10 Tips for a Successful Release
Actionable advice for the indie artist, curated over my years in the music industry.
1. If it's early in your career, consider releasing singles or EP’s.
There are several reasons for this. First of all, 2019 is a year dominated by playlists, where people consume music in bite-sized chunks. With the smorgasbord of music at our fingertips and listeners' ever-shortening attention spans, you are fortunate to get someone to listen to one of your songs--and even a whole song at that. By putting your time and focus into making one or two great songs, you increase your chances of making a fan on that critical first listen. Once you capture true fans, they’ll be more likely to listen to whatever you put out in the future.
The second reason to release less songs at once is one of self-improvement: Every time you go through the process of finishing a piece of art, calling it done, putting it out, and promoting it to the world, you learn something. The fact is, you get better at releasing music the more you do it. So, by releasing an EP or single every 4 months instead of a full-length record every two years, you’ll improve your marketing and fan-building skills much faster. Also, when you're starting your career, you are (hopefully) developing at a rapid pace, and these changes can be drastic. Most bands don't achieve a long-term sound, lineup, or brand image after releasing only one song. Many bands go through lineup changes as they start to get more serious. Are all your members 100% committed to staying in the band for the next few years? The last thing you want is to spend a year working on that illustrious debut full-length, only to have your dynamic frontman call it quits.
Finally, a few other reasons to release less songs at a time: it's more manageable, you'll put out higher quality, and you'll be less stressed.
2. Don’t announce a release date until you have a final, mastered product in hand.
This one should be somewhat obvious, but I’m continually surprised to see how many artists push back their release dates because a delay came up in mixing, mastering, CD printing, or online distribution. You should try and set yourself up for success by hiring people with a reputation for reliability, but the sad fact is that these processes are usually outside of your control as an artist. Years ago, the band I was in had our CDs delivered to us the day of our release show. It was one of the most stressful days we ever had as a band. Don’t let that be you.
3. Carefully set your release date.
Nowadays, releases typically happen on Fridays. Many major labels drop albums in November and December to feed the holiday shopping rush, so you'll want to avoid that time to lessen competition. January may not be the best time, because people are pinching their pennies after the holidays. The rest of the year is probably a much better option. Think of your critical fan base, and what they have going on that might influence their buying decisions or ability to get stoked on your music. Consider the competition in your genre/scene: if a similar artist with a bigger following has a release the same week as yours, who’s album do you think the blogs, reviewers, and zines will be promoting?
Also, pay attention to your own schedule when setting this date. Give yourself a healthy pad of time from first announcement to release date, to focus on marketing and building excitement. There are no rules, but consider 3-4 months for a full length album, 2 months for an EP, or 1-2 weeks for a single.
4. Never release anything into thin air.
One of the biggest mistakes new artists make with their release is that once they get their new shiny, mastered song, they get excited and put it up on Bandcamp without any warning. A few weeks later, they might make some artwork and upload it. The problem with this is that it lowers the perceived value and impact of the music, and it will seem like nothing more than a "basement demo," even if it's a great song and a great recording.
There are plenty of ways to hype up your fans (no matter how many you have) in the time leading up to your release. If you’re releasing an EP or album, put out one or more singles ahead of time. Accompany them with music videos if you can! When it comes to social media, you can put up teasers, countdowns, behind the scenes clips (keep them short and interesting--nobody cares about a studio documentary unless you’re the Foo Fighters), run contests, or offer merch giveaways for fans that share your posts. Get the song reviewed on blogs, played on local or college radio, etc. The list goes on. You want people buzzing when you drop that hot track!
5. Your upcoming release is your brand, so brand yourself accordingly.
One obvious part of this is artwork. Finding art that fits your release well is tough and takes time. Don’t be afraid to gather multiple cover options and run them by random strangers. If you have a target demographic or audience that you see yourself promoting to, center it around them. What makes good or cool artwork can be largely genre-dependent, so don’t be afraid to take a look at what other successful artists are doing and use it for inspiration.
When you're getting ready to announce a release, this is also the time to update your profile photos, cover photos, freshen up your website, and update your bios and descriptions across the web. Here's the key to this: all these things must be strategically chosen to build some kind of cohesive theme, image, or vibe around your new music. One band that has executed this flawlessly is The 1975. If you look through their online profiles, you will see how they've taken a minimalist, striking approach to their image that has created a sense of mystique, intrigue, and anticipation in their fans before each release.
6. Get organized.
Put all your audio files (masters, instrumental versions, stems, etc.), written materials (album credits, lyrics, liner notes), and promo materials (like photos, bios, artwork, reviews, press releases, and press kits) into a centralized, safe place. Secure cloud storage like Dropbox or Google Drive is your friend here. This way, you and your bandmates will all have access, and you can easily split up promotional tasks that require sharing these files (such as reaching out to music blogs, radio, labels, etc).
7. Plan a release show.
Nothing will solidify the hype and buzz going around your fan base more than a special event, often a “one night only,” that is the culmination of all your hard work. You should plan the show on the day of (or close to) your release. To get more people in the door, announce that you’ll be doing some cool giveaways at the show and give a big discount on your album to those who bought advance tickets. Find some other solid, hard-working local artists to be your openers, and incentivize them to pre-sell tickets by giving them a cut of the doors. If you’re not going through a booker at a club for your release show and instead opt to rent a club, coffee house, church, etc, I highly recommend using Brown Paper Tickets for your ticketing needs. You can create various packages, merch bundles, VIP options, and they offer both online and physical tickets.
8. Register to gain your royalties.
The money-making potential in your music exists in two main categories: performance royalties and mechanical royalties. Performance royalties pertain to a song being “performed publicly” (this usually includes radio play, covers by other artists, some online streaming, and more). Mechanical royalties pertain to the finished sound recording, aka the “master” (such as selling CD’s, iTunes, or streaming on Spotify). If you’re an independent artist, you should be collecting the majority of your performance and mechanical royalties.
We all love FREE MONEY, so go after it! To make sure you’re not missing out on performance royalties, register with a performing rights organization (PRO) like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC (if you're in the USA) or SOCAN (if you're in Canada). In addition, you should register with SoundExchange, which can bring you extra money from streaming.
Also, you can make money through sync licensing, which basically means selling a license to use your music to a third party (for example, selling your track to filmmakers for use in movies). Check out this link for a list of platforms where you can do this. I should note, it is a good idea to consider putting up instrumental versions of your songs alongside the regular versions for sync licensing, because a lot of people need instrumental music.
Overall, music licensing can be confusing and hard to understand, but as an artist, you should familiarize yourself with it so you can continue getting paid in our ever-changing digital landscape. To learn more, check out Royalty Exchange and this article on Sonic Bids.
9. Reach out to music blogs, reviewers, zines, playlist curators, etc.
This could be considered part of section 4 above, but reaching out to sources like these should be a regular practice both before and after your release if you want more exposure. These days, getting even one song on a big Spotify playlist can do crazy things for your career, if you capitalize off of it properly. To learn more about submitting to Spotify playlists, visit https://playlistpush.com/ and https://www.submithub.com/
10. Work on your social media game.
Knowing how to captivate your audience online is key to a successful release (and career). In 2018, people connect visually. This means you should be posting mainly pictures, videos, graphics, and things that catch the eye of someone scrolling through their feed (I bet that meme below catches your eye)! On Facebook, visual posts tend to do way better than text alone.
People have a constant appetite for new content, so after you’ve released your album, make a game plan for the next few months to keep them interested post-release. Consider doing acoustic versions, live videos, music videos, remixes (you could hold a remix contest), and cover videos. Stay away from low quality graphics, cat videos, memes, controversial topics like as politics, gun control and religion (unless you’re specifically a religious artist), and instead focus on interacting with your fans! Get to know them, and give them the chance to get to know you too. As a result, they will feel more invested in your art and will actually want to buy your record and see you live.
I hope that these tips have been helpful for you! If so, feel free to pass this page along to any artists you know who are releasing new music soon. If you have questions or wish to discuss release strategies further, feel free to hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org or on social meda (links below).