Music Merchandising

Apparel Sales Strategy that Works

You Don’t Have To Be A Major Artist To Sell Shirts Anymore

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Check out how technology is changing the way you buy merch.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could buy shirts and other merch as you sell them to your fans? A fan buys a shirt from you, you replace your stock one shirt at a time, or order the shirt and have it sent directly to the fan from the printer. Bing, bang, boom. No set up costs. No major overhead. Yep. That would be nice. And, of course, you still want to make a little coin (profit) when buying and selling a single shirt. Sound impossible?

Such a fairy tale would really come in handy when you’re scraping every penny to save up to record your album or buy new equipment. Right? Well, maybe it isn’t such a fairy tale. Hmm.

While you are industriously grinding it out on the road (proverbial or otherwise), pouring your heart and sweat into each show, the road doesn’t always love you back. Even if you’re not sleeping in your car, securing and playing gigs can be exhausting, with minimal payout. And let’s face it, while writing and playing may be your passion, it would be great to be making a steady income from your music sooner rather than later.

So the question at hand is this: How does the independent artist/band bring home significant bacon from their fan base? Assuming you have an ever-expanding fan base (which is another article altogether), there are approaches to your small business that will help increase your profits.

Holy sell-out, Batman! Did I just call you a small business proprietor? Yes. Yes, I did. But before you gag on such words as “business” and “profits,” let me reassure you. Any band or artist who hopes to survive and keep making music is, in fact, in the music business – unless, of course, you are a secret billionaire or are supported by your parents. If you want your music to support your lifestyle, or at the very least provide for your transportation fund, it’s a good idea to pay attention to good business practices in order to grow your – erm – band’s effectiveness.

The thing is, too many artists miss a serious money making opportunity in their merchandise department. Not so much at the merch table, but in how you buy your printed merch. “Of what doth thou speak?” you may be asking. Well, let’s talk about that.

It goes way back to the screen-printing approach. **Now, screen-printing has been a great solution for a long time, lest you think I’m hating. But technology has advanced, and it has advanced in your favor. Celebrate! And keep reading…**

Back to the screen-printing approach… In the past when you ordered T-shirts or hoodies the only viable option was screen-printing, as you may have guessed. Screen-printers had to create a screen for every color in your design and mix custom ink to print your specific colors. To make it worth everybody’s time and money, it behooved you, the client, to purchase screen-printed shirts in bulk to justify the cost of the screen and set-up costs. Also, due to the screen-printing process, single color shirts are more cost effective. Ergo, the idea of paying for a multi-colored design on top of set-up fees left many a screen-printing customer feeling uneasy, if not nauseous. Since most people can get on board with a black or gray shirt, many artists choose white ink on a gray shirt. Does any of this resonate with your experience?

As you may have already observed, there’s a problem. Buying 100 shirts before you know you have 100 buyers can be a major waste of your money. It even gets more complicated. For one, once you run out of a certain size, tough stuff. You cannot purchase a few shirts to replace those hot selling sizes without paying a huge setup charge (unless you buy another bulk order of 100 pcs). And, if the original bulk order includes a bunch of sizes that don’t sell? Well, you eat those shirts. Arghh!!

Now, here’s another issue you may not have considered. What if fans at your gig would have purchased your shirt, if had it come in a different color or style? In the past you’d have to say to those fans, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit, picky fans.” The bottom line is that your previous lack of options has hurt your bottom line (couldn’t resist).

Now, however, there’s a convenient and cost-effective answer to these issues. Enter Direct to Garment (DTG) printing. DTG printing allows you to order as few as one shirt at a time from your new, technologically enlightened printer. One shirt.

So if fan ‘A’ wants a medium shirt, you order a medium and sell her that medium. Bam! What’s that? Fan ‘B’ wants your band design on a green tank top? Well order up one green tank top in their size and sell that bad boy. Because there’s no screen, no ink mixing, and no set up charge, the cost for one or ten shirts is totally reasonable. You can sell your tees for $20-$25 and still take home $12 to $16, depending on the style and brand of shirt you want. That’s not to say you can’t order a bunch, a peck or a bushel, even. If you want 100 or 1,000+, you can get those quantities too. And, what took weeks to screen print only takes a few days with DTG.

What about the quality? Good question. Commercial DTG technology has actually come a long way. If your shirt is printed on commercial equipment (like Kornit), it will last longer than screen-printing. And you don’t have to dumb down your design to one or two colors. You want a peacock holding multi-color sparklers against the back drop of an American flag? Get crazy! DTG printing allows you to get a full-color design, all with great detail and color quality – even on various kinds of materials. To date, there are really no downsides, though I’ll keep you updated as more info comes out.

So, where can you find this fantastic-ness? Well, the market is growing, but 1Place Music Distribution (1Placemusicdistribution.com) is one such manufacturer and distributor who offers this service specifically to independent artists and bands. The nice thing about 1Place is that you can get all of your merch there – hats, hoodies, posters, bumper stickers, T-shirts, – and they will distribute it to your fans or sell to you directly for your merch table. They’ll also distribute your physical CD and digital content. Win-win-win!

You might also have a look at Nationwide Disc. They offer free custom printed T-shirts with a minimum purchase. For example, if you purchase $299 in qualifying merch, Nationwide Disc will purchase 5 T-shirts with your custom print on them for you. The shirts can be light or dark with full color printing. All you do is pay shipping. If you sell the shirts for $20 – $25 each that’s like getting a $100+ discount on your merch order. Check it out at nationwidedisc.com




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Amazon or CD Baby, Which is Better for CD Sales?

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 20 minutes

Review of Amazon Advantage and CD Baby for Musicians

It’s true. Amazon is one of the largest online retailers in the world, with an ambitious goal to eventually sell everything that can be bought. So what does that mean for you, the independent musician? Does it make sense for you to sell your CDs on Amazon? How does CD Baby match up? Well, let’s take a look.

First we should point out that CD Baby clients can already sell their music on Amazon since CD Baby distributes through Amazon. But, you may want to list your CD with Amazon directly without a middleman. Amazon Advantage offers you the ability to sell physical CDs directly. We will explain why this is important.

Overview of Amazon

Amazon boasted 244 million users as of January 2016, of which approximately 54 million are prime members. (Prime members get free 2 day shipping on most items). Amazon has processed up to five hundred orders per second, and sales volume is about $290 million per day. Most of the sales volume has to do with a wide variety of physical and digital products, music being one of them.

Sales growth in the last 5 years has tripled with no end in sight. In terms of your music’s availability and exposure, this could be a big opportunity for you. Amazon features various ways for musicians to sell music – and we do mean various. In this review we are going to focus on Amazon Advantage – the service that Amazon offers directly to musicians and other creative types for the sale of their physical products like CDs and DVDs. The unique part of the Amazon offer is you do not have to submit your music through a third party to get listed on Amazon. In fact Amazon has a simple user friendly application process that you can complete on-line. Check out the link at the end of this article.

Amazon also offers digital download, but the real opportunity to generate meaningful income for independent musicians is selling full albums. Digital download platforms skew very heavily towards the purchase of singles, not albums. In effect, fans might like your music well enough to purchase it but when they are offered the opportunity to purchase one song rather than an album they most often choose to purchase one song. An artist makes 8-10 times as much money on the sale of an album rather than a single, and your fans get exposure to more of your music. In other words, album sales result in better marketing and better income.

Overview of CD Baby

CD Baby is focused on musicians without all of the other non-artist related products. This allows CD Baby to concentrate all of their efforts in this one arena and the result is a variety of tools specifically designed for artists such as digital distribution of your music through iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube. If you are primarily interested in digital distribution then CD Baby is a good choice. They also do an acceptable job of selling CDs when musicians refer fans to their personal CD Baby page directly. They are one of a few companies that offer both digital and CD distribution along with competitive up front pricing and a relatively low 9% participation fee to sell your digital download products. Please be aware that the 9% fee is in addition to the fees charged by the partner reseller.

CD Baby does a good job with traffic on their site probably due to the 300,000+ albums that they have signed up. More albums means more traffic, but it is unlikely that the average music fan will visit the website searching for music by artists unless they are searching for an artist they already know. If you are uncertain about this point, ask the next 10 people you meet how they buy music. I suspect you will not hear anyone say CD Baby.

By the way, CD Baby could become a site where fans search for music, but the search and recommendation functions need to improve. Fans choosing an artist on their site do not get recommendations to view similarly styled artists offering music for sale. Instead CD Baby displays artists from the same geographic area as the artist fans are choosing. For example, if a fan is on the Shaun Murphy page they can click on a link for “More Artists from Tennessee”. Not a very effective recommendation tool for most fans.

Getting Started

Amazon Advantage is a consignment service that benefits self-published artists. In some ways it is similar to CD Baby’s retail store.

To use Amazon Advantage you must first have a physical product (i.e. CD or DVD) to sell, among other things, and your product is required to have a barcode – ISBN, UPC, or EAN. Amazon also requires that you have Internet access and an email address, which shouldn’t be a problem – unless of course you’re reading this article on a printed hard copy your great-grandson gave you and you don’t have an email address.

Amazon has an approval process for new accounts (not everyone gets approved). But if your content is good and you meet minimum guidelines you should have no trouble getting approved. Once you’ve created an Advantage account, paid your $99 annual membership fee, and established that you have the rights to sell the music on your album, Amazon will “order” from you. The $99 fee is charged once per year for an unlimited number of submissions, so you can submit as few as one song or 100 albums, either way the total fee is just $99.

This is significantly different from other services that charge you a fee based on the number of songs or albums you submit. If you intend to submit a single song or just one album the $99 charge is quite high, but if you have at least two albums for sale the expense is per album is much better. In the end it’s all about sales volume. The only way to make money on music is to sell it, without exposure and sales the upfront fees will always be too expensive, regardless of which platform you choose to distribute your music.

CD Baby also has an approval process for new accounts but virtually everyone gets approved. CD Baby makes a distinction between submission of albums and individual songs. CD Baby charges $9.95 per single or $49 per album as a one time up front charge per submission, you do not have to pay annually. This is great if you intend to submit one album or song, but multiple submissions in a year can become quite expensive. CD Baby does offer a discount structure if you are going to submit several different selections.

The difference in the way both companies charge for their service can be summed up like this:

CD Baby charges every time you submit a new CD, but you do not have to pay additional subscriptions fees on that CD every year. Each submission has a onetime charge only. (Does not apply to fees charged when a CD is sold – additional charges are imposed when CDs are sold)

Amazon Advantage charges a subscription fee of $99 every year you participate in the program, but you do not have to pay for submitting additional CDs. Whether you list 1 CD or 100 CDs, the price is still $99. (Does not apply to fees charged when a CD is sold – additional charges are imposed when CDs are sold)

Both Amazon and CD Baby will request CDs to keep in their inventory and sell/distribute them as fans order CDs. Both will reorder from you weekly, depending on sales volume, assuming fans are ordering your music and the inventory of CDs is becoming depleted.

What Happens Next

Once Amazon receives your CDs, fans can search for your music on Amazon and the CD will show up, just like the toilet paper and running shoes they search for now. When fans purchase your CD, Amazon ships the CD and records the sale on your account. Every month your sales are totaled and Amazon pays you for your portion of the sale. In other words, you can expect to get paid on a monthly basis.

CD Baby works much the same way, but they pay weekly in most cases. Your music is searchable on the CD Baby site just like Amazon.

Setting the Price for Your Music

On Amazon, you set the retail price for your CD, and Amazon charges you 55% of that amount as a fee for selling your CD, so keep this in mind when creating the list price. If your retail price is too high your CD will not sell, and Amazon does reserve the right to sell your CD at the price of their choosing, but don’t worry, your profit remains the same. For example, if the retail price for your CD is $12 and it sells for $12 your income is $5.40. If Amazon chooses to lower the retail price to $10 in an effort to stimulate sales, you still receive $5.40. Ultimately if Amazon cannot sell your CDs at a price that allows them to make a reasonable margin they will return them to you and remove them from the site.

CD Baby charges a flat fee of $4 to sell your physical CD on the CD Baby site. This approach is different than Amazon since it is a flat fee and not tied to the sales price. CD Baby will not change the retail price you set for your CD. If you were to sell your CD for $12 on CD Baby you would take home $8, which is better than Amazon at first glance.

On CD Baby, since your fans will also have to pay for shipping, your overall share of the income can be much less than it is on Amazon. And your fans will not be as happy because they have to pay for shipping. Shipping can easily cost more than the CD itself, so this is no small consideration. One way your fan can avoid the shipping fee from CD Baby is by purchasing 3 CDs on one order. But fans may become frustrated with the free shipping offer if they cannot find 3 CDs they want to buy and abandon the purchase all together.

You can also choose to have CD Baby sell your CD through Amazon or one of their other distributors, but the numbers do not look as good for you when this happens, more on that later.

Returns of Unsold Product. Nobody Wants Them

If Amazon cannot sell some of your music they will return the title that is not moving to you at your expense (shipping and handling). If you have 8 titles that are selling well and one that is not selling at all, Amazon will still keep the 8 titles in stock and continue to sell them.

CD Baby does not generally return merchandise that does not sell because you paid CD Baby an up front fee of $49 for every CD you sent to them as an incentive to list your CD for sale (and provide other digital services). If CD Baby returned your CD for lack of sales they would also have to refund the $49 you paid them to sell that specific CD, which of course would impact their profitability. It’s the difference between offering to sell an unlimited number of items for a single higher fee (Amazon) or charging a fee every time an item submitted (CD Baby). Of course CD Baby is also listing your music on partner resellers, which is part of what you paid them for, so returning your money would mean that these services would also stop. This will not happen with CD Baby.

Marketing Your Music, Who does a Better Job?

Through the Advantage program, Amazon does a good job of marketing on your behalf. That means they will recommend your music to possible listeners – i.e. “People who bought this product also like …” and “frequently bought together…” While this by itself is not unique, (other vendors also offer to help market your music), Amazon is the only provider which sells physical CDs that has the attention of 244 million customers. No one else comes close. This is a significant advantage for artists who list with Amazon.

CD Baby also helps to market your CD on their site, but differently than Amazon. For example, CD Baby will allow a fan to select other musicians that live in the same area as the artist being viewed. A fan can also choose from a selection of sub genre’s by clicking on a link, but your CD will not be suggested to a fan even if your music is similarly styled to an artist the fan has already added to their shopping cart. The best way to find your music on CD Baby is to type in your name. The biggest Pro for CD Baby is all of the additional digital services and tools they offer to musicians, which you can still take advantage of without listing your CD for sale on their site. Trying to compare their marketing reach to Amazon’s is almost unfair.

Both Amazon and CD Baby will stock your CDs in their warehouse. This is nice because order processing and distribution can take a lot of time and effort. Amazon and CD Baby also deal with things like sales taxes. Again, these services can save you the headache of keeping up with taxes and shipping, especially if you don’t have an account with major shipping company.

Shipping is FREE with Amazon

Amazon Prime members get their purchases shipped for free. This is huge because Amazon has 54 million Prime members. Check out the math. If a fan purchases a CD from your account on CD Baby, they will be charged from $3.69 to $11.00 for shipping ($3.69 for ground, $11 for 2 day shipping). All Amazon Prime members get 2 day shipping for free as part of their Prime subscription. While no portion of the shipping charges are billed to you the artist, on CD Baby your fan will have to pay for all of the shipping charges. In effect, this increases the cost to purchase your CD and may deter fans from completing the sale. CD Baby does offer fans free ground shipping (it costs $0.01) if they order 3 CDs at a time.

What’s Your Take?

The nicest thing about the Advantage program is that Amazon only charges you 55% to handle the sale, which includes credit card charges, sales taxes, and the cost to ship and package the CD. That may sound steep, but when you consider that other companies offering a similar service to musicians charge about the same or more, but offer much less, this turns out to be a good deal. CD Baby charges $4.00 plus shipping and handling. (your fans pays for the shipping and handling)

As a point of comparison, iTunes typically charges artists 40% (including distributor fees) just for a digital download, and iTunes tends to sell more singles than it does albums, so you end up with just $0.60 for each single sold. Not much money, but arguably better than streaming services like YouTube, Spotify, and Pandora which pay almost nothing.

What, You Don’t Want It?

Amazon and CD Baby both handle returns, which would never happen to you. Who would return your music? But, if some rando didn’t like what they got, Amazon will eat the cost of the returned product and the return shipping. In other words your account will not be charged for the lost sale or the shipping. Amazon will resell the CD to your next fan and of course you will not get credit for that sale since it is then coming out of the Amazon inventory, not yours.

CD Baby will charge your account for returned product and require the fan pay for shipping to return the item. CD Baby then returns the CD to your available inventory for sale.

Other Things to Consider

Every program has a weakness. For example, if you deal solely with digital files, Amazon Advantage is not for you. And, if you want to sell both hard copy CDs and digital files you have to deal with two different programs. But selling the right product through the correct distributor can make a big difference in your take home pay.

Up front fees can be a problem. What if no one buys your stuff? You’re out $99 bucks with Amazon and $49 with CD Baby (for a full CD). But who are we kidding, that’s not you. Of course your stuff will sell….

Fees for sales through retail partners can also add up. Make sure you know what the real story is when agreeing to sell your product, you might be surprised by how little you make.

The fine print. Differences in Amazon and CD Baby. Important things you should know.

Range of Artists Represented

Amazon features a large number of headliner artists. For example, if you were to look at the top 10 selling artists on Billboard, Amazon usually has all 10 on their site ready for purchase. Amazon also features independent musicians.

CD Baby is a little different. Of the top ten, CD Baby would most likely will not have any of them. Most headliner artists are looking for a bigger platform to sell their music and Amazon fits the bill. This is one of the reasons that Amazon sells more music. (little known fact – Amazon is the second largest seller of MP3 downloads next to iTunes, and Amazon is still growing in this area – iTunes is not).

The significance of this difference is simple but important, fans searching for songs they have heard on the radio do not go to places like CD Baby, but they do go to Amazon. It is hard to be ‘discovered’ by a fan that might be interested in your music if that fan never visits the site where your music is offered.

As an artist you get more exposure from a site that has more music traffic with good marketing and search features.

Fees for Sales of Physical Products

You can choose to deal with Amazon Advantage directly, or you can pay someone else to deal with Amazon on your behalf, but be wary, the costs go way up unless you go direct.

CD Baby will sign your CDs up to sell on partner distributors like Super D, Amazon, and Alliance. All of these partners have their own fee structures so when a partner sells your CD the partner takes out their fees first (in the case of Amazon the fee is 55%*) and then CD Baby also charges a fee of $4 per sale on top of the partner fees.

If you choose to go direct with Amazon Advantage the charge is 55% of the sale as a fee. No additional charges, but you must sign up with Amazon directly, not through another distributor.

Example: Lets suppose you sell a physical CD for $10.00. The first column represents the retail price of the CD and income made by the artist if sold by Amazon thru CD Baby. The second column represents the retail price of the CD and income to the artist if sold by Amazon Advantage directly. The third column represents a sale made on the CD Baby site.

Amazon CD Baby Pay

The purchase of your CD through CD Baby/Amazon costs your fan $21 and the artist gets 50 cents (not good). The sale of your CD through Amazon Advantage without CD Baby costs your fan $10 and you get $4.50. The sale of your CD through CD Baby without Amazon costs your fan $21 and you get $6.00 (assuming 2 day shipping in all cases) The chart shows that the musician makes the most money going through CD Baby if the CD will be sold on the CD Baby site, but it also shows that the fan has to pay an additional $11 in shipping so that the artist can make $1.50.

These numbers change depending on the shipping option chosen by the fan, but we chose 2 day shipping because Amazon offers it for free and fans always want your music quickly. In fact, the speed of delivery might make a big difference in whether the fan makes a purchase or not. There is a pretty remarkable difference in pricing for both the fan and the artist depending on distributor used, so pick wisely.

Amazon has two options for free shipping to customers. As we mentioned before, 54 million Amazon customers are Prime customers, so they get free 2 day shipping. CD Baby charges between $3.69 and $19.14 for shipping depending on where the CD is going and how fast the customer wants their CD. 2 day shipping on my test order was $10.99.

This is significant because CD Baby customers who purchase your CD for say $10 would also have to pay an additional 37% to 120% to have it shipped to them. Amazon customers can make the same purchase for $10 and still have it delivered in 2 days for free.

Another thing to consider is returned merchandise shipping. Amazon prime is free if the product did not meet the customer’s expectations, CD Baby, on the other hand, requires the customer to pay return shipping.

Conclusion

Exposure is everything. Amazon exposes your CD to more fans than anyone else, and if your fan is already on Amazon, you’re making it easy for them to find your music. You could combine the sales exposure of the top 10 independent digital music stores and they would not add up to the exposure you achieve on Amazon Advantage. Plus, Amazon will look at your fans previous purchase’s and recommend music to their taste. And, with Amazon credits they can get your music on the cheap without you taking the hit.

In addition, Amazon is the best experience for your fans, free shipping is hard to compete with – and why not offer it to them? Free returns can also motivate fans to “give your music a try” because returns are painless. Sell through will improve considerably for these two reasons alone.

CD Baby is a great option if you want the other services they offer like distribution through partner resellers and sales widgets for your website. You could choose CD Baby for all of these services, but still use Amazon Advantage to sell your CD. Or you might decide that digital distribution is not all it’s crackup up to be and choose another route, like selling downloads yourself on your own website.

The questions you have to answer for yourself are:

> Which site benefits your fans the most?

> Which site is better at marketing your music?

> Which site has more exposure for your music?

> How many albums will you be listing?

> How are returns handled when a fan chooses not to keep your CD?

> What fees are you charged for each sale (including partners)?

> Have we mentioned FREE shipping?

* We tried to get a definitive answer from CD Baby about the charges on a CD sold by Amazon through CD Baby. We were told that Amazon charges what they charge and CD Baby then charges an additional $4 for every CD sold. CD Baby would not confirm the actual charges by Amazon. In our example we use 55% because this is what Amazon says it charges for the sale of a CD. It would be helpful if CD Baby were a little more transparent about these details. Some numbers are rounded for simplicity.

Link to Amazon Advantage for Musicians:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/seller-account/mm-product-page.html?topic=200329710

Link to CD Baby for Musicians:

http://members.cdbaby.com/?_ga=1.70752854.771028006.1462566939




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Ordering Vinyl: 6 Things You NEED to Know

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Vinyl sales are up, and more and more of your fans want those really awesome LPs to add to their collection. But before you can get them in the hands of your fans, you have to order them.

Ordering vinyl records can be a little complicated. We want to take some of the mystery out of the ordering process, so we’ve outlined the six things you have to keep in mind when placing your vinyl order.

1) Who’s your audience?

The first question to ask when you’re thinking about ordering any merch item is “Who will be buying this?” Take a look at your core audience and find out what they want. You could even send out a poll in your next e-newsletter (you do have an email newsletter, right?) asking if fans want vinyl, and if they do, would they prefer a turquoise record, or extended liner notes?

Doing some initial market research and reaching out to your listeners before you purchase vinyl will help to ensure better sales down the line, and will set the stage for fan engagement when you do release the record.

2) Get Your Music Mastered For Vinyl

This is the MOST IMPORTANT step in the vinyl manufacturing process.

Normal mastering for CDs and online distribution is completely different than mastering for vinyl. Vinyl is a truly analog medium, and the mastering techniques that make your music sound radio-ready will have the opposite effect on a record. Normal digital mastering  can make your music sound washed out on vinyl, and can even cause skips and other playback problems.

It is VITAL to have your music mastered by an engineer who is experienced in vinyl mastering. Be sure you figure the costs of mastering into your purchasing budget for vinyl.

3) Time Limitations in Vinyl

A CD can play about 74 minutes of music. A digital release will play for as long as you want it to. But vinyl is different. Each side of a vinyl record has a strict amount of playing time that can’t be exceeded.

Vinyl Times

The reason for these strict time limits–besides the actual physical space allowed by the record– is that closer to the center of the album high frequencies become distorted, and volume level decreases.

4) Keep Vinyl in Mind When Creating Your Track Listing

The closer you get to the center hole of the record, the quieter the volume becomes. If you know in the beginning stages of the album release process that you will be releasing on vinyl, try to order the tracks on your album with the limitations of vinyl in mind.

Ballads or other soft tracks will sound better towards the inside of the record, and loud, boisterous tracks are better suited to the record’s outer edge. Try to arrange for your soft songs to be in the middle and at the end of your album so they will be cut towards the center of the LP. If this isn’t possible, you will want to have less than the maximum allotted time, so there are less discrepancies in volume and EQ.

5) Have Great Artwork

When your album is only released digitally, sometimes album artwork can be an afterthought. Fans don’t really see the artwork, and if they do, it’s usually on a tiny screen. But with vinyl, your album artwork is on full display. It’ important to invest in making your album artwork fantastic.

Spend some time making sure your art is in the correct format for printing, that the art is high quality, and has proper bleed. You also need to make sure that your album artwork is representative of your music and brand.

6) Keep Turn Times in Mind

Digital distribution can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 weeks. CD manufacturing usually takes between 3 and 15 days. Vinyl manufacturing takes a solid 4 months (16 weeks). If you want to release digitally and on vinyl at the same time, you will need to do some serious planning in advance to make sure you can get your vinyl before your release date. If you need vinyl sooner, Nationwide Disc has created a way for you to get vinyl in as little as 30 days. Click Here for more information.

Have any other tips for ordering vinyl that you think other musicians should know about? Let us know in the comments below!


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Why Vinyl Works: An Intro for Indie Musicians

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

First, you hear the low hum of the machine. Then a pop and a hiss, followed by the first lilting notes of a song .

You could have popped your headphones in and listened from your first gen iPod. You could have pulled a CD out, or even hooked up your phone to your car via Bluetooth and listened to your music that way.

But you, like an ever-growing number of people, have chosen to purchase the album on vinyl.

Whether you are an avid collector of vinyl records, or if you’re a bit puzzled by the trend, it’s impossible to deny, vinyl is making a comeback in a big way.

Every year since 2008, vinyl sales have been increasing. In 2014, vinyl sales were up 52%, while regular album sales were down 9.2% from the previous year (Billboard Magazine).

Right now, vinyl is one of the best selling music products. The phenomenon is crossing genres, and affects independent musicians and major labels alike.

So what do independent musicians need to know about vinyl, and how can YOU use vinyl to help create super fans and make money? Lets look at two of the major factors in play for indie musicians.

Let’s Talk About Fans

Vinyl has grown leaps and bounds in recent years, but it’s still not quite broken into the mainstream. Right now it’s still a niche market, though that niche is getting bigger all the time. Fans are looking for a way to really experience the music (that’s why concert ticket sales are also rising!). People across all age groups and demographics are buying vinyl.

The people who buy the most vinyl are avid music consumers across formats. They are the kinds of fans who will pre-order the album even though they can listen on Spotify for free, and who buy the merch bundle instead of just the t-shirt.

The great thing about that? Those are the fans you want in your court. Those are the fans you want to forge lasting relationships with. And vinyl is a great way to do that.

Not only is there great demand for vinyl among the heavy music consumers, vinyl is reaching it’s way into the lives of more casual listeners. Record players are inexpensive, and major retailers like Barnes and Noble and Urban Outfitters have started carrying LPs in their stores. Vinyl is creeping back into the mainstream, and people are buying.

Show Me the Money

One of the concerns we hear most often from independent musicians is that vinyl is simply too expensive up front to justify having it as a regular staple on your merch table.

While vinyl does have a much higher initial cost than other formats, if you plan your purchase right, vinyl could put a lot more money in your pocket than it originally took out.

At Nationwide Disc, the average cost for 12” vinyl LP is between $9 and $11, depending on how many your order. That is a larger upfront investment than digital distribution or CD manufacturing, but vinyl can bring a big return on your investment.

The great news for independent musicians is that you can sell that vinyl for more than double what you paid for it, or more!

Making Money With Vinyl Exclusives

The base retail price for a 12” record is usually around $25.  That means that with the sale of one record, you are making double your cost. That’s 200% profit! And that $25 price tag can go up pretty quickly if there is any exclusivity associated with the pressing.

Limited edition pink vinyl? Sell it for $30. Exclusive liner notes that only come with the vinyl? You could sell that for $35.  Brand new, exclusive-to-vinyl cover art? $40.  Super-limited edition (as in only 15 of them exist) test pressing? Depending on your fans, you could sell those for upwards of $100! All these things are examples of things that you can easily do to increase the retail value of your record.

And the great news is, fans who are ready to buy vinyl are ready to pay for these upgrades. They are generally the kinds of fans who deeply value the music they listen to, and the artists that create it. They get excited about forging a deeper connection to the artists they love through a physical album that looks—and sounds— amazing.

So now that you know some of the benefits of vinyl for the independent musician, check back next week for expert tips on manufacturing and marketing vinyl records.

Have you tried pressing your music to vinyl? How did your fans respond? Let us know in the comments below!


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Comparing the Top 5 eCommerce Platforms for Musicians

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

Last week we posted a blog about what to look for when choosing what platform to use for your online stone. There are lots of options out there, but creating an online shop doesn’t have to be a headache.

We’ve taken the top five eCommerce platforms for musicians—3dcart, Bandcamp, Big Cartel, ReverbNation, and Shopify—and evaluated them based on 5 different characteristics:

  • Store Customization
  • Product and Sales Options
  • Store Analytics and Promotion
  • Special Features
  • Cost

These are the things we believe are the most important things when choosing your eCommerce service. Each platform we reviewed is different, and specializes in different things.

The key component in deciding which platform is right for you is deciding on what you need.

Once you decide what you need, then you can look at what store meet your personal criteria best, based on the 5 characteristics mentioned above.

So let’s take a look to find the platform that’s right for you:

Customizing Your Store

3dcart

3dcart recognizes that not all of its customers are experienced web designers or are familiar with HTML coding. To meet the needs of those customers, it offers hundreds of templates (some free) and an editing tool called WYSIWYG, which allows HTML editing without knowledge of HTML coding. Of course, if you do know HTML coding, you can always customize a template using that; or, you can use on of their in-house designers to create your website.

You are able to use custom domains.

Bandcamp

Bandcamp’s sample sites are all stunning, but there’s not much information about design options. The artists’ info page just says that its set-up process is “so easy even your drummer could…”

If you sign up for Bandcamp Pro, you are able to use custom domain names for your storefront.

Big Cartel

Depending on the package you chose, you’ll be able to use anything from basic templates and color schemes for your storefront to completely customizable themes with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript options. The package also determines whether or not you can use your own domain.

ReverbNation

This platform does offer customizable storefront design. However, it doesn’t look like you can use your own domain name.

Shopify

There are three different routes you can take to design your eCommerce site. You can choose from over 100 professionally designed, customizable themes. Or, using Shopify’s Template Editor, a language called Liquid, and some HTML and CSS, you can create a shopping cart as unique as your sound. If you don’t have coding experience, Shopify offers web design services with their professional designers. Tying in to your website’s domain lets your fans seamlessly navigate to your online storefront.

Product and sales options

3dcart

The number of items is limited based on the plan you choose.

3dcart makes processing and shipping orders simple. With features such as shipment tracking, automated confirmation emails, and drop-shipment support, you and your fans will know exactly when and where their packages are at. 3dcart also offers an optional “Wish List” and “Wait List” for those times when your fans what they simply cannot purchase (yet). Of course, if all they want is to listen to your music (and right away), then they can purchase your digital downloads.

Bandcamp

The number of free downloads per month is limited, but other merchandise does not appear to be.

Bandcamp specializes in digital music distribution (and they do it so well). You can upload high-quality tracks and artwork, name your price for digital downloads, and even set up pre-orders and release dates. However, that doesn’t have to be the only thing sold through with this platform. Just upload your merchandise from the “add merch” tab on the header. Here you’ll name and describe the items, set the prices, choose shipping options, and upload photos.

Digital downloads will be available to your fans as soon as a purchase via PayPal goes through (or as soon as the album/track is available). When is comes to shipping other merchandise, however, you will be responsible unless you use a fulfillment partner. Bandcamp lets you hire out your shipping needs to a third-party distributor (or your Aunt Jane) without having to grant them access to your whole store. Bandcamp also makes it easy to track and sort orders from the sales section of your tools page, where you can mark invoices as processing or shipped, search for orders, or filter by date or  status.

Bandcamp does offer foreign currencies for transactions.

Big Cartel

The number of items you can sell and the number of photos allowed for each item depends on your monthly package (there are four options to choose from), with a grand cap at 300 items; however, you can upgrade or downgrade packages as needed, which means that as your item selection grows, your store can, too.

You can offer anything from t-shirts and CDs to digital downloads (via their sister site, Pulley). Set your price, currency, and tax preferences, then decide how you would like to process payments. You can choose PayPal or Stripe (which processes most other major credit cards). Best of all, your band will get to keep 100 percent of each sale’s proceeds!

Even though Big Cartel helps you manage your sales and payments, stocking inventory and fulfilling orders will be up to you. Don’t leave your fans hanging! Use the “Orders” page to manage your merchandise orders by marking them as either shipped or unshipped, or manage orders through PayPal. Just remember to calculate the approximate cost of shipping from your admin page and add that cost into the price of the purchase.

ReverbNation

The Reverb Store is unique in the way it handles its inventory… or the lack thereof, rather. That’s because there’s no tangible product until someone orders it. You create the products online by selecting the items and design options, add them to your store at your desired price, and wait for someone to buy. When the order has been placed, the product will be made and then shipped. ReverbNation takes a flat fee out of the retail price of each item sold, sends a portion to Audiolife, and pays the difference (profit) to you. The amount of your profit is determined by the price you set. You can cash out via PayPal as soon as you have at least $20 in earnings (and after a 35-day hold period).

Audiolife promises to fulfill all orders with more than 99 percent accuracy, and the time between order placement and shipment is generally four to six business days. You can rest assured that your fans will receive high-quality products quickly and accurately. Should there be a problem with an order, they will handle reverse logistics, too.

Shopify

Shopify promises safe, confidential transactions through third-party payment processors like PayPal or Google Wallet (which is standard for many eCommerce sites), but they also accept many other forms of payment such as CODs, money orders, or direct bank deposits.

In terms of fulfillment, Shopify makes it easy to use fulfillment companies like Amazon Services to do the packaging, shipping, and tracking of orders for you. Shopify is also working on Partial Carrier Integration which will let you calculate the real-time shipping cost of various items, though this feature is still in beta mode.

Shopify does offer foreign languages and currency options.

Promoting and Analyzing Your Storefront

3dcart

3dcart recognizes how important the right promotional tools are and offers marketing credits with every subscription. Every 3dcart plan comes with built-in SEO tools. 3dcart also allows you to create coupons and promotional discounts (which you can post on social networking sites) that will help increase traffic and boost sales.

3dcart offers the ability to track sales trends. This will give you the opportunity to monitor the interests and buying habits of your fans and adjust your marketing strategy accordingly. You can check basic statistics from your home screen, or you can upgrade your package to include Smart Stats.

Bandcamp

Bandcamp’s platform includes a wealth of statistics on your site’s visitors and customers, from who links to your site to which items are most popular to SEO data. The site also works to ensure that, when your fans search for you, your store is at the top of the results. The Pro version provides additional details.

Not only does Bandcamp encourage you to share your storefront on your social media platforms, they allow you to add a music player to your profiles (for free) from which you can sell your music.  You can also sell your music and merchandise directly from Facebook.

Bandcamp also helps you build your email list.

Big Cartel

The amount of statistics available is based on your package. The most basic version simply shows which of your items is most popular, while their top package shows your top item, incoming links, search terms, and incorporates Google Analytics.

You are able to offer discount codes, and you are able to sell your products directly on your Facebook page.

ReverbNation

ReverbNation makes it easy to increase traffic by sending emails on product specials, adding the store’s app to your social media profile, embedding widgets in your website, and including banners on your blog.

Other features on the website are available for fan management and communication, but they are separate from the ReverbStore.

Shopify

The site and its shopping cart offer SEO features, ensuring that your eCommerce site ranks well in search results. It also integrates Google Analytics, so you can learn about where your fans are coming from and what they’re looking for. Coupon codes, which encourage people to “buy now” lest they miss out on an amazing opportunity, can help draw new or lukewarm fans to your site. Advertising on Facebook (which Shopify gives you a credit for) can help reach those who might not know about you yet. Shopify also tracks customers, letting you use their information for email marketing.

Special Features For Your eCommerce Platform

Sometimes, it’s those little extras that push you toward one option over the others. Check out the extra touches that these sites have to offer:

3dcart

If the process of creating an eCommerce platform still overwhelms you, 3dcart offers live phone, email and chat support, training videos, tutorials, and a dedicated Guru Session, even during the free trial period.

Bandcamp

Bandcamp lets you set the pricing for your items. If you want to set that to zero or allow fans to name their own price (which can result in some surprising generosity), you can do so. You also have the option of offering high-quality music formats with no extra effort; Bandcamp will convert your WAV file to the client’s desired format.

Also, Bandcamp sites are optimized for mobile viewing, which reduces frustration for those who shop on the go.

Big Cartel

If you’re at a gig or meet someone who wants to buy your merch right then, Big Cartel lets you place orders via an iPhone app.

ReverbNation

ReverbNation is one of the few on-demand retail platforms. Its partnership with Audiolife means that you don’t have to keep track of inventory or order fulfillment. Plus, if you already use ReverbNation for other purposes, you’re simply adding to an existing account instead of creating yet another account.

Shopify

They recognize that, even with an online storefront, you’re still running a merch table at your shows. To make handling in-person transactions a little easier on you, Shopify offers a free credit card reader and optional POS (point of sale) system. Also, if you want to go the extra mile in connecting with fans, Shopify offers a blogging platform.

Shopify also offers an abandoned cart feature, where it automatically contacts potential shoppers who placed items in their cart and didn’t check out.

Shopify makes it really easy to create a mobile store. You can also manage your store’s website through the Shopify Mobile app, which means that you can be in the loop even when you’re out of the office.

eCommerce Cost

3dcart

3dcart prices start as low as $19.95 per month, which allows you to offer up to 100 items and comes with $175 worth of advertising credits. Upgrading the package increases your store’s volume and marketing capacity and allows free domain registration, among other valuable features. If you’ve got cash up front, signing up for annual rates (as opposed to monthly) will save you some money.

Bandcamp

There is no fee to start on Bandcamp and no charge for listing items in your store. Bandcamp makes their money by pulling a percentage of your sales: ten percent for physical merchandise and fifteen percent for digital downloads.

For only ten dollars per month, you can sign up for Bandcamp’s Pro service, which includes more detailed statics reports, batch upload options and private streaming capabilities. You can also offer up to 200 download credits (or free downloads of your music) or download codes (discount codes that you can email or Tweet to your fans) for free each month or purchase additional codes and credits for as little as 1.5 cents each.

Big Cartel

Big Cartel does not take a percentage of each sale (except to cover fees for PayPal). Its Gold package, which is free, lets you list up to five products with a single photo per product. For $10 per month, the Platinum package lets you list up to 25 items with three photos per item; or, upgrade to the Diamond package for $20 per month, listing up to 100 items with five photos each. Lastly, the Titanium package ($30 per month) will allow as many as 300 items with five photos each.

ReverbNation

It’s completely free to start your store through ReverbNation. If you don’t make a sale, you don’t pay a dime. When you do make a sale, ReverbNation takes a flat fee for each item sold, not a percentage.

Shopify

Pricing starts as low as $29 each month, which will get you a storefront, access to customer profiles, and even your own blogging platform to help you connect to your fans. This basic package comes with up to one GB of storage space, but you can increase that along with other features by upgrading to more-advanced packages like their Pro package (for $79/month, which includes professional user reports and gift cards) or their Unlimited package (for $179/month, which features advanced statistics reports and unlimited file storage).

What eCommerce platform are you using to sell merch online? Did we miss any major players? Let us know in the comments below!

 




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The Cassette Revival: Should You Sell Tapes?

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Is your music a little bit quirky? Does your fan base enjoy crazy merch ideas or alternative listening methods? Are they missing the glory days of the mixtape? Are you an 80s cover band?

If any of the criteria above fit your music, you may want to try releasing some music on cassette tapes!

But Why Cassettes?

The cassette revival is the younger brother of the renewed interest music fans have in vinyl. For most people, these analog collections are not a replacement to downloaded or streamed music, but a supplement. They purchase tapes or vinyl in addition to the music they already consume.

This is great news for indie artists. Often the music fan who seeks out new and independent music is going to be the fan who is willing to spend $20-$30 on a vinyl record.

Vinyl shouldn’t replace your physical CDs and downloads, but records can be a great source of income if your fans are excited and willing to purchase. However, pressing vinyl records is cost prohibitive for many independent artists. Not only is it expensive, but it can take months to get the product into your hands.

This is where tapes come in. They appeal to the same demographic, but are much cheaper and easier to manufacture than records.

Is My Release Right For Tape?

Chances are, if you are reading this article, you probably already have a gut feeling about whether or not tape is right for you.

To decide if your release is a good fit for cassette tape, you need to look at your fans. They should be the determining factor in preparing for any release, but you really need to make sure they’re on board if you are contemplating releasing in an alternative format.

If you think tape is awesome but you are 90% sure your fans won’t be into it, then don’t release on tape! Your audience should be the determining factor when you make any decisions about merch, not your personal preference.

You also need to make sure that cassette tapes will be in keeping with the brand you’ve created. If you think releasing music on tape will be way out in left field, it will probably feel odd to your fans as well.

How Do I Get Cassettes?

Surprisingly, it is quite easy to get cassettes professionally duplicated. Googling “cassette tape duplication” will provide you with several companies that can professionally duplicated cassettes and even help you design your packaging! Tapes are relatively cheap to duplicate, so if you are looking at making more than just a few tapes, I would recommend you go with a professional service.

If you would rather DIY, you can get blank tapes and cases online, or you could buy tapes from a thrift store and copy your music over them at home. You will probably have to invest in some equipment, but you can find a basic cassette recorder at Walmart for about $50. This article also has some helpful tips on basic techniques to recording tapes at home.

Creative Tape Ideas:

If you thinks tapes would work for your music, but aren’t sure how you would sell them, here are a few ideas:

  • Full Release-Why not put your next album or EP on tape? The tapes could be a limited edition item!
  • Exclusive Music-A great way to push an alternative format is by offering exclusive music. Got some lo-fi demos you think your fans would enjoy? Put them on tape!
  • Bundles, Bundles, Bundles!-People love exclusives, and they love to save money. So put your new tape into a bundle with a CD, T-shirt, and sticker! Or offer a tape for free when they spend $20 in merch.
  • The Cart and the Horse-If you can transport them safely, you might sell portable tape players (aka Walkmans!) with your tapes! Chances are your local thrift store will have quite a few that you can clean up and sell with your tapes. Then your awesome music is ready and immediately available to listen to!

Cassette Store Day

If you think you are ready to take the plunge and release some music on tape, you may want to take a look at Cassette Store Day. In 2015, Cassette Store Day (CSD) is on October 17th. If you are able to release on CSD, you could talk to local record stores (many of them sell cassettes as well!) about featuring your tape release, and even doing a show in their store to cross promote and celebrate Cassette Store Day!

Have you had success selling cassette tapes to your fans? What other unique merch items do you offer? Do you think analog formats are here to stay? Let us know in the comments below!


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Apple Music Streaming: What It Means for the Independent Artist

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Yesterday, Apple unveiled its new music streaming service. While Apple’s release of iTunes revolutionized how the world buys music, they have been slow to enter the world of streaming.

The announcement came with all the bells and whistles that normally accompany Apple’s tech releases… but, for independent musicians, the announcement likely raises more questions than it answers.

The Basics

For the new service, Apple will charge $9.99 per month for streaming and radio services. Alternatively, users can choose a family plan (for up to six people) for $14.99 a month. Apple Music streaming will offer curated playlists, radio stations, complete integration with iTunes, and a new artist-to-fan social feature called Connect.

What Will It Pay?

Noticeably absent from all information offered by Apple is the amount that Apple Music will pay artists.

Unlike other streaming platforms, there is no free tier on Apple music. This is good news for the makers of music, as it should increase the amount of money paid to rights owners. However, if the payment structure looks anything like those of Spotify or Pandora, independent musicians will still be getting the smallest piece of a very small pie. The music streaming industry as a whole is not friendly to independent musicians.

It appears that Apple Music will not be much different, despite their claims in the announcement videos to help independent musicians build sustainable careers.

Will “Connect” Actually Connect Artists and Fans?

It seems that Apple Music is trying to compete with Jay Z’s Tidal by offering fans exclusive content at no extra cost. Actually, they are offering “exclusive” content at no cost at all. Anyone— even nonmembers of the streaming service—can access the videos, pictures, and music files that artists upload. This is not good news for independent musicians.

If you are working hard to create exclusive content for your diehard fans, you should be doing it in a way that creates income for you. (Ever heard of patronage?) By making Connect available to everyone, Apple completely negated the “exclusivity” of that content. In essence, it’s the same as putting a video up on YouTube. The key difference is that this content will link directly to your music and artist profile in Apple Music. It’s an important distinction, but it’s not enough. There’s no real way for your content to work for you on Connect.

Apple also did not address royalty payments on Connect. If you upload a demo of your new single, are you being paid whenever fans listen to that demo? Or are you cutting your losses? You spend the time creating a song and recording the demo—not to mention the money you spent on the equipment to do those things—and Apple hasn’t given any indication on whether or not they are going to pay you when fans listen to your “exclusive” content.

Connect also offers nothing new in terms of fan engagement. Fans can comment on the material you upload, and you can comment back. This is exactly what is offered on Facebook and Twitter. Connect is a downgrade when you look at its social media competition (Twitter and Facebook); even Spotify allows private messaging. The only benefit in Connect is that fans don’t have to follow you to see your content and comment on it.

Independent Friendly?

Did I mention that there is a MAJOR problem for independent musicians in the very structure of Apple’s Connect? As an independent artist myself, with music currently on iTunes, I decided to claim my Artist profile on Connect. This is what I found:

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 9.49.00 AM

I am a fully independent artist with no management company or label. Normally, I would just submit my information the management information and leave the label portion blank, since I am not signed to any kind of label. However, there was no option to communicate that I was not affiliated at all with a record label. I was not able to push the submit button to claim my profile until I had entered information about my (nonexistent) record label.  If Apple is touting that their service is indie-friendly, requiring artists to enter their record label information in order to claim their profile is not the way to go about it.

So far, I have seen nothing about Apple Music that is truly attempting to help independent artists.

What Should Independent Artists Do?

Apple Music’s launch simply adds to the ongoing discussion about streaming and its sustainability. Streaming is great for fans of music, but is this form of music consumption beneficial to the music industry in the long run? How can artists create long-term careers when their sources of income are decreasing in number and scale?

Independent artists have to change the way they think about streaming as a whole. When you look at streaming as a revenue stream, it falls short. No one (not even Pharrell) can make a living purely from the income generated by streaming. It simply isn’t generating enough money.

However, when artists look at streaming as a marketing tool that pays them, the game changes.

If you want people to discover you using streaming services, great! Put your music on Spotify, and Pandora, and Apple Music. Just don’t add your full catalog. Let fans get a taste of your best stuff. Post on Apple’s Connect like you would any other social media tool. Just don’t let these third party websites be the primary way that you interact with and sell music to fans. There are other, better ways to connect with the people who love your music.

In the End

Is Apple streaming a game changer for the music industry? I don’t think so. At the moment, it appears to be nothing more than a company formerly on the leading edge of innovation playing catch-up. Apple Music is not going to revolutionize the music industry.

Instead, changes and revolution will come from independent artists and the choices that we make as content creators.

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Make Money with Merch In Four Easy Steps--Tips for Choosing Your Product Without Losing Money

Make Money with Merch in Four Easy Steps—Tips for Choosing Your Product Without Losing Money

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

With digital music sales declining and music streaming robbing artists of yet another income opportunity, one of the few remaining viable revenue sources for indie musicians is a merch table.

I know. It doesn’t sound thrilling, and it carries nothing close to the rush of performing on stage. You’re an artist and performer, not a product pitch person. But, if you want a sustainable music career and not just an expensive hobby, you’ve got to learn to sell merch. It’s harsh, but true.

Think about the musicians you admire, the big artists who have already “made it”. When was the last time you went to their concert and didn’t see merchandise for sale? Never, right? That’s because these major artists understand the importance of selling merchandise. They rely on that extra income. When done correctly, it’s entirely possible that their profit from merch sales far outweighs their cut from ticket sales. If merch sales are so crucial to the success of these big artists, why would you shrink away from adopting the concept for your own career?

You shouldn’t. It’s time to stop making excuses and start making some choices. The longer you procrastinate, the more income you risk losing. Take some time today—now, even—to figure out what merchandise works best for your band and your fans.

Unless you are bringing in big money without merch sales and don’t need any extra, read on.

Choosing Your Merchandise

Let’s start by talking about the merch itself. Selling merch does require an investment, and choosing the wrong items—those that don’t end up selling—can result in money lost. Since your goal is to increase your income, that’s an especially frustrating and disappointing result.

You might be tempted to jump out and make large purchases of product to place on your merch table only to find that you missed the mark. Or, you might be so afraid of winding up with 700 CDs (or stickers, or shirts) left over in your closet that you haven’t ordered anything. Neither is a good place to be.

The following four tips can help remove some of the mystery when ordering merch and, hopefully, prevent you from making mistakes.

Popularity. Some items—your music on CDs or t-shirts with your artwork on them—are obvious choices, but others aren’t so clear. Ask yourself what your fans want to buy. If you’re out of touch with your fans or haven’t been selling merch, it might be difficult to answer this question. You can start by talking to or observing other artists in your genre or area who are already selling merch. What products are they offering, and what are people picking up and buying? Also find out what hasn’t worked.

Once you find a winner, stick with it; don’t tinker too much with perfection. If an item is a loser, dump it. Replace badly performing product with new choices. Don’t allow your merch table look empty and unexciting.

Quantity: how much should you buy to start? Once you’ve decided on a product to offer, how much should you buy up front? While it’s okay to be optimistic and hope for big sales, it is wise to test the market first. This might mean paying a higher per-piece price at first, but that’s better than a low per-piece price on a large order of product that doesn’t sell.

For example: you decide to sell a beer mug with your logo on it and think you can get $8 each on your merch table. If you buy 500 mugs, your cost is $3 per mug, which means your profit would be $5 per mug. Sounds good… if all the mugs sell. Or, you might decide to test the market and buy only 10 mugs, but then your cost jumps to $10 per mug. This means you lose $2 every time you sell a mug for $8. What should you do? Start with 10 mugs. While you do not want to be in the business of losing money, a $100 loss for 10 unsold mugs is nothing compared to a $1,500 loss for 500 unsold mugs.

It might cost a little more up front, but applying this practice to all new merch products will save you big money in the long run.

Price point and margin. These two items work hand in hand. Price point is the amount you charge your fans for the product, and margin is the amount of gross profit you make from the sale. For example: if your t-shirts cost you $7 each, and you sell them for $15 each, then your margin would be $8 each. This represents a reasonable margin of 53%.

Only two things really matter here: how much you have to spend to purchase the merch, and how much income the merch generates. The less you have to spend to generate a large income, the better. Spending ties up money and that money is at risk. Keeping your costs low is important. However, you don’t want to sacrifice quality on product or price things far higher than their actual value. Merchandise that falls apart or looks cheap probably won’t sell well, especially if it’s priced like high-quality merchandise.

A good merch decision has a low cost and a high sales price. If you can invest a small amount and still have the potential of high margins, then the item is a home run. The most obvious example of this for the indie musician is a CD in custom packaging.

Here’s an example: You purchase 200 duplicated CDs in 6-Panel Digipaks with overwrap. Your cost after shipping and handling is a total of  $442. The per-piece price is $2.21. Now, a typical sales price for this type of CD is $12 – $15 dollars. If I use $12 (the low end) in my example, your margin is $9.79, or 81%. This is a great margin! You have to sell just 25% of your product to recoup your entire investment.

A bad merch decision involves high cost and low margins. For example, spending $25 each on products you can only sell for $35. Yes, you might make $10 on each sale, but you tied up (risked) $25 to make $10. This is not a good strategy. Products with a higher cost don’t allow you as much room to adjust the pricing if it doesn’t sell well; on the above item, you can only discount the price $10 before you start losing money on each sale. You also have to sell a greater quantity (71% of your order) just to break even on your investment.

Remember this important tip when choosing products to sell: Pick products that require a small initial investment, have great margin, and don’t require you to purchase huge quantities to make the numbers work.

Turns. This is a retail term that describes how often you sell out of your stock of an item and have to buy more. If a product has a high turn rate, it is selling well, and your initial investment is being recovered quickly.

A target turn rate for an independent musician might be between 4-6 turns per year. That means you limit your purchase of a product to the amount you will sell in 2-3 months—no more.

Products that do not turn well might sit on your merch table for 6-12+ months, becoming “worn and tired”. Put a sale price on these products, and get rid of them. Try to get your original investment back, if possible.

In the clothing industry, turn means everything. If a store can’t sell its entire inventory by the end of a season, it dumps the clothing at about 10% of the original price just to move it out of the store. Otherwise, the buildup of out-of-season and last year’s fashion means a waste of their customers’ time and a decrease in customer traffic.

The same principle applies to musicians and merch. Don’t let your merch become worn, and don’t buy more product than you can sell in three months.

Poor turn ratios of merchandise cause more businesses to fail than any other single item.

A Few Points About Your Table

It’s important to have a merch table that looks good with product clearly displayed for sale. Simply throwing it out on a table isn’t going to impress your fans. Consider a table covering and skirt. If possible, add nice displays; custom-printed corrugated displays are cheaper than you think.

Mention the products and your merch table in a tasteful way while you are performing. Offer to sign anything purchased that evening, or—if business is unusually slow—offer to give something away.

Make sure your table is manned the entire time you are in the venue. This means when the doors open, while all acts are playing, and as people head out. Being personally present at your table is also advisable.

Above all else, capture names and email addresses from everyone who purchases your product (and, if you can, those who don’t). These fans represent your best opportunity to sell more products in the future.

Do not treat merch as an afterthought. If you aren’t behind your own merch, what makes you think your fans will be?

Real Examples on How to Not Sell Merch

I just got back from a short trip. We stayed in a wonderful little resort town, and I had the opportunity to listen to some live music—two talented and entertaining acts at two different venues—while I was there. The crowds weren’t huge—sixty-five people at one venue, and 120 at the other—and, like me, most people were visiting the area and hadn’t heard of the musicians. However, quick glances around the room indicated that everyone was enjoying the performances.

This is a prime situation to sell merchandise. You have captive audiences who are clearly enjoying your work and who haven’t likely purchased your product before. Additionally, based on the setting, the audience could afford to spend a little money on something to help them remember their evening or trip. A tastefully displayed quality product would have been a hit.

Yet, neither musician had any merch displayed.

During breaks in the shows, I approached the musicians to compliment them on their performances, and I asked if they had any music for sale. Both musicians dug around in a bag before producing a couple of CDs. The packaging was very basic: a slim line jewel case without any printed material. Both artists priced their music at $25 per disc, or all three discs for $50. The packaging and lack of display suggested that the artists did not think much of their own music, while the high prices said otherwise.

While I bought CDs from each artist, no one else did. Either the audience didn’t realize there was product available, or they were put off by the high price for a poorly presented product. Had the artists offered quality product on a nice display, they might have made several hundred dollars in merch sales that night.

Super Fans Make For Super Profits

Untapped audiences, like those in the above anecdote, are a nice find, but they aren’t your main targets for merchandise sales. Instead, you should focus on selling to your existing fans, especially your “super fans”. Super fans like and support almost everything you do, and this includes buying your merchandise.

Knowing this, try to set goals. If you want your super fans to purchase $100 of product a year, do you have enough new high-quality merchandise available to reach that goal? If not, it’s time to make some changes.

This might mean that you need to focus on releasing new music to sell. Fans love new music; if it has been a while since your last release, odds are good that your fans are more than ready.

An artist friend of mine just released a new album and sold 350 CDs at just three shows. He made more money on this new release in one week than he made in the last 12 months on merch sales. He already recouped his entire investment in the CDs, plus some. The best news is that his new release continues to sell, and he still has product available. You should also know that this happened after he confided in me that he thought his fans were “worn out” on his music. He could not have been more wrong.

If you’re wanting to establish a long-term, sustainable career as a musician, it’s time to accept the fact that selling merch is in your future. Do it well, though, and it will be more than worth your time and effort.




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Five Tips for Designing Your CD Packaging

Five Tips For Designing Your CD Packaging

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

As an experienced musician, you know your instrument like the back of your hand. You’ve spent thousands of hours with it, memorizing every last detail, exploring every feature, and learning every sound it can possibly produce. You know how to care for it, how to tune it, and how to make it produce the right sounds at the right times.

That knowledge produces some pretty incredible results, and after hundreds or thousands of hours, you’re almost ready to order your new album. All that’s left is creating your album artwork… while that’s something you haven’t spent hours mastering, there are steps you can take and tips you can learn to make the process easier.

If you’re thinking about designing the album artwork yourself, here are some quick tips you should know about setting up your design files.

Bleed is Important…

When you print one copy of something, it’s easy to take time to ensure that it is trimmed precisely. When you have hundreds (or thousands) of the same something to cut, the task of cutting out individual sheets, with precision, becomes daunting.

Commercial printers do have equipment that speeds up the process—either by using pre-programmed measurements to cut each piece, or by cutting large quantities all at once—but even the best pieces of equipment aren’t 100% accurate all of the time (due to the limits of technology and paper stretch). The discrepancy is usually small, but, without bleed, even being half a millimeter off on cutting produces a noticeable white line down the edge of the paper. That’s not what you want for your jewel case insert or digipak. The solution? Extend the artwork slightly beyond the desired cut line—i.e., add bleed. This gives the print shop a margin of error when trimming. That way, if they happen to be slightly off when cutting, the continued artwork shows up instead of the white paper.

In the printing industry, .125” is a commonly requested bleed setting; this means the artwork extends .125” from the cut line on each side. This will be cut off, so do not include anything like text or titles in this area; please see the next comment about safety margins for more details.

Bleed and Safety Cushion

… As Are Safety Margins

While bleed extends artwork out from the cut line to provide a margin of error, safety margins move inward from the cut line for the same purpose. If critical elements—such as your song titles, lyrics, album credits, or a portion of a photograph—are lined up right on the cut line, they run the risk of being trimmed off. To prevent this, it’s a good idea to leave a gap or cushion between essential design elements and the desired cut line.

The size of the margin changes from one print shop to another, but .125” from the edge is a great place to start.

Colors Are Not Created Equally

If you’re not immersed in the design or printing worlds, you might not have heard of CMYK or RGB, let alone know the differences. But if you’re designing your album’s artwork, it’s an important distinction to know.

RGB colors—where each shade is created by combining red, green, and blue pixels—are used by thousands of electronic devises: televisions, phone screens, computer monitors, and cameras. Higher quantities of the contributing colors result in lighter tones, and lower quantities create darker tones. RGB colors can appear to be very vibrant, but this is in part because they are lit on a screen. It’s also important to note that different displays and devices can have different RGB profiles.

On the other hand, CMYK colors are the standard format for the printing industry. With CMYK printing, the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black inks are combined to create colors. Because physical surfaces like paper don’t generate light like screens, less ink means lighter colors (less ink covering the white paper), and more ink mean richer or darker colors.

These two different color profiles can create issues when designing your album artwork. Not every RGB color has a CMYK counterpart, and vice versa. The two profiles also represent very different technologies—a back-lit computer screen vs. ink on paper. This means two things:

  1. Files designed in RGB can look very different when converted to CMYK for printing. Some CD manufacturers offer digital proofs of your order. If your proof file looks different from the file you submitted (for example, the colors are off, or the blacks look gray), it’s probably because your submitted file was created with RGB and it has been converted to CMYK for printing.
  2. The color you see on your computer screen will not match the printed material. Even if the file on the screen is CMYK, it’s still back-lit. There will always be some discrepancy in appearance between the screen image and the printed product.

RGB vs CMYK

To reduce the chance of a drastic color shift, it’s best to design and export your file using CMYK settings.

Understanding Resolution

Resolution is described in terms of pixels per inch (ppi) or dots per inch (dpi). When fewer dots are needed to fill a space, the resolution is lower/worse. This is because the dots have to be larger, making them more distinguishable.

Think about a fence. If the boards are eight inches wide and seven feet tall, you’ll be able to pick them out fairly easily from twenty feet away, and it won’t take many boards to span a section of fencing. However, if the fence is made from tiny wooden sticks—the size of toothpicks—all lined up perfectly, identifying individual sticks from twenty feet away becomes difficult, and it’ll take a lot more sticks to cover the same section.

It’s important to design your album artwork at a high resolution and at the proper dimensions. For example, if the image will be used at 4″ x 5″ in the printed material, then it needs to be that size and high resolution in its original form. Trying to increase the resolution of a low-resolution image (say, resampling from 72 dpi to 300 dpi) causes a loss of quality, since it just samples nearby pixels to meet the desired resolution settings. Likewise, taking an image that is high-resolution and scaling its dimensions up (from a 1” square to a 5” square, for example) results in a lower resolution, since each pixel is stretched to meet the file’s new dimensions. Taking a large image and scaling it down in dimension can result in a higher resolution image if you don’t change the number of pixels.

Image Resolution

For printing, 300 dpi is the industry standard for photographic images; higher resolutions are acceptable for other types of artwork.

The Right File Type

Saving your album artwork file in the right format is important, but the right format will vary from one CD manufacturer to the next. Submitting the right file type can prevent errors and delays on your order.

Some print shops will accept design files (IDML, INDD, or PSD files, for example); however, since these file types are not usually readable by the printers themselves, they’ll need to be opened and exported into readable file types. This creates a chance for error, especially if links and fonts aren’t submitted with the design file.

To avoid potential errors and the extra step of exporting files, other print shops will only accept already-exported files. These include PDF, TIFF, JPEG, and EPS file types. Some will even request that you use specific export presets.

To know for sure which file type is right, check with your print shop or CD manufacturer.

Bonus Tip

When you’re ordering your CD and CD packaging, the CD manufacturer wants your order to be as right as possible. It’s true. They don’t want to bug you about missing files or fonts, text that’s cut off, or low-resolution pictures, and they don’t want to ship you finished product that has all of these issues or more. They do want to manufacture your order in a timely, efficient manner and ship you quality product with beautiful artwork—something they and you can be proud of.

To help achieve this goal, many manufacturers have a design team ready to create artwork for the musicians who can’t do it themselves.

For musicians who want to tackle this step on their own, the CD manufacturer might also offer templates for a variety of design programs. These templates are set up to include the correct bleed settings, guide marks, and dimensions. Be sure to use the right template for your project—there is a difference between a 4-panel digipak and a 4-panel jewel case. You’ll also need to open them in the right color profile and resolution settings and save or export them correctly. Using the provided templates will greatly reduce the odds of production issues on your order.

And that’s it! Five tips, plus one, to help you create your own album artwork. Now, get back to that instrument you love!




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Compact Disc Face Printing: What to Avoid

CD Face Printing: DIY Or Not?

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

If you’re considering selling merchandise at gigs and including physical CDs (both are great ways to increase your profits from music), then you’ve probably wondered if it would save you some money by making those CDs yourself.

Your choice should primarily focus on just three things: quality, cost, and available time. Some options for printing on a disc face should not be considered regardless of your situation, but you still have a choice to make—should I do it myself or get professional help? For the most part, professional production will provide a less expensive and better product than DIY disc face printing, but DIY might be best if you’re on a super-tight schedule. Read on for some crucial tips.

To help you make your decision, we’ll look at the various options and add up the related costs. This article will focus on duplicated discs since this is the only option available to DIYers.

CDs With Printed Labels Applied

Short of writing on the disc face with a permanent marker, CDs with a label applied to the face is the standard image most people associate with DIY CD printing. We do not recommend this method unless you have absolutely no other options. Labels are expensive, cumbersome, unprofessional looking, and—most importantly—they can come off of the disc and create a real problem for your fans. Can you imagine your fan’s reaction to your disc jamming their car’s disc player? Not good.

Pros: This method is something you can do at home with most standard printers, and it gives you a solution for short run projects. This option is more acceptable for very short runs (10 discs or less) or when you have absolutely no time to get your discs made by the pros (i.e., the gig is tonight and you have to get these on the merch table in just a few hours).

Cons: For one reason or another—whether the image smears after handling or the label is slightly off-center—this method always looks homemade, which can cheapen the value of your product. CDs with labels are also fairly expensive; most of the time you can get a better product that is also cheaper by buying your CDs from a professional supplier. Lets discuss each of the potential problems in more detail:

  • An off-center label can cause balance issues with the CD, affecting playability; this happens a lot since it is difficult to place an adhesive label on the disc at just the right spot.
  • A wrinkle in the label can cause issues with players (particularly slot-loading players) as the CD may become jammed in the player. If this happens, you have to dislodge the CD; in some cases, that requires taking the player apart (not much fun if the player is in your car’s dashboard). Additionally, the label adhesive can wear off over time; this can cause a big headache if the label comes off while the CD is in a player.
  • Most printers that print CD labels use inkjet technology that is not waterproof. If anyone touches the printed surface with a slight amount of moisture on his fingertips, the image will smear.
  • Lastly, it takes a good chunk of time to print and apply labels on CDs, and the supplies are not cheap. Your per disc price will still be very high when compared to professional production.

Cost: To make your own CDs with labels, you’ll need a few things:

  • Discs
  • Label stock
  • A printer (starting around $40 and up to $100 for a basic model)
  • Ink (between $35 and $80 for a set)
  • Software

Assuming you don’t have any supplies beyond your computer, creating your 100 CDs with this method could cost $130 bucks or more (buying the cheapest printer available). If you have the printer on-hand and don’t buy the software/kit for design/positioning, the price for 100 discs and labels is roughly $65 – $85, or about $0.65 to $0.85 per disc (depending on ink coverage). You still have to attach the labels to the disc face. Since it is likely that some discs and labels will be damaged and made unusable in the process, you should factor this in when calculating your final cost.

Keep in mind that these costs don’t include putting the content on the discs. External disc burners or professional-grade disc duplicators can take the price up drastically. If you choose to burn the discs on your computer one at a time, then no additional investment in equipment may be necessary, but it can take quite a bit of time to burn the discs.

CDs with Directly Printed Faces

Another DIY method of CD printing is printing on the disc face itself. In recent years, a decent number of home printers with this capability were released. While many models have since been discontinued, there are still some available. The majority of these printers are geared toward at-home photo printing, and this is where most of these models shine. The printers come with a special attachment that allows the printer to print directly on a disc face instead of paper. Please note that these machines are not intended for a production environment. Do not go down this path if you want to print a large quantity of discs or use this technology for an extended period of time.

Pros: This method results in a more polished, professional product than labels, since the design is printed directly on the disc face. There is no label to come unglued. Time is on your side when you need a short run quickly—no need to send the project out to get it done.

Cons: Not every home printer is able to do this; special equipment may be necessary. Many of the same challenges that face labels also face direct print. Most printers that direct print CD labels use technology that is not waterproof. If anyone touches the printed surface with a slight amount of moisture on his fingertips, the image will smear. Direct printing your own CDs is also fairly expensive; you can expect to spend $0.85 or more per disc if you already own the equipment, much more if you need to purchase the printer. Most of the time you can get a better product that is also cheaper by buying your CDs from a professional supplier (if time allows).

Cost: To make CDs with direct print on the disc face, you’ll need a few things: (prices are estimates)

  • Discs
  • Printers (from $300 to $800)
  • Ink (from $125 to $270 for a set)

While this option provides a more polished product than printed-then-applied labels, the expenses can add up quickly. Going with a more affordable printer, it can run you over $475 to get started. Even if you already have the printer, the cost of ink and CDs alone starts at $175. This is significant because you can usually purchase your discs from a professional supplier for less money, even if you already own the equipment.

These costs don’t include putting the content on the discs.

Professionally-Created CDs 

Instead of applying CD labels or investing in expensive printing equipment (that you may or may not use for other items), you might consider ordering professionally-created CDs. If time allows (most can manufacture bulk discs in just a few days), then this option will save you money and provide a better product than the do-it-yourself methods. You may have to pay shipping costs (if the company you choose has to ship the CDs to you), but you might be able to avoid sales taxes.

Most importantly, the quality of printing will be better than either DIY option. Check with your supplier to confirm that they use inks that will not smear when exposed to water and that all printing will be done directly on the disc face. No labels of any kind should be used. You might also ask if they can print close to the hub of the disc, which gives you more printed surface on the disc and looks better. Some manufacturers can only print part of the disc face and leave a large unprinted ring (up to 1.25” in diameter) in the middle of the disc face.

Pros: Ordering CDs frees up your time and energy to focus on your music, and you don’t have to worry about putting the content on the CD. Using a supplier has a variety of other benefits, including packaging options, a variety of quantities, price breaks for ordering in volume, and even programs to help make getting the product you want more affordable.

Cons: You’ll need to find a reliable supplier who puts out a quality product at a fair price, and you’ll have to work with production timelines. If you have to get discs for tonight’s gig, then professional production is not likely an option. Plan ahead for next time and save some money.

Costs: You might be thinking that ordering CDs is outside your price range. Think again:

  • 50 duplicated discs with full color face and content on the disc: $43*
  • 100 duplicated discs with full color face and content on the disc: $77

There are so many choices to make regarding selling merchandise, even when narrowed down to a CD. Whichever you decide, be creative and remember the content matters the most!

* Professionally-created disc prices taken from our parent site, www.nationwidedisc.com.

See also: How Many CDs Should I Purchase For A First Release?, Choosing The Right Packaging For Your Band’s CD




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