FAQ: CDBaby

This is a very bad week for me as far as blogging goes – my wife’s been a little unwell, we’ve had visitors round the last three days on the run (normally never happens), I’m working longer than usual hours, I have an assignment worth 25% of my marks for this module due in for my Master’s course on Sunday, I’m going to an Imbolc Fire Festival on Saturday, I’m still wrestling with Scribus trying to typeset PEP!, and I’m meant to be doing a Lib Dem action day on Sunday if I’ve somehow miraculously managed to finish my assignment by then.

(Also the dog ate my homework).

Having said that, I do think I should do at least this one post today, because I actually have (drumroll…) a Frequently Asked Question.

Or, more precisely, two separate questions – “Is CDBaby any good?” and “How did you manage to get your band’s music on Spotify/iTunes/etc without a record label?” which in fact have the same answer, and which I’ve been asked by three people in the last week alone. (A drummer friend, the bloke in the comic shop, and someone on Twitter, to be precise).

So I thought I’d post a quick Musician’s Guide To Getting Your Music On Spotify And iTunes And So Forth With CDBaby.

CDBaby are, primarily, an online CD store for independent artists. As well as my band (that link also includes a CD by Blake Jones, who added theremin, melodica and additional vocals to our second EP, and whose stuff you should all buy), there are a lot of unsigned bands, as well as formerly-famous artists like Pete Seeger or Johnny Otis, and cult figures like Stew (Stew won a Tony award a couple of years ago and had a Spike Lee film made of his musical last year – I’m sure he could get a ‘proper’ deal should he want one…)

As far as this kind of stuff goes, what CDBaby offer isn’t too hugely impressive. You pay them a $35 setup fee per CD, set a price to sell it at (they keep $4 per CD, you get the rest) and ship them a few CDs every time they sell out. You also need to have set up a barcode for your CD, and all in all if you’re looking to sell CDs, you’re frankly better off setting up a paypal account and just doing it yourself, assuming you’re not a big star who could get a record deal should they want one.

CDBaby also make it theoretically possible to get your CD sold in independent record shops in the US – it’s made available through a distributor, should anyone wish to order one. We actually did sell a CD this way, so it’s possible…

But what CDBaby really offer to the independent artist – and what could be invaluable – is the opportunity to get your music onto all sorts of digital services, and get paid for it. My band are on last.fm, Spotify, eMusic, Amazon, iTunes (I can’t verify that last link as Apple won’t allow people using GNU/Linux to visit their store), Rhapsody, lala (nobody at all has listened to us there for some reason, though listens on other services range from the tens to the thousands…) and dozens of other online music services.

The amount we get paid for each of these varies enormously – at one end, a single stream on last.fm earns $0.0007 (that’s right, seven percent of one US cent). At the other, a single track sale on eMusic nets us $0.30667 (an iTunes sale of a track gets $0.637 , but that’s dirtier money ;) ).

CDBaby take 9% off the top of all digital income (25% over MP3s sold through their own site), but they do the work of encoding the music in the various file formats requested, sending the music to the companies, accounting and so on. And they account honestly – I recently read an article by a musician who used to be on a major label, who said that the practice among major labels is not to account *at all* for money from digital distribution for any band who have not yet recouped (which means of course that those bands will *never* recoup, given the increasing move to digital only).

CDBaby, by contrast, account to eight significant figures – they show your earnings to the nearest ten-millionth of a cent (seriously – a stream of my song Wishing Well on last.fm earned $0.00074952 ) and they round *up* rather than down.

I’ll be frank – my own band have made practically nothing from CDBaby. But that’s because shortly after releasing our second EP, our then-lead vocalist Tilt quit (though he’s still working with me on writing some songs, despite his move to the US), and the band’s been on the back burner for a couple of years while I’ve been trying to sort my life out a bit. But we *have* got exposure, and listeners, and seen some money back from it. When I finally get round to promoting our stuff more (when I record more new music, which will fingers crossed be some time this year) it’s entirely possible that we’ll get a significant amount of income from these different sources – I’ve done little to no promotion at all and we’ve still had *some* CD sales and *some* MP3 downloads (and several thousand streams on various services).

One caveat, though. When you sign up for CDBaby’s Digital Distribution service, you’ll tick a box saying “send my music to all of these”. In fact even though you’ve ticked this, while your music will definitely get sent to a handful, including iTunes, there are other services (notably eMusic and Spotify) which *only* get music from CDBaby if you specifically email asking them to add you to those services.

So if you’re prepared to actually do some work to promote your music, and are willing to bet $35 on your own album selling, then visit CDBaby.net and sign up. I can absolutely recommend them.

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6 Responses to FAQ: CDBaby

  1. pillock says:

    Thanks, Andrew! As you know (I think), I’ve got a new songwriting thing going that I really don’t want to go the traditional route with at all, I just want to do something low-cost on the Internet and see what happens. People tell me I’m not Radiohead and I say exactly, that’s exactly it, I’m not…so I can afford an experiment such as this a lot more easily than they can, since the goal is only to get local people to come to gigs, and make enough money to pay for studio time a year or so down the road. Uh, and write shit off on taxes…EMOTICON!

    But into that experiment $35 certainly fits, and fits really nicely. I don’t want conventional radio-play stuff, but I would like to, hmm, zine it a little…

    So I’m gonna give this a go!

  2. The National Pep are on i-Tunes, and I’m listening to them (you?) right now!

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I’m glad to hear both those things.
      (Although I knew we were there, because we’ve received money from it. I just didn’t know if the link CDBaby sent me was correct…)

  3. That’s a pretty sweet setup, actually. $35 is nothing, really, even if you never recoup it. I mean, I can spend $35 at a bar.

    Andy Partridge’s Ape House Records seems like a pretty good deal for artists as well (http://apehouse.prevuz.com/2009/11/the-shape-of-ape/), but it’s not a huge operation and he cheerfully admits that it’s based on nothing but his own tastes, so you obviously can’t bank on that.

  4. Mario G says:

    I agree. CD Baby is alright with me. I put my most recent (Smooth Jazz) cd on there 1 1/2 months ago. So far I sold 1 in Virginia, 1 in the Netherlands & 1 in Germany. I have my own website as well, but would’nt have gotten any sales over seas unless it was through them. I had 2 other cd’s on there a few years ago when I did hip-hop. I didn’t clen up or anything, but sold some in Japan, a few other places (altogether less than $400 total). Not great, but not bad. And, I’m learning~ by reading more (sites & articles like this!)

  5. Mario G says:

    Oh yeah, I just signed my cd “Finding My Way” up for digital distribution there, too today. I know they pay out from dealing with them in the past. I know there are other avenues to get your digital done, but I trust CD Baby. BTW, my website is http://www.innercitygroove.com. I got that set up by Host Baby(another “branch” of CD Baby). So far, they seem to be cool, too.

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