On Printing CDs in the Modern Music World

Music store with wall to wall CDs

Not to be completely bleak, but I have some bad news for you. CDs are DEAD.

I know more than a few industry pros who would agree with that sentiment. Best Buy is just the latest in the brick & mortar store dominos to fall, as they just announced that they too (joining Musicland, Tower Records, and virtually every other CD chain store in the world) would stop selling CDs. It’s a bummer. I love CDs.

So what’s the point? Why would an artist still invest in making a batch of CDs? Well, I still happen to believe there’s a place for them, specifically for the gigging musician. I had a brief conversation with an artist today about the whole process, best practices, that kind of thing, so let me go through it here.

A CD is a Business Card. While the electronic world has all but swallowed up face-to-face interactions, there’s still nothing that can take the place of a hand shake and physical reminder of that meeting. When you’re trying to secure gigs, you can certainly direct a booking agent or promoter to a website or an EPK (which you should also have, of course). But when you take a moment to actually speak with another live human, and better yet, GIVE them something of value, you’re more likely to be remembered. It shows who you are, what you do, and how to get in touch with you. Pair it with a prompt and friendly thank-you email or phone call, and it becomes doubly effective.

A CD Means You Can Be Taken Seriously. I’m not talking about burned CD-Rs with your name sharpied on the front that you give away at shows. In much the same way that investing in a quality recording shows that you’re a professional (to labels, booking agents and your fans), pressing CDs serves the same purpose. If you want people to see you like a pro, present yourself like one. Good artwork. UPC code. Replications, not duplications. Freaking shrink wrap. Make it look like you care about how the world sees you. This can ultimately translate into more (and higher paying) gigs.

A CD is Still Good Merch. If you’re gigging, you’re putting yourself in front of new people every day. Some of those people might like what you do. Some of those people might want to GIVE YOU THEIR MONEY. You can opt for the awkward tip jar, or you can provide them with something of value. Sure, most people listen to music from some sort of streaming device or home computer, but you can’t really GIVE them that medium at a show. A CD is something they can take with them, something that you can perhaps sign to make their moment with you more memorable. These are also the people who will come back to see you again, and without these people (or a solid merchandising arm) it’s tough to succeed.

There. Three good reasons to consider keeping a pressing of CDs at your disposal. You may not need THOUSANDS, but having a few hundred around isn’t a bad idea. And here are a few last-minute tips on the manufacturing: 1) Put your face on the cover. 2) Make sure your packaging has a spine. 3) Include your contact info on the insert, the tray card AND the CD itself. 4) Make sure your run includes replications, not duplications. 5) If you don’t have room for lyrics, put them online and direct your fans to your website.

I hope this is helpful, but I want to hear from you if you have other suggestions. Lots of people have lots of good ideas, so let’s put them out there! In the meantime, thank you for your friendship, your interest, and your art.



Owen Sartori is a 35-year veteran in the music industry as a musician, songwriter, and producer. Currently, he is a co-owner of F5 SoundHouse in Minneapolis, MN and helps mentor, produce and write with/for artists wherever he is needed.

For more, visit f5soundhouse.com.