In today’s world of audio, there are so many ways we can release music. While streaming has taken over most of the world, giving independent artists ways to connect to a broader audience, long time fans, collectors, and even just “old school” listeners still wish for the “good ol’ days” of physical releases… So what is an artist to do? what are the best options for release? And what should you focus on the most?
Digital has taken the world by storm. Giving the average consumer access to indie artists all over the world. You can find almost anything you desire on these platforms (artist permitting), and while this connectivity has given a new stage to artists to promote their work, it all still feels so…. commercial music oriented.
These platforms, like any commerce store work on sales. While most of these are not looking for single sales of songs or albums, as they focus on subscriptions, what helps drive the sale of a sub? Exclusive music, access to back catalogs, well designed algorithms that keep the music going and more.
So the question is… Should you release your music digitally on these platforms?
Well… that really is up to you.
While the Spotify’s and Apple Music’s world is focused on what is current, popular, and “making waves”, there are still other platforms attempting a more “grass roots” approach. Places like Band Camp still offer the “pay what you will” or set price for purchasing an album. So much of the music world today now relies on marketing. Social media, posting, staying current, gathering followers, building an email list, etc. are the backbone of what you now do to grow your following.
What deliverable should i get for digital release?
Most artists still focus on releasing digitally, and with that comes the proper “deliverable”. Recording studios, post houses, and mastering facilities use the term “deliverable” to categorize what is “delivered” to the client at the end of the project. Most of the time you will receive a WAV file and/or Mp3’s for your digital distribution. These are typically 44.1k / 16 bit files that meet most standards for streaming services. However, some streaming services are accepting “high res” files for distribution. These files are typically 48k - 96k / 24bit. These higher resolution files give you more “fidelity” and quality to the uploads. But not all streaming services accept these files. If they do, note they will be transcoded to an acceptable medium for digital distribution. So, should you ask for higher quality files? well, that is really up to you. Some see a benefit as they capture more accurate information (in theory), but whether or not you will hear a difference… who knows. Remember that streaming services “dumb down” your audio when people stream it, unless they have set their service to “high quality” or pay for lossless streaming (like Tidal HiFi or Premium).
Compact Disc (CD)
While I hate to admit it, CD’s are outdated. In their heyday, it was a fascinating advancement to the world of digital media. Now however, the quality and sonic fidelity is surpassed by the streaming capabilities and straight digital download. CD’s are stuck at a specific sample rate (44.1k | 16 Bit). And while this is fine for most, streaming services and digital downloads are starting to move to higher sample rates to offer the listener a “better” experience.
While CD’s are still a staple for most up and coming bands, the practicality of this medium is dying away. Vehicles are no longer providing CD players in their newer lineups. More people are moving away from home stereo systems and disc players, as they can stream anything they wish to listen to or watch. This has led to performers having to give away their music, as most won’t pay for something they have no way of using.
Now that I’ve gotten out all the doom and gloom, there are still people who have CD collections. The older generations of people still use these as their main medium for music consumption. And while there are still those using this technology daily, I don’t expect it progress as we move forward.
Should i release on cd?
Again, it is up to you… If you have many fans still consuming your art on CD, the by all means go for it! But i do to believe it will continue to be around in the coming decade or more. So I ask you this question….
Do you feel you can sell this product and make your money back? Or will you end up stilling on boxes of albums that collect dust?
Yep…. cassette tapes. Believe it or not, they are still around and still a thing. When the CD came out, it was a drastic improvement to the audio quality over the hissy, warping, warn down world of cassettes. But somehow, the nostalgia of these playback medium has attempted a comeback.
I do not expect this to be a preferred medium for most people. There is a reason we moved on from cassette tapes, but to those who still have players and a collection of these, kudos to you! There are still companies manufacturing cassette tapes and providing duplication services. While it definitely not the best “fidelity” it is a quirky and nostalgic collectors item that many bands have started to offer. If you feel you draw the type of crowd willing to shell out cash for these, by all means, forward!
Can i use the same files from cd or digital for cassettes?
Yes, and no….. Unfortunately, the world of cassette duplication is a little more convoluted than digital style releases. We have deal with the pitfalls of the physical medium itself, thus change the masters of the music in attempts to overcome these issues. This really comes down to the type of cassette tapes you which to use, (as there are 3 different kinds) and which tape you choose will determine if people can actually use it… Without diving into the intricacies of tape types and which you should choose, know that if you decide to get cassette tapes, you will likely need a specific master of your song(s) or album to make it sound proper.
If you have a following you feel would accept this “old school” medium with open pocket books, by all means, take the investment plunge. But in my opinion, this should be a short run thing and not your main release style.
Chronologically we have made it back to the start of mass music distribution… the vinyl record.
Vinyl records are an interesting medium, as while some say they are the “truest” and feel the most “real” they are actually quite bad at reproducing the song(s) or album correctly. This is due to the way they need to be made and how audio effects the grooves on the vinyl. They must go through a specific mastering process that removes low end to prevent wide cut grooves that the needle can skip out of easily. This requires more time and an extra cost to create the proper files that allows the mastering engineer (or pressing plant) to create the master disc that is used to make the vinyl records to be distributed.
Is the extra cost worth it?
In my opinion, yes absolutely.
Vinyl has made an extraordinary comeback in recent years, appealing to young and old alike. While not everyone is vinyl collector or has made an investment to use this medium, more and more people are starting to dip their toes into vinyl. With the cost of putting together a playback system has come down, and the integration of new an old technology (vinyl players with bluetooth, and computer connectivity) it has become quite accessible to most. Of all the mediums, vinyl might seemingly be the best “investment” for artists to sell. While the up front expense is greater than most other playback mediums, the rewards are 5x-10x times higher than others. I do believe vinyl will stick around long after CD’s and cassettes die out, and will continue to be the best collector audio you can get.
I hope some of this sheds some light on your options as an artist for distribution options and what might fit your music and style best. As with anything, please further your own research before deciding on investing in any type of distribution medium to find the best options for you.