I recently "made" my own promo CDs for a publicity mailing, and wanted to share my method with other do-it-yourself (DIY) musicians out there.
In "the old days" of the recording industry, labels simply asked their distributor to make a set of promos and ship them to their publicist. Someone at the distributor would use a table saw or other cutting tool to slice through a box of CDs at a time, cutting a notch directly through the barcode, marking them universally as promotional inventory. I remember making the call when I worked for CTI records, "Make us 500 promos of the new Larry Coryell record."
I was surprised to learn that musician-friendly services like Discmakers/CD-baby don't offer this service. I was told that I could make a separate "promo" album design with altered barcode, etc., but by producing a separate lot of inventory -- and missing a price break on my CD quantity -- this would cost me several hundred dollars plus professional design time.
Is promotional inventory still even necessary?
I would say absolutely. I've had the prior experience of putting out an album only to have used "promos" flood Amazon and cannibalize sales of a new release. Whether you're mailing to radio or media, someone on the list will be tempted to monetize the inventory you bought and paid to create. Creating promo inventory not only curtails this, it also gets more of your promos reviewed and played on the radio because they're not being sold as used records.
How I made my own promo CDs.
- I made custom stickers at Vistaprint, and ordered enough sheets for my promo run.
- I shipped CDs from my manufacturer to my apartment.
- I drilled through the barcode from the back of the package with a household power drill, 5 CDs at a time. First, practice on CDs from your collection that you dislike!
- I affixed the "Promo CD only" sticker to the shrink wrap of each CD.
- I then shipped the promo inventory to my publicist.
All told, this took a few hours and saved several hundred dollars.