Adventures in the Music Business (part 2)

(part 1 is below this… go figure.)

This is a love letter to CD Baby.

They list more than 20,000 independent CDs, they sort them beautifully, they’re priced great, it’s just about the only place to find stuff like this, the customer service is amazing and the site is a textbook case of good design.

But that’s not why I’m writing about them.

If you click here you can see CD Baby from the independent musician’s point of view. You pay $35. Send them five copies of your CD. They warehouse it, build the page, create the digital mp3 samples and you’re good to go. And then they pay you every week when your stuff sells. They never delist anyone (why bother, it’s the web.)

To date, CD Baby has sold about a quarter of a million copies of their disks and paid, on average, about $6 a title back to the artists. This is approximately 6,000 times as much per record as the typical artist makes when they work with a label (until they become the Rolling Stones, but that’s a different story).

CD Baby doesn’t care WHICH independent artists succeed. They’re just betting that independent artists WILL succeed.

So the math is this: 20,000 plus musicians create homemade CDs (or invest the money to do it in a studio with all the talent they can afford). They burn them themselves, or even better, visit the world’s best CD duplicating service and send em off to CD Baby. Then, they promote like crazy, sending their local fans to CD Baby, where, in addition to buying that album, they buy this album and those albums and on and on.

When everyone buys their music online (and if they buy it anywhere, isn’t that where they’ll buy it?) what purpose do traditional record labels serve?

Sure, that’s an overstatement. There will always be hits. We’ll always buy Britney Spears or whoever takes her place. But as the marketplace continues to nichify (is that a word?), as radio stations continue to have less influence, as Morpheus makes it easy to preview whatever you like–we can become our own editors. If the new Martha’s Trouble CD sounds just as good as the well-produced Shawn Colvin album you love, why isn’t this a better process?