Tis the season for indie album releases (perhaps the Grammy submission timelines are driving some of this).
As some of you know, we recently mastered our second Solveig & Stevie CD, Fire and Other Playthings. Before we release it, of course, I am writing up my promotional plan. In the midst of my best practices research process, it occurred to me, wait…
What about consulting the collective brainpower surrounding me in the virtual online cocktail party that is the Internet of All Things, those brilliant music industry people (some of whom I am now honored to call Friend and many of whom I have met In Real Life over the past several years)?
Then came another Lightbulb Moment: I should compile these tips into a blog post to share with you, my faithful readers!
All of these folks are people I have interacted with on social media or in person in some way or another, so they are real people with real experience in music marketing. Many have written entire books (or at least ebooks) on the subject, which I have downloaded or purchased and read.
The links below are not affiliate links, they’ll just take you to the author’s website or blog. All I ask is that if you do visit my friends, please let them know I sent you.
Don’t forget to read all the way to the end – there are some real gems here. Some are a bit more, ahem, detailed than others. Some are practical lists, and some more philosophical. I didn’t want you to miss anything, so I edited just a bit for obvious redundancies. There are some recurring themes.
[By the way, if you’d prefer this post as a PDF, I am thinking of creating an ebook from this blog post. Let me know in the comments or email me via the contact form to let me know.]
So with no further ado, in no particular order, except as they came in to me, here they are:
[Tweet “Put more time into building the fan base.”]
The only thing I’d make sure to have in place is a buzz before the release. You work on the buzz months before the release, release a few teaser vids and coordinate with huge bloggers. I’d put more time into building the fan base and release the project on my site (short run) then out to CD Baby/iTunes etc. I guess it’s all depends on the end goal. My main concern is covering the cost and profiting. Which is why I would release it on my own site first.
[Tweet “Bandcamp can embed to your website with player.”]
Check out Bandcamp. Beautiful interface, “name your price,” they only take 15%. Someone paid $200 for my album. Bandcamp can embed to your website with player.
[Tweet “Create a Facebook Event for the CD release. “]
Two bits of wisdom… first might seem so obvious, but I still encounter it all too often.
- Be sure you submit all your release meta data to Grace Note. This can be done within iTunes, select Submit CD Track Names. Once this is done be sure to insert one of your CDs into iTunes import the tracks and verify that all the data looks correct. You don’t want your CD to come back in iTunes as Untitled by Unknown Artist.
- A fun tip for creating an event around your release is to create a Facebook Event for the CD release. This will give you a single point of focus to share. Think of it as a old school release party, but everyone can attend since it happens online. Be sure to post updates, photos and videos in the Event leading up to the release. Once the CD is available remember to go back to the Event and the various buy links of might have available.
[Tweet “Identify a potential problem and explain how your music is the solution.”]
Most consumers don’t buy products – they buy solutions. More so, they buy solutions from trusted sources. Drop the hard sales pitch and redundant self-promotion. Identify a potential problem and explain how your music is the solution. Summed up, “Solutions not Sales” & “Interactions not Transactions.”
Instead of this: “We’ve done this, we’ve done that, our music kicks so much ass you would be stupid not to buy the CD for only $4.95,” your solutions pitch could focus on the therapeutic benefits of your music, quoting studies that have shown music increases a positive state of mind. From there you can point out how much more productive and/or happy they might be if they were in that positive state of mind. Or, what about educational benefits? Do the lyrics in your Norwegian Black Metal song raise awareness of lost Pagan cultures? If so, explain how many of those pagan beliefs are mainstays of our modern way of life. The names of the days of the week come to mind, as well as do many holidays.
[Tweet “First: create your masterpiece and nothing less. “]
You can market until you are blue in the face – hire the best PR or radio promotion company in the world but unless you have what people want you have nothing. First: create your masterpiece and nothing less. Make it the music you want to hear. News of great music travels fast. Second: Make your brand match your record’s message visually. It should be uniquely distinct, conceptual, clearly identify what the music sounds like and exceptionally visually appealing. Your brand is your music at “first glance.”
[Tweet “You do have an email list, right?”]
Don’t wait until the CD is finished to start promoting. Ford and Chevy don’t wait until their new cars are 100% ready to start promoting them. You shouldn’t either. Use the process of creating the EP as a promotional tool.
Allowing your fans to see behind the curtain makes them feel special and gives them a sense of ownership. Send out emails (you do have an email list, right?) to ask for their input on cover art, song titles, etc. The more they participate the more invested they are and the more they will buy and promote your CD.
[Tweet “The upside is creativity is limitless.”]
I don’t think it’s as simple as focusing on the release day itself anymore. With respect to Noughts and Exes, when they released their latest record, they knew that as an indie band, the impetus was on them to drive traffic and create interest in the project. They created a lot of interest in a big release day concert, which sold out well in advance, but they also organized a flashmob for their song ‘Hearts,’ which was the first single off the record. The flashmob was the first ever in Hong Kong’s Times Square and they worked with the top indie artists in Hong Kong on it. They filmed it for the video, which went viral, and with that, the show, and the internet buzz about the video, the band had a #1 single. There’s so much more involved in a release now and bands have to be more well organized than ever before. The upside is creativity is limitless and bands should channel that creativity to maximize the potential of their CD release.
[Tweet “Do you have an audience for your music?”]
- Have you made alternate mixes without vocals and a mix with just bgv’s (background vocals) for licensing and karaoke?
- Does the artwork have a story that could interest media?
- Are elements of technology incorporated in the album design as means of data collection and marketing tools? These could include QR codes and short links.
- Have you considered releasing your album as singles over a period time and the full album with the final track? This is a great way to build and develop contacts and relationships with press,blogs, radio, etc… It gives you multiple reasons to talk about your music. By the time your album is released you have an audience and media ready and waiting.
- If you are Canadian have you indicated the MAPL (CanCon) on the back cover?
- As a means of music discovery, is your distribution company affiliated with a company like Shazam and able to register your tracks automatically or do you need to submit your songs directly to Shazam or similar?
- Have you indicated who the copyright owners are with the proper copyright symbols to the master and publishing elements of each song?
- Do you have an audience for your music?
- Do you have a website?
[Tweet “Offer one or two tracks from the CD for free in exchange for an email. “]
Make sure you have an email capture system in place to maximize any buzz you will be generating. Then offer one or two tracks from the CD for free in exchange for an email. Many times bands and musicians run a huge PR campaign surrounding a CD release and immediately ask for the sale. That’s like meeting a girl and then asking her to jump in bed with you 5 minutes after an introduction (ok, that may work for Bieber or Luke Bryan but for the rest of… not so much. But anyway….).Offering a free track or two is much more effective approach to build trust with someone interested in your music before asking for support. After you’ve initiated captured their email a conversation you can use a “soft sell.” Basically it would be something in your email saying something along the lines of, “Here is your free song from my new album [name of new album with a link where to buy]. Thank you so much for checking my music out. If you have any questions or comments about the track, I’d love to hear them. Just reply to this email… etc.” And really, that is just the tip of the iceberg.
[Tweet “Don’t buy 1,000 CDs unless 1,000 people have pre-ordered them.”]
- Start promoting your new album at least 6 months before release. That includes contacting press, radio, bloggers, and internet radio stations.
- Never book your album release show until you have the album in your hands. I can’t count the number of album release shows where the band didn’t get their CDs in time.
- Don’t buy 1,000 CDs unless 1,000 people have pre-ordered them.
- Use Kunaki.com to buy CDs on demand. Only $1 per CD. Buy 10 CDs for your merch booth. Re-order when you sell out. Profit! (This was advice from Mr. Billy Grisack)
- Have your music submitted to CDBaby and Tunecore before your album release.
- Make sure to have digital versions of your album available for sale at your show. Sell some download cards right next to your CD.
- Submit your music to Pandora. They now allow you to submit MP3s directly to them.
- Don’t forget to also have your album pressed to vinyl. Limited edition vinyl releases are hot items.
- Copyright your songs. Then, register them with a PRO (like ASCAP or BMI). Every time you (or someone else) plays those songs live, you are owed a royalty. So after every show, submit your set list to your PRO rep.
- Get paid for your music on YouTube. Register your songs with Audiam. If anyone else uses your music in a video on YouTube, you will get ad revenue. (Encourage your fans to make their own music videos of your music!)
- Sign up for Square so you can take credit card payments from your cell phone at shows.
[Tweet “Share the creative process with your fans.”]
One of the biggest mistakes indie artists make is waiting till their new album is manufactured and available on iTunes before they even start to promote it at all. Ideally you want to build buzz prior to the official release date.
For me, the most effective way to promote a new album release is to share the creative process with your fans – no matter how small or large your current fan base is. That’s right, share the journey of recording your music and get people engaged. That means showing photos and video of you in the studio, letting people hear early demo samples of songs, and honestly reporting the joys and frustrations of the process.
In addition to that, ask for your fans’ feedback and direct input: Ask them to vote on album cover artwork or even submit artwork of their own. Ask them for their ideas on how to spread the word and how they can help. Yes, this takes a little bit of extra work as you create your new album. But when the official release date arrives, you will already have momentum on your side. And that will be a lot more empowering than asking, “So, what do I do now to promote this thing?”
[Tweet “Find themes in your song titles or band name.”]
- Understand your audience and dig into their demographics rather than blindly marketing to everyone and learn basic SEO practices. Know where they hang out in real life, and create tie-ins with those places on- and offline. By focusing on the “sure thing” fans first and building momentum with them, they’ll eagerly help you. Always remember there are people behind those numbers.
- Find themes in your song titles or band name to create tie-ins. Publicity teams in the 70’s and 80’s were masters at this. One band had an album called Nine Lives, and they did cat adoptions on the radio in each city on tour and donated cases of cat food and cool cat products to shelters. That sort of thing was unheard of then, and it created a lot of buzz. Find your own modern version of that, and work it.
[Tweet “Will your music help them do/ keep their job?”]
The ‘decision makers’ at radio, distributors, bloggers, press, retail, music venues all make their decisions based on “how will my acceptance of this music affect my job?. Every business person you deal with just wants to keep their job. Will your music help them do/ keep their job?
[Tweet “Assign tasks and MAKE IT HAPPEN!”]
You have to make a plan. Too many bands have a bunch of ideas about about marketing their new album with no real execution strategy. Whether your plan is to use Noisetrade, review blogs, YouTube or anything else, sit down with a calendar, assign tasks and MAKE IT HAPPEN!
[Tweet “Treat your album release like your baby.”]
Make sure you have a post release strategy. Think beyond your album release. Have visuals, singles, interviews, reviews and other promotional content on deck. Treat your album release like your baby.
[Tweet “Always simplify things”]
Use tools to build your business, don’t hope that tools will be the saviour of your career. Tools are just tools, they come and go. What tools could you focus on? At this very moment, a musician needs tools that will accommodate their artistic world (a website and streaming services), ways to communicate their art with their fans (social media channels, a blog and an autoresponder) and tools for conducting business (e-commerce platforms, DTF services, analytics).
As you see, I don’t mention names of specific tools. Today’s tools are created by private companies that may cease existing anytime (see MySpace) or change their field of interest (Google has changed too many times) and become irrelevant. But the notion is there, musicians should use what best serves their current needs. A final side-note: most artists see this plethora of tools and get overwhelmed. My advice is: always simplify things, know what you want and use the tools that directly serve your goals.
[Tweet “It may just be as simple as creating a playlist on Spotify.”]
Speak to your distributor and make sure that they are aware of your release and anything that’s going on around it. For example: gigs you are playing, any local press you are receiving and how you are going to make your fanbase on social media aware of your upcoming release. When you speak to them, be proactive and see what opportunities might be available with different digital retailers and make sure to take advantage – it may just be as simple as creating a playlist on Spotify, but it shows that you are actively working to promote your band and release.
[Tweet “Share your “swipe file” with your fans.”]
When releasing your new CD, use the power of your “super fans” to promote your music on social media. Put together a list of pre-written Facebook posts and Twitter tweets to promote your new release. We call this a “swipe file.” Share your “swipe file” with your fans to make it super easy for them to promote you and your music. When done collectively, you’ll see amazing results.
[Tweet “Try to find a way to engage those people on a personal level. “]
I think it is important to remember that the people spending money to purchase your CD are probably going to be your “Super Fans”. That is a very special group of people and should be treated as such. Try to find a way to engage those people on a personal level. If they comment on the CD on social media, it is vital that you take the time to respond to every one of them. Or e-mail them. It keeps them in that inner-circle of fandom that helps pay your bills.
[Tweet “Know exactly who is going to buy your music.”]
Typically most albums that are released only sell 100 copies total. Seriously! however I believe that this can be avoided by planning ahead of time. Before you release a CD a song and album or even plan a tour it is a great idea to know exactly what your target audience is most inclined to want to purchase. What kind of songs, album artwork, or titles are they most likely to find interesting? Do they buy CDs, vinyl sheet music singles or full albums? Do they stream or purchase downloads? If you’re planning on selling online where do they buy? What websites do they visit, what blogs do they read? So in my opinion (from personal experience) don’t just record whatever you want all willy nilly, know exactly who is going to buy your music…who’s going to get excited by you music….and who can’t live without your music and you will sell way more than 100 copies.
[Tweet “Build anticipation in your fanbase. “]
Ready, set, wait.
As musicians, one of the most exciting things we get to do is share our music with the world. Once your masters are delivered or the CDs are pressed and in your hands, it can be tempting to immediately tell the world “HERE I AM! HERE IT IS!”. My advice is to wait. At least 60 days. This will seem like an eternity. But if you put a lot of time and effort into carefully crafting your music, you should do the same thing with your promotional plan. Build anticipation in your fan base. It will take a lot longer for them to remember that you have an album coming out than you think- a handful of social media posts won’t do it (if there’s only a 10% chance of any particular follower seeing any particular post, think about how many posts it will take to get everyone on the same page and salivating for your album!) Don’t be disappointed if you just release a CD without a plan and watch it fizzle out. Plan, promote, maybe book a release show, but keep telling people that it’s coming out and don’t shut up about it. This is your baby.
[Tweet “Having a Newsletter is STILL the most important part of your album release strategy!”]
Every artist I know who has an engaged newsletter list tells me it’s where they make the most money in the long haul so if you don’t have one GET ON IT! This is a critical part of your release strategy.
Here are 5 critical things to keep in mind as you are building your list and sending your newsletter for your new release…
1. It Takes Time to Build a Proper Newsletter List and thats okay! Only have 25 names to start? That’s alright! Just start with that. Many artists tell me they don’t want to have a newsletter because they are already way too behind. Its never too late to start.
2. Use Your Newsletter For A Pre-Sale. Since this article is all about an album release, it’s time to use it for a pre-sale! Create 2-3 tiers of special albums
- Signed copes
- Bundled copies with lyrics sheets or merch items (t-shirts)
- Pre-sale digital copies
If you feel like this is too “salesy” and you are scared that your fans will judge you, add a charity aspect – say that as part of your pre-sale you will give a portion to a charity that you support, a charity that benefits other musician. Sweet Relief or animal rescue groups like the ASPCA are great choices.
3. You Don’t Have To Have Shows or Regular Events To Send A Great Newsletter. How about just inviting everyone on your newsletter out for a listening party for your new release in an unconventional venue? Or have friends and fans join you for a show of another artist you support. Or just talk about your favorite new TV shows, books, travel adventures or other albums you are listening to and inspired by!
4. Get Personal & Keep Your Subject Line to 55 Characters. Yes of course you will be announcing your new album and having a presale etc BUT… Never just “sell.” Saying something personal brings you closer to your fan base. So share a photo of something you love (your pet, your kids, your friends), or something fun and non-music related you did recently like a vacation. Most e-mail programs cut off the subject line after 55 and 60 characters, so keep your subject line short, sweet, and to the point; five to six words max.
5. Add An Unsubscribe Link & Your Mailing Address (For Legal Reasons). Know that by law you need to put your mailing address and an unsubscribe link at the bottom of each of your newsletters. If you are uncomfortable adding your home address, then open up a P.O. Box and use that.
[Tweet “Create a blog and talk about who you are.”]
Don’t wait until you have product to sell to begin to develop your tribe. Start using social media to develop relationships with people well in advance of dropping your CD. If you can, play out live and collect emails and twitter addresses. Create a blog and talk about who you are, what’s important to you, and why you’re passionate about your music. And invite your Tweeple to read your blog posts.
If you wait until you drop your CD to build your tribe – your CD will drop onto an empty concrete floor – splat. If you already have a connected, interested tribe, your CD will drop into a feather bed – each feather is an interested person who can become a fan when they hear your music. And because you have relationships with them, they are more likely to share you with their tribe.
[Tweet “Don’t be afraid to start building your email list before you have any music ready to sell.”]
The time to start building your email list is 12 months before your release. Not 30 days.
One of the most consistent sources of frustration I see among independent musicians is that they will spend a ton of money, time, and resources developing and recording an album. Then when it finally drops, there’s no one to buy it.
Don’t be afraid to start building your email list before you have any music ready to sell. You’ll be very glad that you did once you finally release something.
And last of all, here’s my own tip:
[Tweet “Twice as much brain power brings us opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have had.”]
Collaborate to both create your music and market it. I co-wrote a song on my latest album with my friend, south Texas singer-songwriter Elizabeth Butler Paternostro. She released our song as a bonus track on her new album, Love, Loss and Stuff Like That. We are exploring ways to co-promote our two new releases together, focusing one of the PR pitches on the story of our long-distance collaboration. We share promotional ideas, best practices and contacts. Twice as much brain power brings us opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have had, and we help keep each other on track and accountable.
What a treasure trove of information from great group of music marketing experts. I hope you learned something, let me know in the comments what you think!