Even though most consumers don't think of CDs when they think of new music thanks to iPods and other digital devices, the music industry still relies heavily on them to promote their artists' new music. In a process that hasn't changed much in decades, record labels send out CDs packaged with printed promotional materials to what are hoped to be the right influencers at radio stations. Radio station personnel, bombarded by these packages, end up not having the time to go through them all and many end up in the trash. Not only are those CDs extremely difficult to recycle, but it has been estimated that getting them to the stations consumes about 0.7 pounds of fossil fuel per CD, from production to shipping.
Given that this is the digital era that gave birth to Napster, couldn't the labels do more than work to make their offices green? Perhaps e-mail? That won't work since broadcast-quality tracks can't be sent that way. Most e-mail servers aren't equipped to handle files of that size. FTP? It's a better option, but it's not the most user-friendly way to send promotional materials and music. And, then there's music piracy. Anything easily available online could be downloaded and shared.
The only real viable option is digital delivery services that allow record labels to make their artists' music available online in a secure medium. These systems alert radio stations to a song's availability by e-mail. Those e-mails contain all the information that was once printed on paper. The files themselves can be downloaded directly into the radio stations' music library ready for air if the song catches the attention of a DJ or programmer.
Not only is this more environmentally friendly, but it saves record labels cash. For the major and large independent labels, the cost of delivering a digital file with images and other promotional info is much less expensive than manufacturing a CD single with packaging and printed liners and shipping it via mail or courier.
As for the independent artist, all the major label benefits apply, but typically the indie artist is shipping the whole album on CD because the extra costs of manufacturing CD singles are prohibitive. In this case, the indie artists get to save on the shipping costs, but also get to keep their albums to sell at their shows.
These advantages can't be ignored, and more and more increasingly, they're being acknowledged. You may be surprised to learn that the Canadian music industry leads the world in this area, and has virtually eliminated the distribution of wasteful promotional CDs entirely. In fact, in Canada all four multinational major label groups have exclusively switched to digital distribution for all their promotional releases, preventing the manufacture and shipping of millions of ecologically harmful CDs and packaging. The Canadian industry has significantly decreased their environmental impact and saved on expenses at the same time! This win-win situation has been catching on in the US as well; digital promo distribution has increased exponentially during 2008 as the entire industry has begun to follow the lead of the major label groups.
The digital distribution of promotional music is one way the recorded music industry has, and can continue to take major steps towards adapting to new methods that reduce the impact made on the environment while saving both labels and radio personnel precious time and money.