The Death of CD (Uccello Project’s take on it)

According to CD Baby: “Over 70% of the music-buying public still prefers to purchase physical CDs, and most music journalists won’t write about your act unless you’ve sent them a professional-grade disc.”

Nowadays there’s sooo much room for innovation. It seems to be that each artist needs to figure out what works best with their audience. There is no ‘new model’ that everyone’s going to embrace, though we all keep trying 🙂 I like Darren Landrum’s ideas about having various ‘bonus materials’. Sounds like a great way to have the best of both worlds. There also seems to be more freedom in the instrumental world, I keep hearing about ‘mini-discs’ that contain one long piece of music on them, those seem like an inexpensive alternative that makes it possible to release each song or ‘piece’ as it’s completed.

My basic feeling is this: Making a really nice physical product is even more important now, in the face of all the alternatives, a CD (or vinyl or cassette) really has to ‘justify’ it’s existence. I know how I am, I download most of my music, and when I do get a real CD, I instantly dismantle it, save the jewel case for my own use (I run my own studio, so I’m always giving people discs of sessions) then I have a big box in my loft where all my liner notes reside, and the CD gets burned into my computer then stored in a binder, I just need to be this way, I have a small house! BUT, there are those certain albums where the art is really well done and the product itself feels like an object of art (there’s actually a Japanese theory that an object can acquire a soul if it is imbued with enough energy from the person that owns, or who has made it) and I don’t have the heart to tear those apart.

As I’m about to complete my new record, I thought about whether I should make a disc at all, or how nice it should be. So this subject is pretty pertinent for me right now. I decided to make this one as nice as I could afford, I’ve been working with my brother, who’s a fantastic artist, and we’re using a high end printshop (Stumptown, in Portland OR) we’re even getting the nicest paper we can, and we’re including a poster with the CD (when folded up the poster will double as an info/contact postcard) all in an attempt to give people a valuable product that will, hopefully, go a little beyond the ‘download experience’. Possibly in vain, we are attempting to create an experience where people will pop in the album, then look at the art as they listen.

As the music unfolds, they would unfold the panels of the packaging and the poster-they are actually designed with this in mind. We’ll see how it turns out, but we feel that it’s worth the effort to try and create something that is a work of art.

Published by Steve Uccello

Full time musician, Contra/Electric bassist and Guitarist/looper

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6 Comments

  1. Physical CDs have some utility for me still because I’ve got a CD player but not an MP3 player in the car. However, even there, I’m not going to be sitting looking at the details of the packaging! An easy-to-read track listing on the back is handy, in case I’m stopped at the lights and want to find out the title of a tune, and that’s about it as far as my CD requirements go.

    Generally speaking, I’d rather buy music online and receive some of the benefits in reduced production and distribution costs in the form of lower prices. It wouldn’t take the cost of many physical CDs to buy a backup device that could store thousands of tracks in a fraction of the space.

    Of course, there is no reason you can’t do both. Team up with a suitable artist and you could use digital distribution for the majority of your sales (perhaps along with PDF artwork and liner notes) and also offer physical cases – maybe even individually handcrafted – for those who want to buy a soulful object along with some soulful music.

  2. Do we even need a physical carrier for the music anymore? Why not just have a book(let), without a CD, that complements the music, available for (more of) a premium for the dedicated fan and collector? That way you can distribute your music electronic for cheap/free, and have something to sell to your fan base.

    1. I thought of another case for having CDs available that aren’t expensive, hand-engraved objets d’art: gifts. A CD is a convenient format for giving (and receiving music). In recent years I’ve bought more CDs to give away than I’ve bought for myself and probably received more music that way than I’ve bought for myself in CD form too.

      1. Totally man. Though I believe in making a CD well, if you’re going to make a physical product, I do not believe in jacking up the price, for my upcoming album, it will still be $15, may be even $10 for special occasions. It’s funny I recently had the chance to record on a record for Blue Coast Records, who make SA Cd’s (superior audio cds) and are doing this innovative acoustic method of recording called ESE (extended sound environment) it great, wonderful sound, but they’re charging like $40 per disc, I thought, ‘man that’s a lot to ask, even if it is a better product’ but then I saw how there is a niche for it, there’s all these blogs going all over the world about how amazing the discs are, I was amazed. Seems like certain styles of music have a different outlooks, a lot of ambient nerds seem to value nice packaging, Another point that’s interesting is how after vinyl went out and cd’s came in, a lot of people just seemed to not even try to make cd’s as nice, thinking cd’s were an ‘inferior’ format (which they kind of are) but why not at least try to make cd’s aesthetically pleasing? Music is such a hard field to survive in we need any edge we can get.

  3. It struck me this morning that nobody has picked up on the source of the original quote. CD Baby provide an excellent service but aren’t unbiased commentators on the continuing values of CDs!

    I was reading through my “blogfodder” folder and came across an article from a couple of years ago which pointed out the environmental benefits of the move to digital distribution although (as I finally got round to blogging about this morning) that isn’t entirely a home-run for the well-being of the environment.

  4. I don’t think CD Baby generated that quote, I’m pretty sure that’s just the standing stat, that’s out there. Also, CD Baby provides digital distribution as well as selling the physical product. For $20 more, they will digitize your record and send it to Itunes, Amazon, Napster, and like 20 more digital distribution sites. (I’m not trying to be a walking, or typing, add for CD Baby, just saying…) so I’d say they are not afraid of digital distribution, they seem pretty prepared for all the different ways to sell music. It’s funny ’cause, as I mentioned above, I’m actually someone who downloads most of the music I listen to, and disregards the packaging after the first look. Really my point is just this: if you actually want people to buy your physical CD as opposed to buying your stuff as downloads, then make it something worth buying-I’m not saying you need a booklet the size of an issue of National Geographic, or print with the rarest inks on the planet, just somehow the art/packaging should be on par with the quality of the music. Just a side note, as far as the ‘end’ of CD’s, seems like artists who tour will always want to have CD’s to sell to their audience after their show, it’s just not as profitable to tell your audience, “go to my website and it’s less than five clicks….” Usually if people like a show, they’ll pick up a CD, but if they get a chance to ‘cool down’ you’re going to lose out. Oh, and I like your point about the environmental side of the issue, CD’s are actually a pretty toxic product to make (on my first CD I used a company that uses recycled papers and soy inks, then I found out soy inks aren’t necessarily less toxic than others) but, you’re so right, people buy a TON of music they’ll NEVER listen to, I do LOVE that insane capacity that digital allows, but it has definitely spoiled the consuming public, people have these insanely huge collections of music that it’s literally impossible to listen to. It’s basically consumerism when the actual process of buying something is the thing that makes people happy, rather than the enjoyment of the actual product/music itself. But I do love the idea of less trash and toxic chemicals in the world. But it basically comes down to the individual artist, if you tour a lot and sell CD’s personally to your audience, you obviously need one. May be you have a huge audience online, your sales are great as downloads, then you don’t need a physical CD-it all seems good to me, as long as folks are hearing you music, and you are able to survive and continue to create music. One last side note, I know this is bad (I guess) but I know some folks that buy a physical CD for $15, or whatever, then they listen, look at packaging, decide if they want to keep it by actually seeing/feeling the product, then burn the music to their computer and sell the CD on Ebay for $10. They end up basically with a ‘digital download’ and if they deem the CD worth keeping, they’ll hold on to it, I know this is a BIG no no, but a lot of folks seem to feel that it’s almost like buying air when you only buy digitally, like I said, I don’t feel this way, but it’s just interesting to hear what little ‘systems’ music lovers come up with these days-

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