A Conversation with Martha Scanlan

How to package a CD to make it worth buying rather than downloading

During the Folk Alliance in Memphis in February I had a chat with Martha Scanlan, a songwriter and old-time musician from the USA. We were discussing the state of the recording industry and how to package a CD to make it worth buying rather than downloading. Her CD, The West Was Burning, arrived at Rogue Towers this morning. The first one sent by the record company went astray somewhere between Nashville and Vancouver in February, so it's not a brand new release, just one that I've been dying to hear for a few months.

I wrote the following letter to her website this morning www.marthascanlan.com and thought I'd share her reply with y'all (as they say in Tennessee).

— Steve Edge

Hi Martha

I just received your CD from Sugar Hill.

It is exactly what we were talking about in Memphis. Beautiful music, packaged beautifully. The liner notes from Dirk (Powell) are wonderful. Such vivid pictures. The songs paint those pictures all the more intensely and vibrantly.

A CD is much more than a collection of downloadable songs. A truly great CD is a collection of intimate portraits and stirring, memorable tunes. More than that, though, to preserve the idea of a CD as opposed to a computer folder, I think you've nailed it. It's the whole package that makes it work. Even if one could download the liner notes and the lyrics and the photos as well as the songs, who has a printer and paper cutter and folder and stapler to put it all together so compactly and so lovingly?

I'll be playing a few songs on my show this week. A little late for album of the week? I don't think so. It's definitely MY album of this week / month.

All the best

www.citr.ca live from 8am to noon on Saturdays, available as podcasts thereafter (but podcasts just don't connect on as many levels as a CD like yours!)

Dear Steve,

That is just about the nicest email I could imagine...I really appreciate that you consider the entirety of a piece of work- I still refer to CDs as albums, and can't get myself to think about recordings as individual songs thrown together. I generally feel like such a luddite, but I grew up poring over the albums in my parents collection fascinated by the pictures and the sequence of songs and can't get that out of my head. I want to take people on a journey, or at least for the songs to. Dirk is of the same mind and deserves much of the credit; I'll be sure to forward your email on to him.

Thanks so much for taking the ride, and appreciating the vehicle. It was such a magical experience recording with those fine folks, really a journey all it's own and it's so wonderful to share that. Thanks too for playing the album.

I would love to check out your show sometime when I am out of the van! I'll keep it on my calendar.

All the best,