My sound engineer Pix Vane Mason (left) depressed the hell out of me last December when he predicted the demise of CDs within the next two years.
“But Pix,” I said. “I just ordered 500 of the buggers!”
Whether you can still sell CDs today comes down to the demographic segment which is most likely to buy your music. A famous singer whose fans are mostly in the 70+ category, sold out of CDs on a recent tour of Queensland. But that may well be the exception to a rapidly changing rule.
The Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) says digital music revenues overtook physical sales in Australia for the first time in 2013. Digital music revenues accounted for 54.7% of the market, bringing in over $192 million, while CDs, DVDs, and other physical media made up the remaining 45.3% share. Paradoxically, vinyl is back in favour, with LP sales up 40% to 6 million in 2014, according to Melbourne-based tonedeaf.com.au. Artists favouring vinyl (usually as another sales avenue), include Madonna, Nick Cave, Mark Knopfler, Bjork and ex-Oasis singer Noel Gallagher.
Swimming in the digital stream
Billboard and Nielsen Soundscan say the big music trend has been a 54% rise in on-demand streaming, with 164 billion song streams played by consumers in 2014. Meanwhile, physical music sales in the US continue to decline, with compact disc sales dropping to 62.9 million, from 78.2 million in 2013.
Gen Xs and Gen Ys, with the possible exception of DJs, who have whole suitcases full of CDs, almost exclusively download music direct to their smart phones, Ipods, Ipads and computers. Or they pay to subscribe to music streaming websites like Pandora, Grooveshark and Spotify. Streaming audio gives you access to a vast database of music; you can play it through speakers in your house, but you can’t download it. The download option is great if you are looking for a must-have song you heard on the radio or at a live gig. This typically costs $1.99, although independents can charge what they like. Some digital music sites like ‘band camp’ give customers the option to pay what they think the music is worth.
The big plus for independent musicians is that once their music is uploaded to an Internet ‘shop’, there are no overheads, apart from the fees taken by the website. You may, however, read about how little musicians get paid by the proliferating streaming services. They get massive exposure but earn less.
Remember when CDs cost $30 and imports could cost $35 or $40? It doesn’t seem that long ago (1982), since Billy Joel released 53rd Street on compact disc, coinciding with the launch of Sony’s first CD player. CD prices have dropped sharply in the last couple of years as retailers fight to keep their market share.
In a perverse way, the now old-fashioned compact disc favours independent artists who have dipped into their own funds to create a work of art. It not only sounds good, but has interesting artwork; it comes signed by the artist, you feel warm and fuzzy about supporting someone you might actually know, and it has the one quality digital music lacks – collectability.
Truth be known, true music lovers and audiophiles want the whole cake – their expensive Bose speakers dispersed through the house, they play CDs, stream music via Spotify, play songs from their vast Ipod database and, after they’ve been out for an evening drive in the vintage Torana, the old Van Morrison tape hissing away, they’ll come home, slip on their archivist’s gloves, ease the mint copy of Dark Side of the Moon from its sleeve, gently place it on the Denon turntable and settle back with a nice glass of red (log fire crackling in the corner…but that’s probably laying it on a bit thick).
Bob’s been making a CD, did you know?
So yes, we (The Goodwills) have been producing a new recording since May last year. These are all songs written over the last three years which had been burning a hole in my belly since I first wrote the list on a whiteboard in January 2013.
It began with five months’ pre-production (home demos) so that when we got to the studio, we would know what we were doing. (Ha!). It’s important to have an empathic relationship with your sound engineer. Pix and I started each session with a hug and a coffee and a half-hour discussion about what music we’re listening to and why. Multi-instrumentalist Steve Cook offered to help develop the songs. It is a gamble to let someone else interpret your songs, but it can also take them somewhere unexpected. After a month or two of bedding down instrumental tracks and guide vocals, it was time to bring in other instruments for colour and tone.
There were interruptions, creative differences of opinion, a momentary funding hiccup and of course the momentum was disturbed when we took three months off to tour around Australia.
It looks like this
We remain enthused about the 13 songs that emerged from this process, their possibilities augmented by the talents of Silas Palmer, Steve Cook, Rose Broe, Erin Sulman, Tim Finnegan and Mal Webb.
Once we were happy with the “mix”, the album was uploaded to a mastering engineer David Briggs. If you don’t know what a mastering engineer does, when you hear a song on the radio and the singer’s voice floats above the instruments – that’s mastering.
Then it was time for the artwork – designing a cardboard wallet and a 16-page booklet. Someone (that would be me – ed.) had to type out all the lyrics and the commentary about each song, source appropriate photos, come up with ideas and engage a graphic artist (Steve Cook), to make it all work. Once that was done, the whole package was sent to a replication firm which printed the artwork, made 500 copies and delivered them to our door – on time, but a tad over-budget.
At this level, making an independent CD can cost considerably more than $5,000. So to break even, it has to be good, and/or you need generous friends and acquaintances. So tomorrow we’ll launch ‘The Last Waterhole’ at the New Farm Bowls Club and again on Sunday at the Old Witta School near Maleny. We’ve convened a four-piece band for the occasion.
The album will also be available for download on CD Baby. There are people we know who live elsewhere on the planet who might just do that, instead of adding $7.40 postage to the cost of the album.
But as for the five boxes of “physical product” under the bed, as Jeff Lang once teased an audience at the Byron Bay Blues Festival:
“Do any of you want a CD? I’ve got thousands of them and I don’t f’ n want ‘em.”
Footnote: Our new wordpress website should “go live” on Sunday night. www.thegoodwills.com