also happened to be CD Baby’s distribution partner.
However, AMPED will not take just any independent title. AMPED is in the business of moving CDs, not warehousing them. In order for them to accept your title, you need to have a track record of selling units.
Now, think about your situation. If you had distribution through CD Baby, and you’re upset that they ended their CD distribution service, be honest with yourself for a minute. Look in the mirror and ask yourself how many of your CDs CD Baby sold in the past year. I know that for my old CD titles, that number was close to zero. Was yours much higher?
Then ask yourself, if you were a music distributor, would you be interested in adding a CD title with that level of volume to your catalog and store copies in your warehouse on top of that? Probably not.
You need to create demand
So, why didn’t you sell more CDs? If you’re going to tell me it’s because no one buys CDs any more, you would be wrong. Yes, CDs are a mature technology, but over 40 million CDs were sold at retail last year with probably millions more sold at concerts.
I’m going to be perfectly blunt about why you didn’t sell more CDs: You didn’t create enough demand for your music! If you’ve read any of my blog posts or watched any of my videos, you’ll know that it’s up to you to generate demand for your music. Why does Taylor Swift sell a ton of CDs? Or Morgan Wallen? Or SZA?
The three top album sellers this year created demand, label or not, and they’ve been able to become recognized names with fan bases who will spend money on their product, and the music retailers, who buy from the music distributors, know this. They know that when they stock a Taylor Swift CD, people will buy it.
When you had distribution through CD Baby, why didn’t stores order your CD? Because they don’t know you. You don’t have a track record of selling units at retail, and your fans aren’t calling the stores asking for your CDs.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to berate you — I’m in the same boat as you. What I am trying to do is explain to you the following five things.
- You’re in charge of generating demand for your music.
- If you don’t have a track record of selling product, stores will not order or stock your album.
- For that reason, very little DIY artist volume is sold through distribution in the first place.
- If every artist sold, on average, one CD per year on CD Baby, it doesn’t really matter that CD Baby stopped distributing CDs. Well, perhaps psychologically, and it did matter for the artists who moved significant units. But for most of us, not so much.
- Finally, most independent artist CDs are sold through channels other than retail distribution.
How do you sell your CDs?
Selling CDs today is about interacting directly with your fans. When you have a relationship with your fans, they will buy your stuff — your CDs, your vinyl, your merch, your concert tickets — and they will buy them from you. Where?
- At concerts, especially if you offer to autograph them.
- On your website. A hosting company like Banzoogle lets you sell CDs off your website and takes no sales commission.
- On your Bandcamp page.
- At your local record store. You can drop in with a few CDs or vinyl records and ask if they’ll take them on consignment. They might be interested if you offer to do a CD signing in their store. I think most mom-and-pop record stores will happily support local artists.
- At other local stores. For example, over the years I’ve heard from different artists and clients who sold their discs in local bookstores, in stores that sold crystals and other natural items, in stores that sold yoga-related products, and even in their local Caribbean restaurant.
If your music fits thematically with a store, you may have a shot at selling there, if you ask. Of course. there are plenty of other uses for your CD, mailing them as promos to radio stations and booking agents, for example. And wrapping them up and putting them under the Christmas tree.
It doesn’t make a difference how small and local your fan base is. If you make a connection with those fans through your music, and in-person at your concerts, and through your emails, and social posts, they will buy your CDs.
Focus on the basics: great songwriting, great shows, high-quality recordings, and interacting with your fans. If you do those things, your career will boom!
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