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CD Baby: Grown Up and Beyond CDs

An Interview With CEO Tracy Maddux

After two years in Chicago, CD Baby’s DIY Musician Conference moved to Nashville, where it sold out its nearly 1,500 slots this past weekend. At panels and talks over three days, indie artists focused on monetizing YouTube video, strategic use of Spotify playlists and other hard core aspects of making a living and prospering in today’s cultural, digital maelstrom.

This wide scope on the whole career shows how CD Baby has grown up as it approaches its 20th anniversary next year. Launched by now famous artist/entrepreneur Derek Sivers in 1998, CD Baby quickly became the leading platform for indie artists to sell CD and merchandise on line. As music went digital, the company stayed ahead of the curve, providing one-stop access to all the noteworthy online and mobile music platforms.

“Today, one dollar out of every ten that the artists earn is associated with a physical product. And nine out of ten is digital, either a download or a stream.”

Tracy Maddux, the company’s CEO for the past five years, says that in that time, CD Baby has had to continue to evolve, and the direction has all been about data.

“It’s way more than distribution. In fact distribution is almost a commodity. It’s not that hard to get bits from point A to point B, form the artist to a place like Spotify. What’s really hard is to drive those tools of control and decision-making back to the artist.”

CD Baby artist/clients have access to a dashboard that reveals details about who’s buying and liking their music across the digital platforms, including age, listening habits and location. It’s an entire music business ecosystem that’s grown so robust that in 2016 CD Baby paid out $83 million to its artists.

Maddux says he hopes artists walked away from the weekend’s conference with optimism, tempered by a realistic sense of what it takes to sustain a career.

“You’ve got to harness the tools of promotion. You’ve got to go on tour, build a fan base. You’ve got to perform live. You’ve got to communicate with fans via social media. If you do all those things, your likelihood of success is much greater than at any time in the past.”