At the end of March cdbaby.com took down all of the storefronts that at one point were a primary way for independent artists to sell their music online. They gave several reasons for the decision but the primary one was that no one was using those pages much anymore. By their estimation the artists using their services were only making 3% of their CD Baby income from sales through CD Baby storefronts.
The company continues to help artists post their albums on Amazon and provide warehousing and fulfillment for physical albums through other platforms but the familiar, if very dated looking, CD Baby album page has gone the way of Friendster.
As a fan of independent music, particularly traditional jazz and swing, I’m saddened to think that literally thousands of albums that were readily available for download, or even to buy as a CD have disappeared from the face of the internet. Granted in many cases years had probably come and gone without a sale but it was nice to know they were there. Yes, some of them are on Amazon, but face it, Amazon will never feel indie.
I feel this loss more strongly than most because I have prepared discographies for young trad jazz artists who play with dozens of bands as sidemen. Many of those hard to find albums from projects past are among the culled. That disc you made in 2008 with those guys you don’t play with anymore and put up on CD Baby with high hopes. Gone. If no one cares about the project anymore they aren’t going to make sure it gets on Amazon.
Even if CD Baby storefront sales weren’t an important part of your band’s income, and I’m guessing they weren’t, there are still a few problems to consider. The best thing to do is think of this as an opportunity. CD Baby seemed like a good idea in the ’00s, but it really did suck as a platform to sell albums.
The first thing you need to do is figure out where you have dead links to your CD Baby store posted; your website and your Facebook information tab are likely culprits. Then you need to find an alternative.
The biggest problem with Amazon, even more important than the fees, is the problem that was the downfall of CD Baby. Even if you go through the effort no one will ever find your music there. Unless they know the name of both your band and album, and search it directly, there is no way for them to stumble onto your records. The social and serendipitous element, the online equivalent of going to a show or talking to someone at the record store, is missing.
Fortunately Bandcamp has come along as a far better alternative. Think of it as CD Baby merged with Facebook. Writing for a paper with a very niche musical focus I absolutely depend on Bandcamp to keep me in the loop about new albums and artists. I started by following a few super buyers, guys who seem to purchase a dozen albums a week within our niche. Bandcamp lets me know what they are discovering.
I now follow over 600 traditional jazz and swing bands on our Bandcamp page. Bands from all over the world. I get alerts about new albums daily. Some we end up reviewing. Some we buy just to enjoy. I have a private page for all the amazing things I find that don’t fit into what this magazine covers.
I review, or have someone else review, hundreds of albums a year and nearly all of my favorites now come from Bandcamp. I only ever find myself on CD Baby or Spotify by way of an artist’s website when I’m already investigating them for a story. I never find myself on Amazon to look for music at all. Bandcamp works for artists, it works for fans, and it is growing exponentially. It’s where to find the people that actually want to pay for music and discover artists outside of their local area.
The artists who create a Bandcamp page to sell their albums have a certain amount of control over designing the page. It isn’t a replacement for a website or Facebook presence, it’s only a storefront, but it can still say something about your band through the graphics and information you share. If you have CDs or vinyl from your newest project but not for your back catalog you can, and should, still put all your older albums up as downloads. Having your back catalog to browse through makes you seem much more legitimate— trust me. And please also write something about the album and what your band is about. If you leave the page all but blank people will assume what you are offering isn’t worth paying for. The about sections are your sales pitch.
One big difference on the site, something that scares off many artists, is that albums are typically able to be streamed in their entirety before purchase. If you can get it for free, why buy? It is a logical question. Automated guilt trips are part of the answer, you can set your page to cut people off after a certain number of plays and present them with a message that it’s time to pay up.
More importantly, people will no longer buy something they haven’t heard. To want to support you they need to know what they are supporting. Thinking back to the days when radio play sold records, and even back to 1890’s song pluggers singing the latest sheet music ditty in department stores, people have always wanted to hear it first.
That album you but on CD Baby may already be distributed on YouTube and Spotify to stream in full, but without the chance of you getting a sale. I’ve talked to people who had no idea why their complete albums were on YouTube competing with the videos they put on their own channel. You can probably thank CD Baby or another distribution service.
Bandcamp creates an encouraging environment to pay for downloads, and having an album listed in your online “collection” has the feel of ownership. When you buy on Bandcamp you know the artists are keeping most of the money and you are made to feel like a hero. Which you are!
The biggest difference between Bandcamp and some other services is that artists provide their own fulfillment — when someone orders you need to head to the post office. This allows you to sell other merch; signed CDs, Vinyl, Cassette Tapes colored with crayon, logo face masks, whatever you’ve got.
For bands that plan on a 500 unit run of CDs lasting a year and mostly being sold at shows this is the way to go. Your Bandcamp page solves the problem of having a way to buy your album and gives you a checkout to link to from your website or Facebook page. It also allows folks like me to discover you through search or suggestion.
If you are selling thousands of CDs and LPs, or touring constantly, then selling physical albums on Bandcamp probably isn’t for you. But you can still use it as a way to sell downloads and to connect with your audience. If you are primarily selling downloads rather than physical media there isn’t a better place to be no matter how big you are.
I don’t follow bands closely on social media because I don’t need to know about every show, but I do sign up for automatic email updates from Bandcamp that let me know when they post a new album. They make it super easy to do so. I’ve followed bands an Bandcamp with no new albums posted since 2015 only to a few months later be notified of their latest and give it a review.
If you are within the genres they cover, meaning traditional jazz or other New Orleans related music, I can also recommend the Louisiana Music Factory as an online outlet for your physical discs. Through a brick and mortar record store on Frenchman St. in New Orleans, and on a very professional website, they create a more personal feel than Amazon and let artists keep more of their money. Tuba Skinny and some other acts, not all of them New Orleans based, use LMF as their exclusive retailer for CDs and LPs. There may be similar indie options available in other genres.
For what it’s worth I receive no compensation from Bandcamp or Louisiana Music Factory. Me not needing to get a real job depends on you, the artist, not needing to get a real job. Get those links updated, consider this an opportunity to up your game, and good luck.