Shipping the CDs

One of the things I had to decide before putting the cd up for sale was how to ship it.

There is a dizzying array of options for independent musicians out there, and an even greater number of opinions on the right way to do it. But regarding the shipment of physical cds, to me it seemed to come down to three basic options: CDBaby/Amazon, Bandcamp, or Do-It-Yourself.

The first thing is that as a musician looking for information, CDBaby and Bandcamp are very, very loudly recommended by outside sources. It just seems to be what people do, and so everyone else seems to do it too.

I tried to do a bit of an analysis regarding the different options. While writing songs and selling cds as an independent musician isn't exactly a lucrative money-making business, we still might as well try to look at things rationally, right? Here's what I came up with.

My cds have a printing cost of $3.33 apiece. I could have knocked the printing cost lower by printing more cds, but then I was reducing my probability of meeting the overall cost.

For a seven-song cd, $10 seemed to be a good round number. People are still often selling full physical cds for $12-$15, and the cd length is technically considered a "mini-album", bigger than an EP, so $10 seemed about right.

That basically means I have about $6.50 of margin to play with when deciding how to handle order fulfillment.

CDBaby / Amazon

CDBaby charges $4/cd for fulfillment, and that doesn't include the $3.69 shipping that a US person will pay. So that means a user would pay $13.69, and I'd get $6 net, or about $2.50 margin after printing costs.

Amazon has two methods. If you use them for orders, but handle shipments yourself, Amazon charges between $3 and $4 per cd, and shipping costs are roughly covered via a shipping credit they give you. So we can roughly call it $7 net, or about $3.50 margin after printing costs.

Amazon's second method is if they do their own fulfillment. In that case, shipping costs are taken out of the equation, but overall feels looks to approach $6 or so. In that case, it's around $4 net, or less than $1 margin after printing costs.


Back at the time I first looked into this, I honestly thought that they didn't allow selling physical cds if you weren't also selling digitally, and I wasn't ready to sell digitally. I've since found out that you can actually sell merchandise-only on bandcamp, so it is still an option for what I'm doing.

However, when selling merch only, bandcamp's product really is just a shopping cart. You can do some website redirection tricks and they have some good handling for different shipping pricing options, but the upshot is that it's basically a shopping cart with a design on top of it.

For merch, bandcamp's fees are 10%, on top of normal payment processing fees. For a $10 cd, that basically means it would be taking $1, or 15% of my margin opportunity for every cd - the margin works out to be about $5.50 per cd after printing costs.

One twist to bandcamp is that you can set a minimum price, but allow people to pay more. Bandcamp swears that they see people using this regularly although it's tough to say how scientific that measurement is. They have a few other interesting features too. I decided against it at first, but I might still consider switching to it in the future.

Do It Yourself

I looked around at a bunch of shopping carts and credit card processors. I'm a professional "internet architect/programmer" consultant by trade, so I've done a few implementations in the past. But what's funny is that for a project like this, the plain old Paypal purchase flow was the best fit. It's direct, familiar, and cheap. Lots of people use it and it's hooked up to bank account. On top of that, Paypal has a discount relationship with the United States Postal Service, so I get a break on the shipping charges, too.

For all these other card-processing services out there, they all have the same basic underlying rate of 2.9% + $0.30, or about $0.58 for each of my cds. Since I also tack on shipping charges (which are less than the shipping charges for Amazon and CDBaby), that is covered, and I end up with a net of just about $10/cd, or a margin of around $6.50 after printing costs.

The Result

I ordered padded shipping envelopes from Amazon. You can get them in packs of 100, and it works out to about $0.29 apiece. I took a package to the Post Office and got a postage quote of about $2.24 . But then using the Paypal "multi-shipping" tool, I see that the per-item cost is actually $1.83 . So each time I get an order, I follow this process:

  1. Log in to paypal - the order is right there.
  2. Click the link for their "multi-shipping tool". Orders are automatically imported.
  3. Apply a preset I made for the product - envelope size and weight (4 oz). All orders are updated.
  4. Click to print. Shipping costs are deducted from my paypal account automatically.
  5. Cut out the shipping label (yes, I use scissors!)
  6. Write a hand-written thank-you note to the purchaser with the rest of the paper. (You can't do this if you use CDBaby.)
  7. Tape the shipping label to the envelope, package it up, seal.
  8. Drop it in my mailbox

Honestly, while I could see this getting annoying if I were dealing with huge numbers of orders every day, I find it pretty fulfilling to do this at home. (My favorite part is actually the little thank-you notes!)

The CD

Remember the cd is still for sale, and you can get it on its album page. Here are the audio previews of the seven songs!

Not Today Released

So, I've released the album.

I think it was in 2009, perhaps even late 2008. That's the day that I went to a songwriter showcase and performed two songs, including She Believes. Jake Oken-Berg was performing too. Jake had a lot more experience than me. I was there to nervously try and get some performance experience playing in front of an audience, while Jake was there to simply test a couple of his songs for audience response and then sneak out the back door.

Jake is also a piano-driven songwriter and has been around a lot, touring with both his self-titled band and another well-known band he co-fronted called The Retrofits. He felt an affinity for She Believes. We met for coffee, and I shared my complete lack of knowledge about putting a decent recording project together. Soon, we came to an agreement - Jake would serve as my producer for the project.

With that, the months and years started passing. It sounds funny that it took so long, because the project really was never dormant - there was always something on the calendar, and another dependency to work through. But when balancing it with life and Real Jobs, things have to wait for the weekend, or perhaps the weekend after. Jake was patient and essential for the whole duration, and was involved with every step, from tightening up song forms before the studio dates, to helping me edit comps and direct the session musicians as they came in, to signing off on the final mixes and masters and giving me the thumbs-up to print. But even more helpful was just the reinforcement of telling me good ways to work, and what would be a waste of time and money. I'm sure that when it netted out, he saved me hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

At this point, I look back and see mostly a blur. Wrestling with editing comps, learning about mixing and mastering, restructuring songs, picking photographs and fonts, etc. But the point has been the music - it's been extremely gratifying to bring to life several songs that I have cared deeply about on a musical level.

So this is just to note down the fact that the album is finally released, which I'm still kind of stunned by, and to point out the people that deserve thanks for their direct roles in the project.

Obviously, Jake, for the reasons above and more.

Pete Wright was there from the beginning. One of the songs is even about his family. He was listening to roughdrafts and encouraging me to move forward when I wasn't even sure I had any business calling myself a songwriter. Pete also took the wonderful photos that are part of the cd package.

Steve Turmell was also there all the way through - he was always excited about the progression of song ideas, and his background as a musician and recording artist definitely helped make the possibilities of recording seem more real.

Scott Townsend and Chris Gustafson came by the house often to jam song ideas with me on drum and bass, and volunteered their time for some long sessions in the studio to get rhythm tracks down.

Eric Austin and Dan Schlesinger were bandmates of mine when I was in Deja Nu, and came by to volunteer their sounds of clarinet and trombone onto My Favorite Clown.

There are so many more, from the session musicians to the recording engineers, all of whom you can see on the album page. They all know the score about being independent musicians and try to pitch in in various ways to save costs, while also remaining professional. Portland musicians are a very generous community and it was a ton of fun working with them all.

Coldplay, Satriani, and Copyrights

A few years ago, back around the time that Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift, there was another bit of news in the music media. Coldplay had come out with a song, Joe Satriani heard it, and felt pretty devastated by what he heard.

The suit was eventually settled and dismissed. The rumors I've seen were that Satriani got a cash payment from Coldplay, but that's hard to confirm. Coldplay didn't admit wrongdoing.

But what was interesting about it was that the argument mostly centered on the chord progression! The chord progression in question was VI-VII-III-i , or IV-VII-III-i. (VI and IV are pretty similar and serve the same function due to common tones.)

That chord progression seems rather distinctive - a far cry from the cliché four chord songs everyone likes to joke about. Right?


Well... let's take another look. Both of those chords end up on the minor "one". And minor keys have relative major keys. What would those chord progressions be in the relative major? IV... V... I... vi. And, ii... V... I... vi. That's pretty much the "four chords" right there. The latter one is basically every jazz turnaround ever at the end of a standard. The only twist here is that they chose to label the chords in terms of the relative minor. And that's arguably wrong of them, anyway. Coldplay's song is in a major key the entire way through (not a V/vi to be found), whereas you could argue that Satriani is minor in the verse, and modulating to the major in the chorus before it goes back to the relative minor.

To me, the similarities are more convincing because of tempo, groove, and the key parts of the melody - the melodic rhythm in particular. I think that's where the strength of Satriani's claim was, supported by the chord progression - not in the chord progression itself.

However, I suspect that in trials such as those, they don't look at it in terms of each particular ingredient - they just play it for the jury and ask them if it sounds "too" similar. I'm also not surprised this lawsuit turned into a settlement, because if Coldplay had been found liable based off of a combination of factors, it would have opened them up to a ton more lawsuits from everyone else who happened to write four-chord songs that they believed sounded similar. (Which almost happened with Cat Stevens anyway, due to his ii-V-I-IV progression...)

Copyright Applications, Part 3

Six applications, many hours, and $210 later, I think I'm finished with the copyright applications.

I wanted to be a stickler about it, so I had to register the versions of the songs that I had previously "published" by releasing them online. This also involved detailing whether the lyrics were new, or revisions based off of my messed-up "songbook" registration, where I had attempted to register lyrics and chord progressions while the Copyright Office only accepted the lyrics. Finally, I then registered the cd, which contained unpublished recordings of all the songs, but revisions for the music/lyrics of some of the songs.

Incidentally, I've also found out that it's not quite true that you can't copyright chord progressions. You can't *register* them, but if you copyright the entire song or sound recording, the sound of the chord progressions can definitely play a part in determining originality or infringement. So if you ever want to register a lead sheet on the PA form, go ahead and include the chord symbols since they may end up relevant.

What's next is to make sure my ducks are in a row with ASCAP, and then there's not a lot in the way before release day!

Registering For Copyright, Part 2

I called the copyright office today and got some really good, detailed, efficient help.

First, I clarified that neither chord symbols nor song form are copyrightable. As a composer that likes rich, interesting harmonies, I think that's kind of maddening and it makes me wonder how people copyright film music or atmospheric music that doesn't have melody or lyrics. I'm guessing that for film music, the full score is still copyrightable, whereas for atmospheric music you can only copyright the sound recording.

Second, regarding the question of whether my songs are previously published. That really is basically up to me, but I may want to consider registering each song separately based off the date that they first became available to the public, for added infringement protection.

There was the question of what to do regarding the Claimant. It looks like the best option there is to have the copyright be registered to me, because even though I have a publishing company and a record label, they're not the ones who wrote the songs or did the production. I did - I would then assign the copyrights to the appropriate companies. When that's accomplished, I then file new forms (if my companies want to), called Document Cover Sheets, and I include the written transfer statements indicating that those companies own the copyrights.

What's unclear to me now is if I'm required to do that from ASCAP's perspective. But that's for a future phone call!

Registering For Copyright

The Not Today album is basically complete, but not released yet. There are always a few straggling things to take care of, and today is devoted to registering for copyright. Ah, copyright. What a maddening user experience this is.

I'm attempting to copyright through The Electronic Copyright Office. It's a long multi-page wizard that is sort of like filing your taxes through TurboTax, except less pleasant. (By the way, I am aware I already have copyrights on these songs just by creating them - in this post, I'm using "copyright" as a simile for "registering my copyright with the copyright office".)

A couple of years ago, I filed a copyright called "The Curt Siffert Songbook, Volume 1" that had lyrics and chord symbols for several of my songs, including six of the seven songs on the album. But then again, I've since learned that chord progressions are not copyrightable. Lyrics are, and it's a songbook with titles. So it's not clear what happened - I may have just copyrighted the lyrics. And some of the lyrics have seen minor revisions since then.

Additionally, there is the question of what has been published. This affects the details of how I copyright them. Four of the seven songs have been released online - five, if you count the one that is available only to mailing list subscribers. Now, I personally see all these songs as demos - they are live recordings, and a far cry from the fully produced versions of the songs on the cd. But an argument can be made that they were published.

Finally, there's the question of what to do about songs that are unpublished yet copyrighted, or published yet uncopyrighted.

The simplest way for me to handle this is to just declare to myself that I consider all my songs unpublished. The copyright office doesn't offer clear guidance on this for digital works, and basically says it is up to me to determine. So for this go-round, I'm registering the album as a Song Recording.

Here are the general sections in the form:

Type Of Work: This one seems pretty straightforward, as it is a cd, so I want to register it as a Sound Recording. However, they do have long instructions regarding multiple authorship types. Apparently this gets very complicated if the cd is a mix of published and unpublished works, since you are supposed to exclude previously published tracks, and re-register them in a different way (they don't say how). But I'm considering all my tracks as unpublished, so I'm sticking with Sound Recording.

Titles: I'm registering "Not Today" as the "Title of the work being registered" (since it's the album title), and each of the seven song titles (including the song named "Not Today") as "Contents title".

Publication/Completion: I'm most dubious about this one, but since they have never been in fixed physical form, I'm putting "No", it has not been published yet. And then for Year Of Completion, I'm putting 2013 even though the songs were written before this year.

Authors: Even though I'm registered as a corporation, I am not a work for hire for myself, so I put my own name.

Claimant: This is complicated because it's either an individual or an organization. Technically, my music publishing company (holding the copyrights to my songs) is named Storied Music, and my record label (holding the copyrights to my recordings) is First Set Records. So it's completely unclear what to put here. So I'm just going to put my name.

Limitation Of Claim: Ahh, this is where it starts to become clear. I'm not considering any previous work published, but I do have those previous copyrights that have previous versions of the lyrics. So I excluded the lyrics for 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7. And I re-included *all* material, with notes that lyrics are revised for 1, 2, 3, and 5.

The rest is pretty boilerplate stuff - contact information, review and submit, etc. But it's overall pretty maddening - I'll have a list of questions for the copyright office before I can feel comfortable submitting the application!

EP Quick Update

While The Salvagery was a fun summer project, the far larger effort is the continuing work on my first E.P. It's coming along and I hope I'm in the home stretch here. Some of the songs you've heard before in rough form, and some are brand new. My Favorite Clown is now fully instrumented and has some nice surprises. I hired a string trio to help me with She Believes. Damn My Eyes is sounding pretty incredible, I think. Add to that three new songs and a fully re-imagined Together, and we've got an overstuffed E.P. that is getting close to full album length. I'm really looking forward to sharing it with you all!

If you're on Facebook, remember that you can fan/like my page or join my group to be kept up to date. Thanks!

The Salvagery on All About Jazz

Triage, the album from my side band The Salvagery, was recently highlighted over at If you go over there now, you'll still see our album cover on the front page in the "free mp3 of the day" section. Here's the page and review of our free download, Trinomite (track #2).

The Salvagery - Triage

A rock drummer, a jazz bassist, and a classical pianist all set up under some microphones and press "record" -- without any prewritten music.

Purchase at:

  • bandcamp
  • Compact Disc (limited run, 50 copies): $9 suggested + $3 s/h
    Digital Album: $7 suggested (included free with cd purchase)
  • CD Baby
  • Compact Disc (limited run, 50 copies): $12
  • iTunes
  • Digital Album: $7

The Salvagery is a three-piece outfit from Portland, Oregon. The three members - Curt Siffert, Steve Turmell, and Steve Morgan - all played together in a large show/jazz combo called Deja Nu. A jam session before a rehearsal led to them deciding to get together on their own time to record some improvisation sessions. The sessions were held in Siffert's living room. Over the course of five sessions, several recordings were complied - the most interesting of the recordings were collected and published into their first release, Triage.


Curt Siffert has a degree in classical piano and several years experience performing and writing in the jazz and pop idioms. Currently focusing on his own pop songwriting projects, you can find news of his latest projects at .

Steve Turmell has drummed for well-known projects in the Northwest including Quoting Napoleon and Courtney Jones. He is currently the first call drummer for a blues band touring in the Northwest, and is also producing his own recording projects.

Steve Morgan is a refugee from Los Angeles with progressive and jazz roots. He plays upright and electric bass regularly for several pop, jazz and latin projects in the Northwest.

Mixed/Mastered at Session One Audio by Josh Olswanger.

Facebook or Mailing List?

So, it never seems clear which way a musician should go in terms of his or her online presence. For musicians, Facebook is really pushing the "fan page". I'm not so sure. After doing some wrestling, I think that I'm going to approach my various communication structures like so:

  • My mailing list: The mailing list is gold for musicians. This is where a musician's strongest supporters are. If someone signs up for a mailing list, then it means that they don't want to miss when relevant news happens, and want to be emailed. I'm using the mailing list for summaries of recent goings-on, and big announcements. This means that I'll be sending out information about once a month or so. If you follow me in other ways, you should still definitely join the mailing list so you don't miss anything important. (Side note, apparently it's possible to join the mailing list via facebook but I don't remember how I came across that link and how it works, exactly.)
  • My facebook fan page. This is what facebook pushes and recommends for artists, but I honestly still don't really get it. Fan pages suffer from the same failing as regular profiles. If an artist posts a status update to their fan page, there's absolutely no guarantee that their followers will see it. Even if their fans are online at exactly the same time, they won't necessarily see the status update. The other "updates" that fan pages post - no one ever reads those. You have to click in a special sequence and cross your eyes to even come across the "updates" that have accumulated in your inbox. What's nice about a fan page is that as a fan, you'll see updates once in a while, you can leave comments, and - if you remember - you can click over to the fan page to see what you've missed. I'll be continuing to post small status updates to my fan page a few times a week, but I'd definitely prefer it if fans also joined my mailing list or my group. What's my group, you ask?
  • My facebook group is still around. Facebook changed their group structure and I ignored it for a little while, but last week on a whim I re-posted an old piano improv that is one of my favorites, Slow Rain. (Soundcloud link here.) I had posted it to my fan page too where it was pretty much ignored, but when I posted it to my group, I got a ton of positive feedback, including from some long-term fans who had never heard it before. Groups are different now, they are kind of like group mailing lists where members can talk to each other. If I post an update, it will actually get emailed to the members. I can post a message that will get delivered to every member's facebook inbox, too. And if a member leaves a comment or posts to the group, it can get emailed to you too (unless you change your settings). It's very fun. It can also be invasive to some - a musician friend of mine recently posted video blog entries once a day for several days in a row, and the frequency of content and comments drove some members to leave. So I'll be posting to the group once a week or so, usually just focusing on media that people might like to hear, or other announcements - I'll be keeping the trivial parts out of it. Obviously, musicians LOVE feedback, so I really like the group - if you want to feel a bit more included in the fan community, this is the place to join. You can also add your own friends to the group if you're sure they'd enjoy it.
  • My twitter account is just kind of silly. I use it in spurts, actively but infrequently, and it's definitely not limited to music. Follow me there if you want but it's not really anything important.

So, that's it! To summarize, the mailing list is king, please join!! (This is where I will be announcing more details of my next recording project.) If you want to interact more with the fan community on facebook, join my group. If you want to see the occasional trivial status update, like my fan page. (Or just like it anyway, it doesn't hurt.) And for the most trivial and unrelated stuff, you can follow my twitter account.

Hopefully, that clarifies everything!

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© 2007 Curt Siffert. Some audio protected with a Creative Commons license.
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