[Editors Note: This article was written by Hugh McIntyre.]
For the most part, people stream the music they love these days, but that doesn’t mean physical formats are dead! In fact, they still make up a sizable chunk of revenue when it comes to the music industry, and sales of CDs – either at shows or otherwise – are still important to many independent artists who might not be able to rack up millions of streams every week.
Plenty of artists rising the ranks are still having CDs pressed when they have a new full-length to push to their fans, but what else could they be creating to sell at their merch tables at shows and in their online stores?
There are plenty of other physical formats that fans might be interested in, if only they were offered. Here are four alternative music formats that every musician should keep in mind, and potentially even invest in when the right time arises.
For a long time, many assumed that the cassette tape had gone the way of the dodo, but it turns out that’s not the case. In the past few years, these nostalgic musical vessels have actually mounted something of a comeback. In 2017, sales of cassettes grew by 35%, and while that is certainly a huge jump percentage-wise, the format is still only responsible for a tiny portion of all music purchases.
Having said that, cassettes are viewed more as a specialty item and a collector’s dream than a viable way for someone to play the music, so if you have a dedicated and sizable enough following, they may be willing to indulge and buy a tape.
It might be smart to include a free download of the song or album featured on the cassette as well, which allows them to press play on their computers or phones, as they probably won’t happen to have a Walkman on them at all times.
Yes, USB drives! Why, you might ask? Why not! Like cassettes, these are really more of a fun item to offer fans who are really in love with you and the music you create, so please don’t trade CDs for USB drives.
Instead, add them to your list of offerings, and do something to make it irresistible to your most ardent supporters.
The great thing about USB drives is that you can fill them with as much content as will fit, and that could wind up being the big selling point for many. In addition to the songs featured on your new album, think about throwing on some other tracks (demos, acoustic versions, or maybe unreleased material), videos, and photos no one has seen.
You can fit a lot on USB drives for very little money these days, so don’t skimp on the content!
Downloads are dipping in popularity every year, but they are far from gone. The downside when it comes to downloads on stores like iTunes, Amazon, and the like is that you can’t sell them at your merch table after wowing an audience with a killer show. Sure, some new fans may rush home and click the buy icon, but many more might forget or opt not to since the moment has passed.
A download card won’t solve this issue completely, but it’s a potential solve that may make you some money.
Download cards essentially allow you to sell the album or song for whatever price you want in person, and the fan gets a card with directions and a specific code they can enter and immediately download the music. If you’re looking to make a few extra bucks, browse some of the biggest manufacturers and see if this might be something you want to try out, if at least for one album.
As we all know, vinyl is super cool again, and it is only growing in popularity with every passing year, even though we’re in the age of streaming.
Millions have either rediscovered their love of wax or found them for the first time, and they’re set to continue to fly off store shelves for years to come. If you’re not already having vinyl made, you should at least do some serious research the next time you have an album on the way, as it can be a high-price item that many are willing to open their wallets for.
Vinyl is expensive to have made and to sell, but it’s highly-coveted, and if you’re going to try to expand your merch line with another physical format (in addition to CDs, of course), vinyl is perhaps the safest bet when it comes to making your money back.
There are tons of options out there for getting runs of vinyl cut for your next project, including the startup known as Qrates, which TuneCore partners with. Sure, that sounds a bit like a plug, but it’s actually been around for a little while now, and there are many bands out there that have already fallen in love with the business model.