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Tips to Successfully Release Your Album (Without A Label)!

Last month my blog post was about what I did leading up to making my album. This month I will let you know what is in the works after having completed it. I’ll talk about some commonly forgotten about steps as well as things to think about with the new advancements in digital and social media. 

Assuming your album is complete in the recorded music, and you have gotten it mixed and mastered, you need to make sure you have all possible formats on a hard drive somewhere (instrumentals, radio edits, etc). This way you don’t have to go back to any of your engineers/studios and try and dig them up at a later date if you need them for something like a TV or film placement.

Next, your legal steps should be covered. Who owns the songs/masters/publishing should be decided upon, and what the percentages are per person (in addition to who wrote the songs, getting permission for covers and/or loops). The music should be protected by copyright, the writers should be registered with a PRO (performing rights organization like ASCAP or BMI), songs should be registered with Gracenote/FreeDB and your ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) numbers should be assigned.  All of this is to protect the artists and also track the music so the correct parties involved can be compensated once the track is able to be recognized. This should also be applied to the artwork. Making sure you have permission from the photographer(s) and/or graphic designer(s) for the liner notes, any promo flyers/posters, getting a UPC code for physical copies, using the FBI anti-piracy warning and adding web/social media sites.

Once you have those bases covered, you should move onto updating your materials. This includes having updated info and consistent images on your website, social media, your bio, press kit (including stage plot) and updating your mailing list.

Moving on to how you are going to get your music out is the next step. This includes digitally, streaming, CDs, vinyl and more. There are companies out there like CDbaby and Discmakers (who are sister companies) that can help you take care of this. CDbaby even has a “Pro” option that will help you take care of most of the legal steps in one of my previous paragraphs. Personally, I used the CDbaby Pro option for my digital distribution and then I did my physical CDs with Discmakers. I chose Discmakers because I had used them in the past, was happy with the results, they’re close enough I can pick them up (eliminating shipping costs) and the graphic designer was familiar with their templates. A new option for people could be to use digital download cards as promotional tool. Discmakers will print cards with your album artwork and a digital code where they can go and download your album (once) for free. Yet another tool I used in the recording process was leaking a song early to people who preordered as well as releasing the album, when it was finished, in advance to the same people who pre-ordered. This was easy to do with my updates through my PledgeMusic campaign. I used that as a litmus test to see what people thought before a public release. Thanks to current technology, as soon as the music was ready digitally, I was able to release it and I didn’t have to wait until my physical copies were ready. So now I can have a continuous release of my album that spans a greater period of time, which is great for my marketing plan, because I can announce when each stage is happening. First the buzz about making the album, then the pre-orders received their copies, next it was released digitally. Now, I have physical copies to announce and then the vinyl after that. This is similar to how major movie studios release their blockbusters. The movie goes to a theater first (this can be to people who pre-ordered), then for a limited time it can only be available through your website only (this would be when the movie goes to DVD), then digitally everywhere (this could be similar to Netflix or paid cable-like HBO) and then digitally and physically everywhere else and at your shows (this would be like terrestrial TV). This way you can maximize the revenue stream by offering exclusivity in stages.

Now that I have physical copies in hand, that’s great. I’m also sure that plenty of people have the album digitally through pre-orders or another method (like iTunes, Amazon, etc.). But, a release party is a great way to get physical copies in the hand of people who may want the ‘real thing’ in addition to the digital OR might want to introduce your music to other people for the first time. Step one is to try and get as many of the musicians who helped you create the music on board. Then you want to try an pick a venue that you will do the best performance in, as well as one that you can get people to come out to. Things to think about on the inside are: stage area, sightlines, acoustics, backline equipment, sound system, lights, bar/food, capacity, advance ticket sale capabilities, and green room (meaning is there one?). Some things to think about on the outside of the venue are: location of the venue (good vs. bad neighborhood), foot traffic, ease of transit (to and from the venue), and parking availability.

Once you have a venue and a date and the musicians locked in, you should figure out the stage plot, set list and timeline of events. The timeline of events can include the night of the show (load in, soundcheck, doors, performance, meet and greet/merch sales, etc.), but also, when you announce your party. Obviously, the more time you have so you’re able to give everyone else enough time to react to the information is key. This is where a PR (public relations) firm and a street team can come in handy. A street team could be your friends, family or fans. They are the ones who will ‘pound the pavement’ and help get the word out with flyers, word of mouth, posters, and social media/website posts. The PR firm is tricky. When you hire a PR firm you are hiring them to attempt contact, but they can’t guarantee that their efforts will be successful. For example, they can reach out to a magazine to get your album reviewed, but they can’t force the magazine to actually review it, or give you a favorable review if they do check it out. This is why you need to make sure your PR firm is a good one, with great contact and relationships with the media audience you are targeting. They will help craft your story, and formulate your press release, as well as helping to get your album reviewed by magazines and other publications both print and online. They can also reach out to different bloggers and podcasters. They are the ones who will contact the radio stations (terrestrial, college, and satellite). A good PR firm will not only get your music in the hands of the aforementioned people, but possibly get you on the air with them or interviewed by them. I use The Presshouse in Brooklyn, NY as my PR agency. They came highly recommended not only by a few musicians whom I value, trust and respect, but also my project manager over at Pledgemusic who has had contact with several agencies over the course of many years and tons of artists. When selecting people for your team to work with, remember a bad reputation spreads a lot faster than a good one, so getting more than one opinion (or review) will help you choose the right people.

Another option to advertise your music and release party may be with Facebook ads (that you pay for) to help get the word out to who you want it to. This is because you can specifically target your audience. Facebook’s search algorithms will let you target keywords of different nouns, but also target “people that like _____” or “people who live in _____”, allowing you to fill in the blank with practically anything you can think of. Also, coming up with creative alternatives like attempting to host some contests is a great way to get excitement happening. Maybe offering a bundle of your album and some merch, or free tickets to the release party as possible prizes.

Once you have the release party, you should have taken some photos, recorded some audio and/or video that you can use promotionally for future events (possibly a tour or other release parties in different cities?). You definitely want to invite some press and possibly other talent buyers to the release party if you are going to take the next steps to book a tour.

A handy book that can be used as a great reference is the “Indie Band Survival Guide” by Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan or “Welcome To The Music Business, You’re Fu*ked!” by Martin Atkins.