Let’s Get Physical: Even In The Digital Age, Musicians Shouldn’t Forget About CDs, Vinyl & Tapes

image from www.google.comThis guest post comes independent musician Chris Singltton, a digital consultant at UK music pr agency Prescription PR.

Regular readers of musician advice blogs like ours at PerscriptionPR will no doubt have picked up on the fact that much of the advice that has been imparted relates to digital aspects of music industry – whether that’s to do with recording, distribution, PR or marketing. And for good reason really: to misquote Madonna, we are living in a digital age, and we are all digital girls (or boys…you get the drift).

Anyway, slipping quickly out of drag, and back into a manly blogger’s outfit (whatever the hell that looks like that), I thought  I’d devote a bit of time this week to underlining something important: that although the digital revolution has in general made the likes of CDs, tapes, minidiscs and records look very obscure, and cheap as chips, paradoxically it has also – in certain contexts – made them look very hip and a potential source of lots of moolah.

The Digital Shift

I’ll explain why in a minute – and outline the potential benefits of your band ‘getting physical’ – but let’s stay in the digital domain for a moment. Cheap digital recording gear and worldwide digital distribution via the internet have led to an explosion in the number of bands producing and distributing albums. What this digital revolution hasn’t provided for these bands, however, is the kind of fanbase-generating marketing budget that would have accompanied a traditional album release. The upshot is that the industry has arguably changed from being one where there is a tiny number of bands with huge followings to one where there is a huge number of bands with tiny followings.

Dedicated Fans

I’m guessing that if you are reading this post, you or your band fall into the latter category, and question is how – and sorry if this sounds a little bit mercenary – to make as much money as possible from that tiny following. By tiny, I mean that perhaps a you have few hundred dedicated fans rather than a few hundred thousand. But the key word here is ‘dedicated’: if the aforementioned group are really into you, then they may be prepared to pay a premium for your music. But given how easy it is for them to listen to you for free, only if you make it really worth their while.

Get Physical

And here’s where physical music products come in: if you can create a physical offering that is perceived as unique and of special value by your fans, you may find that instead of them paying £6.99 to download your album on iTunes, they may be prepared to pay a lot more for the same music.

So, here are some simple ideas on how to get physical.

  • Number your CDs by hand and sign them. Instead of charging £8.99 etc., charge £15.00. This is a really simple way to increase the income you generate from any stock you manufacture, and you'll always find at least some listeners prepared to pay a bit extra for a signed CD.
  • Put together a little package comprising a bunch of funky, limited-edition items. For example, charge £25 for a package that includes a signed CD, handwritten lyrics, a poster and two signed photos.
  • Accompany a CD sale with merchandise – bundle a CD, t-shirt and mug together for £20.
  • Do a limited run of cassettes / mix tapes and charge £17 per signed cassette album.
  • Do a combined vinyl/CD release and charge £30 per copy sold.
  • A bit of a physical/digital mash-up this, but you could issue your album on a designer USB memory stick – there are a range of mad designs you can get now (rainforest-friendly USB stick anyone?). Include high-resolution versions of your tracks on the USB (WAVS rather than MP3s) and other exclusive content like videos, alternate takes and so on.

These are just some examples of limited-edition physical releases – I’m sure you can use your imagination to come up with funkier examples of how to get physical. In fact, I’d be interested in hearing some more ideas; do leave a comment if you have any clever suggestions.

Whatever you eventually decide upon for a physical release, the key thing really is to think like a business and work out:

  • how many of your fans will realistically buy a physical product
  • how much they will be prepared to pay for it
  • how much it will cost you – not just in terms of money, but time too – to make your physical offering.

Ultimately, if you are smart about things, do the right sums and  keep costs down, you may find that oddly, in this digital era there is more to be made from an innovative physical release than a bog-standard digital one. If you have 100 fans prepared to pay £30 for a really great physical package that costs £10 to produce, that’s a profit of £2,000 (and seriously, making any money, let alone £2k from music, is getting extremely difficult these days). Conversely, if all your 100 fans bought your album on iTunes, you’d have made at most £490 (£6.99 x 100, minus Apples 30% or so cut); possibly less if a distributor or indie label is taking a cut. Indeed, a cool physical product that fans might even view as an investment may make the difference between them parting with cash at all or just hitting play on Spotify or clicking on that torrent link.

Finally, there is another big advantage to funky physical releases: they make you look cool. Drop the fact that your music is out on limited-edition vinyl or a cassette casually into a conversation, and skinny-jeaned hipsters from Hackney will come out of the woodwork, start drooling and think your music is much better than it actually is.

Which of course in this business is all that counts really.

The Prescription is written by independent musician and digital consultant to Prescription PR, Chris Singleton.

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1 Comment

  1. I keep saying that I never saw the memo from the fans that said that I want my music in only one format. Of note to me is the deluxe area as our company is putting just such a project together for the DavidLynchFoundationMusic.org This will be a 4 vol. 44 page boxset / book with an amazing new product called the AliveDrive and a wooden sticker instores only Spring 2012. It won’t be cheap and the best part is that the charity record label David Lynch founded will get the majority of the profits so it’s a win, win, win, win.
    Frankly the rest of the world still revolves around physical and it is one of the biggest reasons we have trade deficits considering that we used to supply 80 percent of the world music (still a 27 billon dollar biz) and now we supply 10 percent see. http://www.usmademusic.com there is a reason why multinational entertainment corporations don’t want folks to think about physical. Think about it.

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