Will I Need CDs When I Release My Album?

Is Pressing a CD Worth the Expense?

Handing out CDs
Michael Loccisano/Staff/Getty Images

When you release an album, one of the first choices you'll make is how to make it available to fans. Of course, making it available digitally is a must, but what about​ a physical product? Is it worth it to press CDs?

Dispelling the Myth of the Demise of the CD

There's not a one-size-fits-all solution to this question, but there are some pros and cons to consider. Now, some people are adamant that no one buys CDs anymore, that they're old fashioned and outdated, and so on.

Still: do you think Wal-Mart would devote shelf space to something no one buys? Would record stores still be in business if people weren't buying physical copies? The question you really need to ask yourself is: do your fans buy them? Some genres of music are more inclined to sell in CD format than others, because of the preferences (and often, age) of the fans. Knowing your audience and how they consume music will help you make this decision.

Digital music has a lot of pros, but perhaps the most major one for people releasing their own albums is that the cost of distribution is so low. It removes a pretty large barrier - the price of manufacturing - from the process, allowing you to get your music out there faster without much of a cashflow issue. Digital distribution also democratizes the distribution process. If you press CDs, there will be a minimum cost of around $750 for 500 CDs, with the cost per unit gradually going down with volume.

 Digital distribution removes that from the picture.

If you can't afford to manufacture CDs for retail sale, or if you can afford it but don't have the means to make it worthwhile (no distribution, no money for promotion), then you could consider a digital-only release -- or you could consider a middle ground option.

The truth is that you're going to find yourself in some instances where physical product can help you. Some radio stations, promoters, and journalists are going to want a hard copy promo. It might be nice to have some of your albums available for sale at your shows. So, instead of pressing copies for a retail push, you could opt to do promo copies with very basic artwork, or none at all. You could also do a short run of CDs without any packaging or just in a jewel case, and do some handmade artwork that you can then sell at your shows. This option can cost as little as $1.00 per unit,even with low pressing volumes.

The Bottom Line

If your fans are the sort that purchase physical CDs, you should probably make sure they can do so. And even if you think your fans will mostly download the album, it still pays to have a short run of CDs available so you can promote your release and sell to people at shows. Keep the costs down by pressing low-cost promos or making your own artwork. When money is an issue, this gives you the best of both worlds.