If you followed me from my Blogger page, then you might be aware that I collect vinyl records and other various pieces of music swag. These days, I buy two copies of albums by certain indie artists; one to play, one to keep sealed that will hopefully go up in value. It is amazing how things go up in value in such a short amount of time these days. For instance, first pressing copies of MF DOOM‘s Operation: Doomsday (released January 1999 by Fondle’Em) has sold on eBay upwards of $100 starting back in 2003-2004.
There are hundreds of examples of this taking place, but I mention it to address one thing an artist should consider when having merchandise made for a certain project. We all know that making music can be costly and many of us just do not have the disposable income to have it made on a grand scale, especially when it is possible that the end result will wind up in your basement collecting dust if the stuff does not sell.
Depending on the situation, you may not attract the attention of enough people to sell off your quantity of CDs, t-shirts and/or other nifty knick-knacks in a short period of time, which is what we all want. I mean, who wants to sit around hocking the same old product for months on end? Of course, that does not mean you should not continue to sell the stuff over a longer period of time. While it may be attractive to skimp on the quality of the merch to protect your bottom line, I suggest you not do that if you are serious about your work. If anything, buy less quantity and bolster the quality of what you plan to sell.
Take it from your target consumer. As someone who gives his time and money supporting artists, I cannot tell you how much I hate buying a $15 CD-R from an artist. In fact, I refuse to do it anymore. Sure, the value of a thing is relative, but we all know CD-Rs are cheap to attain and they have a shorter shelf life than an actual professional CD. I know firsthand as I have a few CD-R albums that I bought in the early part of the 21st century that do not work now and have little in the way of scratches; they were just worn out play-wise. It just does not make sense to make someone pay for something like that. If you value your (potential) fans, then you should try to provide them with the best product you can muster. If that means you only press 100 pieces of vinyl that you have to spend $1000 to make, then so be it – sell it for $20+ and regain your investment.
As things in the world of music become more personal and intimate, it behooves you to care about your patrons. Look at it like market research, customer service and all the other things you expect a business to actively work on to give you the best product possible. Believe me, people do not mind supporting those that they like. There is a reason that iTunes has a profitable store option when they are so many ways to get the same music for free.
It is understood that you want to find a way to make money somehow and you may have little funds to make it happen. Well, here is me hoping that you take the following suggestions to heart when you get ready to prepare material for your next release:
- If you cannot afford to buy items at a premium, get creative with the product you will provide. At the least, personalize a CD-R to give it some sort of collectability when it becomes a non-playable object.
- If you feel bad about charging a little more to cover your bottom line, then give away something for free. In the case of music, be willing to give up a copy of your album at a low bitrate and sell the higher bitrate version for a premium price. Your poor fans will appreciate it and pay you back later.
- Consider focusing more on the swag than the CDs as CDs are becoming less popular. That is not to say do not press CDs and vinyl, but do them in low quantity to increase the limited edition/coolness factor. Plus someone wearing your t-shirt or carrying your beer coozies is going to do more for you than a CD sale will long-term.
Now this is not groundbreaking advice. In fact, Trent Reznor touched on this in his thoughts on what to do as an unknown/new artist. I am just trying to drive home the point. In the brave new world of the music industry, relationships are a premium these days. You would be wise to recognize that and behave accordingly. Do not cheap out on your (potential) fans. If you cannot invest the time and energy to create the best product you can muster, then you probably are not cut out to make a career as an artist.
And you should note the image above of a recent eBay auction of the aforementioned MF DOOM album. How cool would it be to see your projects being resold for a higher value well after the time you sold it originally? That is a true sign of validation, don’t you think so?