The Lacrimosa Effect: Why I Said “BYE, Tunes!”

First, I’m delighted to announce an expanded Kalindi Music website, home of my acoustic guitar-driven devotional project Mukunda’s Friends, including a Bandcamp store page for preview and purchase of our ecstatic song Lacrimosa, which was released early last year. If you haven’t heard Lacrimosa yet, I hope you’ll pay a visit and preview the song – and buy it if you like it.

Second (and spoiler alert): Notwithstanding the following, friends of mine have lots of music out on iTunes and CD Baby and they’re doing just fine. I’m glad that regime works for them, but below are given the reasons why it doesn’t work for me. What follows is – needless to say – only my point of view.

Bandcamp has appeared as the solution to my music distribution dilemma.

I’m already committed to releasing both CDs and downloads. I briefly considered going CD-only (whether from purism or fanaticism I’m not sure), but a niche artist like myself simply can’t afford to alienate 90% of likely purchasers. So I’ve got to make the music downloadable, one way or another.

I briefly described to my wife how the digital distribution system works, specifically iTunes and CD Baby, and how much money they take off the top (30% and 25%, respectively). Her reply was: “That sounds just like the big record labels.”

My feeling, exactly. How much has actually changed?

To be fair, at least the digital distributors don’t claim to own your music. The internet/digital revolution has gained us that much. On the other hand, there have been horror stories that attest to the same arrogance and lack of regard for the artists which perfectly sums up the big-record-label mentality. Need it be pointed out that without the artists, there would be no CD Baby or iTunes? So who needs whom?

So let’s look at the numbers, and see how economically viable the CD Baby/iTunes regime is for a niche artist like one of us.

If I’m selling a download for $10, iTunes would have to sell 43% more units, and CD Baby would have to sell 34% more, to equal the amount I would earn selling them on my own website.

For an obscure niche artist like myself, these numbers don’t compute. Can iTunes and CD Baby seriously claim they’re going to earn me that many more sales? How?

One argument you hear is that a kindred spirit will be browsing or buying and somehow find me, by referral or plain chance. Given the enormous inventory of both of these vendors, is there a 34-43% likelihood of this happening at all, let alone resulting in a sale? I doubt it.

I think someone new to my music is way more likely to find it through direct links from fellow musicians and fans. So rather than rely on chance, I think it better for us musical kindred spirits to band together and link to each other through our websites. Fortunately, the good Bandcamp folks are working on enabling more website features for artist pages, including the ability to post links. Righteous!

Check my own Links page as an example. At the risk of bragging a bit, I can’t recall another musician’s website with this many links (over 150). If all of us with websites would link to fellow artists whose work we enjoy, it would make it so much easier for our music to reach new ears.

(By the way, if I have your link but you’d prefer I use a different one, let me know!)

My point is, I think we’d do better to take matters into our own hands than leave everything to a mega corp. which may not even bother to contact you when you have a need. Observe this – admittedly extreme – horror story.

What’s my experience with the digital giants so far? I’ve uploaded one song to CD Baby, the aforementioned Lacrimosa. CD Baby propagated it.

One of the problems is who they propagate to, without disclosing sufficient information for the uninitiated. They don’t tell you, for example, that “subscription services” includes phone companies, to whom they are practically giving away the music. My account shows a Nokia subscriber buying Lacrimosa outright, for which I was paid two cents! If there had been proper disclosure in advance, I would have signed up for a different distribution package, one that excluded subscriptions. (I have asked CD Baby to change my package.)

iTunes, for their part, categorized the song completely wrong. Ignoring the categories I gave to CD Baby (Spiritual/Mantras, New Age/Healing), they’ve categorized it as – wait for it – Latino! When I complained, they passed the buck back to CD Baby. This makes no sense, as I doubt that CD Baby has access to Apple’s database, but anyway… So I complained to CD Baby. Apple added New Age/Inspirational to the categories, but left Latino as the all-important first one – so it’s still wrong. How many listeners might that have cost me? No way to know. So a second complaint to CD Baby has them promising to get that fixed – over 18 months after the song’s release.

I’ve also heard of CD Baby having customer service issues on CD orders. None of this inspires confidence.

That said, doing it all myself isn’t the best option. I’m not prepared to shell out the many dollars it would need to have an e-store built, nor spend the time needed to encode audio files into the many download formats desired by customers. Enter Bandcamp!

Bandcamp takes only a 10% cut on CDs and other merchandise, and 15% on downloads (reduced to 10% when you break the $5000 sales barrier). They’ll convert my WAV files into all the download formats anyone could want. That alone makes it worth going with them. (But don’t forget to add on 4-6% for PayPal fees, which makes a total of 19-21% starting out. Still an improvement.)

Having said all this, there may be good arguments that I’ve overlooked or didn’t know about. Hopefully those who are using CD Baby and iTunes to their advantage will post comments here, all the better for those who have yet to make their decision. But I’m good to go. If Bandcamp goes bad, then I’ll swear off distributors and do it myself.


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