Releasing Your First Song

Intro

Based on my recent experience going through the process of officially releasing my own music, I wanted to share some thoughts on the various phases of work required for a successful release. I also want to be clear that when I’m talking about releasing, I mean an official release with a thought-out plan of action as opposed to just throwing a song up on Soundcloud and hoping for plays.

Pre-release phase

  • Finishing the music

It goes without saying that releasing your first song requires having a song to release. Working from that understanding, getting a final mix and master of the song is the first step. If you’re a producer mixing your own music, this stage might be easier than if you’re a band having to pay a producer, mix engineer, and mastering engineer. Either scenario requires some objective ears to determine if your song is ready for release. Find some people (other than your mom) who can be honest about the quality of your music and tell you if the mix is ready for the public. Get some recommendations for mixing and/or mastering engineers and pay them to do their job. I personally mix my own songs, but mastering is a science I do not even pretend to understand. I respect the art and will happily pay someone who knows what they’re doing to master my music.

  • Artwork

Having a song ready for release is only the first step. Once the final mix and master are done, getting some quality artwork is key.  Artwork is important not only for representing your song and brand visually, but it is also an asset to have for social media, websites, and other promotional avenues.  If you don’t have a graphically inclined friend, there are tons of freelance sites offering single artwork pieces for as low as $5.  There’s really no excuse not to have artwork these days.   The artwork should represent your brand as an artist and hopefully be consistent over time with future releases.

  • Registering the song

If you’re planning to make money on the release from mechanicals (sales/streams) or sync placements, registering the song with your PRO (Performance Rights Organization like BMI or ASCAP) is essential.  If you haven’t already, sign up for a PRO as soon as possible.  PROs collect royalties for you, and any record label, co-writer, or publisher will expect you to be signed up with a PRO.   You will also want to make sure your splits on the song are clear and documented with any co-writers.  If you played every instrument, wrote the song, and sang the song all on your own, then you would own 100% of the song. But when a song includes a band with five members, two co-writers, and a producer who owns part of the song, splits become complicated.  Make sure everything is documented and signed (or at least in an email somewhere) so there’s no confusion down the road on who owns what percentage of the song.

  • Photos

Nowadays it’s all about image and brand.  You could have the best song in the world, but if your image is non-existent or inconsistent then you will get lost in all the noise.  Pay someone to take professional, high quality photos for you, and refresh them often. This is also true for videos, too – if you’re doing music videos, keep them updated and professional.  Keep your social media consistent with new images every so often and come up with a strategy for how you will appear online.  Having an EPK (Electronic Press Kit) or one-sheet with your logo, photos, and bio will help when it comes to getting press for your release.

  • Public Relations

Unfortunately, most musicians don’t have access to the top entertainment writers for music.  While it’s easy to grab a bunch of emails and send a blast to hundreds of people, most of them aren’t going to respond since they don’t know you.  Even if they do click on your email, once it’s clear that it isn’t personalized it’s probably going in the trash anyways.  To me, there are two options:

– Pay a PR company who has those relationships to get you press

– Create your own list of targeted websites and people to receive your personalized emails

The latter will take a good amount of time to do, so it’s up to you whether it’s worth it to spend the time.  It’s also tricky to find a “good” PR company.  Lots of people claim to be able to do lots of things, so make sure the company you choose is recommended personally by someone you know.  Ask around and I’m sure you can find some good options. Paid PR isn’t cheap, but it can help get your name out there for your first release.

  • Distribution

If you want your song to be on iTunes, Spotify, and other streaming services, you’ll have to have it distributed.  You can use Tunecore, Distrokid, or a number of other websites to do this for you.  It’s really easy and takes only a few minutes to setup your release.  Make sure to set it up well in advance of your release date, as it can take as long as a few weeks for songs to become live on all the platforms.

Release Day

  • Calm down

The first thing to do on release day is breathe.  It seems like all the hard work you’ve put into the song is coming down to this moment, so there’s a level of pressure that makes it easy to be disappointed.  Keep in mind that nothing groundbreaking or miraculous is going to happen overnight.  It’s highly unlikely that your first song will become a top 100 song on Billboard and catapult you to stardom.  But over time and with consistent releases and marketing, you can slowly build up your brand and image. Someday all the hard work could land you on Billboard’s top 100.  Establishing good habits and fundamentals is key to any industry.  Don’t be disappointed – just keep working.

  • Share the song

Now that your song is finished, registered, and distributed, it’s time to release!  Assuming the song is active on iTunes, Spotify, and other streaming services, release day will either include a premiere from a blog or website you’ve secured in the PR phase, or perhaps it’s just you uploading the song to your Soundcloud and sharing it yourself.  Either way, you obviously want to share the song on all of your social platforms.  If you have friends or other musicians who are willing to share the release for you, that’s great too.  Another great way to share the release is through email via a mailing list.  If you already have a fan mailing list or even just emails you’ve collected over the years, sharing your release this way gets it out to the people who are most interested in what you’re creating.  I’d recommend starting a mailing list if you don’t already have one.

  • Emails

Speaking of email, over the weeks and months after your release, it’s important to follow up with additional messages and posts about your release.  Target specific people or websites that might like your music and send them emails every so often to re-enforce your message about the song.  Have a story to share about the writing of the song or a description of what the song is about.

After the Release

  • Remixes

A good way to generate new interest in your song is to release a remix sometime after the original release. You could find a producer to remix your song during the pre-release phase, but remixing it after the release makes the song relevant for a longer time period.  This way, you leverage the producer’s fan base and can generate new interest in the original song.

  • Follow up

Keep emailing, calling, and meeting with people about your song even after it’s been out a while.  Many top artists, producers, and writers didn’t have their song “break” until months or even years after it was released.  Keep pounding the pavement and pushing forward with new material as well, but don’t just release the song and never come back to it again.

Wrap Up

Hopefully this article provided some helpful information about how to prepare to release your music.  Remember to not get discouraged, keep working hard, and stay connected to why you’re doing music in the first place.  Good luck!

 

Music Business Tips (Part 1)

Have some basic budgeting “cents”

Bad jokes aside, it’s a good idea when you’re trying to start your own business to make use of budgeting in order to keep your finances in the black. Prioritizing expenditures and adhering to a strict budget (do you really need that $4 cup of coffee?) might not be fun, but it will keep you afloat financially until you’re able to set up a sustainable, predictable income. By the same token, it’s scary to spend money when you don’t have a lot of it, but spending on your business in smart ways is the best way to push your growth forward. When it comes down to it, I usually ask myself the question, “Will this help generate new business (directly or indirectly), and/or develop new relationships?” If the answer is yes, then I will spend the money. If not, I will usually pass.

Forcing it never works

Lots of times you’ll hear about entrepreneurs working 80-100 hour work weeks on their business. The phrase, “If you aren’t working, someone else is” comes to mind. However, I believe there is a point of diminishing return (especially in creative businesses) where “forcing” yourself to work doesn’t help. Hard work and smart work aren’t necessarily the same thing. You can certainly work hard on your business goals without removing the balance of having time off to spend with friends and family, pursuing other hobbies, or just stepping back and resting. A lot of times, a break brings a fresh perspective that helps to refocus and clear my head after being “down in it” for so long.

Don’t tie yourself to outcomes

If you’re checking email more than three times a day, you’re subconsciously developing an attachment to the slight kick of excitement when you get an email (dopamine is actually released when this happens). It’s very easy when you’re first starting to drum up business to want those emails from potential clients to come in. But when you are checking your inbox every 15 minutes, you reinforce a mindset that you need this business to be satisfied. Work will come if you’re doing the right things, and checking email fifty times a day doesn’t make the emails come any faster. Same thing goes for social media. It’s been hard to break my habit, but now I have designated times to check and respond to emails so I can focus on my other tasks without being distracted. I’m a strong believer in actively selecting what does and does not get my attention in the present moment. Make a conscious choice to decide when that email will get your attention and when you will browse through your social media accounts.

Do whatever you can whenever you can

A brief list of things I’ve done in the music business to make money: live sound engineering, music licensing, vocal recording, video background music, business presentation background music, music production, vocal mixing, instrumental mixing, film/TV licensing, DJing, producing lessons, apprenticeship programs, and probably more that I can’t think of. The point is, you have to do what you have to do even if it isn’t exactly your core competency. I would spend all of my time just producing and mixing instrumentals if I could, but I’ve had to branch out and learn other areas of music in order to build relationships and make more opportunities for myself. For a similar example: if you’re a recording artist, instead of just making your own songs and selling them, find other opportunities that are related to your work. Host a spoken word poetry night, offer to do a theme song for a local business, learn how to DJ and play some gigs around town, or even Skype with amateur artists to give advice and help them learn.

Get a job

If you find it’s best to get a part time job to supplement income while you work on your business, I’d recommend something that’s flexible with your schedule and also isn’t the end of the world if you miss time. Waiting tables, driving for uber, or working a retail job are some examples. Getting a job in which you have a lot of responsibility probably isn’t the best idea. If you have a last minute co-write meeting and have to run out for your music, you should be able to do that. Your priority is your business, so pick your job accordingly.

Know when to hire someone

I have an extensive background in IT and computers, so when I was first starting my business it was tempting for me to try and handle all of the IT tasks that I needed to do to get started. Given the right amount of time, I was sure I could figure everything out and get it going, plus I would have total control over the outcomes. However, I soon realized that I didn’t want to spend all of my time doing IT – there was a reason I left my full time IT job in the first place. I wanted to make music, so I started outsourcing tasks to other people so I could do just that. It cost me more money up front, but the time I gained from not having to worry about those things enabled me to create more music. It helped grow my catalog and eventually build relationships.

Hopefully these tips will help you along your journey to music business success. Want specific ideas about starting out, finding a job, or outsourcing? Feel free to reach out with any questions or comments: info@kellrmusic.com

How To Handle Rejection

If you do a quick search for inspirational quotes, you’re bound to find the stories of how Michael Jordan missed lots of game-winning shots, Walt Disney was fired for having no imagination, and JK Rowling was living off welfare when she started writing Harry Potter. Stories like these sometimes don’t feel relatable to us because “we’re in it” and living it every day. But that’s just what these are – stories. Our minds make a conscious (or subconscious) decision to classify our experiences as “rejection,” and by attaching negative emotion to that experience, doubt starts to creep in. So, I want to share my experience and offer some ideas about rejection that are specific to the music industry.

Eager Ignorance

When I first starting making music with my computer and a midi keyboard, I thought it was the greatest thing ever. Being able to create sound and put together full songs using just software was amazing and producing quickly became my most time-consuming hobby. As I continued to stumble around and gain knowledge about virtual instruments, samples, and online communities for music, I started getting more and more confident in what I was doing. I thought I would just throw some of my tracks up on MySpace (just dated myself) and I’d be producing for recording artists in a few weeks. At the time, I did not have a clear intention. I was just producing music with the hopes of “making it” without even really understanding what “making it” meant to me. 

The Grind

Over the past 10 years I’ve been rejected, told I wasn’t good enough, laughed at, and flat out ignored. It doesn’t feel good no matter the circumstances. What’s changed for me is my intention and my expectations. I’ve learned what my real motivation for producing music is: it fulfills me and makes me feel alive. Understanding my own motivation helps me stay focused and cut through all the bullshit in this industry. If 99 out of 100 people tell me they hate my music, that’s fine. My reason for creating music isn’t to have them like it (although it would be great if they did), it’s to satisfy my desired feeling of being alive and fulfilled. By changing the focus of my expectations and feelings from external (all about them) to internal (all about me), I have completely changed my relationship with my music. 

Part of the grind IS sending thousands of emails that never get replies. It IS reaching out to blogs and other artists and being turned down, and it most certainly IS making lots and lots of bad music before you start making stuff people like to listen to. But those disappointments are just part of the deal – they ARE NOT the end all be all (or at least not for me). You keep going because one day you WILL get a reply that will start a relationship that will help launch your career. You do it because randomly, out of nowhere, you WILL win a contest with a major artist and be skyping with them the next month. Just learn to not attach emotion to certain expected results and you will not only be happier, but start making better music. Figure out why you’re making music in the first place, then make music for that reason and that reason alone. Even if your reason for making music is to make millions of dollars and be famous, at least you would have a clearer path on how to achieve that goal once you get clarity on your intention.

The Middle Ground

If you have a clear primary intention, you can still have secondary goals or desires to achieve with your music. You can certainly be making music because it makes you feel a certain way AND want to create a sustainable income for yourself at the same time. I’ve discovered that by letting my primary intention dictate my actions, other things seem to just fall into place and my path becomes clearer. 

Music is one of those industries in which there isn’t much middle ground. Either you’re a Grammy-winning artist or you’re a nobody. I don’t put a lot of weight into being rich and famous, but I do appreciate when people sincerely enjoy my music, even if it’s one person. Doctors can still be successful doctors even if they aren’t the #1 surgeon in the world. The music industry is the same way. Success doesn’t have to be defined by followers or plays – define what success means to you and celebrate the small victories each time you’re successful.

Wrap Up

When it comes to rejection, everything is about perspective. You can choose to view it as failure and fall into the “I’m not good enough” trap, or you can choose to see it as just part of your journey. When you clearly define your intention for making music and focus on that, decisions start to become clear, you start attracting opportunities that fit your intention, and a few unresponsive people don’t bother you anymore. 

I’d love to hear your intention for making music. Share your story with me in the comments or shoot me an email: info@kellrmusic.com.

Gaining Soundcloud Followers (Organically)

Over the past year I’ve gone from about 200 SoundCloud followers (accumulated in the course of 4 years) to almost 1,000. These are all (as far as I know) real people, not bots or followers I paid for.  I actually advocate against payola, but that’s for another post. 1,000 followers isn’t a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but it’s allowed me to learn about effective ways to grow my fan base that will hopefully continue to 5,000, 10,000, and even 100,000.

The Basics:

I won’t touch on obvious things like having good music and using tags in this post, but I will say one thing about tagging that applies not only to SoundCloud. If you use a certain artist name or a certain song name, you may be able to get extra listens from someone looking for that type of music. Just make sure your music is that type – don’t use “Beyoncé” to tag a heavy metal song. For example, the most-played song on my profile is a remix of a popular song on the radio, so I made sure to properly tag and title my song so that people looking for the original would find mine as well.

Branding:

Having consistency on your profile is important. Potential followers are more drawn towards a clean, consistent look than a page that looks like someone is just throwing stuff on it for fun. Everything from track titles to artwork to banner art, and even how you comment and interact with the community (comments are public) is important to your brand. Essentially, whether you like it or not, having a SoundCloud profile is a branding statement for you as a music creator. Many of the best producers I follow have a consistent thing they always do, such as a certain tag, a certain look with their art, or even a certain sound in all of their tracks. 

Collaborating:

I’ve had some very successful collaborations come about through SoundCloud, and some of them really helped boost my following. One thing to know up front is most people won’t respond to your questions or requests. This is true for pretty much everything in music, and it’s something you have to get used to. The best plan for finding collaborators is to find people who do similar music to yours and have about the same following. Most people have contact information on their profile, so try shooting them an email and see what happens! Once your song is done, you will have twice the number of people promoting it, and some of the fans/followers will cross over. 

Premieres through channels:

This is probably the biggest way to gain a following on SoundCloud. There are hundreds of SoundCloud channels that aren’t made by music creators themselves, but are actually more like SoundCloud radio stations. Their curators post other people’s music and usually “premiere” songs from producers or artists on their channel. Some of these have well over 100,000 followers, so it’s a great way to get exposure if your submission gets accepted. The trick is finding one that accepts the genre you create and then making sure you feel comfortable with how they work. I’ve noticed more and more channels taking “donations” or straight up charging for reposts, premieres, or releases. To me, this isn’t the right way of doing things (again, for another post), but if you are going to pay, just make sure you understand what you’re getting. 

My strategy is pretty simple. I’ve created a spreadsheet with all of the channels I come across, including what type of music they usually release and the contact information. This way when I have a song I’d like to release, I can send it to the right channels and see what the curators say. It’s probably best to go for smaller channels or labels if you’re just starting out, but once you start to have more and more releases you should be able to get released on bigger and bigger channels.

Follow for download:  

There’s something called a “download gate” or “follow gate” that basically allows people to download a track for free if they follow you on SoundCloud. I think this is a great way to release tracks because I am giving something away for free but also getting something in return. There are lots of third party sites that help facilitate the “follow for free download” function (click.dj, toneden, etc.), so I would suggest signing up for one and trying a release through them. If someone likes listening to your music and has the option to download it for free with a simple follow, they probably will. If you’re going to premiere a track with a bigger channel, ask the channel’s curators if they could do a follow for free download (most of them do this anyway).

Interacting with the community:

Just like with Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, the more you engage with potential followers, the more likely they are to find your music and follow you. On SoundCloud, the best way to do this is through comments, likes, and joining groups. There are tons of public groups on SoundCloud where you can join and post music for feedback. I would suggest getting involved in a few active groups and interacting with the other members (this is a great place to find collaborations too). Commenting on other people’s tracks is another good way to put yourself out there. Likes are the most basic form of interaction, but they are still important. If you’re using SoundCloud as the foundation for your online music presence, promoting your music outside of SoundCloud is important too. Communities like Reddit, music forums, or blogs are good places to start sharing and interacting.    

Wrap up:

Hopefully these ideas will serve as a good foundation to start building up your SoundCloud following in an organic way. If you have any specific questions or want to discuss further, feel free to contact me!