Ok, in Part 1 of "I'm Still Selling CD's" I explained why I still manufactured CDs as recently as summer of 2017, and about how I've shifted the purpose and target audience for CDs so they can continue to be a successful part of my overall strategy. I also explained that part of that shift involves offering every CD purchaser a download of the CD. In this post, I am going to get in the weeds about how I give out the downloads and why I prefer this method.
I'll be honest, I don't know that this idea is helping me get more sales. Of the 200 CD sales from my summer tour, only about 10% have redeemed their codes. To me the biggest takeaway from that fact is that either there are a lot of generous people, a lot of trivet collectors, or that there are a lot of people who still listen to CDs. I digress.
Back to the topic. So you have a few different options when it comes to distributing album downloads to your fans. You could purchase download cards from any number of companies and hand them out with the CD. Don't do this. You're just throwing away money. Not to mention you'll be adding the hassle of counting them out and in for each gig, the real estate they take on the already crowded merch table, etc etc. Many of these companies also charge you according to your file size or a hosting fee, and the codes often have expiration dates. Blech. Also, will these companies still exist in a few years???
You could also just print a permanent link with a single unlimited use code into your album art. I don't love that idea either...I mean, I don't think I'm losing lots of money to piracy, but I don't need to literally hand over the keys to that. And then, in theory, I have to keep that webpage active forever.
So I’ve come up with a solution that is secure, takes no room, doesn’t require counting inventory, and is virtually FREE. My solution involves printing unique codes onto Avery print-at-home labels and sticking them on the front of every CD. Yes, depending on the number of CDs you manufacture, this could take a little while. But I did 300 CDs in a few hours from design to finish. Besides sticking them on the CDs, there's really two steps:
- Getting your download codes
- Designing and printing the labels
The finished product
Getting your download codes:
For getting your unique codes, I've used two services.
- Bandzoogle - Bandzoogle is my website designer/builder which is specifically geared for musician websites. This is my first choice for generating codes for several reasons. First of all, you can instantly generate unlimited codes (which never expire) for FREE and export them in .csv file format. On the backend, you can see how many of them have been redeemed and best of all, the download page is your website where fans can continue to engage, sign up for mailing lists or other calls to action, and increase traffic to your site. And unlike other services, you are in control of your website including whether or not your website stays up. Imagine if you had set this up on MySpace...it's still around believe or not, but do you want to send people there?
- Bandcamp - If you don't use Bandzoogle, Bandcamp has pretty much all the same features in terms of no hosting fees, ability to export codes in .csv format and tracking the number of redemptions. It's a great service with a pretty great free account. But with Bandcamp, you only get 200 free codes (after that they are 1.5-3 cents each depending on how many you purchase) and the download page is your bandcamp page, which is better than a random page, though not as good as your website. To put the cost into perspective, if you buy 300 codes at 3 cents each, that's still only $9. Basically free!
I'm sure there are others but these are the options that I can vouch for from personal experience and which should be around for a while.
Designing and Printing your labels
I use the Avery® Easy Peel® Address Labels, Permanent Adhesive, 1" x 2-5/8", 750 Labels (8160). These are about $10 for 750 labels and can be found at any office supply store. These are white lables (as opposed to clear) and are made for inkjet printers. They're also a good size to get all the info I want on them without covering too much of the CD artwork. Best of all, Avery® has a free and relatively easy-to-use web-based design software. Here's how I do it:
- Download your codes into a .csv file format
- Go to the design software here
- I would create an account. This way you can save your work and go back to it easily when you need to reprint or do a similar design.
- Follow the on-screen directions to select the "8160" labels
- Choose your design template. I start with the blank template. I like putting my logo on there because it looks nice, and because on some of my CDs it's going to be stuck on the CD cellophane which will be removed from the CD at some point.
- Here's the trickiest part which is importing your codes so that each label will have a unique code. I'll give my my directions below but you can also find this explained on the Avery website here under "How do I import data from a spreadsheet (mail merge) into Avery Design & Print?".
- On the left side of the page, click "Import Data" and then "Import Data" on the tab that opens.
- Click "Browse For File" and select your .csv file with the download codes
- Uncheck any fields, cells, or columns that are not download codes. (If you use Bandzoogle, your .csv file will have a column for your album title, the download link, and the unique download code. I recommend leaving all of those checked so you don't have to manually add them to your design). MAKE SURE YOU UNCHECK ANY ROWS OR COLUMNS THAT ARE COLUMN NAMES (ie "Title", "code", "URL")
- Click "Next"
- Drag the "Available Fields" one-by-one into the "Arrange Fields" box. You can add text and spaces if you want in this step though I prefer to do it later.
- Click "Next" and then "Finish"
- Your codes (and possibly your album title and download URL) should all appear on the screen. You can rearrange them to your liking, drag them around your design, change their colors, font, size, etc. (I don't go below 10 size font!) Keep in mind your design will end up on a relatively small 1 inch by 2.5 inch label so be conscious of legibility. Feel free to add whatever you'd like to the label (ie logo, website, social media, etc) but Make certain it is absolutely clear how to redeem the code by typing any instructions you feel necessary on the label. My labels say "1) http://sheldonlow.com/dl 2) Enter XXXX-XXXX"
- When you're finished designing, click "Preview and Print" in the lower right hand corner.
- Click "Print it Yourself" (unless you want Avery to do it for you)
- Click "Print Now." Pay attention to the warning about "Fit to page"...this should be unchecked in your printer dialogue box.
- I choose to just open the PDF instead of downloading especially because the software gives you the option to save to your Avery account in a couple steps.
- Go through your print dialogue and make sure "Fit to page" is unchecked. I also print in highest quality so that it's as legible as possible. I also select "label paper" in place of plain paper. These steps all ensure it's aligned and as clear a print as possible.
- Here's my best tip: Load one sheet of labels sticker side down and print only page 1 on the back of the page as a test. See the picture below. This is important to make sure your prints are properly aligned. After the page is printed, I hold it up to the light to make sure that no part of the print has gone over the edge of a label. If this happens, there is an option on the website to make a printer adjustment by shifting the print up, down, left, and right by increments of an inch or millimeter. Mess around until your test print is perfect and only then feed the labels in right side up.
Properly aligned test print on back of labels. Notice no part of the print on the entire page goes over the edge of the label.
A couple other tips.
- Make sure to watch out and only design within the safe area. If you are close to that edge in your design, it will make printing your labels much more difficult.
- Be mindful of colors, fonts, and sizes...you want this to be extremely legible and don't want your fans to have to guess what letter/number that is.
- I put in "CD Purchase Includes Free Download" in big underlined letters at the top of my labels
- These labels have a perforation so you can bend them back and easily peel them off the backing
- I saved a little real-estate by not including the album title on my sticker but I print more of these than I stick on CDs at any one time. With 6 albums, I don't want to confuse which stickers/codes are for which albums, so I use a different color for each album (matched to the artwork so it looks nicer this way anyway) and I also write the name of the album on the back of each sheet of labels.
That's really it besides sticking them on the CDs. Hope this was helpful and if there's anything that needs further explanation, something you discovered that's smarter, or anything else DIY musician related, leave a comment below!