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An Idea--custom Cds?


Here’s an idea. (Not mine. I collect ideas.)

Pretend you’re a consumer. (A lot of us used to be consumers, back when we had jobs and money.) You’ve got some extra bucks, and you’re going to buy A RECORD. Not Top 40 stuff, of course—that stuff is mostly tasteless pap these days, and overpriced to boot. You’ve got your eye (or ear) on an independent person—not in thrall to the big record companies, in other words—that you think writes pretty good stuff.

Thing is, you really only want a couple of the person’s songs that are on that latest album. Yeah, you’d probably buy the whole album just to get those songs—but wait. It gets worse. The guy’s got a couple of other songs you’d really like to have, only they’re on a different album. Supporting your local songwriter is one thing, but buying two CDs just to get a handful of songs you want may be stretching it. There is a recession on, after all.

Oh, you can download individual tunes from a variety of Websites—but those are *.mp3 files, y’know, and nowhere near as high quality as you could get on a bought CD. Besides, if you wanted *.mp3’s, you could probably get ‘em for free if you looked hard enough.

Here’s where the idea comes in. (It is being tried by a guy in Chicago.) We’ve all got Websites, right? (Okay, I’m working on mine, but it’ll be done soon—I promise.) And songs—or at least links to songs—are archived there, right? Why not let the CUSTOMER pick out the dozen or so songs that he or she would like to have on an album, pay for it (PayPal or credit card), and then you-the-author burn a CD with precisely those songs on it, package it, and mail it off? A custom-created CD, in other words?

Could take it one step further. We’ve got little photos or clip art next to each of those songs, don’t we—because we’ve become such a visual society, and people expect it. Why not, then, let the customer pick which one of those avatars he or she would like for the CD LABEL/ALBUM COVER? The only rule would be that the “cover art” would have to be the avatar from one of the songs picked for the album.

I could do this. It’d be a snap (well, except for the Website part that I haven’t gotten together yet). For me, the graphics templates all exist because I built them when I was putting together the “Broken Record” CD. I could maybe have your custom artwork printed in about the same time it took to burn your custom CD. And you would really have something special, that you wouldn’t be able to get in a record store. In fact, the big record companies with all their resources would be hard-pressed to be able to deliver anything like it.

This mechanism would work really well for me. I have two albums out; I don’t mention the first one much, because it was just me and solo guitar, and I just gave copies away to relatives and friends—but I have had some of them say they like some of the songs on the first album better than the second, and play ‘em more often. And now I’ve got about five hours’ worth of decent, performable material—but haven’t been able to afford to produce an album in over two years.

And maybe I shouldn’t bother. Instead, I could just record professionally, one way or another, every single one of those songs that doesn’t have a professional recording, and post them (or links to them) all on the Website, and let people assemble their own albums one by one.

Of course, I would still need CDs to sell at gigs. Those would essentially be “samplers” I’d assemble myself—my idea of what ought to be on an album, rather than the customer’s—and I’d burn short runs of them at home instead of sending them out to a duplication service. And I’d just tell people at gigs, “Y’know, you could go to the Website and create your own CD out of the five hours’ worth of music you’re going to find there.”

Could anybody do this? Yes. In fact, I know a few songwriters who are in the same boat I am, with a lot of material and not enough albums, and they might well be able to benefit from doing precisely the same thing. I may be a little faster at the graphic stuff, because it used to be my business, but tools are tools—they can be used by anybody. And the whole idea strikes me as (as my daughter would say) “very 21st century.”



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