Rich Warren Weighs In On Sending CD's Vs Digital Downloading

Posted on March 17, 2010

Rich Warren / WFMT has been a well regarded DJ on the scene for quite a while.  He weighs in on sending CD's to radio stations vs using services such as Airplay Direct (a service that I use and endorse).   I thought it would be valuable to us all to consider his points.   Here is what he has to say:

I posted these two posts on the FolkDJ-L listserve and it was
suggested I post them here as well. The two are inter-related.

1. Mailing a CD in a simple cardboard pocket (the kind of CD package
similar to the old LP jacket) in a plain manilla envelope is asking
for trouble. I already have received two broken CDs packaged and
mailed this way. I realize it is necessary to economize on postage.
The reason the post office gives a lower rate to CDs packaged this
way is not merely because they are lighter, but because they can be
run through the automated sorting and cancelling machines. Crunch.

I have not had a problem with Compass CDs that are mailed in plain
manilla envelopes, because their CDs are in tri- or quad-fold
packaging. That extra layer or two of cardboard makes all the difference.

As much as the padded bags are environmentally wasteful, more
expensive to buy and more expensive to mail, they do protect the CDs
better than just an unpadded or un-reinforced envelope.

2.  Eric Andersen once wrote a song entitled: "It's Coming and It
Won't Be Long."

We had a panel at the recent Folk Alliance International Conference
focusing on digital music distribution to radio. In addition to two
fellow DJs (Tom Power from the CBC and Jim Blum from Folk Alley) we
had representatives from the three most important independent folk
record labels: Garry West from Compass, Marian Levy from Rounder and
Ellen Stanley from Red House.

First, Tom Power, informed us that the CBC is years ahead of most of
us in that all music now resides in a central server. Anyone with the
proper authorization can access music for his/her programming via the
Internet from anywhere in Canada.

Garry West shared a statistic, and my apologies to Garry if I don't
have it quite right, that there are 160,000 new CD titles released
each year, but only 6,000 of them sell over 1,000 copies. (I welcome
correction if I am wrong, please don't blame Garry.) Needless to say,
very few of those 6,000 come from Compass, Rounder and Red House. For
every Alison Krauss there are many Rounder titles that sell fewer
than 1,000 copies.

I think you can see where this is going. . .

If Compass sends out 100 copies of a release to DJs on this list, and
each release costs them $3-$5 to send to you (CD, packaging and
postage) they have to sell quite a few of that specific CD to make
back the cost of these promotional copies. Worldwide, mailing out
1,000 promo copies can put a record label deeply in the red. While
all the labels were sympathetic to the plight of folk DJs who are not
paid and often not employees of the station on which their programs
are broadcast, they also questioned how long they could afford to
mail promo copies to program hosts and the radio station.

The solution is digital Internet distribution. All three labels are
working with AirPlay Direct, a company based in Nashville. I spoke
with one of its executives who said they were very concerned about
independent artists and folk radio. They plan to offer independent
artists a substantial discount for distributing their music. It costs
radio stations / program hosts nothing to download music from AirPlay Direct.

I mentioned that for AirPlay Direct to succeed, it must offer an
easy, all-inclusive download format. I was told that Version 2.0,
rolling out in June would fulfill this. With a single click it will
download music, graphics, all necessary information and promo
information. The DJ can then decide what he/she wishes to keep, print
out, move to the automation system, burn, etc. All music files will
be available in .WAV format. AirPlay Direct very much wants to hear
what we (as folk DJs) want. It exists for our convenience (and of
course, to make a profit, and that profit comes from the labels/artists).

Marian, from Rounder, said all stations receiving promo CDs would
automatically qualify for AirPlay Direct downloads and hopes to wean
stations from physical CDs soon. You can check with Rounder promo
director Brad Paul for details. Many of you already may have received
an E-mail or letter from him concerning AirPlay Direct.

Garry from Compass said their goal also was to shift from physical
mailings to AirPlay Direct downloads, although the Compass timetable
didn't sound quite as urgent as Rounder's. Ellen from Red House said
for the moment they will continue mailing as they were just ramping
up AirPlay Direct distribution and hoped DJs would experiment with it.

We, as program hosts, can rant, rave, scream and cry, but promo CDs
are going away. The economics no longer work. Also, if you read
between the lines of the recent Postal Service announcement, while
standard first class letter rates will not increase this year, other
postal service rates will increase. Expect to see another doubling in
CD mailing costs in 2011.

Owning a PC or Mac with broadband Internet connection will be
required for program hosts who wish to continue programming and/or
producing their programs at home. Don't shoot the messenger, but this
will be the cost of entry. Radio stations will need the same, plus a
server that can store all of the music it downloads, the downloads
supplied free of charge by the record labels and independent artists.

If a music file downloads corrupted, it's easier to download it again
as compared with receiving a broken or damaged CD in the mail. That
independent artist in Ireland who was wailing about the cost of
distributing CDs will be able to offer his CDs to every radio station
and program host in the world (that he authorizes) for about $50 a
year via AirPlay Direct. That's about the cost of international
mailing of 10 CDs.

Personally, I love CDs and the transition to music files stored on my
computer or the station's servers will be painful. It will entail a
learning curve and a slightly different way of thinking. However,
according to Tom Power, who has worked with this system since nearly
all of his career in radio (since he is in his early 20s), it's the
ideal system. (Tom, if I'm misinterpreting you, please correct me.)

I won't go into all the philosophical aspects, such as even more
would-be folk performers sending music to radio (but remember, with
AirPlay Direct, you decide what to download) or the survival of the
album concept versus singles. That's another conversation.

The big advantage of direct digital downloads is that if the record
label / artist thinks you are a legitimate program host (that is,
they have verified you host a real program whether over-the-air or
on-line) you will have access to music. It no longer will be an
economic decision whether they can afford to send you a CD as it is
now. We can cut the postal service out of the equation. Also, if an
album is topical or someone writes a terrific short shelf life
single, you can have it instantaneously. That's already possible, but
not in an organized way. Also, artists can spend more time on writing
and touring rather than packaging and making trips to the post office.

I know this post will generate considerable conversation on this
list. Please remember, "don't shoot the messenger." It is not my
decision to stop mailing CDs. As I said, I love my CDs, but I am
willing to move on.

At the recent Folk Alliance International conference there was a man
recording wax cylinders of artists as a demonstration of that
technology. It think that provides the perfect contrast for this
evolution. While WFMT can still play 78 rpm records, we draw the line
at cylinders.


Rich Warren
The Midnight Special & Folkstage
98.7 FM WFMT Radio (syndicated / Sirius/XM "The Village")
5400 N. St. Louis Ave. Chicago, IL 60625
Send CDs to: P.O. Box 58, Mahomet, IL 61853

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