Although the popularity of downloaded music has had a negative effect on CD sales for major recording artists, CD's remain an important part of the marketing plan for most independent artists. Landing a recording contract with a major label used to be the only way an artist could place their CD in stores. While it remains difficult for an independent artist to break into retail on a national level, there are other ways for them to market and sell their CD's.
Have your CD professionally mastered before you release it. Mastering can mean the difference between a random collection of songs assembled on a disc, and a cohesive and professional-sounding collection. A mastering engineer will equalize levels across all tracks, add appropriate silent spaces between songs, and use high-end processors to add a sonic sheen to your songs. Don't skimp on the audio quality. If your CD is to compete for shelf space, it has to sound as professional as commercial releases.
Obtain a barcode for your CD. This barcode, or Universal Product Code, will be required by any retailer stocking your disc and is essential for tracking sales. While you can purchase one from a third-party vendor, it is usually cheaper and more convenient to choose a CD manufacturer that includes a barcode in their price quote.
Visit local independent music stores and ask if they'll consider stocking your CD. If you have a good local following, they'll be more likely to consider it since their risk is minimal. If you haven't built up a local audience, ask if the store will take a few copies on consignment. Offer the store a 50/50 split. Though a 50 percent commission seems a little high, remember that an artist signed to a label wouldn't get anywhere near that kind of cut.
Send your CD to independent radio stations that specialize in your genre, and ask to be added to their rotation. Do the same with online and print music sites, asking for a review of your music. Make note of any successes and add them to your bio and press kit. This will help you show that there's an interest in your music and lend you a little credibility in the marketplace.
Send query emails to online specialty music retailers, asking to be considered in their catalog. Don't waste time sending out mass emails to every catalog you find. If you're a folk band, the staff at a death metal site is unlikely to pay any attention to you. Do a little research to find ones that deal with music in your niche so that you'll have a more sympathetic ear.
Send your CD to a large online store so people anywhere in the world can buy your disc. CD Baby is one of the largest and most well known of these. Although you'll have to pay a registration fee for each CD, their website traffic is enormous, and so is the sales potential. You'll get a web page devoted to your CD, with sound samples and the biographic information of your choosing. All sales and shipping transactions will be done for you, and after they take their commission, a check will be mailed directly to you.
Add a shopping cart to your website, blogs and social networking sites so you can sell directly to interested customers. There are several third-party websites that specialize in this, and their pricing structures vary. The simplest way to do it is to add a Paypal shopping cart to your website. You'll have to process orders and ship the CD's, but the Paypal commission fees are minimal, and you'll have the added benefit of one-on-one interaction with your fans.
Tour relentlessly and let your audience know which retail outlets carry your CD. You should be taking your own little store with you to every show.
Approach regional distributors who specialize in your genre and ask them to consider adding your CD to their catalog. When you can show that you tour regularly, have a following, and can sell product, it will be easier to attract their interest.
Pay for the services of a graphic designer. Competition is stiff. Your CD artwork needs to be polished and professional to be taken seriously. Offer to do in-store promotional appearances at local music stores. This is appealing to store owners since it promotes your CD at the same time as bringing new potential customers into their store. Link to all retailers who stock your CD so that anyone who visits your website has instant access to your CD.
Don't overprice your CD. Customers are less likely to take a chance on an independent release that's priced higher than a best-seller. Don't expect to sell CD's just because a store agrees to carry them. Promote your release with newsletters, blog posts and live shows. As an independent musician, you're in charge of the marketing plan.