Are your CD sales sluggish? Are you down with digital distribution channels like iTunes, but you want to complement it with something a bit more creative — actually putting something in the hands of your fans? If so, Pittsburgh band Dawn Canon might have an option: USB music distribution.
The concept is simple really. Your tracks are put on a personally-branded USB drive that fans can buy instead of a traditional CD. No more ripping just to transfer tracks to an .mp3 player. No more hassle trying to get songs setup on multiple systems and portable players.
USB drives might not seem like the most economical option, but it’s not really about that. It’s about the branding. it’s about giving fans something truly useful. Think of it almost more as merch than music sales. You’re selling the USB drive. It can be re-used for whatever the fan wants. They can keep your tracks stored there or they can back them up somewhere else and use the drive for their school assignments, work projects, or personal files. No matter how the use it the end result is the same — they’ll be keeping a reminder of your band with them, possibly wherever they go. It’s all about that branding boys and girls.
I talked to Joe, Allison, Lauren, and Dave about how Dawn Canon came up with the idea and what they thought about the risks of this kind of distribution model. Here’s what they had to say:
AX: What made Dawn Canon decide to release their debut EP on flash drives instead of either CDs or solely online via .mp3 downloads?
Joe: We liked [the] idea of having a USB drive that people can use well after the music has been dumped into their iTunes, and the uniqueness really appealed to us.
AX: How does USB production and distribution compare to of that of creating and selling CDs? How does it compare economically to going solely the online route?
Lauren: USBs are definitely a bit pricier than CDs, but this release isn’t just about making a fast buck, it’s about creating something cool for the people who dig what we do. It’s a limited run, almost like most vinyl releases today and they’re only available at shows. Our music can be found everywhere online though: iTunes, Rhapsody, Lala, etc.
AX: Do you believe that USB releases are going to replace CDs, or do you see digital downloads doing that where USB releases are more of a novelty for people who want a physical product in their hands (such as being able to buy directly at a show, so the band doesn’t lose those sales)?
Dave: The future is too unpredictable. I mean who would have ever predicted that vinyl would give way to 8-tracks, and 8-tracks to cassettes, and cassettes to CDs? It does seem like CDs are becoming obsolete, though I do not personally believe that USB releases will “replace” CDs. I think something else will come along that hasn’t yet been invented. Maybe they will have 3D music – a totally interactive musical experience like a holographic music video in your living room similar to Rock Band? Now that would be cool.
AX: Is there any kind of built-in protection to stop a fan from stupidly deleting the files from the USB drive, and if not, how would / should artists deal with those issues? Will there be some kind of purchase verification process (along the lines of software keys) that will enable them to replace the files (maybe some kind of limited access to re-download the songs from a private area of the band’s site)?
Lauren: No, we have more faith in people. But if you do happen to delete the files, you can always email the band at our site.
AX: Are your USB EPs branded, and if so how did you go about it (is there a company out there offering affordable customization that would work for most DIY artists)?
Lauren: Yes they are branded.
Dave: Our strategy was to find the two companies with the best quotes and see who could give us the best price. As far as being affordable, it depends on what kind of budget you are on, and how much you are willing to spend. Buying in bulk does lower the price per unit.
AX: How do you feel about music portability and the role USB drive releases might play in that? Are you intentionally trying to make sure that fans can put their purchased tracks on all of their computers, mp3 players, phones, etc., without the limitations some download services might place on them (or at least ways they make portability more difficult)?
Allison: Yes, that was the idea. Our thinking was that once the music gets into the computer (via USB), there’s no telling where it may go.
AX: Do you have any fear that widespread use of USB drives will simply make pirating easier, or are you looking at a more open approach to music?
Dave: No, I don’t think it makes it any easier If people want to pirate music, they’ll find a way regardless.
Allison: Our thoughts are of a more, open approach to music and we hope they share our music with their friends.
You can learn more about Dawn Canon and their USB music distribution by visiting their website at DawnCanon.com.