“Recursions” has been out for a month now and I’ve been tracking it with much interest. For me, it’s not merely a release, it’s part of a continuing experiment in distribution models.
We did “Footfalls” as a giveaway, to see if it would boost album sales for “Sublimation.” It did, kinda. We did something similar for “London” and it too gave AMDM a little bump – helped probably by the fact that this time we got the label on board to help out. We also printed a number of CD versions of it to sell at shows, and those, surprisingly sold out quickly.
When we conceptualized “Recursions”, we decided to take the idea to its logical conclusion – this wasn’t going to be just another “hey download some free tracks from the internet!”, we were going to treat this like a full release. That is to say, full distribution channels, available downloads, tracking, etc.
In terms of both marketing and money, it’s been our most successful release to date. It hasn’t sold as many copies as, say, Sublimation, but unlike our other releases it’s completely recouped production costs, making a small profit even, given us a mess of contacts for promotion and “fan relationship” building, and the bulk of promo has been entirely word of mouth.
Production costs were kept low, mainly due to the fact that we didn’t produce a large run of CDs. We had 100 run up at a cost of roughly $130. Okay, sure, costs would’ve been higher if I didn’t happen to have a small mastering business that I could just use for my own purposes, but still, the upshot is we DIY’ed the whole thing. I cut costs here and there – bartering, begging, promising beer to people. I probably could’ve spent another $100 if I had to shell out retail prices for things like UPC codes.
Next step was to throw this all on bandcamp.com. I really, really like this service. It’s incredibly flexible and consumer-oriented, and I really want them to thrive. They’ve really hit upon something good for a distribution model – give the consumer the formats they want, while giving the artist the ability to control how things are distributed and what information is collected. Using their system, we gave away Recursions with an optional “enter your own price” field. Not only did people enter their own price, but they were awfully generous about it. I expected maybe a few people to throw a buck at it here or there – instead, an awful lot of downloaders spent $5-$10 (usually, the people who downloaded the high-quality FLAC or AL versions gave more). Better yet, we collected a lot of email addresses – people willingly signing up to our mailing list in exchange for downloading, meaning the next time we have a show or a release, we’ve got a significant number of new people to tell about it.
We spent another $35 to use TuneCore to put the album on Amazon, eMusic, iTunes, and elsewhere. I know, why bother when it’s free? Well, to see if people who don’t go to bandcamp.com find it and buy it anyway. Or to see if people who love the iTunes interface – I’ve heard they exist – buy it. The more places it is, the easier it’s to find. This should hit those stores in a few weeks yet.
All told, so far, this release has managed to make a small profit. Barely enough to, say, buy a hearty breakfast after a show, but still, this is an accomplishment that in over 10 years of writing and releasing music, hasn’t really happened before. Certainly not within a month of release, anyway (I *think* Sublimation may have finally sold out its first run. I haven’t seen sales figures on that in a few years).
The upshot is that DIY releases can work. Maybe not well enough to make a living on, but certainly well enough that they can pay for themselves. This isn’t news for some people, but for a band like ours, with a low profile and lower album sales, this is a Big Deal.