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CD or Not CD: The Ultimate Question For Any Recording Artist

cd.thumbnail.jpgI have worked as an audio engineer for a very long time and have made a decent living creating CD projects for artists the whole time. As a producer and engineer I have been involved in the production of over 60 recording projects in my day and the end result has always ended up being a Compact Disc, vinyl album or audio cassette for the better part of the past 25 years. That is until recently.

Many of the young artists of today are faced with a new dilemma. That dilemma is to make a CD or not make a CD version of their project available to their audience. It is fast becoming fashionable for new artists to completely fore go production of the little plastic discs in favor of digital distribution only. I have mixed feelings on the subject because I still like CDs as a medium of choice for listening purposes, but on the other hand I am sympathetic to the digital only faction of this argument as a forward thinking and cheaper solution to marketing one’s own music.

These days any artist contemplating a new release has a dizzying array of choices to make right from the start. Do I want to record in a studio or at home? Do I want to pay to have the project mastered properly or do it myself? How do I want to distribute it? What kind of artwork and format do I want? Who will put the CD in stores if I go that route? It can all be a bit overwhelming and tedious to do your own DIY CD project, which is why many artists (especially new ones) are opting for digital distribution only for their self financed projects.

With digital distribution you can control your project’s costs considerably if you choose not to produce a CD. Churning out those plastic discs can be a financial sinkhole for a band just starting out all the way up to well established veteran acts. Granted, production costs have never been cheaper before, with production costs well under $1 per disc in most cases, but by not distributing a CD are you limiting your exposure to the world? These days, not so much.

With the array of distributors who have carved a niche serving the independent musician market like CDBaby, TuneCore, The Orchard and others you can choose to do digital only and on demand production of CDs sold via Amazon, iTunes, Best Buy and other outlets. These distributors also will produce short runs of 10, 25, 50, or 100 CDs for you to sell at shows or in your local indie record store that supports local acts.

These same distributors have also recently begun to embrace the fully digital distribution side of their business and have been offering new services which can help bridge the retail/show level dilemma of digital distribution. CDBaby and TuneCore both now offer their clients the option to produce gift cards for their digital only releases which can be sold at shows that allow the buyer to download their project when they get home from the show.

I for one hope that the end of the CD format won’t take place for some time. There is something satisfying about the relationship between artist and fan that creates a connection through the physical form in which the music is delivered.

Who knows, maybe we will soon see artists distributing Secure Digital cards at gigs with the price drops in flash memory of late. However the form it comes in, I will always prefer to have something physical delivered into my hands from my favorite artists, but I do also enjoy being able to load up my cell phone’s mini SD card with tunes to take with me everywhere.

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Joh Padgett

Joh Padgett

I do the music column on Saturdays and the Primordial Grooves playlist on The Seminal blog on Sundays. I also own Layman Media, a social media production company in Indianapolis and I love cheese.