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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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
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.
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!