Releasing music is forever enchanting and brings about joy, excitement, and deep satisfaction. But it does come with price and efforts, often planned out a year in advance if not longer (for example, Frank Wiedemann as part of Howling took 5 years to work with his partner to make an album).
It goes without saying that once your new stunning music is ready, there is a lot of preparation to do before, during, and after the release. If you are not working with a big label who will handle the entire promotion and production process for you and are an independently-releasing artist, you’ll need to tackle much of this on your own. This ranges from distributing your music for sale and promoting it to relevant blogs and magazines to producing artwork, preparing your release for music playlists and streaming services, and more. There are a few activities that will truly help you make your new release stand out. In this article, we’ll cover an array of tips, tricks, and strategies that independent artists should keep in mind for a self-release.
Let’s dive into the activities you should consider including in your release strategy in order to create a successful launch and promote your music widely and efficiently.
Video above: Cover Art of Toki Fuko – Spring Ray (Spatial Awareness) [SSV15]. This cover art suggests nicely what the release and music style are all about.
1) Pre-release: finalizing your music for publication, choosing a release date, and setting up a distribution strategy
Topics to consider: How to decide on a release date, choosing to release singles vs. an EP, establishing a pre-order strategy, setting up distribution platforms, and optimizing your release for streaming platforms.
But first! As an artist, it’s often a personal challenge to decide when your latest release is finished. This decision is typically part of a larger one, too: how you define your acceptable level of “great music” that fits for you and your label. After completing your track (or tracks) and mastering it – whether that’s in your wheelhouse, or with a mastering engineer – you’ll eventually reach that point that it feels finished. Voila!
Finalizing your tracks for release
At that point, be sure to create two versions of your tracks – ideally a lossless final like WAV, with one each tailored for digital and physical release. If you plan to release a vinyl, you will need a different mastering version than the digital version. Just ask your mastering engineer to be sure! Some requirements may be to send premasters as 24 bit WAV files.
Choosing a release date
Second, if you release solo on Bandcamp or wish to print a vinyl, it’s important to choose a good release date. Choose carefully, and only once you are sure that you have a final product in hand. Consider the seasonality of music. For instance, the first two months of the year are often good ideas as listeners are keen to discover new sounds, while August may be slower with people on holiday and artists traditionally performing abroad. Check this resource for more information on the topic.
Fridays are typically industry norm and a solid day to release music as an artist – hence the famous Bandcamp Fridays. Bear in mind that the current COVID climate has backlogged many vinyl orders, so you’ll need to plan for that timing properly. Decide about when to release according to how much music you are putting out there! For a single or EP, you would usually need 2 months to prepare your release but for an album, 5 to 6 months is more appropriate.
Joachim Spieth from Affin quotes, nonetheless, the true key points of having a great release: “You should be sure that your new release adds something to personal work and the genre where it’s meant to be. Just releasing music to have something new is pointless.”
Establishing a pre-order strategy
Third, once you have prepared your music from mastering and agree on a release date, think of your pre-order strategy to create an impact and entice your friends, fans, and potential new listeners.
Sharing pre-release snippets
Ahead of your release date, share out your singles or snippets on Soundcloud and put a preview on Bandcamp. You can also set up a pre-save on Apple Music where programmers and playlisters favor pre-saved tunes. For physical releases, you can go for a pre-ordering strategy on decks.de or Juno.
Preparing your file with the proper information
For both digital and physical releases, make sure that your metadata, track description, tags and overall music content is on point as such information is traced and enables fans to find you.
Marketing with creative assets
There are numerous ways to utilize digital marketing nowadays to share your music across social platforms, websites, and beyond. A few ideas worth considering:
- Creative imagery and video to share on social media: Think of creating great creatives and videos suitable for Instagram to inform your fans about the forthcoming release.
- Your story and release description: Craft some text written by you or a close friend who knows your music well to describe what the tracks or the album are about, what genre it is and any other storytelling that will help your listeners connect to you. An example of this can be found here on Sine Language Records bandcamp.
- Cover art: You can also work with a visual artist to create your cover art, a photographer to help you build your album promo pictures and a video artist to create digital assets and videos as well as trailers to promote your new music.
- Press photos: Consider getting new press shots for yourself as well.
Choosing your digital distributor platform
Now, you need to find the right platforms for distributing your music and prepare your online stores. Digital distributors will make the link between your prospective customers and your release, so better to get this right. Among some common distributors, we have Beatport, Bandcamp, and Juno Download, and some agencies or platforms that distribute your music online such as Formaviva, Beatrising or Label Engine.
So, how does it work? We asked a few DJs and producers based out of Europe to hear their perspectives.
Alessandro Tommarelli from No Way Records shares:
“Until recently 99% of the work was Beatport and continues still, but in recent years bandcamp has taken a lot and works well. Yet I think on bandcamp you have more refined music and not the soup you find on beatport. On Beatport, you find everything! Even the young Formaviva is very valid but remains very niche, proposing only certain labels that are always connected to deep techno and the like. As I told you the other day, the labels rely on digital distributors who deal with releasing the music on your behalf on the various online platforms including Spotify. Instead with Bandcamp and Formaviva, you take care of yourself and the income arrives clean without intermediaries.”
Clotur (WAROK Music) adds, “To distribute the new Ep on platforms such as Beatport or Traxsource, you have to sign a contract with a digital distribution agency like Labelworx, Beatrising or even label-engine. And concerning Bandcamp it’s pretty simple, you just have to create an account and upload the tracks.”
Pete Owl (Silent Season) is also an aficionado of Bandcamp and says, “I have been using bandcamp for a few years now and I strongly advise artists to use the platform. It is simple and efficient. For my project, I take out my back catalogs as well as some exclusive tracks for my community.”
Leveraging your presence on streaming platforms
Fourth, figure out how you can leverage your presence and network that exists on the popular streaming platforms. Two potential routes here that you can consider:
- Get your artist profile verified on Spotify and Apple Music. Check out this guide to claim your Artist Verified profile on Spotify and here are some tips to claim your account for Apple Music.
- Reach out to Spotify playlisters & show hosts, and build a strategy to get featured on their projects. Here’s a good example of a verified artist profile on Spotify with featured playlists and shows.
2) Releasing: sharing your new music, branding with a consistent visual identity, & marketing via social media, PR + blogs
Key activities to tackle: Marketing your release i.e. putting out your music with a strong musician visual identity, building your team for PR and cover art, make the best of social media, and create the best release promotion and plan some events for promotion.
Establishing & promoting your visual branding
Now comes the most exciting part of the process: putting your music out to the public, getting it heard by fans and played by DJ peers, and bought by new fans.
If you don’t have it done yet, clearly think of your visual strategy, overall as an artist. Today, to clearly differentiate yourself, you should rely on videos more and more as well showcasing a clear visual branding. Forget these boring selfies and ego-driven posts – you can do better!
Ask yourself: What does your music convey? Who are you trying to reach? What are your values and how can we perceive this ethos on your visual identity if we visit your Instagram, Bandcamp, or website? Create your releases with a small team who can look after your visuals – i.e. your artwork, your video trailer, a small video snippet from you playing at a gig, and photographic content such as cover art.
Tell a visual story that fits your music to engage with fans and invite them to buy from you and even refer your music to others. Remember to seduce them in a short span that works within the social media platform limits – so, for example, you’ll need a video that is less than 1 minute on Instagram.
Keep in mind that the footage you create can be usable across numerous places! You can reach out to the masses on YouTube, share the video on your Facebook and Twitter pages as well. Don’t be afraid to use your visual assets across all platforms to establish a cohesive brand look.
Here are some examples of artists with a clear, strong, and forward-thinking visual identity.
- Blazej Malinowski
- Owl From Deep Space
- Attic Music
- Amas Studio, who just released their new album Jahre on decks.de, after collaborating with different visual artists.
Setting up a track premiere
Now comes a good time to set up premieres, which are some short previews featured on publications (and often on Soundcloud, too) about your tracks to announce the release. Premieres are a great strategy to get you covered by a magazine of importance so you can reach out to ever more fans relevant to your music. Pick up a few publications and online magazines relevant to your music – then find their contact info, reach out to them, and see what they’re willing to work with. You will probably need to reach out to a few to secure coverage, and don’t be afraid to chase them.
Release day announcement & promotion
On release day, you’ll want to promote the release on all digital channels you have at your disposal – for example, any social media platforms where you have a presence, your website, forums etc. Post your artwork again with a link to buy the release, and be sure to include information on whether you’re doing a physical release (and when). Use your email list this time as a way to release and share the news with forever loyal customers. Check out the newsletter from WARP Records as an example.
In the meantime, your PR person shall have worked for you and contacted as many blogs as possible for you to get visibility and reviews of your tracks. Here you will find a great example of a successful music review on International DJ Mag that could help you reach out to your audience. Gather such resources and liaise with writers and journalists to establish a stronger connection with people who do love your music. Get blog mentions and make sure your songs are well listed in podcasts – as you can see in this example. Also get DJ friends to talk about your music, as seen in this great release from Nvelope on Lucidflow.
Remember that this list is non-exhaustive. There is an endless number of creative promotional activities you can do to get your release out there, all dependent on your target market. For instance, you could host a livestream – whether that’s at home from your studio, or at an IRL gig – to celebrate the release.
(Psst, readers: do you have other ideas that you like to pursue here? Let us know in the comments.)
3) Post-release: setting up royalties collection, working with artists to share & play your music
Key activities to cover: Getting into royalties management, leveraging community engagement, and asking peers to play your music.
Post-release activities are important. You want to ensure your music was heard and announced or played to the right audience, that magazines, playlisters, podcasters are talking about you and featuring your new songs, and that your YouTube views increase. Moreover, you want labels, artists, and bookers to ask for future shows or appearances (both online in a podcast or a stream, or in a performance venue).
Once your physical release is out, there are quite a few opportunities to spread the word even further. For example:
- Do not hesitate to send a promo copy to influencers who can speak about you.
- Get DJ friends to play your tracks in clubs, radio shows, and on podcasts.
- If you have not done so, ask Apple Music or Beatport to feature your songs by contacting playlisters of your genre.
- Check out how many streams got your new music, and learn how to multiply such streams. For instance, check out one of my favorite resources for music production by WILL EDM Tips and online classes that provide some great information on how exactly to handle this.
Managing royalties and sending your tracks to society of authors and composers in your country: Earning from royalties is tedious, yet you shall really register your music for royalties collection. You can register your music to relevant bodies such as SACEM in France, GEMA in Germany, SCAP, BMI, and SESAC in the USA in order to collect royalties on your music and protect your assets.
Lastly, try out some ideas for collaborations with brands or films, productions, or arts spaces to increase the visibility of your music. For instance, Italian producer Luigi Tozzi was able to feature his music with fashion brand DIOR in France, and Berlin-based label Humatic Media collaborates with galleries and venues alongside visual artists.
The last word: use this as a guide, & build the best strategy for your brand – and what success means to you.
Releasing as an independent artist comes with the challenge of taking on this adventure by yourself – without the guidance or support of an external music label or distributor. It’s a fun challenge, but can be confusing if you’re not sure where to start. Ultimately, there are numerous ways to go when it comes to creating your own self-release strategy, but at the end of the day, building the right strategy for your brand is a key part of sharing your project with the world and reaching new fans who will love, play, and buy your tunes.
Take these tips into consideration as you begin your process – from the moment the idea of wanting to release your single or EP pops into your head. The earlier you start, the more prepared you can become. Happy releasing!
Here are some great resources in case you wish to explore more:
- Beginner’s Guide to Self-releasing Music [Belmont University series]
- How To Release an Album: 9 Tips for Self Releasing Music
- 10 Tips for a Successful Release
- How To Self Release
- The ONE thing you NEED to be doing as a musician
- How to Promote Your Music Independently in 2021
There you have it, folks – a guide you can refer to as a checklist to launch your new single, EP, or album! We’d love to hear from you on your own processes – let us know what has worked for you, what hasn’t, or any other tips or perspectives you’d share to make a successful release.