The following post is from my good buddy Kathleen Ryan. We go waaaaaay back, (as you can see from the yellowed newspaper clipping dated 1992) and we often discuss new technologies for musicians and songwriters. Kathleen has a new CD out and is looking to make her CD reproduction life more enjoyable. She brought Audiolife to the table and I brought Bandcamp. She is probably one of the best researchers I know and this post gives you a glimpse into her thought processes as she explores both. Take it away Kathleen…
Bandcamp‘s unique advantage is the astonishing flexibility it offers in the file formats that your fans can download, what they call a “cornucopia of formats”. You upload a high quality audio file (.wav, .aiff, or .flac) for each song in your repertory, and then your fans can download: mp3, mp4, Ogg, flac, anything, including many I’ve never personally heard of before. Any audio file format any of your fans might be into, well, they can purchase that, no biggie.
Bandcamp also offers what amounts to a personal website for your download & CD sales, with enough customization tools to make it integrate easily into your main (band) website. This means buyers who come looking for your music find… you! selling your music! It doesn’t look or feel like going to a third party seller, it looks and feels like buying from the artist.
Bandcamp allows physical CD sales, but you the artist have to maintain inventory and also do the fulfillment of the order. This may or may not be a happy situation for some artists!
Audiolife‘s unique advantage, in my opinion, is that artists can sell physical CDs without needing to maintain inventory. As long as you are satisfied with their CD packaging option, which is the familiar jewel case with a 4-panel insert and a tray card, then you simply specify that you want physical CDs and upload your artwork at the same time you upload your audio files. It’s basically print-on-demand for music. While the price to Audiolife for a single CD is $5.49 when ordered by a fan (so your profit is whatever you have charged above $5.49), you can order larger numbers of CDs from them at a discount for selling at gigs.
At Whisperings (solo piano streaming radio) we have an ongoing discussion about the viability of CDs: while many of our fans still like to purchase CDs, more and more it seems that CDs are going the way of the dinosaurs. Putting in a run of 1000 CDs (the lowest number to get a decent cost per CD) for a new release seems excessive, especially for artists who make most of their income from downloads. Then there’s keeping that inventory around until it is sold. Audiolife’s print-on-demand CDs offer us a way to keep selling CDs to those people who still want them, without having to invest a lot of money upfront.
Audiolife also allows musicians to sell downloads, although only in mp3 format. Audiolife’s store model is essentially a widget that integrates into your artist website as well as your Facebook-MySpace-everywhere else pages. This creates one purchasing experience across all platforms, again allowing your fans to buy directly from you. Audiolife also offers the opportunity to sell related merchandise such as t-shirts with your custom art, which is always a good thing for bands!
Neither Bandcamp nor Audiolife is a digital distributor, so to get your music on iTunes et al you’ll still need to sign up with either CDBaby or Tunecore. And of course both CDBaby and Tunecore are well-established sites where music fans are used to looking for and finding great music, so you may want to be on them regardless.
Other good news: neither Bandcamp nor Audiolife requires any money up front. They take their cut from your sales, and not before, which is very artist-friendly.
I’m sure other musicians will notice other excellent features for both Audiolife and Bandcamp, but these are the things that stand out for me right now. I’m intrigued enough by Audiolife’s print-on-demand feature that I’m planning to upload the artwork and music for a CD I’ve already released just so that I can purchase one CD and check out its quality. I’ll keep you posted when I do that. I may very well do my next release through Audiolife and maintain only a small inventory to sell at performances. (On the downside, my lastest release used an eco-packaging instead of the jewel case, and I’m a bit conflicted about returning to jewel case packaging, which is so wasteful. Maybe I can talk Audiolife into offering some more options!) I like the idea of the full website that Bandcamp offers, but the 10 gazillion download formats don’t at this time matter to me so much, while keeping no inventory really does appeal to me.
So Audiolife seems like the right fit for my situation. Your mileage may vary!