Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Rant on the Virtues of CD Baby

It probably won't surprise anyone that I buy a lot of music. While I'm starting to give in to the inevitability of sometimes purchasing my music as mp3 files, my preference is the CD format. Even though I tend to convert my CDs to mp3 format myself, I like having a hard copy of my music, and I also like having the album art, lyric sheets, musical credits, etc., that usually come with the purchase of a CD.

Whenever I can, I purchase my music either from or CD Baby. I put in an order to one, or both, pretty much every two weeks (when I get paid). I like them because they're reliable -- if you buy a CD, you get that CD, and usually in a timely fashion. And if, for some reason, it gets lost in the mail, they generally give me no trouble sending a replacement copy.

Sometimes, however, a band will put out a new CD, and only make it available for sale through its website. Initially, I would go ahead and order (with some misgivings about the security), usually paying with Paypal, so I had a recourse if the CD never showed up. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that while I had problems with stuff I ordered from Amazon and CD Baby less than 1% of the time, I was having trouble actually getting the CD I ordered maybe 30-50% of the time when I ordered directly from the band. I always got my money back -- eventually, if I couldn't get anyone to respond to my e-mails, I'd put in a claim with Paypal, and after they had the same problem getting anyone to answer them as I had, they would refund my money. The problems were the hassle of trying to continually get a response from someone, and the disappointment of never getting the CD that I had wanted.

Of late, I've generally given up on ordering from bands' websites, just because it's such a hassle. It has to be a band that I really like for me to risk it, and even then, I all too often find myself regretting going against my policy.

Recently, a new album came out from a local band who also has a national following. I checked both Amazon and CD Baby, but neither had the album available in CD format. The band was, however, selling it from their website. Reluctantly I ordered it. I should have known better.

Here's the thing -- sometimes even when they have the best of intentions, musicians aren't necessarily good business people. Such was the case here.

After waiting until it was clear that the album was late in arriving, I tracked down contact info, first through my wife's Facebook page, and eventually through an e-mail address that turned out to belong to the lead singer.

When I heard back from her, she was very apologetic, and promised to "jump on it tomorrow". She explained that the band had been on tour, and getting things out in a timely fashion had been a nightmare. She also explained quite sensibly that she didn't usually put a return address on the packages that she sent out because she didn't want people knowing where she lived.

I asked her why she hadn't used CD Baby, and apparently in the midst of changing labels and preparing for a tour, she had thought it would be easier to do it herself. But she had already had some problems with angry fans who didn't get their stuff, and weren't must assuaged even when she threw extra merch in their make-up packages.

About a week and a half later, when I still hadn't received my CD, I e-mailed her again, and she told me it had taken longer than she expected to get to the post office, since, like many musicians who haven't made it to that next level, she is still working a day job.

After another week or so, I got a bulk e-mail from her, apologizing to fans but reassuring us she had just mailed everything out on that day. (So when she said it had taken her longer than expected, what she didn't mention was that we weren't talking past tense, we were talking future tense -- as in "It took me longer than expected, and I still haven't done it." The e-mail assured us all that our packages would arrive in 7 business days, but reminded us that with the Labor Day Holiday, it still might be longer than expected.

Finally, after the package still failed to arrive, I contacted her again, and she replied that was weird, she was going to look into it. I few days later, when I hadn't heard back from her, I contacted her again, and she told me she had checked and that my package was still in transit. (She didn't mention why I had to contact her to discover this instead of her immediately contacting me when she learned it). Finally, the package arrived a few days later, on the Friday I was going to tell her if I didn't get it by the following Monday, I was canceling the order. Oh, and when it did arrive, it was postmarked for three days earlier than the day came.

Now as it happens, I really like this band. But at this point, this album would have to be the next Quadrophenia to make the album anywhere near being worth the aggravation it took me to finally get it. I can't imagine ordering any more CDs directly from a band's website. And as for this band, I still like them. But now, whenever I listen to them, there will always be this bad taste in my mouth from having to work so hard just to get what I ordered.

The moral of the story -- if you're a musician, use CD Baby. Don't piss off your fans.