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Will I Need CDs When I Release My Album?

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Question: Will I Need CDs When I Release My Album?
Answer:

When you release an album, one of the first choices you'll make is how to make it available to fans. Of course, making available digitally is a must, but what about physical product? Is it worth it to press CDs?

There's not a one-size-fits-all solution to this question, but there are some pros and cons to consider. Now, some people are adamant that no one buys CDs anymore, that they're old fashioned and outdated, and blah blah blah. That is simply not true across the board. People DO still buy CDs - you think Wal-Mart would devote shelf space to something no one buys? People do still go to record stores as well, and these stores sell CDs. People may not buy them as much as they used to - but they do buy them. The question you really need to ask yourself off the bat is: do YOUR fans buy them? Some genres of music are more inclined to sell in CD format than others, because of the preferences (and often, age) of the fans. Knowing your audience and how they consume music will help you significantly as you make this decision.

Now, digital music has a lot of pros, but perhaps the most major one for people releasing their own albums is that the cost of distribution is so low. It removes a pretty large barrier - the price of manufacturing - from the process, allowing you to get your music out there faster without much of a cashflow issue. Digital distribution also democratizes the distribution process. If you press CDs, to make it worthwhile, you need someone to be able to sell that CD into stores. Along with they comes the costs of the promotion and marketing you'll need to convince stores to sell your stuff - and the costs add up quickly. Digital distribution removes that from the picture (though you will still need to promote your music to sell it. You can't just throw it up on iTunes and expect everyone to buy it.).

If you can't really afford to manufacture CDs for retail sale, or if you can afford it but don't have the means to make it worthwhile (no distribution, no money for promotion), then you could consider a digital only release - or you could consider a middle ground option. The truth is that you're going to find yourself in some instances where physical product can help you. Some radio stations, promoters, print media, and so on are going to want a hard copy promo. It might be nice to have some of your albums available for sale at your shows. So, instead of pressing copies for a retail push, you could opt to do promo copies with very basic artwork, or none at all. You could also do a short run of CDs without any packaging or just in a jewel case, and do some handmade artwork that you can then sell at your shows. These options let you provide physical product when people want it, without investing hundreds or thousands into a run of CDs you might not really ever sell.

The bottom line? If your fans are the sort that are going to turn to the record stores and not the computer when they want your album, you have to make sure they can go and buy it in that format. However, even if you think your fans will mostly download the album, it still pays to have a short run of CDs available so you can promote your release and sell to people at shows. Keep the costs down by pressing low cost promos or making your own artwork. When money is an issue, that lets you have the best of both worlds while still having enough money to tour and promote your release.

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