five indie music artists

Let’s Get Physical: CDs and Vinyl LPs Are Helping These Indie Artists Succeed

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Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

A little while back, I put out a call to hear from real, live indie musicians about how they use physical media — aka CDs, vinyl LPs, USBs, and the like — and what kind of success they’ve had selling and promoting with it. After all, Disc Makers telling you how important physical media is is one thing, but hearing it from your fellow indie artists is another.

Thanks to everyone who responded! There are a lot of inspiring stories out there. We’ve selected a handful to give you a taste of how indie artists are making waves with their music on CDs and vinyl LPs. It’s not all about streaming. Read on and see what I mean.

Robert Graham | Give your fans the chance to support you

Robert Graham with his music on CDI am one of those musicians who earns their living performing, in a variety of capacities. Usually, I’m playing other people’s music — from classical to rock to jazz. It beats working, right?

Like a lot of people in my position, my REAL passion is my OWN music. I have released two solo albums and an album with my band, titled The Fairest and Best, when I lived in Toronto (I now live in Perth, Australia). All my music was distributed through CD Baby, and I released my music on CDs as well, despite people telling me they would never sell. I did this because I followed your advice: That I should give my (albeit small) mailing list and fan base the CHANCE to support me before I just dumped all my stuff on streaming sites.

With my most recent album, The Line, which came out in 2022, I did not put it on Spotify (or any other streaming site) for six months after release. I realize this is not a strategy for everyone, but I had built a mailing list of supporters over the years and wanted to give them a chance to support me by purchasing a CD before I surrendered it to the fractions of pennies that streaming had in store for me.

Also, full disclosure, there was an issue with Spotify. They had inadvertently put another artist named “Robert Graham” on my page: in this case, an African American Christian music artist (clearly not me). It took me a LONG time to sort that out with Spotify (who, understandably, did not give a rat’s arse about me), so that contributed to the delay.

My release strategy

My strategy was to release a single every two weeks, from my website only. I alerted all my people and posted on social media about each release and directed them to my website. Once there, they found they could listen to the song, with lyrics in front of them. I also invited them to read the story behind the song, again at my website, before listening.

I then invited them to download a copy or, if they wanted a hard copy, to get in touch and I would mail them a CD. Importantly, THEY named the price. Some gave $20, some $10, but others gave $100 or more! While they were at my website, they did other things: they read my blog posts and investigated other aspects of my career they perhaps did not know about. (I wrote a short blog post about this strategy called “My Spotify Confession.”)

How many albums did I sell? Well, remember, I don’t tour. I am in the process of getting a new band together, Robert Graham and the Landing, in Perth, but we haven’t gigged yet. I sometimes do gigs playing my own songs as a soloist at festivals and clubs, but not often. The bulk of my sales came from my mailing list.

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My return on investment (so far)

In the first six months after release, and before I put The Line on streaming sites through CD Baby, I sold 245 CD copies for a total of around $6,000. With recording costs and everything, the album cost me $15,000 to make, and I possibly will never make it all back, but that is not why I do this. Nevertheless, $6,000 is a decent chunk to make back in six months. If I hadn’t released the music on CD and uploaded to streaming sites solely, I would have made a pittance and been in the hole even more.

My older albums have sold nearly 800 and 250 copies respectively. They are now out of print, but I made returns on those albums too, all because I chose to make hard copies. I gave myself at least a chance to recoup some of my costs. My first album, with royalties from licensing and the CDs themselves, has paid for itself (it was about $15K to produce as well). My second album, with the band, was crowdfunded by loyal and loving supporters.

So, I continue on my merry way, earning the bulk of my income to feed my family playing Elton John, Brahms, and Jason Robert-Brown, etc. But a small part of my income, and a large part of what makes me feel good about myself as a creator and musical artist, comes from my OWN music. I feel proud that I was able release three albums (so far).

I don’t feel like I have really released an album until it is in my hand. That’s what this is really all about, feeling like I am contributing something to the larger canon of music in this world — something that is personal to me. Having a CD to represent me as a person is important, regardless of how many I sell or the income I make from them.

Alli and I | Make a personal connection

Andrew Standley — who performs under the name Alli and I — uses CDs to make a personal connection with his audience. Check out this quick video to hear him tell you all about it.

Danny Schneider | Collector’s items for a charitable cause

Danny Schneider's music on CDAbout a year ago I was inspired to help a charity in my hometown of Sacramento, California called Joshua’s House Hospice, a hospice for the homeless who are terminally ill. I wanted to somehow use my music to help the cause.

The idea I came up with was to record ten of my newest songs and produce, through Disc Makers, 100 “special edition” autographed vinyl albums. Each “collector item” LP would be sold for a donation of $100 to Joshua’s House Volunteer Hospice for a total of $10,000.

That is exactly what I did and that is exactly what happened!

The LP is titled On the Other Side of the Window, and I was able to promote the project in several magazines and get interviews on local news programs! It was really a win-win-win!

Good and Wicked | CDs help us get gigs

good and wicked puts their music on CDsWithout the high-quality discs Good and Wicked got from Disc Makers, we wouldn’t be looking at the growing performance schedule we’re getting for the year.

A lot of venue owners don’t take the time to look at someone’s website, which was a problem we were having. After putting our music on CDs with Disc Makers, we are getting quick responses from possible upcoming gigs due to our being able to hand out or send these discs!

We just did a demo project and plan to go back to the studio for a full album!

Michael Cavanaugh | Harnessing the power of live shows

In the evolving landscape of the music industry, where digital streaming and online sales dominate, Michael Cavanaugh takes a different approach to selling physical media.

A gateway to sales

Michael Cavanaugh’s concerts are more than just entertaining and charming a crowd, they also are designed to boost sales of his physical media at the show, allowing concert-goers immediate access to his music in a tangible form.

Michael Cavanaugh's CD strategySelected songs are performed to tie to a specific CD or DVD available for purchase at the venue. This not only showcases Michael’s extensive repertoire but also encourages fans to buy the albums featuring the music on CD they just saw performed live. It creates a connection between the live experience and the physical media, driving sales among those wanting to relive the concert moment.

The cornerstone of Michael’s strategy is his commitment to post-show meet and greets. These sessions are open to the public, which fosters a connection with his audience, leading to increased merchandise sales. This face-to-face engagement has a twofold advantage — it solidifies a loyal fan base for future ticket sales and simultaneously boosts sales of CDs and DVDs.

Pricing strategy

Michael’s merchandise is priced slightly higher at shows compared to online platforms like Amazon. This pricing strategy is based on the unique value offered at live shows — the chance to buy an album and have it signed by the artist himself, making it an attractive proposition for fans.

The effectiveness of this approach is evident in the sales figures. Annually, Michael’s merch sales bring in tens of thousands of dollars, highlighting the popularity of his music and the effectiveness of his strategy. It also helps boost fan engagement, which leads to repeat bookings.

By integrating sales with performances, creating memorable meet and greet experiences, and employing a smart pricing strategy, Michael Cavanaugh’s model boosts merch sales and strengthens the bond between the artist and his fans, proving that personal touch still holds immense value in the music business.

The 90-Day Album Release Planner

Tony van Veen in the Disc Makers lobby

About Tony van Veen

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.

3 thoughts on “Let’s Get Physical: CDs and Vinyl LPs Are Helping These Indie Artists Succeed

  1. Thanks fror all the info. I just play a bit at my church an try to show the youngsters how to get going musically. I enjoy that. I am looking at my 80th birthday soon, therefore I don’t have to worry about the ‘tomorrows’ now, I just want to enjoy every day as it, and help those that I can. God Bless. Tony Scrooge, Barbados, West Indies.

  2. Robert talked about, “My first album, with royalties from licensing and the CDs themselves, has paid for itself “

    My question is about royalties and licensing. What royalties and what licensing? Is it required? If so then what do I need to do for licensing and royalties? Are royalties paid to whom? How do I get licensing and what is the licensing for?

    I would love to know these questions before I buy CDs. This information will help me plan ahead. Thanks in advance for answers !

    1. He is likely talking about streaming royalties, and maybe publishing royalties, also from streaming. You get those from your distributor once you have signed up for digital distribution — IF people stream your songs.

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