Written by Bo Brusco.
In the age of digital streaming services, many may feel it obsolete to be releasing physical music. Taking the steps to make vinyl records, cassette tapes, or CDs seems foolish when a one-time upload to DistroKid or TuneCore will do the trick.
But if you’re asking yourself: Are physical albums still worth it for bands? The short answer is yes. While records and CDs appear inconvenient in the age of Spotify, there is tremendous value in releasing physical copies of your music. Simply put, bands who go the extra mile to make records, tapes, or CDs will reap the extra benefits—even monetarily speaking.
Better Sound Quality
One of the most objective pros to selling physical copies of your music is that it will sound better in physical form—or at least different.
You see, when you stream music, all the audio recordings that you’ve spent weeks, months, maybe even years working on all have to be compacted into a smaller format like an MP3.
From there, those compact files are uploaded to whichever streaming service, and the quality isn’t necessarily bad, but it is not as good as it could be. Since the audio has been so compacted, details can be missed. The term often used to describe such audio is “lossy.”
When comparing streams to vinyl, sciencefocus.com says the case is closed: vinyl will always sound superior. “With vinyl, every single part of the analogue wave is captured in those grooves, making it the only true lossless format,” the site states.
However, aside from being susceptible to wear and tear, vinyl isn’t what it used to be. Most vinyl pressings these days come from digital recordings anyways, so it’s debatable whether or not you’re going to get that pure analog quality.
But that is not to say that there isn’t novelty in the general “vinyl” sound. And for many music enthusiasts (what’s up hipsters?!), that’s reason enough to make a purchase.
Cassette tapes follow a similar story. Unlike vinyl, there really isn’t an argument to be made that tapes sound better than streams—they don’t. However, tapes are all about nostalgia and have a quirky quality to them.
Now, CD of course stands for Compact Disk, and you’re probably asking: if streaming audio is so compact that they sound lossy, then shouldn’t a Compact Disk share that same undesirable quality? Well, while CDs contain compacted digital audio, they have a greater data-storing capacity.
So yes, CDs are still compacted digital audio, but their sound is lossless compared to streams and MP3s. For the curious reader, Disk Makers Blog did an explainer about CD-quality back in 2019, which you can read here.
Flex Your Marketing Skills
Now, maybe you’re an artist thinking you could never sell enough physical copies of your music to turn a profit. But if you’re a musician today, you’re probably more capable than you realize.
Given the current landscape of the music industry, most musicians are also professional marketers by necessity. Any artist who hopes to gain a fanbase today has a social media account where they’re constantly promoting shows and release dates.
And with so many musicians relying on the streaming business model, platforms like Instagram and TikTok are crucial conduits for streams. This constant effort to appease the algorithm gods has taught musicians useful marketing skills, so why not use them to sell physical copies of your music?
Sell It As A Piece Of Merch
It’s a token, a novelty. Some might even say it’s hip. Thanks to streaming services like Spotify requiring a ridiculous amount of streams to turn a profit, most musicians not only have marketing experience but are also experts at selling merch. For that reason alone, selling CDs or tapes is a natural extension of what most artists are already doing.
It’s also quite practical to think of records, tapes, and CDs as other valuable pieces of merchandise, especially if your music is still available via streaming. Selling physical copies at a show, for instance, is akin to selling T-shirts or hoodies—they’re not just items. They’re keep-sakes.
If I buy your CD during your live performance, it’s a physical reminder of a specific time. But this phenomenon can occur outside of shows too.
For example, I’ll never forget when I was a kid and I bought Chevelle’s Sci-Fi Crimes album the day it went on the shelves. I remember waiting outside of Target at some ungodly hour in the morning and sitting in the parking lot listening to the entire album while the sun rose.
Of course, most beginner musicians likely won’t even bother selling their disks through big department stores like Target, but that’s not to say you can’t create a similar experience.
Increases Appreciation For The Music
Physical albums just increase your appreciation—the principle of it and physical interaction. Sure. Your music can still be heard online without your listeners having to own it physically. But I think it’s obvious for many that removing that physical interaction with a record diminishes the overall experience with your music.
Let’s compare. Your new song is up on Spotify. To listen to it, I simply swipe my finger and tap on the title—boom. I’m in.
Now, what if I bought your CD online or at a show? I enter my car or my home with it. I’ve brought it physically into my space. I interact with the casing—peeling off the plastic and whatnot. I’m noticing the art everywhere—on the disc, on the case, in the little pamphlet that has more art and maybe lyrics.
In this second scenario, you’ve shared more than your music with me. With your CD physically in hand, I’ve performed a ritual that’s been forgotten to some. And younger generations may never even experience it.
And by taking these extra steps to hear what you’ve created, I have a greater appreciation for your songs now. It’s really devotion in a way.
Additionally, I feel a sense of ownership with your music now. Because I own your CD, your music is physically a part of my music collection.
All of this goes beyond simple sentiments. Providing this new way of interacting with your music creates new opportunities to connect with your fanbase—and that is more valuable than just a T-shirt.
It’s About Relationships
Relationships—that’s ultimately the biggest reason why you should still release music physically—it will increase the relationship you have with your fanbase.
Popular music-tip-giving YouTuber Damian Keys said back in 2020, “The CD is about nostalgia, but not only that, it’s about art, and more importantly, it’s about relationships. This is about the relationship you have got with your audience. More importantly, your fanbase. People listen to music, but your fanbase will buy. Your fanbase will buy into you—in to your journey and into your art and merch.”
And that goes for tapes and vinyl records too! The physicality of your music is another medium through which you can tell your story as an artist. Don’t think of it as just another way for people to hear your songs, think of it as a small part of a larger whole. What message, journey, or story are you trying to convey to your audience and how can these physical copies of your music help you accomplish your goals?