Music Rebellion Leveraging the Long Fat Tail: CDBaby


The Long Tail

Leveraging the Long Tail is a concept introduced by Chris Anderson in 2004 and adopted by Tim O’Reilly later on when describing the main features of Web 2.0 platforms to explain the concept that with the introduction of Internet and later technologies the small and not known sellers and producers have the same opportunity of distribution and sales than the big fish in any market. There are a few mainstream fish who get most of the market share, but there are millions of “not known” little fish that aggregating the total of their small-scale sales can actually challenge the figures of the big ones. Wow, that’s an interesting concept!

Our favorite topic is music, so I’d like to show how this concept applies to this field. Firstly, to contextualise the discussion let’s see how the music industry was run in the past in contrast to how it’s run in this digitised world of today:

For the most part of the 20th century the power in the music business was held by a few big names: Universal, Sony, EMI and Warner; those were the main labels. But what do I mean by label: “A company that produces, markets and distributes the music of artists”. At that time they were the ones that had the recording studios, the distribution channels to stores, the media support to publicize and advertise and because of that, their voices were booming stronger than any other fish in the pond. Only a few artists chosen by them were the only ones who had a major opportunity of having a great living out of music. But not anymore, all the musicians now are in a  a level ground as the resources have been made accesible for “everybody”, that is:

  • Home studios are cheap so any given artist could access them easily or even invest in one to create a product of a decent standard.
  • There are music distributors, such as the feature of this article CDbaby, that receive music from artist in CD format or MP3 and sell them through their online store and even more, send the music to high-profile online music stores such as iTunes and Rhapsody.
  • Social media and internet methods of advertising and publicising such as Facebook and Google have made that low-profile musicians could be known better.

ImageLet’s focus in CDbaby as a typical example of leveraging the long tail. Their slogan is “the best independent music store in the web” (stylised in lower case, reflecting the grass roots background of their members).

What are their features and how this relates to Leveraging the Long Tail:

  • There are more than 300,000 artists signed up to CDbaby. I have to say that they are mainly independent, but also mainstream artists are there (CDbaby, n.d., a).
  • Those artists caters for a significant number of micro-market niches.
  • The sign-up fee for the standard service is $ US 49 and includes worldwide digital and CD distribution as is shown in CDbaby website (n.d., b). This is a price that is affordable to any musician. Nowadays, the big labels don’t have the exclusive worldwide channels of distribution, as now any humble musician could reach any place in the world with their products.
  • CDbaby make use of digital music that could be distributed through the web at minimal cost through the use of MP3s and other compression formats; minimising then the inventory costs, being this one of the features that helps the leveraging of the long tail.
  • CDbaby receives a limited number of physical CDs (4) to minimise inventory space. CDbaby will ask the artist more CDs based on the demand of the product.  In addition, offers the service of CD manufacturing so the small fish could have a CD factory that they could count on using on demand orders.
  • Comments and rankings crowdsourced to fans help the users of the platform to filter and explore the ocean of music.
  • Artists are prompted to categorise their music and tell if their music is similar to other artists, so that the right music could be pitch to fans that have bought similar music.

CDbaby empowers the independent musicians leveraging from a big long tail, but it also true that the ocean of artists is huge and the noise is loud, so now it all comes down to how the artists can stand out to get the attention of an information overwhelmed hordes of fans.

Thanks for stopping by and have a read.

What do you think? Feel free to post your point of view.




CDbaby (n.d., a). About Retrived from:

CDbaby (n.d., b). Pricing. Retrieved from:



16 thoughts on “Music Rebellion Leveraging the Long Fat Tail: CDBaby

    • That’s it Sebas, is a totally new way to see the industry. New artists could come from anywhere; inclusion everybody. Not only a few, but anybody have the chance. Of course, the ones who are succesful are the ones who have a good product and know how to deal with the new way, that is, how to handle marketing, publicity, etc.

      Thanks for visiting and here is a cup of Coffee for chilly Boston!

      Colombian Coffee

  1. Enrique Méndez

    I’m an old school guy, music wise, so I like to go to music stores, but they are dying faster than I wish (all they died yet?); I better get used to it… Nevertheless, I like the CDbaby idea because it’s democratic and that’s the way the art have to be. Good article.

    • Hey Enrique, that’s right, the idea of physical stores is just fantastic. You could get to know people, talk to them about artists that you like, new artists that you don’t know about and you could get to see and smell the music, not to mention when the records were still alive and the manager used to test it to you for any scratchs and to see if the music was of your like (he he!). Those are old times, romantic times! But there were only certain amount of space on the shelves and it was really difficult for a local artists to be in there, and most difficult to be at the front of the stack of records, now there is infinite shelve space; but only shelve space, the attention of the people keeps being finite and the artists have to fight to get some attention of the fans in the huge ocean of limitless music. Thanks Compa!

  2. Alejandro

    Great Article, and very relevant to the current way that artists can get their creations out there, a very different landscape for sure, specially if we were to imagine earlt Elvis or The Beatles today, posting home clips on youtube, building a following on facebook or releasing their independent first album before being discovered by a big record company. .

    • Hey Alex, that’s quite a unique perspective on this topic: How the popular artists of the past would have reacted to social media technology that we have today. Imagine Lennon trying to get some likes in Facebook of the legendary “Give a Peace a Chance” video from a Hotel room in Montreal or The Beatles uploading their first single into platforms such as CDbaby to make it better known and to have some distribution channels. History would have been a lot different. 🙂

  3. Paul

    Great info here. I’m convinced this is the way of the future. We independent artists have to be proactive in distributing our own material instead of waiting for someone else to do it for us. Thanks for your article!

    • Thanks Paul!

      Totally agree, that’s the way to go and if we as artists can get a handle on this topic we could for certain reach an important numbver of fans who are willing to buy our music. We just need to know how to use this kind of technology to make it work in our favour. CDbaby is constantly updating musicians about how to do it, so if we read and research we could reap the benefits out of it!

      Cheers Paulito!

  4. very interesting article, places like cdbaby offer a great service to assist independent artists get their names out there. . however seeing how much easier and cheaper it is to produce an album from a bedroom, i think this has changed the landscape on exactly what medium becomes an income for a band. the ease of access to the internet, cheap unlimited access is actually promotes more streaming of music through places like spotify youtube etc. its one click away, the key is getting the audience to click to purchase the tracks / cd. one of the first places people search is youtube, if there is a video clip up then there is so many options to download the audio for free. even if there is a link to places like cdbaby, itunes etc. music is becoming more so a medium to get someones attention and bring them to a live show. i find people are wanting to enjoy a live experience more at present, which opens the opportunity to sell other mediums of merchandise.

    • Hi Rene,

      I agree totally with you. Fans could go to YouTube and download or listen to mostly any songs made and published. So the income of artists should come through other avenues: live music has become the main avenue for doing that; also there are ways to make fans listen to music for free and still receiving some of the money made from advertisement. I think YouTube has a program for it and as well. Modern times, new ways to make money, we just need to see modern tech and old school methods and come up with new revenue models.

      Cheers mate!


  5. Thanks for the post! Previously I haven’t heard of cdbaby before even though i really enjoy new and creative music. When I read that there are more than 300,000 artists signed up it really surprised me, that’s a huge amount easily spreading over many genres. This is huge for the platform, creating the network effect hopefully reaching out to the people who struggle to find music they really like.
    I feel like perhaps talking about some of its competitors would have been nice, for example Soundcloud is a very large platform now with open api’s and a huge user base, but cdbaby definitely has a more professional feel to it, especially with the $50 sign-up fee for artists. I love the way you mention in the end that artists could easily get lost in the huge amount of music available on the site and I think cdbaby has tried to reduce this as much as possible, especially with prompting artists to tag music similar to their own. I personally love finding music via ‘similar’ tags and I find many new artists purely through this type of function.
    I feel like with illegal torrenting skyrocketing, anything trying to make business through the music industry is going to struggle, and cdbaby will be no exception. People are so casually downloading whatever they want through torrents, why would they want to use this instead? I think cdbaby can potentially fight this if they can get people to realise they have independent artists that most likely cannot be found elsewhere.
    I’m excited to go check this site out and see what new music I can find, thanks for the post.

  6. bushrasuliaman

    Hey Jacques
    I like It how the musicians do what they can do so the all world can listen to their music.. great sites and excellent article.. good example thanks for sharing all this information.

  7. Thank you Jacques for the great article on CD baby, it sounds like an amazing place to find independent and obscure music. This aligns with one of the key tentents which help to define the Hipster contemporary subculture according to Alfrey (2010) there is a strong connection between to independent music scene and the identity of this subculture. Interesting Foster(2013) discussed that this subgroup has strong consumer instincts and a is constituted of a group of consummate consumers. Do you think that the elements of the Hipster contemporary subculture which Foster highlighted will have a positive effect on the future continuation and growth of CD baby? Furthermore what is your oppion on how the importance of the web 2.0 concept will be affected be affected by the further rise of niche consumer driven subcultures in the future?
    Alfrey, L. M. (2010, April 19). The Search for Authenticity: How Hipsters Transformed from a Local Subculture to a Global Consumption Collective. Retrieved May 7, 2014, from
    Foster, T. (2013, September 27). The Rise and Fall of the Hipster Church. Retrieved May 7, 2014, from

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