Todd Durrant’s Random Thoughts
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Do I Want to Buy Your CDR?

Today’s post is inspired by the conversations I’ve had with friends of mine who are also long-time customers of A Different Drum and rabid music collectors.  I’ve written a few of my thoughts on collectors  in other blog postings before, and this time I mention them in the context of CDR’s.    There is absolutely no denying that CD sales have been plummeting over the last few years and that the music industry (particularly the smaller, independent market in which I and my associates work) is hurting as a result.    I’ve explained how digital sales, though they have gone up, have not compensated for the losses in revenue from CD sales.   So, I won’t go over that stuff again.   Let’s talk about something that some labels and bands are doing to avoid losses when releasing new music.   Let’s talk about CDR’s.

I understand the motivations of releasing new albums on CDR’s (otherwise known as duplication or “short-run” manufacturing).  The band or small label looks at the sales in the current market and thinks, “Well, we have this album we want to release, but it’s too hard to sell even 300 or 400 of these things to make back the cost of manufacturing!”   So, they investigate and find out that they can do a short-run of 100 or 200 duplicated  CD’s, complete with color artwork and disc label, for a low price.  They may be able to spend less than $500 to get the album out and sell as many as possible with little risk.   Financially, it is indeed less risky.

For those who don’t know, when we talk about factory replicated CD’s, it’s a completely different process than a CDR.  If you are getting your CD’s DUPLICATED in a short-run situation, the company you hire is going to use equipment to burn CDR’s, basically copying your information on discs one at a time.   Then for the artwork, they are going to print color laser prints like you could do at home if you owned a nice color laser printer and then insert those into the jewel case.   Yes, they may even shrink-wrap them for you.     But it is NOT a factory replicated CD, like the music you’ve been buying since the CD format was created.  It’s not what you’ve been buying in the store all these years.  It’s more like the blank CDR that you burn in your home computer, just with some snazzy packaging.

If you plan on doing factory replication, then the minimum run is 500 units.   A factory just won’t make real CD’s for you unless you’re doing 500 of them, and even then, they’ll most likely print 1000 of the booklets and dispose of the extras, since real off-set printers prefer minimum runs of 1000.   YES, replication is completely different, and much higher quality than burning CDR’s, just like off-set printing (they way all professional books, packaging, etc. it done) is better than simply running a color laser printer.

There are several demonstrations on Youtube that explain the difference.   Here is one— yes, it is an advertisement for a business, but they explain the difference very simply:

Here is another one which shows the true replication process, which you will see, is MUCH different than burning CDR’s:

Now that we’re finished with that little tutorial, let me get back to my point.  More and more of the CD’s I buy from independent labels and bands arrive after I’ve made my initial order, and I find out that the release is a duplicated CDR.   How do I know?  Well, I almost instantly can tell by the cover if it looks like that kind of wet, shiny laser printer appearance on standard paper.  Then I open the case and pull out the disc, flip it over to the play surface, and there it is, a color-tinged CDR (CDR’s are rarely the silver color of replicated CD’s).  Plus, you don’t see a factory code in the center ring of the disc.   Why does it matter?

Here is the most simple reason I think it matters– it isn’t going to sell nearly as much as a replicated factory CD.   When I first started receiving CDR’s and shipping them in orders to certain customers and collectors, I started getting emails asking if they could return that particular item for a “real CD” or a refund.   You see, they instantly appear to be something “unofficial” or “pirated” or simply “cheap”.   Heck, if a customer can pull out a 50 cent blank CDR, pop it in their computer and rip illegally downloaded tracks and never spend more than a dollar, then why would they want to pay $10 or $15 for the same finished product from a store?  For the extra packaging?  Well, let’s throw in another 50 cents for a color printout of the artwork you snagged off the band’s homepage, and you basically DO have the exact same thing.   Yes, it just feels like a ripoff to some of these people.

So, as a service to those collectors who don’t want CDR’s, and to protect myself as a vendor, I now clearly indicate if a release on my homepage is a CDR instead of a CD.   Since I’ve started doing that, I don’t get as many upset customers. I don’t get as many sales either.

Now I know what many bands are thinking as they read this.   You’re thinking, “But, I can’t afford a run of 500 replicated CD’s!  I have no option but to release a CDR!”   I’m not trying to force you to do anything.  If you only want to release a CDR, then that’s fine.  Do it.  I’ll sell as many as I can to people who are willing to buy.  But I hope you realize that you’re turning your own predictions of low sales into a reality.  You certainly won’t sell more than 500 units.  You’ll make those 100 duplicates and maybe sell them all, or fall a few short.  Yep, you saved money, and you got a few dozen copies of your albums to fans or friends who will buy whatever you do.   That’s as far as it will ever go, and if you’re OK with that, then just keep doing it.

If you just want to get your music “out there” then the CDR may be a viable option, just like a digital-only release.  In fact, if you put your album out only as a digital release, then you don’t even have to invest more than about $50 in that release.   That’s less than the CDR!

I’ve been saying over and over that the majority of customers still buying CD’s these days are collectors and super-fans who will never be content to “own” an Mp3 file.   Since they are collectors, they want the physical product on their shelf.   Well…if the only people buying are collectors, and you’re putting out a product that collectors don’t like, then you’re shooting yourself in the foot, at least in terms of physical sales.  If the collector doesn’t want your CDR, then why are you bothering to make a physical release in the first place?

Here is another reason the collectors don’t want your CDR.   Remember what I said about MP3’s and their true “collectible” value?  They aren’t worth anything because:  A) they can be infinitely duplicated, which means there is no limit to the product, and thus no increase in value, and B) they are only worth the average price of what people will pay, and since more people get MP3’s for free than those who buy them, the average value is close to zero in the first place.    This very nearly applies to CDR’s as well.   They CAN be infinitely produced.  If the band sells those first 100 CDR’s and thinks, “Wow, that went well, I’m going to make another 100,” then they certainly will.  They can keep making 100 at a time until they don’t think there’s anybody left who wants them.   Thus there is no real limit in terms of quantity, and to a collector, that means something.   Sure, I’ve sold CDR’s that were “limited to 100 units worldwide” as advertised by the band, but we count on the band to REALLY put that thing out-of-print like they say, because it would be very easy to make just a few more, as long as people want them.   And I’ve already mentioned the “average value” of CDR’s.  No matter how pretty, the consumer knows they can buy a pile of 50 blank CDR’s at Walmart for about $20.  So, in their minds, it’s just a dolled-up product worth less than a buck.

I know, I know.  It feels good to spend $300 to make 100 CDR’s, then sell them for $10 each and make a $700 profit on your mini release.  That’s good economics, no doubt!  I have plenty of experience replicating 500 factory CD’s at a cost closer to $1500, then barely breaking even or losing money because I can only sell 200 of them.   Yeah, I’ve taking the risk over and over again and have lost before.  But you know what?  I consider that part of being a real label.

Let me explain that opinion, which I’m sure many small labels and bands will find insulting (sorry).   I still believe that if you are a band and you believe in your music enough to try to sell it, then you need to act like a real band so that you’ll always be perceived as a real player, and not just a wanna-be.   If you put out those homemade or CDR duplicates you ordered from a short-run manufacturer, then you won’t be giving off the signal that you’re legit.  You’ll in effect be admitting openly that you are a less important, lesser known band, and that you have low expectations.   You don’t even believe yourself that you can sell more than a couple hundred units in this big, wide world.   Now, even if that is true, like with my own music I’ve released as Saudade, do you really want to shout that message to the world?  Do you want to advertise to everybody that you don’t expect more than a few dozen people to want your product, simply by the form of delivery you choose?

When I say these things, I’m just being honest with you.  I know it’s the truth, not only because of my own feelings, but also because of those expressed to me by my customers.   I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked on the phone to customers who are bummed about CDR’s.   I talked to two just yesterday.   One customer called up and said something like this, “Look, I really want this import CD by Band X because I like their sound, but I can’t believe they want to charge this kind of price for a CDR!  I’ll take it this time, but I’d prefer not to!”   Well, he did buy it, but hated the idea of buying it even if he liked the music.  That’s a bad vibe sent to a would-be fan, if they only buy your item out of a sense of obligation, rather than excitement.  The other guy who called yesterday is another long-time customer who has made it clear to me that he will never, under any circumstances, buy a CDR.   He just called again to say something like, “I see that more of the items in your weekly updates are CDR’s.  This must indeed mean the death of our music scene…”

CDR’s have their place. They are a great way to circulate promos.  By “promos” I mean the stuff you plan to give away as advertising so that people can hear new music.   For example, I received a batch of promo CDR compilations from Ninthwave Records last week.  They cranked out a couple hundred of these, put them in paper sleeves, and circulate them quickly to music buyers so they can hear new music by new artists.  It’s a great advertising tool!   People don’t pay for promos and they love getting the chance to hear new music, even if it is a CDR.  They don’t feel like they got ripped off.   Also, some bands have put out “promo only ” or “extremely limited” CDR’s that have extra remixes on them which they’d like to circulate to DJ’s or to fans as extra material, even at a small price.   They contain tracks that aren’t on the “regular” releases and that can be collected by whoever gets them.   Even though they are CDR’s they can be treasured, usually because it’s just extra stuff that supplements material that is released officially to the broader audience.  Even Depeche Mode did that with extra remixes of their latest singles, sent to DJ’s on CDR’s just to get the tracks out there.

I’ve seen the band Red Flag use CDR’s successfully.  Recently, Chris of Red Flag went through a very creative and productive period of time where he was cranking out a new song, complete with four or five remixes, every week or two.   He wanted to put out the music as it was finished, a piece at a time.   So he used CDR’s as a way to keep a constant flow of new music coming out in a physical format.  After all, he wasn’t going to spend the money to factory replicated 500 units of each single every couple of weeks.    But he did make sure that the packaging for these singles was interesting and that each was autographed and included bonus stickers, etc.   That way the people who bought the CDR’s would feel like they still got something special.   I do have to say though, this is Red Flag who has been around since the late 80’s and they had a major-label kick-off back in their beginning, so they have a larger fan base.   If you’re a new band and you want to put out a new single every couple of weeks, you’re going to have a hard time selling CDR’s.

In summary…  If you’re in a band and you’ve spent a couple years of your life putting together this album that shares your heart and soul with the world, then release it in a way that shows how much you believe in yourself.   Save up your money, get a nice CD cover (not just your band name printed on a color background), order a minimum of 500 replicated factory CD’s, and tell the world you have a finished product that is worth buying.  Sell it for $10 or $15, or whatever, but as soon as the customer gets it, they will know that they bought something legit, and it was worth the money.

As my final comment, I’ll just say that I personally don’t like buying CDR’s either.  I have less than 20 of them in my entire collection, and those are usually demos that were not meant to be sold.  They were given to me as early works of bands I enjoy, or they contain extra mixes, as I mentioned.  Like so many other people, I can’t find that motivation to spend $10 on a CDR unless the music is something that I absolutely must have, and even then I buy it grudgingly.   I know…I’m messed up.  I don’t buy MP3’s either.  I’d rather buy a pizza than an album on CDR or MP3…



42 Responses to “Do I Want to Buy Your CDR?”

  1. In my personal experience CDRs don’t have the durability of “real” CDs either. A few bands have sent me pre-release/promo CDRs for play on my radio station, and I almost inevitably get errors if I try to rip the CDR a couple years later. That rarely seems to happen with “real” CDs that are 15+ years old.

    • Agreed. I’ve actually had CDR releases arrive that I bought from labels and then couldn’t even rip them to make the audio snippets for the store listing. Really! I couldn’t use it to create samples to advertise it! In the end, I was selling those CDR’s for less than I paid on “clearance” just trying to dump them because they sat on my shelf unsold for more than a year. It stinks to lose money trying to help a new band sell their CDR’s.


  2. I’ve had very good experiences with duplication quality. It is entirely possible to get a duplication with a 4-color, screen or web print. It really all depends on who you have doing the printing and duplication. I’ve dealt with bands who get 500 replicated CDs but still get crappy print quality too – it’s less common, but it happens.

    The same is true for audio quality. The problem isn’t usually the duplication/replication debate, it’s that often the people who decided to go budget on everything (including the duplication) also cut corners in gettting their masters done right either. A fully redbook-compliant CD won’t give you any trouble whether it’s duplicated or replicated.

    “then you need to act like a real band so that you’ll always be perceived as a real player, and not just a wanna-be. ”

    A couple of thoughts on this – what exactly does “acting like a real band” mean anymore? Given that major players, people who sell literally millions of copies, are giving stuff away and putting out music on formats even dodgier than CD-R (flash drives? Really, Trent?), I’d wager that the baseline for “what major acts do” is just not there anymore. Futzing over physical formats is in my opinion the last step one should consider, given the rapid pace of change in the industry.

    On a personal note, seeing as I’m readying for our 6th release, there are practicalities involved – I just plum don’t have room to store another 500-1000 CDs, and neither does my label. Given I’m lucky if I sell 300 physical CDs, having 200-700 more that sit in a closet indefinitely (or end up in a landfill) just is not viable (or environmentally responsible).

    I’m firmly of the belief that CD-R is an entirely viable sales format – maybe not for large-scale releases, but for someone releasing a single or needing discs to sell at shows or just starting out. As long as you get your ducks in a row, produce a good master, get a reputable dupe house, get your barcodes and licenses and all that, then the final difference is negligible.

    • Hi Eric,

      I understand your points. A couple of comments on them:

      Yes, you WILL be perceived as a lesser band, if you are NEW and releasing CDR’s instead of replicated CD’s. If you already have your name established, like NiN or whoever, then your fans won’t care if you burp and fart on any format, you’ll still move some units.

      TRUE: you can get replicated CD’s that sound like crap, particularly when bands have side-stepped mastering– a fatal mistake if you want to sound legit.

      The CDR is a viable product indeed, but ONLY for those who are comfortable buying them, and that is a LESSER number than those who would by a factory replicated CD. That’s not my opinion– that’s a fact.

      If you want to look at numbers, then consider this. You may only sell 300 CD’s of that 500 batch you replicate. BUT, let’s say you decide “I’m only going to make 300 CDR’s instead”. Well, you’re going to sell fewer than if it were a factory CD, so maybe you only sell 200 CDR’s instead of the 300 you WOULD have sold had you put out something that certain CD buyers prefer. So, it’s up to you to decide– go for cheaper and sell fewer, or spend more and sell more.

      Also concerning unit numbers– there is NO reason to hold onto 500 or 700 extra CD’s of past releases. Put aside 100 or 200 that you think will fill demand for the next few years. Then put the others to work. Otherwise they are a worthless waste just sitting in your closet. Send them out free to customers ordering your new stuff, or give them to clubs where you play shows (or where you’d LIKE to play shows) so they can give them away. Sell them for $1 each to a store to put in their cheap bin. There are plenty of very useful things to do with CD’s that otherwise would be sitting in a heap. Never send them to a landfill as that is not only a waste of money but a waste of a valuable promotional tool.

      The “difference” between CD and CDR you mention at the end still exists. Sound quality may be negligible, but the buyer still knows what they bought, and many still feel like they just got ripped-off if it’s a CDR. That’s a fact. I hear it all the time as a seller. There are many of my customers who will not buy a CDR, period. It doesn’t matter how I argue the quality or the appearance…it is what it is.


      PS. There have been some interesting follow-up posts on my Facebook profile at:

      PPS. I still believe digital-only is a worthwhile consideration if you think you can’t move 100 or 200 CD’s. It’s cheaper and does not have the somewhat negative stigma of a CDR. (I believe because MP3 buyers are not collectors, so they don’t really care about format.)

      • Quick reply to your PPS (and probably not going to reply to anything else as most everyone, you included, already covered my own opinions) but CD-R editions can be collector’s items as well and many of those come out as CD-R exactly because of the extreme print runs (one recent example I acquired is this. It’s a bit like the tape scene (yes, such a thing still exists!): extremely limited editions, carefully crafted packaging & design, etc for an extremely small audience. But obviously we’re talking an extreme tail-end here.

        Another point you mention is artists that released a CD-R limited edition not staying true to the limited edition. That can happen as well with CDs. I know a case of an artist that was going to release an album as a limited edition of 500 hand-numbered copies but he had 1000 discs replicated because it was cheaper. So he was briefly tempted by the possibility of making more than the agreed 500 run. A few psychological slaps made him see the error of his ways and repent in time before any problem developed with his host label because of this shenadigan… 😉

  3. I’m not disputing that there are lesser sales numbers for CD-Rs’, but I’d like to try correlating those numbers against other industry trends, and certainly against the types of bands and numbers of units produced, and possibly demographics. I think it’d be fascinating to see how it breaks down against age group, musical preference, etc.

    Replicated may sell more than Duplicated, but simply based on my own experience, I think you may be overrating the stigma. The stigma is certainly less than it used to be, and will probably disappear entirely in a few more years. Assuming anyone but us old folks buy physical product anymore by then.

    I have only anecdotal evidence to go on (the plural of “anecdote” isn’t “data” by any stretch of the imagination) – but our most successful releases have thus far been CD-R’s. I’d wager that the reason for that is simply because we can get a CD-R to market faster and cheaper than we could a replicated disc (and since I have access to decent dupe houses, a lot of people probably aren’t even aware of the difference). I sell the London EP at shows for $5, which is about half of what I can reasonably sell “Excursions” for. I’ve paid for the run of “London” several times over, whereas I haven’t recouped the cost of Excursions yet, and I’ve sold nearly equal amounts of each. Certainly, to my (admittedly small, niche) fanbase there’s little to no stigma, and nobody has complained yet about the quality of product.

    Now, It’s certainly ludicrous to expect anyone to pay the same amount for a CD-R as they would for a replicated CD. And I would’ve also agreed about lesser quality of product about 6 years ago, but this stuff is changing fast enough that I really think it’s soon going to be a non-issue.

    • Hey Eric,

      I did mention that the economics are tempting for bands. Pay $300 for 100 CD’s, and send them for even $5 each and you make money.

      I know that sound quality may not be any different, but that isn’t the key, in my opinion. You can argue quality and appearance all day to a collector and they won’t care. All they see is “CDR” and that’s enough to turn them off. So, it’s not so much a matter of quality as it is a matter of perception.

      Sure, maybe that will change in the future. I don’t know. I’ve been wrong before…like years ago when I thought MP3’s would never replace physical products. Oops.


      • Certainly, to the collector, it will always matter. But then collectors are also the ones arguing that if it’s not on heavy vinyl, it’s not a “real” release either. We’ve entered an era where proliferation is nearly as important as promotion, so the economics are becoming more important. It’s trending such that an artist needs to be able to afford more production than ever, and sell at lower costs.

  4. I think that CD-Rs show a lack of commitment on behalf of the band. When we finished our album, I sold a load of my synths, and used the money to press CD’s. No point in having expensive equipment lying around, if no one hears your music. You are supposed to be making a consumer product, and that is the goal. If your music is a secondary output of all the nice gear you have accumulated and fiddle with as our hobby, then Im not sure I want to buy your side product.

    Also agree with Todd, re-unsold units : the only thing I would add is that if I ever give a CD away as promo, or send it out for free, i remove the shrinkwrap, the booklet, and the jewel case and send it out in a transparent sleeve to differentiate a freebie from the premium product.

    International posting costs are also substantial : if someone wants a nice physical product, is prepared to pay postage and packing, type in address and card numbers into online forms then wait a couple of weeks rather the do an instant download, you have to have the best physical product you can.

    Everyone has a computer, and in reality, people make a straight choice between the product quality and tangability of a physical CD, in return for the inconviance and expensive of the ordering and delivery process, or they make a choice based on convienince and cost advantages of an mp3 off itunes.

    Where does a CD-r fit in the decision making process ?

  5. I have collecting music (records/cd’s/videos/dvd’s) since 1978 and I have no interest in buying any cd-r’s and will not buy any even if it’s being released by a company or a band. In my opinion, if the label or band does not feel that they can sell 100 units, they shouldn’t bother even releasing the product. The cost for making 500 (glass master silver pressed) cd’s is about $1,000. If you sell 100 cd’s at $10 each, you should make most of that money back already. Yes, cd’s sales have drastically declined these past few years but if a band can’t find 100 people that will buy their pressed cd’s, they should probably consider a different career. There have a quite a few cd-r’s released in the past year or so that I would have bought in heartbeat if they were pressed. I really feel a lot of people in the music scene have given up the fight to keep pressed cd’s coming. It’s really really sad. Anyways, I hope to see some kind of change in the near future or we are fastly going to see the extinction of cd’s. Can you imagine at the future award shows, “this is the best selling band of 2010, they’ve sold over 1,000,000 mp3’s, let’s give them an award?!?

  6. Here is an interesting case to consider when you think of CDR’s, at least in a particular demographic:

    Russia has long been one of the music piracy capitals of the world. They have a history of selling unauthorized CD’s (even replicated) within their own market. In the past (maybe even now) you can buy CD’s that are VERY close to the originals for only $2 in Russia, of pretty much any major artist. They are pirated. We also know that Russia is a huge haven for illegal download “stores” that sell album downloads for a buck. They’ll claim up and down that they are legal, but they are not.

    That is why this next observation is very interesting. I have some very good customers in Russia, including a couple of stores that still make regular wholesales orders from A Different Drum. The Russian factor is one of the only growing parts of my struggling business.


    Well, the big collectors and fans in Russia who want to collect the REAL thing spend a lot of money to do it. Our CD’s are VERY expensive in their terms, particularly considering their average income. It is a big deal and a large expense for them to buy US or other European import CD’s. But they’d rather spend those large amounts and get the real thing than download the music for free or buy a $2 copy in the black market. They know the difference!

    I bring it up in context of this blog post because my Russian customers, both wholesale and retail, will refuse to buy CDR’s in almost every case. If they get one, they’ll demand a refund and even pay postage to send it back if they have to (though they’d just as soon throw it in the trash). It doesn’t matter how “good” it looks or sounds– if it is a CDR, they won’t order it. If they get it accidentally, they’ll complain pretty much every time. In a country where they are surrounded by cheap copies, they want what they believe is the REAL item, and in their minds, that is never a CDR.

    Yes, that is just one example, but I think it applies in the minds of quite a few people. Maybe not the young audience hanging out in the pub where a band is playing a show and selling autographed CDR’s. As Arron mentioned in the above comment, it certainly applies where there are mature customers who care about what they are collecting– especially when they are paying large prices to get it.


    • I’m back to economies of scale, though. Do I want to spend another $700/year on the off chance I make that one russian sale? My replicated CDs have been pirated up and down Russia, but I’ve sold a whopping 4 physical CDs over there in 7 years (and half of those were to Oleg).

      I guess my overall point is that I can’t disregard a format, especially one that’s much more economically feasible, unless I have a significant amount of hard data to back up that decision. My own experience has demonstrated that the CD-R stigma is a negligible factor in my album sales, and if it keeps my overall production costs down, then I can’t abandon it on the basis of anecdotal evidence.

  7. I’m in total agreement with Todd on this. When we were deciding how to press my album, a good friend of mine stressed over and over again how important it was to do REPLICATION, not DUPLICATION, even if it does mean more money upfront. I’m really glad we went that route because I know that every single sale I make, it’s professional and will work in every player and will last! You really can tell a difference. It sends a message. Too bad cd’s are becoming obsolete – except to the devoted fans. 😦

  8. i personally dislike CD-R’s, but i am not surprised they are gaining popularity in this day and age where a new band is lucky to sell 100 CD’s unless they’re gigging constantly. pressed CD’s are not cost effective below 500 units, and you really want to make at least 1000 because there’s a big price break.

    my opinion is that in the future collectors will want even more value than the standard (pressed) CD represents, and bands are going to have to create more intricate items to be able to get people to spend their hard-earned money. your low-end item is mp3’s, your mid-level item is the CD (mostly useful for gigs), your high-end items are box sets, unique art objects, “virtual” items which give you access to the artist in some fashion, etc.

    the only reason the CD even existed was to provide a standardized format for retail. even most “collectors” immediately rip the CD to their PC (or burn it), and put the CD itself on a shelf somewhere…

  9. I agree too. I want my next release to be taken very seriously, I can’t see that happening with a CDR. I want radio stations to take it seriously when I send it to a program director. I want the consumer to have “an experience” with the CD and packaging and feel like it’s money well spent. Physical or online press also need to feel like they are dealing with something serious or they will not give it much time or attention. The only digital downloads that I personally can stand listening to are iTunes 256 AAC. If anyone offers 320 MP3, those are OK too. Anything less, why even bother, they sound like crap. I’m offering the physical CD for those who know and care about sound quality, like I do. I really would love to release my next project in native 24bit/88kHz for those who really really care about sound quality, and have the equipment to play it back. Why would I spend $6000 for two channels of premium pre-amplification and A/D conversion to have the song ultimately reduced to a nasty MP3? That’s a bigger frustration for me, that people can’t hear or don’t care about sound quality, but compressed audio is a whole different topic!

    • Yes! Unfortunately people just can’t hear the difference, but once you train your ears, you most definitely can. And oh my gosh! What is it with people over compressing the crap out of their music? Louder doesn’t always mean better. But like you said, that’s a topic for another day.

    • Consumers also bought cassettes by the truckload for about 20 years, so I think we can say audiophilia has never really been a driving market force, certainly not when convenience is also a factor.

      I’d love to see more 5.1 formats take off, but given the difficulties people have mixing in a mere two channels, I think it’ll be a while before anyone other than major artists start doing that. (also, good 5.1 monitoring systems are ludicrously expensive).

  10. I totally agree with Todd on this one – CDRs are not considered to be a “real” product among collectors and CD buyers. This is very important – we are talking about collectors or just buyers, not listeners. For listeners – yes, it doesn’t really matter, and all arguments for CDRs are valid. But for buyers… I am collecting from early 80s, I have thousands of CDs, but not a single CDR, and I won’t have one. Although it’s better to say – I won’t buy one, because if I want one, I happen to own a laser printer, computer with CD-writer – do you see, where I’m going?

    I also agree with words about a “lesser of a band” if you have CDRs only. In my opinion, too many people nowadays are making “music”, and duplication allows them to pollute all music scenes with pure garbage. And we, the consumers, have to filter all that, trying to divide works of real passion and talent from incompetent crazy frog-sters. Duplication puts them all in one pile, replication makes at least initial separation.

    And sorry, Eric, I won’t buy your London EP. I have all you albums and will happily buy a new one, as long as it’s not on CDR. Maybe I’m just a picky customer, but right now I’m not the only one like that. Few years from now it all may be different, but for now it is what it is. And speaking of Russia, I don’t live there anymore, but I know a lot about legal and illegal CDs down there, more than I’m willing to share :-), and honestly, I can’t remember bootleg Null Devices CDs at all. In MP3 format – yes, sure, but individual albums… Even if they were released, there wasn’t a lot of them, unlike Red Flag, for example…

    • Well, it’s your prerogative not to buy. Most of the sales of my limited EPs have been digital anyway, because that’s the way they’re targeted. I produce CD-R’s specifically to sell at shows (and to have something tangible to send to CDBaby). And since I haven’t seen you at one of our shows, it’s not surprising you haven’t or won’t buy one. 🙂 But I’ve moved 900 copies of that album digitally, plus 100 CD-R’s at shows and, yes, a few through ADD even. I find it interesting that the release I put out on the cheap did better than any two of our “professional” releases combined.

      But I have to ask, as a general question, if “professionalism” is an important aspect: How do you feel about slipcases? Slimline jewel cases? 1-page inserts? Would you refuse to buy a CD because the cover art is crappy? What if the disc lacks CD-Text or embedded ISRC codes? Just where is the line drawn? If someone spends $2k on producing 1000 CDs with 4-color 8-page booklets and digipacks, does that make the CD intrinsically better than a CD with a 2-page fold booklet in a slimline case? Help me out here, I’m not a collector.

      (as for my russian piracy problem, it was primarily digital. Although a muscovite emailed me to tell me he liked a CD he bought…of an EP I gave away free online and never produced CDs of. So it happened at least once. When you sell <1000 units of anything, 1 bootleg is statistically significant!)

      • Again, I feel it is an issue of PERCEPTION with the customer. If they’re at a show and see you selling an autographed CDR, then yeah, it has more value because it becomes a personal product they picked up just from you. But if they’re a collector paying top dollar for something shipped to them from a retail outlet, they get upset if it is perceived (key word = PERCEPTION) as a lesser product.

        Again, I’m not just throwing around what I “think” about the sales. I don’t THINK sales are lesser on CDR’s through my store. I know it. I can’t question it because I’m the one ordering the inventory and shipping it out. I’m always cautious about stocking CDR’s now because I’ve been stuck with unsellable CDR’s before. Sure, I sell some…but it never stacks up to replicated CD sales EXCEPT in the case of Red Flag.

        In the interest of quantitative data, I’ve just pulled up the 2009 year sales ranking chart on my homepage back-end. I’m looking to see where the CDR’s fall.

        First charting position for a CDR is #36 Red Flag “Remnants”
        Then these are the next few in line:
        #44 Red Flag “Run”
        #60 A Blue Ocean Dream “Father to Son” (autographed)
        #66 Red Flag “RMXDII”
        #111 Red Flag “Time is the Reaper (album)”
        #152 Red Flag “Misery Loves Company”
        #152 Red Flag “Unleash All Hell”
        #154 Glasspool “Unconventional”
        #227 Tenek “Stateless”
        #231 Blind Faith and Envy “Media Motel”
        #276 Divamee “Experimental”

        I’ll ignore all the next ones because they are items that have sold 1 unit or less in 2009. Also note, there are two CDR releases unlisted on this chart because they sold out, thus dropped from the current list: Chinese Theatre’s limited (100 worldwide) CDR sold about 20 units and would have charted here. Also I sold a few Channel East CDR singles until it was gone.

        So, you have to get to #36 before you get to a ranking CDR. Then most of them are Red Flag items. The last item on this list above sold 3 copies this year.

        Also note, these are items purchased through A Different Drum’s shopping cart. I may have sold a few additional CDRunits to overseas mail-orders in Germany which would not show in the chart (particularly Red Flag).

        You could argue that there are less CDR’s ranking highly because there are simply less CDR’s compared to replicated CD’s, and that’s true. But there is no doubt in my mind: FOR A MAIL-ORDER STORE, the buyers generally don’t want CDR’s like they do CD’s. ‘Tis a fact. Sure, I’ll sell a few. But not many.

        For what you’re saying though, about autographing CDR’s at shows– that’s a completely different beast and can be a quick way to make a few bucks and give the fans something special that they can ONLY get at the show. I’ve seen it done with great effect before. For example, Monolithic sold 20 CDR’s (no artwork or anything) at an ADD festival, just autographing the non-play side of the disc and dating it. He sold them for $10 each and made $200 in about 10 minutes because there was a line to get them. It had exclusive demos on it, so people wanted something they’d only get from the artist at the show. Perfect! Yes, they are very useful in that way, which I believe I mentioned in my blog. Exclusive stuff sold as an addition to regular products, and as promos, etc.

        So yes, CDR’s have their place. Just realize that that place isn’t necessarily in mail-order stores, which is my area of expertise.


        PS. I know you were talking to Vlad here. I just thought I’d put in some interesting stats and agree with you about the use of short-run CDR’s at shows. Oh, and Vlad HAS been to one of your shows, when you played at the ADD festival in SLC. He came to all of those, if I remember correctly. He shows up at almost every festival event I’ve been to, and always spends a bucket of money on CD’s, for which I’m grateful. At least…if I have the right Vladimir in mind.

  11. Hey Todd,

    I x-posted this on my Caustic wordpress blog. Thanks for taking the time to write it. I definitely appreciate the perspective although I don’t totally agree with it, but I try and share all sides of the discussion so I hope you don’t mind the extra hits;)


  12. Eric, I don’t want to turn this discussion into our personal fight. It would be easy, though – I could always say, for example, that you haven’t seen me on your shows because I haven’t seen you coming into my city. But that would be quite stupid, right? We all know that musicians in this genre can’t play wherever they want and whenever they want, but it is also true for the fans – we cannot travel everywhere anytime. At least, most of us… And to finish this subject – you haven’t seen me, but I’ve seen you! And one of your albums that I have is actually autographed by you.

    Now for your question. I think, you’re missing a point somewhat. The point here is that collectors have a perception that a factory CD is a “real” product, while a CDR is not a real product. And a mp3 file is not a product at all. So any shortcomings that the “real” product might have make it less of a product only in comparison with other real products, but still don’t downgrade it into “not real” category. It’s like Hollywood movies – some are made better than others, but they still are movies, made by professionals, and even the worst ones can’t be compared to home made videos. It’s a different category. So – yes, nice digipack with 24 page booklet is better than one page with crappy artwork, but they both are still “real” products. Who knows, maybe this crappiness is a part of creator’s idea? Maybe he wanted it to be like that? But the CDR doesn’t offer even this lame excuse, it just goes from the start like this – “what do you expect, it’s just CDR, cheap and simple, they didn’t put much effort into it”.

    I know, it may sound stupid and don’t make much sense, but unfortunately, that’s the reality. As somebody mentioned, the CD was created as a standart, and for years they were building this standart into minds of collectors. Now things have changed, but it will take a while to change perception of the mind. And what could help, in my opinion, it’s the difference in prices. If there’s an offer for a factory CD for $10 and a CDR for $3-$5, it might make a difference. But as long as it’s $10 for both – you’ll have a hard time trying to prove that there’s no difference. Even if there really isn’t…

    • Oh, dear, I’m certainly not trying to sound combative. I understand and respect your opinions. I’m just saying that it’s your prerogative not to buy stuff based on your own preferences, and that I don’t remember you from our admittedly limited number of shows (hence the smiley face). But I can’t strictly say your preferences, or those of anyone who considers themselves a collector, can be extrapolated into industry trends. Certainly my own data shows that CD-R’s sell fine, and that digital sales are really where the market’s trending for sales overall, so given economic pressures, I have to not disregard the cheap option out of hand. And also, I am just not sure what collectors *want*, not being one myself. What is it specifically that makes a format collectable? If I handed you a CD-R as part of a nicely put-together box-set, would that be problematic? Or if I handed you a replicated CD with 1-color labelling in a paper sleeve, is that still “professional?” Help me out here, I’m genuinely lost. Is it the fact that it’s replicated that makes it “serious”, or is it the complete package?

      I also would like to point out that I’ve mentioned a few times that the CD-R’s in question get sold at VASTLY cheaper prices than pressed CDs. That’s sort of been the crux of my argument, and perhaps I’m not presenting it well. If I can make my entire production costs back selling 100 units at $3 each, it works great for me as an artist, and a regular consumer (non-collector) pays about half what they’d have to pay for a CD otherwise. Given the way people are spending right now, price differences can be a deciding factor. I would never, ever, expect anyone to sell a CD-R for $10 – that’s just asking for trouble. And it’s just greedy.

      • You’ve made some good points in this response. With how people are spending and for those who don’t care about a burned cd vs. an honest to goodness real cd, the price really DOES make a difference. I rarely, if ever, buy cd’s anymore just because I can’t afford them. Kind of hypocritical considering I’m a recording artist with cd’s to sell! Digital mp3’s have totally changed the market. I’m currently going through all my personal cd collection, getting rid of all the jewel cases and putting the cd’s into sleeves with labels, because of all the burned CD-R’s I have from digital downloads. My collection of cd’s were a mess!

        Having a bunch of CD-R’s as an artist and selling them at a very low price is a GREAT way to be heard and to get your name out there. With home studios being a much more reasonable option for musicians now, there’s an incredible influx of Joe-Blow bands on the internet now. It’s so hard to be heard above the noise and to be found. Is this method for the avid collector? By all means, NO. But it IS a terrific idea to make a name for yourself.

        I’m not sure about the packaging question. What I’ve seen, is that the more professional replicated runs have better artwork and graphics. Maybe it’s because the artists are taking the project more serious and so they don’t want to put out something that looks homemade. I would think it’s the whole package – ALL of it needs to be professional, even if it’s a single insert or a 12 page booklet, along with the replicated cd.

  13. Considering you can get 1000 replicated CDs in bulk form (no packaging – on spindles) for $500 from a place like Disc Makers, that $300 spent on duplicated CD-Rs doesn’t look like much of a deal.

    That’s what I’ll be doing for my next (I, Parasite) album, as I’m printing the packaging on a vintage letterpress and assembling the packages by hand, to really make it special for the fans. For me tossing a CD in a jewel box just doesn’t cut it anymore. (Also I’m trying to reduce the amount of plastic used in my album releases.)

    I’m really looking forward to CDs going away entirely, because they’re an obsolete format – a plastic disc with some (merely 16 bit/44.1k) digital files on it. I just hope there’s a worth physical successor around the corner (It may just be vinyl for my audience).


    • See, now that’s fairly innovative. Usually the $500 spindles aren’t a viable option, because the packaging is something most people can’t do. The reason replication is so expensive is usually the packaging – Excursions, for example, cost well over a grand for the run of 1000 because we wanted an 8-page, 4-color booklet. But I just don’t have the cash to keep releasing albums that way, especially if I want to release more than one every 2-3 years.

      Individualizing the packaging is a really slick method for value-add. Unfortunately I don’t think everyone has the capacity to try stuff like that.

      I can’t understand why replication houses can’t do shorter runs than 500 (and many don’t do less than 1000). Seems like there could be a market there.

      • The bulk of the cost on replication orders is the glass master (that is part of the setup costs) and that’s why it is a minimum of 500…just to make it “worth” the setup cost. The discs themselves aren’t the major expense. Then the booklet printing is the other factor. Since they print those on “gang runs” with a lot of other CD booklets, the minimum is always 1000. So, even when you order 500 CD’s, they generally print 1000 booklets and you’ve got a lot of extras that they’ll either give to you (useful for possible reprints) or throw away.

        With that said, the price is coming down for the complete package. Look, here is a basic replication package for 1000 CD’s complete with everything around $1000:

        Even digipacks are quite affordable now:

        They only real “cost savings” you pick up doing duplication is just the fact that you’re making fewer finished discs. The cost-per-unit difference is minimal. If it were me, and I were Null Device, and my awesome label didn’t want to pay for the next release, then I’d go for a package like this, spend the $1100 or so for a great deal on 1000 replicated CD’s, plan to sell 300-500 of them in this crazy market, and plan to give the same amount away just to spread the love and get the music in the hands of would-be fans. Note: I’m not saying to give them all to DJ’s or media folk. Give them to regular music fans!!

        Here is one way I did it with my first CD single. I went to and bought an airplay package. Then when the campaign was over, I emailed everybody that had clicked that they “liked” my song or clicked to be a “fan” and offered them a free CD. A few replied and I sent out some CD’s. Sure, that came with some cost, but that’s promotion for you. Relatively speaking, it is pretty cheap. Similar things could be tried with other music sites– once you have a “fan” in the network, give them something for free and they’ll love you forever 😉

        Or the Color Theory method. Brian had too many copies of three of his album just taking of garage space. He had a new album coming out (“The Thought Chapter”) and wanted to promote it. So, he sold boxes of CD’s to me for $1 each and put stickers on the front inviting people to check out his new album. Bingo! Suddenly all that dead weight became a promotional tool. Color Theory CD’s jumped up on my sales charts too, here at A Different Drum. People were picking up all three of those albums at a time…only $3 each.


      • There are print shops all over the place. I bet with some searching you can find a better deal that what most of the big replication plants charge. I’ve found blank recycled card CD slip sleeves, even wallets for not too much money online. Then find a screen printer, or a full color print shop and see what they offer.

        It’s really more about imagination than PHEARSUM PRINT SKILLZ. I’m learning most of this shit as I go along – and I’m bound to make mistakes, but with some research and planning I think I can offer something special to people who still care about physical releases.

        If you’re looking for ideas that go beyond the jewel box, RotoVision has some really cool books that are loaded with great packaging ideas, some of them requiring a crazy ass budget, but others are totally DIYable.

        In my particular case I’m lucky that my album art lends itself to letterpress, and that I found a shop in Brooklyn that rents the place to to your own printing. They even offer one-on-one lessons, which I’m going to do to start. But printing more will just mean renting the space and taking my ass down there to do some manual labor. Often the more labor you do yourself, the less it costs in dollars.

        All this said, I agree that it would be great to be able to do 500 runs of replicated CDs. I’d definitely prefer to press them in those size batches, due to the waning interest in the format.


  14. Eric, I certainly agree that the digital world is taking over and that you, or any other musician, should not ignore it. But as CDs become obsolete, so are CD buyers, and very soon a task of satisfying them will have nothing to do with task of spreading your music. In other words, if you want your music to be heard, CD format won’t be a way to go. Or at least, not a main way.

    Even today the number of CD buyers is so low that it cannot justify the expenses of making CDs. So you can either abandon the whole idea or still make them, in order to satisfy those few fans, and look for ways to avoid any losses. But when you try to eliminate those losses with those CDRs, you’re actually trying to substitute the product. People want factory made CDs, but you’re trying to convince them that those CDRs are the same thing. This is not going to work – those who are flexible and don’t really care have switched already to other forms, digital of course. And those who are left, they are just stubborn collectors who want the same thing they got used to. You won’t be able to change them. And the truth is, even you find a way to make money on replication CDs, there’ll still be only few sales. Not all fans are collectors…

    As for the difference between them… Somebody gave you a very good answer: they shouldn’t look home-made. And “factory-made CD” already implies that, as opposed to “CDR”. You can make and sale thousands of those CDRs, for many people it will still sound as home-made. Keep in mind, all the economics that is being discussed here, is not a common knowledge. I know several people who believe that the mere existence of a CD means that there are thousands of them by default. “Nobody will bother to make just a few hundred”, they say. Their thinking goes like this: if Britney Spears sells 15 million copies in first week, than some “supergroup” of the genre like De/Vision must sell something around 1 million. And other bands – tens of thousands. And they refuse to accept real numbers, they say – no, it’s not true, they are lying because they don’t want us to know how many they sell in reality.

    It may sound foolish, but the perception of a CD as the only “real thing” is very strong. So ask yourself, what do you want – to fight it or accept and accomodate it?

    • Sorry for “15 million in a first week”, I was thinking about some other example… Let it be just total numbers, not weekly.

  15. Todd,

    As a customer of indie labels (yours semi-regularly), and a former sales manager for a media distributor (of CDs, DVDs, and books – You may recall Four Winds Trading…) – you’ve hit this issue straight on the head. CDR’s say “upstart”, pressed, professionally replicated CD’s with a true UPC say “established.”

    I can (and do) make CDR’s in my home studio. Replicated CDs make the statement that “I think enough of my product to make the investment – you should too.”

    I’m with you in thinking that the ownership experience means more to me than having a “license” to play my music. I want to put the media in, and have the music come out… Maybe I’m just old, but you know what? It’s the small pleasures in life, and that is one of them…

    Remodeled Citizen

    P.S. One place I DO think the CDR is a valid platform, and I wish were explored more frequently – the capture & immediate release of live shows. I love the notion that a band COULD (and so rarely does) actually capture the “live” experience to media, and markets that specifically to the audience OF THAT SHOW!

    • I think we’re going to see more on-site live recordings soon, now that a lot of live performance systems (Mainstage, Ableton, Digidesign Venue Systems) have the ability to capture an entire performance to disc at the touch of a button. The disconnect may come in the fact that it really could still use some mastering and editing, and burning a CD takes a few minutes at best. I know after I come offstage I have barely enough energy left over to towel off and sit at the merch booth looking spaced-out. Asking me to burn and edit a CD would probably just lead to disaster.

      (Just FYI, all m CD-R’s come with true UPC’s. I’m thorough about that.)

  16. One other thought as I read through all the insightful comments above… In many ways the music industry is coming to view the actual medium of content deliver as a LOSS LEADER (sad, but true)…

    The REAL money (if it exists in this industry any more) comes in sales of the EXPERIENCE that a band can encapsulate in a live show, resell via merchandise, etc.

    When evaluating a business (band), one has to ask, what does this venture have going for it? What has been invested? And what are the avenues of payback? I am completely in agreement with Todd that a pressed disc sent to a club, venue, etc. brings a glow of “professionalism.” That, along with with consistent follow up, would sooner result in a booking and the associated door / merch sales thereof than would a CDR.

    So – would a band lose money on a pressing? Possibly – but what about the upside of increased performances, merch sales, etc. to be considered as well?

    …Just another .02 – Which I’ll give for free – cause that’s all it’s worth…


  17. For me, it’s strictly an issue of quality. I find both my CD player and computer have issues reading CDRs sometimes, so when I see the release is a CDR, I’ll look for it on iTunes or Emusic instead of paying for a product that may or may not work.

    But you’re right: there is certainly a perception that comes along with a CDR, and like you’ve noted, it isn’t a positive one.

    • That’s very true. Older CD players in particular were never designed to handle a CDR and there can be a lot of problems tracking them. They might be able to track the old fashion 74 minute CDRs but the new standard of 80 minutes seems to be more finicky. A manufactured CD should be able to play in any CD player with no worries, unless it’s seriously scratched, or something of that nature.

  18. If I was to do a CDR release I would probably go out of my way to find high-quality 74 minute CDRs, it will take some internet searching and they will be more expensive, but they are more on the level of archival quality. If I was doing professional audio mastering I would only burn to 74 minute CDs for CD replication purposes, unless they absolutely needed a longer album.


    “Hurry and jump from the 80 minute frying pan into the 90 minute fire. The maximum capacity of a disc that fully conforms to the Philips/Sony Orange Book standard is 74 minutes. Higher capacities require a forgiving write or read drive. Some drives tolerate defects but many do not.

    Program area diameters must be between 50 mm and 116 mm. Successful optical resolution of data requires a track pitch of 1.6±0.1 micrometers and a scanning (constant linear) velocity between 1.2 m/s and 1.4 m/s at 1X.

    74 minute discs normally use a track pitch of about 1.59 micrometers and a scanning velocity close to 1.22 m/s. Adequate margins absorb normal manufacturing variations. Higher 80 minute capacities are achieved by reducing track pitch to 1.497 micrometers and by lowering the scanning velocity to 1.1975 m/s. Not only are these values outside specified limits, manufacturing process variations make the situation even worse. The result is unpredictable write and read quality.

    90 minute discs have nominal track pitch and scanning velocity values that are significantly outside specified limits. Such discs also violate addressing requirements of the standards that allow a maximum ATime in the program area of 79:59:74, or 80 minutes.

    Of course, rules can be broken sometimes without suffering the consequences of such actions; but not always. Because there are no drive standards, discs that work in some drives can fail in others. If the disc conforms to media standards, then the drive is at fault when failure occurs. If the disc violates media standards, then the disc is at fault when it cannot be written or read.

    Increasing volume and falling prices for both media and drives often result in quality problems. Even 74 minute discs can fail interchange and longevity requirements. Pushing the envelope with 90 minute, or even 80 minute discs, is a sure path to failure.

    Reliable, 63 minute CD-R and CD-ROM discs were once common. Performance of such media was very reliable for several reasons, including a conservative design that stayed well within program diameter, track pitch, and scanning velocity limits. Such discs are rare today because of the popular demand for higher and higher capacities.

    74 minute CD-R discs represent the highest capacities that can achieve dependable interchange. If you bend or break the rules then be prepared to accept the consequences.”

  19. Robert makes a good point, and it is directly applicable to me : the last time I bought decent CD players was in the early nineties. Sound quality was very important to me, and went to the rediculous lengths of buying a bitstream player for clasiical music, and a delta sigma player for electronic/pop music.

    These players are now old, and the lasers are beginning to dim. Sometimes they dont like playing 80 min CD’s, and usually choke and skip on CD-rs. My car CD player has never liked CD-rs, and is a factory fitted disc changer with a remote head, and changing it out would be world of hassle.

    I dont think i will ever get round to replaceing any of these devices, because CD is just not where it is at. But still buy replicated CD’s to listen to in the car.

    I could play CD-r’s in my laptop, or in my ps3 if i felt the need. However, even my new netbook doesnt have an optical drive slot.

    So personally, CD-r is not an option for me, and probably for a lot of other people with aging equipment, which will never get replaced.

  20. I started a link on the Side-Line forum about this inspired by this post. This is a critical post Todd and you are talking about something that is the biggest issue facing music today.

  21. Splendid article. You summed it up for me as well.

    Yes, I would much prefer CDs over CD-Rs. And I know the process as I have had to work with factories to press CDs for a government project. I understand the costs too.

    As for the Red Flag releases, I do really wish they Red Flag would release them on CDs. I have had a few Red Flag CD-Rs melt in their special packaging previously. I have now transferred all my leftover Red Flag CD-Rs to paper envelopes. It’s heartbreaking to see the inks run and the CD-Rs melt onto the sleeves.

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