I have always loved curating music, from my MySpace Top 8 and mix CDs (DJ EmJay's Hitmix Vol 1 - 15) in the early days to live music experiences nowadays. With my best friend Gaby Harvey, I run The Campsite, a camping-themed private-showcase-room-turned-song circle at folk conferences. We were even thinking of expanding out of hotel rooms and onto actual stages in the future, but the pandemic got in our way.
The idea for CD Club came to me shortly after Gaby and I hosted our friend, Texas singer songwriter Jordi Baizan for a house concert in my apartment. We'd met Jordi at Folk Alliance a couple of years before and this would be his first time coming to Canada to play a show. He asked us where he should play and trusted me completely when my response was, "my house!". Of course, what I meant by "my house" was "my very small apartment living room". Even so, 15ish of my friends showed up, handed over a green queen* and we had a truly wonderful evening. As I was thanking one of these pals for coming without any knowledge of who the artist was, she shrugged and said, "I trust you."
That same weekend in March, in between showing Jordi all the volcano bowls and momos Toronto has to offer, Corin Raymond was trying to tie me down for a phone call to ask me my thoughts on streaming. He had recently finished recording his then upcoming album, Dirty Mansions, and as a true believer in the thing*, was feeling conflicted. Corin puts out a book with each CD - or maybe a CD with each book, it's hard to tell - and no streaming site could offer even a shadow of the type of listening experience that Corin wanted his listener to have. But I was nervous to talk to him. As a long time friend and one of the many artists I have been proud to represent in some way or another over the years, he trusted my opinion. But I didn't even know what my position on streaming was. As a user and a listener, I loved my Spotify subscription. On the other hand, as a believer in artists getting paid (my day job at the time was collecting royalties for musicians and music makers) I obviously knew it was a bad deal. I was sad for Corin that he even needed to be conflicted about this - it's so unfair! While quietly fretting over having to tell Corin that I didn't know what the answer was, I started doing some stealthy market research, polling my Facebook friends as to whether or not they still owned a CD player. It turned out, overwhelmingly, that many of them did.
I crunched some numbers. Imagine if everybody paid for even just ONE album a month? Imagine if we still got excited about a physical product other than a new iPhone? Imagine if we listened to music on purpose again? Imagine if an artist could sell 100 CDs to 100 engaged music fans, immediately upon release of their new album? Hmm, I thought. Someone should do that. I turned to Facebook once again: "Who is releasing an album in the next year?" I asked. Again, an overwhelming response. People answered without even asking me why I wanted to know. I thought back to my friend's words after the house show: I trust you.
65 beautiful souls trusted me and I ran a three-month pilot of a CD of the month club in fall 2019, sending out free gifts for early subscribers, membership cards, stickers and, most importantly, three excellent CDs: Corin's aforementioned Dirty Mansions, Kerri Ough's One Day Soon, and Rob McLaren's Rob McLaren II. Rob's album wouldn't have even existed on CD if it weren't for the support of CD CLUB, so that's pretty special.
The pilot was a success in that I learned that this model was not going to be sustainable for me on a monthly basis - the constant moving target of CD production made it near impossible for me to nail down exactly when a particular album would be ready, and, well, I kinda needed to know. But, I loved the group of people that it brought into my life, and I loved the great energy we gathered around those artists. It was a very special thing.
*these phrases are borrowed from Corin Raymond, who writes extensively about the thing in the Dirty Mansions liner notes/book. You can buy it on his website, if you're not already a super-fan.