Should bands still make CDs? The short answer is yes, but only if the band has enough of a fan base to support selling those CDs
There’s a very good chance some of you reading this article haven’t listened to music on a CD in quite some time. It’s a seemingly antiquated technology at a time when we can stream pretty much anything online, and they don’t provide that same audiophile experience you get from a vinyl record. So should bands still make CDs? Is there any benefit to doing so?
The short answer is yes, bands should definitely still make CDs. They bring in revenue at shows, they’re great promotional handouts, and there’s definitely still a market for them. But the answer to this question of whether or not bands should still make CDs isn’t exactly cut and dry. The bigger question is if your band is ready to make CDs, and if you have the infrastructure to handle them. So let’s explore this question a bit!
CDs are more popular today than you may realize
The evolution of consumer audio mediums has been somewhat mesmerizing to watch over the past few decades. Back in the day, vinyl records were pretty much the only option. Then came cassette tapes, and then CDs, which dominated the music world for quite some time. But when digital music started becoming mainstream, CD sales plummeted. And for a while, it seemed like those older mediums were dead in the water.
But then something weird happened: vinyl records suddenly became cool again. Practically overnight, bands were putting out their music on vinyl again, and record stores started stirring back to life. And more recently, we’ve seen a number of music acts putting out audio cassettes again, too.
So what about compact discs? CD sales are starting to turn around too, slowly but surely. CD sales saw growth for the first time in two decades in 2021. They tapered a bit in 2022—the pandemic got a lot of the credit for their resurgence—but it does generally seem like CDs are clawing their way back in a similar fashion to records and cassettes.
Billboard attributes the resurgence of CDs to merch table sales, and that makes sense. CDs are way cheaper to produce than vinyl records, which in turn means they’re cheaper for fans to buy. And you’ll have a much easier time finding a CD player on the cheap, too.
Does any of this apply to unsigned acts, though? Should Bands still make CDs?
While Billboard focused on mainstream acts, let’s talk about unsigned and indie acts. Should bands still make CDs when they don’t have a label behind them, or if they’re signed to an indie label? The answer is a resounding yes.
As an unsigned or indie artist, we don’t need to report to you just how expensive it is to be a musician. And we’re sure you understand that making money as a musician isn’t easy, either. So when it comes to selling your music, you need to be efficient. You need your music available on media that’s accessible to a large number of your fans, and for that media to not cost an arm and a leg to produce.
Streaming pays diddly-squat for most artists that aren’t mainstream. Vinyl records are awesome, but making 500 copies of your latest release can set you back thousands of dollars. Audio cassettes are relatively inexpensive to make, but how many people can even listen to them these days? So that leaves you with one option, really: compact discs. And that’s probably why they’ve been a mainstay on merch tables for decades, too. They’re cheap to make and everyone can listen to them. It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that.
We get why bands should still make CDs. But when should bands still make CDs?
CDs can be lucrative merch table items. Some music acts go so far as to say their CD sales fuel their ability to fund their touring. But that doesn’t necessarily mean every band out there should race off to print thousands of copies of CDs. You should really examine the size of your fan base to set realistic expectations of how many CDs you can sell in a reasonable amount of time, and weigh that against production costs.
Printing 200 CDs might cost, say, $3 per disc. Printing 5,000 CDs brings that unit price down a lot—let’s say $1.25. Your profit margin per CD increases with that larger bulk order. But that also means you’re spending more to make the CDs out of pocket, and you now have thousands of CDs to sell at your shows. Does your band have 5,000 fans and potential fans out there who’d pony up $10 for your CD? Figure that out before you ring up the CD printing company.
So should bands still make CDs? Definitely … so long as they can afford to print them and they have enough of a fan base to sell them. But this is definitely something you should sit down with your band over and discuss in depth. You’ll want to make sure you can afford to produce the CDs, and more importantly, that you can sell them all in what the band considers a reasonable amount of time.