An Open Letter to CD Baby, Amazon, and Pandora

UPDATE: The first of the three companies to respond with anything resembling help was… Pandora! They’ve bypassed the Amazon requirement for me this once and have added the album to the list. While this doesn’t mean the breakdown described in this letter is SOLVED yet, at the very least my immediate concerns have been addressed by someone.

Mike, I thank you wholeheartedly and I hope that the process will be updated to avoid this mess before the next indie artist gets stuck in limbo.

Update #2: So the CEO of CD Baby/Discmakers left a comment. Seriously, that’s a good sign, folks, it means there are indeed human beings still at the helm of CD Baby. Read the letter, then read Tony’s reply in the comments below.

All I want is to get The Lives of Dexter Peterson on Pandora Radio, just like my last 5 albums.

I feel like I’m dealing with three petulant children right now, and the irony is that I’m the supposedly unstable artist type, not the temperate, avuncular type that’s mature enough to know what “avuncular” means. Once upon a time, these three children had a symbiotic system of sharing set up:

  1. Pandora Radio requires an indie artist to have physical CD’s listed on Amazon.com with correct track listings and meta data.
  2. Amazon acquired discs and info from CD Baby as a distributor
  3. CD Baby would take $50 per album from me to set up all this information and get the ball rolling so they could earn money off of my music.
  4. Now, because of some behind-the-scenes wankery, this beautiful pipeline has shut completely off, leaving independent artists like myself completely out of luck if we want to be heard on Pandora Radio. Since this is an open letter to all three of your companies, I’ll sit you down one at a time. Please pay attention.

    CD Baby

    Seriously, what happened? Back in the Sivers days, you guys were all about what’s best for the artist. It was a time when “sorry, that’s not our problem” wasn’t in your vocabulary. I don’t know if the Discmakers buyout has changed you or if you’ve just gotten older and less idealistic, but some of you have got to remember what it was like being an independent artist, not a remote vending machine.

    To be told “sorry, this is Amazon’s problem” is simply unacceptable. We artists are paying you a setup fee and a chunk of every single one of our sales, this is your problem. Telling me to contact Amazon is a petty cop-out, especially when you know they’re just going to tell us “you have to do this through your distributor” (which is YOU).

    Is Amazon being a brat and giving you the silent treatment? Fine, level with us. You’re one of us, remember? Have you never heard of the Executive Email Carpet Bomb? Give us the power to help you fix what Amazon clearly broke! You can’t tell us you don’t have contact info that goes far beyond their “get them to hang up as quickly as possible” line of customer service. Give us the direct line of the person handling this mess if you’re unwilling to solve it yourselves.

    Remember- we pay you, not Amazon, this is your problem to solve.

    Amazon

    Hey, why you gotta be a bitch to CD Baby? They’re being really nice to you- you know, sending you tons of products to sell every year and giving you the means to compete against the iTunes Music Store. Now CD Baby says you’re not playing nice with them. Worse, you’re not even playing nice with those of us making the products you profit from. What gives?

    And don’t tell me “sign up for CreateSpace or Advantage” either. The former is a print-on-demand service and, in case you hadn’t noticed, I already paid for a huge pile of inventory. The latter would mean I’d have to mail my own inventory out, pay you an annual fee, and deal with multiple listings of the same album on your site.

    On top of all this, you already have all the track data for my new album, I can see it right there on the MP3 page! Is it really so hard to just copy and paste data you already have? Why are you giving me this “talk to your distributor” crap when you know my distributor can’t fix this problem? Unless CD Baby is lying to me, of course, and they wouldn’t do that.

    (Right, CD Baby?)

    Pandora Radio

    If you haven’t been paying attention (and given the fact that multiple emails have so far gone unanswered, I’m assuming you’re not paying attention), there’s obviously a disconnect between the largest indie music retailer on Earth and the only retailer on Earth you’ll pull album data from. Here’s a thought… why bother going through Amazon at all?

    CD Baby has their own affiliate program, so you could still make money through album sales the same way you do through Amazon. They’ve got all the track info, album art, and meta data ready to go. They even have the UPC codes you seem to be in love with- a strange fetish, but I’ve seen stranger. Why not spend a little effort and just generate a pipeline direct from CD Baby to your submission department?

    Once upon a time I said some really nice things about you in Rolling Stone because I actually believed you were the future of music discovery. Tim Westergren seemed all about the independent artist, not just sucking up to the major labels like Spotify.

    By the way, the new album is already on Spotify.

    Now I’m beginning to see one clear difference between Pandora and major record labels: The major labels I’ve contacted have all actually answered my emails.

    The Final Plea

    Once upon a time you guys all played nice together. Remember? The system worked really well just last year. I don’t know what you guys did to piss each other off, but the only ones that are being hurt by this are the independent artists who actually are the future of the music industry. If you can’t make the system work for us, the system doesn’t work.

    Any one of you can solve this problem very quickly, but for my situation I must blame CD Baby. I don’t pay Pandora, I don’t pay Amazon, I pay you directly. You are my representative, you are my “label” as far as these other companies are concerned. I expect Amazon to be a faceless, soulless megacompany, but I will be sorely disappointed if CD Baby has become the same.

    All I want is to get The Lives of Dexter Peterson on Pandora Radio, just like my last 5 albums.

  • Tony van Veen

    Hi Matthew,

    Thanks for this post. Sometimes it’s good to get a kick in the butt.

    I’m the guy who made the original Disc Makers – CD Baby partnership with Derek Sivers back in 2001, and also the guy who negotiated the purchase of CD Baby with Derek. And I can assure you that we haven’t forgotten what it is like to be an independent artist. Serving artists is what we do. It’s how we make our living. And there are a lot of new, incredibly exciting things we’ve been able to do for artists over the past couple of years… but getting them onto Pandora is not one of them.

    And it’s not for lack of trying. I have spoken to several high ranking execs at Pandora — starting 3 years ago, and as recently as June 20th — about some kind of program to get all of CD Baby’s artists onto Pandora. Heck, I even explored PAYING them for the submissions, in order for Pandora to be able to hire more people to screen them. To no avail.

    You’ve got your album up now. Great. Problem solved for you. But not for our other clients, who are still in your boat. Fact is that streaming long tail DIY artists is just not part of Pandora’s business model. For starters, it’s expensive to do because a human being has to analyze each track. Secondly, like a radio station, they want to skew towards more popular selections. And third, there’s a TON of independent content out there.

    Pandora (if I’m not mistaken) has a bit over 1 million tracks in its catalog. CD Baby ALONE has over 4 million. It’s a daunting mountain to Pandora. As such, every time we approached them we were told “Sorry guys, we love CD Baby, but it’s just not part of our business to add DIY artist content to our playlist.”

    Long story short, we haven’t given up yet. And we’re still working other angles behind the scenes. But as far as our public posture to artists, because of the fact that we currently don’t have a direct way (or a workaround) to get artists onto Pandora, we’ve had to say to our artists that we can’t do this right now. Because, well, it’s true. (And, btw, if someone told you it’s Amazon’s fault, that was actually inappropriate. We don’t like to throw anyone under the bus — including Pandora — because we hope to be able to solve this issue at some point.) And while that may sound less like what the old CD Baby would have said, we are a bigger company today than we were back when Derek was running it, and don’t think that pissing off our existing partners, or any potential partners is how we best serve our artists.

    So, I hope this gives you a bit of additional insight. Thanks for being a loyal CD Baby customer. We don’t take it for granted — at all. I’m happy Pandora got your album up. Best of luck with it. May you sell a ton of music. 🙂

    Sincerely,

    Tony van Veen, CEO
    AVL Digital Group | CD Baby | Disc Makers

    • Tony-
      First off, thanks for dropping me a line!  And I’m glad you’re not sore about all this, Lord knows it’s been a headache for me for over a month now.

      I think you may have missed the point about my post, though…  Forget Pandora for now, I really was never expecting CD Baby and Pandora to interact seamlessly.  The problem is that CD Baby acts as my label and distributor for Amazon, and my listing on Amazon is incomplete/incorrect.  The only response I could get from multiple CDB folks was “sorry, call Amazon”, but Amazon isn’t doing business with me, it’s doing business with CDB.  So the only response I could get from multiple Amazon folks was “sorry, call your distributor”.  Which is you.

      Nobody I talked to at CDB seemed to understand why this was their problem to fix, I hope you do.

      The reason Pandora is mentioned at all here is because Amazon is the indie artist’s key to getting into Pandora.  So if the service I’m paying for to list my CD’s properly in Amazon’s marketplace (you guys) isn’t listing my CD’s properly in Amazon’s marketplace, I can’t even submit to Pandora (unless some guy named Mike does me a huge favor).  While I’m not expecting CDB to place me in rotation in their system, I do expect them to deliver the services they promise and have delivered satisfactorily for the last six albums I’ve distributed through them.

      Actually, forget satisfactory— I’ve been nothing but thrilled with CD Baby for over a decade.  The interaction with Amazon is what has created a sore spot, and it is something that needs to be addressed by CDB.  Does that make sense?

      It’s really awesome that you responded publicly, btw.

      • Jfarley

         This is great steps in the right direction. Well said, once again, Matt… and my hat’s off to Mr. van Veen for responding publicly as well. Good luck to both party’s here, since I am a proud supporter of both products.

        Jim Farley

        • Indie Artist

          I am so glad to have found this thread as I have been struggling to try to get my tracks listed on my Amazon page (created via CD Baby) and I can’t find it addressed anywhere on the CD Baby site.

          Right now if you look at the CD Baby page it says:

          Sell your CDs on Amazon Marketplace

          CD Baby makes selling CDs on Amazon simple. You never have to worry
          about shipping, packing, returns, miss-ships, or any other mail-order
          headaches. We handle it all for you and we always go above and beyond to
          make your customers happy with their buying experience. (That way you
          can concentrate on important things, like making beautiful music).

          When I read this, I assume my tracks will be listed with my CD on the market place. Now they are not, which sucks, and again it is not just about Pandora but that makes it suck even more because now I cannot submit.

          I have another album coming out and normally I would just assume I would distribute through CD Baby, but unless this gets fixed, I will be looking for a new partner.

          This is so beyond frustrating. I hope CD Baby can update their site/artists on when this problem will be fixed.

        • Indie Artist

          I am so glad to have found this thread as I have been struggling to try to get my tracks listed on my Amazon page (created via CD Baby) and I can’t find it addressed anywhere on the CD Baby site.

          Right now if you look at the CD Baby page it says:

          Sell your CDs on Amazon Marketplace

          CD Baby makes selling CDs on Amazon simple. You never have to worry
          about shipping, packing, returns, miss-ships, or any other mail-order
          headaches. We handle it all for you and we always go above and beyond to
          make your customers happy with their buying experience. (That way you
          can concentrate on important things, like making beautiful music).

          When I read this, I assume my tracks will be listed with my CD on the market place. Now they are not, which sucks, and again it is not just about Pandora but that makes it suck even more because now I cannot submit.

          I have another album coming out and normally I would just assume I would distribute through CD Baby, but unless this gets fixed, I will be looking for a new partner.

          This is so beyond frustrating. I hope CD Baby can update their site/artists on when this problem will be fixed.

      • Tony van Veen

        Hey, an open letter deserves an open answer… 🙂

        And I didn’t miss your point. But I didn’t address it directly enough in my first response. I DO understand that this is our problem to fix. And a number of people in our operations team at CD Baby know that too, and have been diligently working to address this. What didn’t happen was clear enough communication to our customer service team on how to adequately address this concern with our customers.

        It’s really hard for me to offer much detail without risking making someone look bad, which I don’t want to do.  And quite honestly, the technical explanation of exactly what caused this is still not 100% clear to me. But, what happened and why are actually not that material to this discussion.  I do feel it’s appropriate to mention that CD Baby has never promised our artists that we’d get them up on Pandora. The fact that this was able to happen thanks to our pals at Amazon was a bit of a happy accident (and workaround) that we discovered some time ago.

        Even though it’s not one of the services we offer, we do realize that the opportunity to get onto Pandora is a very desirable feature for artists. As such we have been coordinating with Amazon, and we’ve been sending test files back and forth to see if we can get this working again. I can’t offer detail of when this will work again, because we don’t know yet, but my operations team tells me they don’t think it’ll be long. I trust that by the time we distribute your next album this will be long up and running again. 🙂

        So no, we didn’t ignore it. Nor did we pass the buck. We’re actively working this problem. It appears that the person who communicated with you was not aware of what was happening behind the scenes to resolve this issue. That’s a breakdown we’ll fix, and I’m sorry it happened.

        Tony

        • I’m glad to hear that… I wish I’d have known about the breakdown before planning my album release schedule, I may honestly have waited on the official release until the problem was fixed.  It’s easier to plan a road trip if you already know where the construction zones are!

          Thanks for your responses, though, I’m very glad to see CD Baby is still in good hands.

  • Lenore

    I can’t tell you how happy I am to run across this site after two weeks of frustration in trying o submit my songs to Pandora. I am a long time CD Baby artist with 8 CDs over the last decade or so and I feel like the entire transition into the digital media madness is leading all of us off a cliff. 
    My first impression with the Pandora led Create Space direction along with the UPC non-recognition issue was…looks like someone is trying to re-route the entire distribution model away from CD Baby in exchange for airplay…and why not? There is so much piracy going on how else are these companies supposed to get revenue….and of course there are just too many of us artists trying to get that precious airplay…but…CD baby may also be a victim of it’s own success and may have customer service issues that will end up looking like the ones at AT&T Uverse…They are not looking very competant with the issue of not setting up Amazon with the correct info for each artist and that being the obstacle to getting the submission to Pandora possible…I wait with baited breath to see the out come of this scenario…

  • Celeste Mann

    I am currently going through this “limbo.” CDBaby has said they cannot add tracks to the physical CD listing on amazon.com meanwhile amazon.com says that I need to speak with the distributor (CDBaby.com) and have them call! I spoke with an agent from amazon.com who refused to transfer me or give me the phone number or name of anyone who CDBaby would need to contact. 

    Someone from CDBaby suggested that I join AmazonAdvantage, which is a fee based program. Why should I do that when the CD and mp3s are already listed on Amazon.com? This is crazy. A simple thing of putting the track listing should  not be a major problem, especially when they have done that for the MP3. I guess they figure they cannot make money off of individual tracks on the physical CD so they don’t bother? I understand Pandora’s perspective but it really angers me that I have everything necessary to submit my album for consideration except this CD track listing and that the reason why I don’t have that is a blunder on the part of CDBaby’s partnership with amazon.com. 

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