Implications Of The Death (and Life) Of The CD

Yesterday I discussed what I saw as the future of the CD, digital download, and vinyl record.  Today I’d like to briefly talk about the implications of this for three hypothetical bands.


Band 1: Young Indie Band From Brooklyn, NY

Almost everybody you sell your record to is going to be younger, mostly in their 20s.  They all know how to use an ipod and a lot of them probably have turntables.  For a band such as this, I would advise them to sell only vinyl and digital downloads.  This band comes from a very image conscious scene that often prides itself on its progressive nature.  Abandoning the CD is a great move for the bands image.  Just look at what it did for Radiohead when they announced In Rainbows as digital only.  Now yes, a large part of that publicity was oriented around their use of the freemium model but the lack of a CD itself was enough to gain them publicity.  If a band is smart, they can turn the lack of a CD to purchase into a talking point.

An example of this is the Brooklyn band The Knees.  They offer a physical CD for sale on….for $1609.  This is the cost of them printing up 1000 CDs and is the only price they are selling the CD for.  Nobody is going to pay this, obviously, but it becomes a unique selling point for the band, something that makes them stand out and gives them an edge, publicity wise (see?  I’m talking about them right now).  By making it clear that a band is going LP/digital only, they can reap a similar benefit. 

This move works for a young indie band in Brooklyn because they will not lose any sales over the lack of a CD.  Their entire audience will have either an ipod or a turntable.  Many, in fact, will buy the LP even if they don’t have a turntable because for them a LP is a musical fetish object.  Not only that but a band can charge more for an LP (say $15 as opposed to $10) because people willing to pay more for an LP, garnering the band more profit from album sales.  This band would sell a majority of their music as a download or LP/download combo.


Middle Aged Country Band That Only Plays In Bars On Weekends

Fans of this type of band tend to be much less image conscious than that of an indie band.  They will also be more likely to be middle aged and therefore less technologically fluent.  For them, a vinyl record is not some hip retro musical fetish object; it’s something they have a stack of somewhere in their basement.  For this sort of a band it would make little sense to sell vinyl and while they should still plan on having their music available for sale online, they should focus primarily on the CD because this is what their audience primarily uses.  This band would sell a majority of their music as CDs.


Up-And-Coming Alternative Rock Band From Florida

This is the middle ground between the last two extreme examples.  This sort of band has a young to middle aged audience and while not obsessed with cultivating any sort of “indie cred”, it wouldn’t hurt either.  This band has serious mainstream ambitions.  I would recommend this band to sell it’s music primarily as a digital download but to offer CD’s at shows and retail stores.  Also, I think it wouldn’t hurt to have vinyl for sale though I would not expect them to sell very much.  In this case the vinyl would mainly serve to impress people who see it on their merch table and even though it will not sell well, it will give them a degree of hipness.  This band would expect to sell a majority of their music online. 


Final Note

I read an interesting statistic today in a Wall Street Journal article about Bon Iver.  “For Emma, Forever Ago” has sold 87,000 copies and about half were digital downloads.  This is interesting because the CD for this album was pretty readily available (and the vinyl was not uncommon either) but people chose digital over the other two formats.  I’d be curious to see what the breakdown was between digital, CD, and LP.  What this basically all comes down to is sell your records in the format your audience will listen to them in.


2 responses to “Implications Of The Death (and Life) Of The CD

  1. I don’t think bands should abandon CDs at shows. As a live band, your CD is your calling card. You never know who will be at your shows, and it’s really awkward to give the amazing people you meet at shows anything but a CD. You want to give them something they can put in their car on the way home from a show and get into right away.

    I think this is where, as a band, you really start to hit that wall where labels used to be. The market is changing quickly for sure, but the infrastructure that you work in is still what it was in the 70s – you have to go out and get gigs at clubs, promote the shows, be awesome, get press, etc. and to some degree you have to play that game. I imagine when everybody was on a label they had somebody to do it, but now it’s every man for himself and their is still the expectation that you will act like you have a label behind you. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I just think a part of that includes having to print CDs even when your audience doesn’t buy CDs anymore.

  2. Matt –

    That is a valid point and you are right, there are still uses CDs for indie bands. But I still feel as if it would be beneficial to go without. If you were to sell those plastic cards with a download on them, people would still use them as soon as they got home because they invested the money in your music; just because they cannot hear it on the ride home does not mean they will not listen when they get home. Indeed, it may even be a good thing because it will create suspense and an increased desire to hear the music when they get home and can download it. When I buy a CD I always wait until I get home until I listen and by the time I get home, I’m singularly focused on that CD. Having it in my possession but being unable to listen to it only makes me want it more.

    But ultimately, I feel that indie bands should give away their music for free. I’m planning on writing a whole lot more on that later but the basic music itself, should be free. It’s the extras (LP, deluxe box sets, higher quality lossless digital files) that should be where the money is made selling music. But that’s just my two cents. I’ll expand on that a lot more later.

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