free CD

How I Sold 1000 CDs in 10 Weeks

Why would anyone buy a CD in 2020? Let me count the ways:

  1. Getting stuff in the mail is fun
  2. Superior sound quality
  3. The artwork, lyrics, and liner notes
  4. It has value as a collectible, especially when autographed
  5. To support the artist!

I first heard about the “free + s/h funnel” through Chris Robley, who heard about it through Indepreneur.

It’s a pretty simple idea: you offer a CD for free. The buyer (air quotes) just has to cover the shipping & handling.

Throwing “handling” in there allows some wiggle room on your pricing. $7 is typical, which is enough to cover all your expenses, including the actual CD!

I opted for $5, which is much closer to my actual cost. That way nobody can argue “but it doesn’t cost $7 to ship a CD!”

I can already hear your objection: “You said you SOLD 1000 CDs!”

To that I say three things:

  1. Money exchanged hands and goods were shipped. Sounds like a sale to me.
  2. If I had framed the same transaction as a $5 CD with free shipping, you’d have no problem calling it a sale.
  3. The majority of the 1000 were actually genuine sales beyond the free CD, netting me $3540.

How did I make money on a break-even transaction?

  1. An order bump
  2. An upsell
  3. If the upsell is refused, a downsell

Here’s how it works…

My Free CD Funnel

The offer page is essentially a landing page, with the top navigation removed so they won’t roam off (click to enlarge):

landing page

Once you enter your shipping info and click on “GET THE CD” you’re presented with an order bump for a $2 sticker:

order bump

Then you click “LET’S DO THIS” and you’re done, right? Not so fast!

upsell

The upsell is the remainder of my physical discography for half off, plus a couple other bonuses. That’s 5 more CDs for $30 — a pretty good deal, if I do say so myself!

The upsell used to include another two CDs for $40, but I’ve run out, and I’m about to run out of a third. My garage never looked so spacious!

If the upsell is accepted, the funnel ends. If not, you’re presented with the downsell:

downsell

The downsell is for another CD, the spiritual twin of the free CD, for half price plus free shipping.

The Sound was actually the free CD up until a couple weeks ago when I got down to the last box, and swapped in The Thought Chapter.

I should add that these really are two of my best albums, perhaps my two best. I’m proud of both and genuinely excited for potential fans to hear them. Anything less wouldn’t be worth the effort.

In other words, this isn’t just some thinly disguised attempt to liquidate old inventory.

You’re welcome to play around with the site. If Depeche Mode and/or The Postal Service is your cup of tea, pick up the CD! Just be aware that if you enter your email address and bail, the site will send out a couple of abandoned cart emails in an attempt to win you back.

My Free CD Funnel Results

To give you an idea of the ratio of free to paid, here’s last weekend’s orders:

Sunday order

Here are totals across the entire 10 weeks:

products sold

Since The Sound and The Thought Chapter were alternately free and paid at different points in time, their cumulative sales numbers are ambiguous. I added the order bump when I switched the free CD, which is why the sticker count is disproportionately low.

The chief moneymaker is the “All CDs” bundle, which started at $40 then dropped to $35 and then $30 as CDs went out of print. Bundle sales account for over $3K and nearly 600 CDs sold.

Here’s the money shot, literally (you can click to enlarge any of these):

free CD total sales

The shipping & handling charges cover all my other costs including transaction fees, labels, mailers, and the add-on goodies I’ll detail later — leaving $3540 profit.

Here’s a report on just the upsells:

free CD upsells

That $3540 profit doesn’t factor in the cost of making the CDs in the first place, which is lost to the winds of time, or $1235 in Facebook ads. I’m currently spending $30 a day.

I could write an entire article on how I promoted the offer, and I will if you twist my arm [UPDATE: I did! Read it here]. For now, I’ll just share the most successful video ad, which has so much social proof in the comments that I can’t get newer, objectively better ads to beat it.

That’s right, even though I’m giving away a different CD than the one mentioned in the video, it still beats out my other ads.

The $3540 figure also doesn’t include the cost to build my website from scratch, which brings me to…

My Free CD Funnel Tech Stack

I’m not gonna lie. Setting this up was a lot of work! Eight days solid, to be exact. The previous iteration of my site was little more than a single-page brochure, so I had to start from scratch.

Granted, I now have a full-fledged store in addition to the offer. It’s really three offers based on shipping costs: one for the US, one for Canada, and another for rest of world.

The site is built on WordPress, which is free, plus WooCommerce, which is also free. There are a ton of paid add-ons, but I’m not using any of them.

The best part? The WooCommerce iOS app emits a tasteless but satisfying “cha-ching!” every time an order comes in. It’s about twice as loud as it needs to be and scares the crap out of me on a regular basis, but I can’t bring myself to turn it off.

Next up is Elementor, a page builder that is way easier to use than anything I’ve tried before, including Divi and Uncode. It’s $49 per year, or $99 for three sites. I got the three site license and started off by giving Passive Promotion a facelift. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice! Eventually I’ll get around to rebuilding my mastering site.

The linchpin of the operation is WooFunnels, which is responsible for the landing/checkout page, upsell, downsell, order bump, and even the abandoned cart emails. You can piece together just the elements you need, but I opted for the full bundle at $299 per year.

Contrast that with ClickFunnels, which is $97 per month ($1164 per year) last I checked.

I need to give a shoutout to WooFunnels support. Their team in India is incredibly responsive and goes way beyond the call of duty. I’d email with an issue at night, and wake up to find a half dozen test orders and an email full of screenshots detailing a custom-coded solution.

Two WooFunnels highlights put the cherry on top:

  1. The checkout form uses the Google Maps API to autocomplete your address, which leaves little room for typos.
  2. Apple Pay automatically pops up as an option if available. Classy!

My old web host was giving me all sorts of problems. After three exasperating calls to support, I gave up and switched to SiteGround, and couldn’t be happier! I’m paying less than half of what I was paying before, but the big win is, again, their support. Put in a ticket and 15 minutes later you get a thoughtful response with a clear solution.

SiteGround offers a bunch of WordPress-specific perks like server-based caching and automatic daily site backups.

Those last three links are affiliate links, so if you make a purchase, I might make a small commission to support my writing.

Last but not least, I picked up a Rollo thermal printer, which uses 4 x 6 labels. You never need to buy ink refills because it doesn’t use ink. Love it!

A “Dream Come True” Experience

As you might guess, packing up these orders takes a lot of time. But that’s kind of the point. I want to make buyers feel special by exceeding their expectations.

After autographing the free CD, I write a note by hand, and include a sticker. If they didn’t opt for the 4″ silkscreened sticker order bump, I throw in an inferior-but-still-awesome 3″ circular sticker.

Color Theory stationery

“All CDs” bundles currently include a bumper sticker and are sealed with branded packing tape, which was understandably mistaken for branded toilet paper on social media.

Color Theory bumper sticker
Color Theory shipping tape

The bumper stickers were $19 and the packing tape was $29, both Sticker Mule specials (referral link). I highly suggest getting on their email list to take advantage of their weekly specials, which are generally in the 80% off range.

“Where money goes attention flows.”

My hope is that after shelling out their hard-earned cash and getting back more than they expected in return, buyers will give my music a fighting chance.

The Future of My Free CD Funnel

I’ve gained nearly 500 new customers since the beginning of May. How many of those customers are now fans remains to be seen.

I’ll soon put it to the test, as I just put in a pair of 1000 CD orders to Disc Makers for my last two albums. I never thought they’d see a physical release, but then again, I never thought I’d reach this many potential CD buyers.

In the meantime, I’ll keep the offer going for another 100 CDs or so, or until Facebook stops finding me buyers at a reasonable cost.

UPDATE: Be sure to read my follow-up article: How I Promoted My Free CD Offer

What do you think? Is this something you’d try? Throw your questions at me in the comments!

Photo by John Lee

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Brian Hazard

Brian Hazard

Catch more of my promotional escapades in my How I’m Promoting My Music This Month email newsletter.

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29 Responses

  1. Great article Brian! Where do you live so we can come twist your arm to have you write a post on your Facebook ad campaign:) Again thanks.

    1. Facebook is only one ingredient! I’m happy to break the campaign down into its component parts, but I worry it won’t translate to more conventional goals, like getting more Spotify streams.

    2. Seems like you made more money from the free CD campaign then most artist make in a year from Spotify streams. Plus you have customers and there details. Win win. Question I’ve been looking a t setting up a funnel as well. Was woofunnels the most cost effective solution you came across? Thanks

    3. Yep, WooFunnels is the best solution I know of, at least for WooCommerce. It has a bunch of other features I didn’t mention, like being able to A/B test offers. For example, I could tweak the ad copy, the sales price, or even the product offered, and see which performs best.

  2. I’ve experimented with similar “almost free” CD pricing lately. Offering the CD and Shipping for free when the customer buys the downloads. (I could essentially call it a handling charge.) I’ve had a similar boon of CD sales as well with the same margin of profit albiet on a much smaller scale. Nice article, Brian!

    1. That’s an interesting angle Eric! At one point I mentioned on the offer page that I’d throw in the download if asked, but it didn’t seem to make any difference, so I removed it.

  3. Thank you for all the things you post!
    Reading Brunson’s book now but I totally realize the whole thing is an upsell to get into Clickfunnels.
    So stoked that Woo has an alternative.
    I am in dire need to upgrade my True Mother Records website and getting to it shortly.
    Cheers Brian! – Matt

    1. Be sure to let us know when you finish! I’d love to check it out.

      I think you know this, but I should clarify that WooFunnels isn’t an official WooCommerce (i.e. WordPress/Automattic/Jetpack) product.

  4. Well, Brian, I’m not sure what else you may do besides Writing and Music, but you could certainly have a career in Marketing.
    I have about 800 copies in my studio of my Baseball music CD, “Play Ball!” It was designed to be a Fund Raising product for Little League teams., That project is over, but I may try your technique of giving them away to make something from them before CDs go the way of Buggy Whips.
    What’s 800 times $5? $4,000. Hmmm might be worthwhile, even after actual shipping costs.

    1. I don’t think it could possibly be worth it unless you’ve got an upsell and/or order bump. Shipping a 5 oz CD First Class is $3.39, but you could get away with Media Mail which is $2.80. I’ve historically gotten away with shipping my Digipaks as flats for $1.40 or $1.60 once I include the sticker, but I’m being reprimanded on a regular basis at the post office because they’re not bendable, and therefore need to go First Class as well.

      So say you do $2.80 for Media Mail. You’ve got $0.50 for transaction fees, $0.25 for the mailer, maybe another $0.25 for printing the label, and we’re getting close to $4. There’s no way you’re going to get buyers from Facebook ads at $1 per. I’m lucky to get them at $3 on a consistent basis.

  5. So, less the cost of making the CDs, the Facebook ad costs and the other site-related costs, there’s a positive number left over at the end, which is good. And it sounds like you got rid of some inventory that was just sitting around anyway. Also good. But, jesus, that sounds like a lot of work for some fraction of 500 new fans.

    So, now you’re ordering 2,000 more CDs to… basically, follow a similar strategy? Maybe that’s a smart thing to do. But it seems like so much work for not a huge benefit. But maybe I’m looking at it incorrectly. I’ll be interested to read about the results.

    Separate but related, I’m curious as to who out there is still buying CDs. Streaming seems like CD quality/experience without the hassle of dealing with the disc (which is, I guess, why the CD business is dying). Vinyl I understand. That’s an experience. I have a turntable set-up and occasionally like to sit down and listen to an album – it’s just a different experience altogether. But mostly I stream – it’s easy and I’m lazy. But CDs… I don’t see where they fit into the customer experience anymore. They have neither the nostalgia/atmosphere of vinyl, nor the ease of streaming. Against all (old) odds, I read that vinyl units shipped are supposed to surpass CD units shipped in about 3 years… who would’ve guessed that would happen, ever, just 15 years ago.

    Totally separate… I recall that you had some songs placed in TV shows or whatnot at some point in the past. How’s about a post on these so-called “synch” placements? Sure, a ton of competition for such placements, but… gotta be a lot less than the million new songs put on Spotify each day. Of course, realistically, you probably need an actual publisher.

    1. Oh, it’s definitely a lot of work! My hope is to sell the two new albums as a bundle at a “normal” price. I’m thinking $18 as a pre-order.

      I’ve surveyed my fans about vinyl, and 3x as many want CDs. They sound better, they’ve still got the lyrics and artwork, and they cost much less to make and ship. I’d love to do vinyl someday, but I’m not seeing enough demand to break even yet.

      Sadly, I’ve been out of the sync game for a long time now. I’ve worked with Marmoset the past few years and they’re great, but I’m not the best fit genre-wise.

  6. Hey Brian, I’ve been taking the Indepreneur classes and have learned so much. I’m about to implement my first Free plus S & H and am thankful you broke down your process and your tech stack. It’s very helpful! And congrats on the success!

    1. Thanks John! I’d love to see yours when it’s up and running! And please report back with your results. I’m going to have to wrap mine up in the next day or two for lack of CDs!

    2. Good to know. I’m on Mailerlite and while it’s been great, it doesn’t seem to offer some of the advanced ecommerce/marketing elements.

      Thanks again for sharing your journey through all of this!

    1. At this point, I’m thinking I can combine a summary of the entire campaign with the promo. Assuming Facebook approves my ad which has been In Review for about 36 hours now, I should be wrapping up by the end of the week!

  7. Hey Brian – your result here is amazing, and I’m totally in and will be using the same tech stack pretty much. I’m curious as to how you think results might change with the initial offer being Name Your Price instead of free?

    A customer can obviously choose to pay nothing and thats cool, but I’ve found with other previous limited time name your price offers we’ve run on bandcamp that customers on average pay £4-5.

    This particular offer will be a signed album for the 10th anniversary of an artist’s debut album (she since started a new solo project this year, so this project isnt ongoing), but does want to celebrate the anniversary and we have an active mailing liust of around 6k. We also have a never released demos and rarities CD which we want to incporporate somewhere into the offer, but I’m at a loss as to where it should fit in the funnel.

    Lastly – does Aerocheckout offer the option of a name your price offer?

    1. I was thinking the same thing about Name Your Price! Keep in mind the WooCommerce Name Your Price extension costs $49 a year. I recently bought it, but I haven’t tested it yet.

      I asked WooFunnels support about Name Your Price, and he said “it would not work with using Aero as a product-specific checkout.” In other words, it’ll only work on a native WooCommerce product page. The buyer names their price, adds it to their cart, and then they can proceed with a WooFunnels AeroCommerce checkout, with an order bump and upsells I believe.

      It could still be worth it despite the extra friction!

      I’d throw the rarities CD in as an upsell right after checkout. It wouldn’t work as an order bump, since you’ll need some space to pitch it.

      I’d love to hear your results when you get it up and running! Btw I’m posting a follow-up to this article in the morning!

  8. I can wholeheartedly recommend WooFunnels, their support and tech guys are awesome. I had a need for an integration they did not have native in their app and after a couple of emails, I woke up to having it work perfectly with no additional cost

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Brian Hazard is a recording artist with over twenty years of experience promoting eleven Color Theory albums, and head mastering engineer and owner of Resonance Mastering in Huntington Beach, California.

His Passive Promotion blog emphasizes “set it and forget it” methods of music promotion.

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