Distributing Music in a Post-CD World

Author: Steven Kippel

Steven Kippel has performed with touring bands since 2000, and has been promoting concerts since 2002. Blackhart Productions was founded in 2004. ...

While you may hear a lot of negative comments towards the music industry over illegal online music distribution, they do have cause for concern. Since the advent of Napster and other file sharing communities, the record industry has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. Some of blame can be placed on their conservative approach to promoting artists, opting for the "American Idol" instead of the avant-garde artists who can excite the next generation like the Beatles or Van Halen in decades past. They also failed to use the internet to distribute music before the rampant distribution began. But one thing is clear, the CD is on the way out.

Over the last several years the Compact Disc has experienced negative growth in the market. In fact the Vinyl LP has actually remained selling while the CD is lowing steam. A couple reasons for this are online distribution, and the fact that many consumers now use the CD as a medium to rip music from to their iPod or similar portable music device.

While I lament the fact that nobody sits down and listens to an album anymore, instead using music as a soundtrack to their own lives, there are still ways to distribute your next album. You have to use a little creativity and think outside the box, but you can make it work

USB Flash Drive

Don't think you would be the first to do this. You would simply be in the company of established artists such as Matchbox Twenty who last year released a full length album on a USB bracelet. The great thing about the USB drive is you can include extra features easily such as videos, liner notes, or even alternative file types such as lossless FLAC or multi-channel audio. The price of USB drives has dropped to dollars each, so it's not too much more than CD replication. Plus, the USB drive can be used for other things (such as storing personal files for work or school) after your fan has moved it to their iPod.

There are several services offering USB drives in bulk loaded with your content and even printed with your name or logo. Call around for the best price.

Concept Albums

Online distribution has increasingly made the single popular again. Now that you can chose which songs you want and which songs are junk, many people will download their preferred songs and leave the rest alone. I'm going to assume you put all of your effort into every song already to not create filler, but what some artists are trying is the concept album.

Concept albums center around an idea or theme. Thrice recently released the first part of a two-part concept collection. Each box includes two EPs, so the set will have four discs, one for each element: fire, water, earth, and air. Similarly, Sufjan Stephens has produced several popular concept albums. Remember, even bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd did concept albums.

These are fun albums to produce, but they're also fun to collect. They're not something you want for one song.

Creative Packaging

This may be the most costly tip, but it is also a lot of fun. Companies such as Invisible Creature specialize in creating one-of-a-kind packaging for albums. A lot of people like creative packaging, and love to collect it. Think about what Apple did with their iPod packaging, it is an adventure just opening up the box. Project 86's latest album, Rival Factions, used a blue jewel case to hides and revels different elements in the liner notes, much like what you used to find in cereal boxes.

With the right packaging, fans will need to own your album, not just download a few songs.

Digital Distribution

We all want to sell complete albums, but we can't afford to ignore digital delivery. Services such as TuneCore can get your album sold through iTunes, Rhapsody, Amazon, eMusic and more while you get 100% of the sales. This is the future of music sales. Radiohead most famously provided their album for sale on their website independently. Some people aren't collectors and don't really care about a single experience, they just want a few songs. Indulge them.

High-quality Multi-channel Audio

Not everyone has access to high-quality recording equipment, but those that do should consider releasing their albums on master-quality for those who really love their music. Blu-ray Disc is the newest audio disc format which allows uncompressed audio in up to 7.1 multi-channel surround sound. More and more homes are including surround sound systems and Blu-ray is exploding on the market, thanks to the Playstation 3. Even two-channel audio sounds better in high-quality.

Additional features can be added to Blu-ray releases, such as live footage, documentaries and whatever else you can fit on the 50GB space provided. Artists who have released on Blu-ray include Nine Inch Nails, Dave Matthews, John Legend, and Shakira, amongst many others.

But don't think you're stuck to Blu-ray. Record companies such as Linn Records are providing master quality downloads on their website. Online music stores like MusicGiants are also providing lossless audio downloads and multi-channel audio downloads.

Get Started

This is only the beginning. Get creative and try new things. Music and art are going to have coalesce to keep it in the physical realm, so think like an artist and a businessman. This is your time to shine.

Steven Kippel is the owner of Blackhart Productions in Southern California and manager to Hopeunseen, the upcoming alternative metal band out of Riverside, CA.

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