So something I think that a lot of bands struggle with is understanding how much product to print. This is a really hard thing to get right, especially when you consider that some groups only get 200 copies printed and sell out within a week and other bands print 300 and barely sell 50, actually losing money on their CD release. So think about this struggle and how it fits into your band. While CD’s are still a great way for a touring band to make money, because you can easily sell them at a 1000% markup. That being said – it’s still a startup investment and one that can loose you a fair bit of money if you mess it up. Beyond that it can leave you with the humiliation of a ton of spare product you can’t move. Of course, CD’s aren’t the only physical way to listen to music, you of course have cassettes, vinyls and (I guess?) eight track players and the problem outlined above applies to every single physical format you might want to release your music on.
Before we delve into specific numbers I want to take a minute to look at the three main formats of release. Now, I know that they are uncool, but CD’s are still the most popular form of physical media for music. So you generally want to be printing those first and in greater quantity than anything else. This can vary if your band is one of those vinyl specific groups, but that’s fairly rare, and if you are one of those bands you would know because your fans would ask for vinyl. Speaking of which, on the indie level it’s probably wisest to limit your vinyl to 100-200 copies. You can always get more, after all the real expense is getting the plates done. After that you’re going to be better off. Vinyl sales may be growing but they are still a specialty item and most people don’t have record players. Meanwhile, cassettes are much more of a collectors item, so realize that printing more than 50 for most bands stops them from being special which removes the value.
Furthermore I think that it’s important to have the right mindset when selling merchandise. When it comes down to it 99% of your fans are going to consume music via Spotify, Soundcloud or Bandcamp, they aren’t going to slap your CD into their car. In fact the odds are that their car doesn’t even have a CD player at this point. So what do you think that means about their motives for buying music in a physical format? It means they are either buying for the concept of supporting a band, which is fair enough, or they are buying because the item is collectible or in some way going to be special in their collection. No one really wants another CD, CD collections aren’t cool Vinyl and cassette collections are though. Realize this and then try and use that to inform your decision. At the same time realize that a small minority of fans are collectors. The vast majority of people who just want to support your band by buying the music are going to want a CD, remember, it’s the memento that counts. That’s a huge part of why I make all my bands sign the CD before buying. It adds to the value.
So now that we have looked at the place of the individual formats in the world of independent music and how to best take advantage of them lets talk numbers. Generally speaking you don’t want to have to restock on CD’s if you don’t have to, simply because the markup tends to be so high and price breaks pay off dividends. Generally speaking when selling CD’s I look at the preorder and triple it. This usually means that I have enough CD’s for the preorder and release party and then a decent handful of smaller gigs along the way. By this point you’ve more than paid for your initial investment. That being said, if you know that your band is going to be gigging a lot and moving a fair amount of product then it’s better to buy a little too much than to not buy enough. Don’t overdo it, like never buy more than a thousand, but up until that point, if you’re a band playing a hundred shows a year then it might be worth to just say ‘fuck it’ and really go out and buy more than you think you need.
Rather similar logic applies to cassettes and vinyl. Now while yes you should be more ordering a bit more conservatively and relative to what you actually think will sell it’s often better to err on the side of caution, especially with vinyl since production time is so long. At the same time I think it’s important to realize the collectible nature of these products. It means that it’s best when every edition is a little different from the last and each edition gets its own little add ons. This can take the form of unique stickers, new art or something else entirely, it’s entirely up to you. This not only encourages fans to buy now, but it also gets people to spend more money so that they can buy every version of a product. The only thing you need to keep track of is how much of each product you have left, running out is always a problem and you need to make sure that you’ve got enough so you don’t need to be going crazy with it on tour.
Now this is never an easy task and it’s one that this article can only make so much easier. Every band has people who don’t want to spend any money on product and other members who want to spend a million dollars on CD’s that they will never sell. It’s up to you to figure out what a realistic sales goal is and if people are going to actually buy your record. Remember, no matter what you print, if the music is bad then people aren’t going to buy in. As much as this might be important having a good and well marketed product is even moreso. So yes this is a perpetual struggle, but be aware that by taking careful notes of sales and not getting in over your head you are going to find a actionable and sustainable path to the future.
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