I’ve been to SXSW four times. On average, I probably bring home about 30 or so CDs – which doesn’t take into account the CDs I left at bars or just lost track of. For the first couple of years at SXSW until my car’s CD player broke, I’d actually try to listen to parts of every CD on the way from Austin to New Orleans.
I honestly don’t remember most of the music I heard during those road trips. All I remember is that most of the CDs I liked, I’d already heard because I’d downloaded them before I got to SXSW. But overall, I just recall a blur of no-name music handed to me by faces I would never be able to pick out of a lineup.
You know what I do remember? I remember being at the Smoker’s Club and Moonie from L.E.P. Bogus Boys coming up to me at the bar and telling the bartender to put my drink on his tab. Then he bought another for me. For poor, grad school student David D., it might as well have been Santa handing Ralph a Red Ryder BB Gun. For the 10 or 15 minutes it took me to finish my drinks, Moonie had my ear. We chopped it up about the Bogus Boys projects, their plans and what they had going on next.
Now, up until that moment, I wasn’t particularly familiar with the group. I’d heard of them from my Chicago days and knew they’d worked with Freddie Gibbs, but I couldn’t pick them out of a line-up and I damn sure didn’t know anything about their music. After our conversation, we shook hands and went our separate ways. Moonie never handed me a CD. He never even asked for my contact info (risky move, but still). Hell, I’m not sure he even knew anything about me until we started talking. He probably just saw me hanging around eskay and Gotty and figured he’d network.
For the weeks and months after that SXSW moment, whenever I saw an LEP Bogus Boys song I’d make sure to check it out because of some Pavlovian “hey, free drinks!” response their name triggered. I even ended up writing about some of their music on the site and they stayed on my radar.
Isn’t that your goal when you go to SXSW? To stand out when you meet a writer or industry professional? To make sure you’re remembered after the week’s booze and sore feet wear off? That’s why you go to SXSW as a musician, isn’t it?
So why are you still pressing CDs?
I understand why you press a thousand CDs when you head to Austin. “Hey, you never know who you’ll hand your CD to.” Yes, I do know who you’ll hand your CD to: someone who doesn’t give a sh*t. The only time CDs are even remotely effective is during a performance when crowds are clamoring for more music from you. But even that’s a 50/50 shot that they’ll actually listen to said CD. If you’re going to just walk around Sixth Street – or any street for that matter – trying to shove CDs into people’s backpacks, you might as well toss your music out on the highway and hope it lands in someone’s player.
There’s a simple economic reason pressing a large amount of CDs is a waste: overhead is your enemy. I’m not an econ expert (though I did score a four on the AP exam *pops collar*), but large overhead – many artists spend at least $500 pressing CDs, which is a lot especially when most of them have day jobs they’re working to support their hustle – with an uncertain and largely unreliable return on investment isn’t a smart way to spend your money. Add in the fact that CD playing devices are becoming rarer and rarer by the day.
I personally don’t have any devices that allow me to play CDs besides my Playstation 4. Macbook Airs don’t have CD players. My car’s CD player broke in 2010 and I haven’t bothered to get it fixed. If I buy a physical CD, it’s as a collector’s item and not for any actual functionality. So the effectiveness of your CDs is further diminished by technology.
Last year on Twitter, I shared a theory on how artists would be better served to spend their money, and the co-signs from “influencers” and established artists alike seemed to indicate I may have been on to something. So here goes: If I were an artist, I’d press maybe a small handful of music. I’d take the rest of my money and buy a gang of weed and keep the remaining cash on me at all times in Austin. When I’d run up with someone I wanted to connect with, I’d ask them if they wanted to smoke a joint or whatever (this won’t work on me as I’m straight edge so I’m better than you (c) CM Punk), roll the weed and hang out smoking with the target. For other people I wanted to connect with, I’d do what Moonie did – buy a drink and have a casual conversation. Get to know your target and figure out how to increase that connection going forward.
Now, you may think this comes off as bribing or a writing asking for “payola,” but that’s not the case. Think about any big industry event, listening session or social meeting any organization or company puts on. They’re all full of free drinks and cocktail weenies. What you’re doing is no different. You’re inviting a personality to your own, private industry pow-wow for 10-15 minutes at a time.
Plus, this is probably cheaper than all of those CDs nobody will listen to. Say you spend $500 on CDs. That’s the same price roughly as buying 50 drinks for music people, or, like, a lot of weed. I don’t know how weed works but you get the point.
You can’t put a price tag on an ability to network effectively and create a genuine connection. When that happens, you don’t need any CDs because I’ll be checking for you anyway. But just handing out CDs to whomever you run into is only flushing your money away. It’s also bad for the environment. So there’s that, too. There aren’t any rules to musical success. There’s no blueprint anymore. So while buying a drink is one thing that worked for Moonie, it won’t work on someone like Gotty who doesn’t drink [Ed. Note: Which is why you should always happen to have a pack of squares on you]. The point is, use your money or resources to create as organic a relationship and exchange of ideas as possible.
That will take you further than any pressed CD and a wish on a falling star ever will.