‘Tis the season! And yes, I mean getting in your holiday shopping and making your house look like a winter wonderland, but in artist-world, it’s also the season to prepare for the next year of career moves! I’m a planner (it’s a curse, since this is hardly the career for minimal stress at the prospect of an uncertain ever-changing future). I like to come out of the gate January 1st with a purpose and a direction so I don’t hear the you don’t actually know what you’re doing buzz quite so loudly. Because honestly, who actually knows what they’re doing? Nobody. Even though instagram makes it look like they have it all together (thank you filters!).
As ever, lists are my go-to. And this coming year, I’m excited to be putting together an album for release.
It doesn’t seem super complicated if you don’t fully think about what goes into it. Outside of writing of the perfect songs, the recording, the mixing, the re-mixing, the re-re-mixing, the mastering, the artwork, and the distribution, all you’ve actually accomplished is having your masterpiece of skill, time, and money be accessible on the internet. And accessibility is a drip in the ever-expanding ocean of accessible music available to listeners.
If you don’t want your music to simply sit on the figurative shelves, you’ll need to consider having a release rollout plan. The good and bad news is that there’s no right or wrong way to do this.
1. The most important thing about the release is the product itself. That’s why artists and songwriters spend years creating. Maybe 1 out of 10 songs we write is worthy of being demoed, and even fewer deserve to make it onto our own records. A good song isn’t enough. It needs to align with you as an artist. Is it honest? Does it speak to your fanbase? Is it harmonious with your image? Is it different enough to stand out? Is it similar enough to be marketable to your genre? “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” is a catchy song, but Metallica probably isn’t going to release it, and if they did, their fans would probably disband in droves.
The songs have to catch that magical little sweet spot and even then, need to be produced in a way that also encompasses all of the above questions. If you’re merely making music for yourself, you don’t have to worry about it. If you’re hoping to have a lucrative career, you need to have a product that is competitive with what is already on the market. Anyone can spend money on a promoter or distributor. At the end of the day though, your music won’t get listened to if it isn’t at least on par with what else is out there. A friend of mine who is a promoter to Spotify once told me of a client of his who couldn’t understand why their song didn’t make the curated playlists. Female artists to male artists on the list she was hoping for were 1:4 already. He told her to listen to the other songs by females on the list and let him know if she thought the recording and the song was competitive with the songs that made it. Of course, relationships and industry favors come into play in this business. But at the end of the day, to even get consideration, your product must be equal to or better than what is already out there.
2. You need to engage your current fanbase. Why do artists promote pre-saves or pre-downloads? Because those adds and purchases count towards the first week of sales and spins. Plus, it gives your fans the opportunity to feel like they get special treatment. You can do this through social media, email lists, or live shows. Your current fanbase are the ones who will spread the word more effectively than you can do on your own. My feed (depending on the media algorithm) might reach 500 people. Of those 500, the more people that share, the more feeds your post will show up in, and the greater draw you’ll have. That being said, offer your true fans something exclusive that gives them incentive to share with their friends. It may be a contest, a piece of merch available only for a limited time, etc, but make it something that causes them to feel like they are an active part of your journey to the top. Take them on the ride with you.
3. Consider hiring a marketing firm. This may not be in everyone’s budget, but in my personal opinion, if you spend x amount on recording the project, you should spend at least as much putting it out there. Otherwise, you end up with a stellar product that is dead in the water. Different marketing firms offer different packages, and you should tailor them to your strengths. For example, if I feel like I can handle my own social media, but don’t have as many press contacts, I’d make my firm focus on publications and write-ups. There’s a lot you can do yourself as well, if you feel like you’re broke (and let’s face it, more often than not, we are). A handwritten letter to an editor often goes a long way. So does creativity- use your creativity to come up with effective, budget-friendly promotion solutions. A friend of mine used pizza boxes once to deliver his product to news offices. It was so different, it caught their attention and earned him a spot on their segment.
4. Be prepared. This sounds like a catch-all, but it’s so so important! You don’t want to make it up as you go along. A lot of important steps take a few weeks (even months) of preparation. And the worst thing you can do is rush a rollout. This might mean taking more time on the front end and pushing the release down the road a little. My personal goal is to have most of my accompanying content already created by the time I’m ready to release. This includes social media posts, photos, music videos, live videos, and anything else that plays a supporting role to my product. I don’t want to put out a song and scramble to throw together a video to keep the content and buzz rolling.
You should be able to have enough content to continue to promote your release without it feeling redundant for a couple of weeks at least. This content can also tie into your marketing- maybe you have an interview published about the song. Work with the publication to time out your write-ups so that they don’t overlap each other and you can give appropriate “shine” time to each. It will prolong the fresh advertisement period of your release and drive more traffic to the articles which will make the publication companies want to continue working with you.
5. If you are thinking of doing a radio campaign, understand the time it takes for a song to chart and pace your promotion. You may want to organize a small radio tour and put in face time with djs and stations that support you. If you’re releasing only online, take note of the Spotify algorithms and decide how to space your releases, as well as give yourself enough pre-release time to apply for curated lists. Ask for client recommendations from any promotional streaming company you are contemplating, and talk to these artists about their experience working with them- since streaming is still fairly new, very few people know how to effectively promote a track and you can end up spending a lot of money for lukewarm results (take it from someone who knows!).
6. Know that you may have to adapt. Even with all the planning in the world, nothing involving music has ever gone exactly as expected. Keep an even keel and use the advice and input of friends and industry you trust to help navigate. Remember the reason you love making music in the first place, and leave the rest in the hands of fate.
Can’t wait to share my new stuff with you guys in the new year! Here’s to a happy, healthy, and successful 2020! -Melanie