How to self release

HOW TO SELF - RELEASE

You’ve got your recording and it’s time to share it with the world!

You need to make sure you’re giving your music the best possible chance to be heard, by ensuring it gets the release it deserves.

The whole point of a ‘release’ is to give you time to advertise your product and build anticipation, in order to get the most attention possible when your hard work is finally available to hear. Additionally, a well planned and executed release can reach a huge audience and grow your fan-base. 

Record labels have the release process down to an art and it’s hard to know where to start when you’re on your own. But don’t despair; with the following advice you can independently release your music to great effect.

Here’s the step-by-step guide to releasing your music as an unsigned, independent artist.

1. Create a schedule.

Set your release date and create a release timeline. It should be a physical or digital document you can use to keep you on track and make the most of your release. It should include everything from artwork through to the release party.

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Then...

2. Create some artwork

The artwork for your release can be as detailed or simple as you like, but at the very least you need a design to use as ‘cover’ art so fans can identify your music online. I want to say that your logo on a plain background isn’t enough, that you need to make more of an effort than a photo, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Artwork can be anything and still support your music.

As a starting point I would recommend artwork that visually relates to your musical message. Either create something yourself or hire a visual artist to create something for you, but the design should be intentional in order to attract the right audience and to look professional. 

Think about your potential audience seeing your artwork for the first time and how it might convince them to listen to your music.

Your final artwork should be in JPEG or PNG format with a minimum size of 1400 x 1400 pixels and resolution of 300dpi. Ideally it should be square in order to ensure compatibility with online distribution stores and physical formats.

It’s also useful to create designs for your websites and social media, using your artwork to create a uniform look and reinforce your brand. Check out my social media artwork dimension cheat sheet:

 
 

Click here to download this as a .pdf.

3. Take some photos

It’s important to have photos of yourself or your band so your fans can relate to you, and picture you while they listen to your music (not creepy!). Photos are also essential for press coverage of your release.

Photos taken by a professional are usually best: their skills, experience and equipment will ensure you have the shots in the format you need at a professional standard. You might have to pay someone to take your photos, but it’s well worth it.

You can take photos yourself if you have a good camera and a good eye. The last press photos for a project of mine were taken with my smartphone camera on a tripod and because I had years of experience with the type of photos I needed they served the release well. Just make sure your photos are clear, the lighting is good and the resolution is as high as you can get it. 

For reference on what kind of photos you need, go to your favourite online music magazine or blog and look through their most recent articles.

4. Write a biography

This can be detailed or simple, plain or abstract, but it needs to exist so that people can find out about you. Remember, if you can get people to relate to you as a person (or as a constructed image of a person) they will be much more likely to connect with your music.

A good bio has a story. If you can write a story in three words then go ahead, but usually you need to employ the who, what, when, where, why technique to be compelling. Make it interesting but don’t write a novel; no one cares that much... yet.

You need a short version; between 50 and 100 words - and a long version; between 100 and 300 words. The short version is what you include in your promo emails, the long version is what you put on your website and send with your press kit.

The short version is sometimes referred to as your ‘elevator pitch’. Once you’ve written this it’s a good idea to have everyone in your band memorise it and be able to recite it by rote so that whenever someone asks “So what is your band about?” you have a concise and intriguing answer instead of “oh just kind-of rock”. 

5. Release your music video

A music video is an essential tool for marketing and connecting to your fans. Get one made by a pro or make one yourself; either way it needs to be done. To learn about making a music video, check out the Musician's Map eBook and Audiobook!

Release the video for your lead single a month to two weeks before your EP/album release. Its purpose is to build hype and create momentum for your release; you want it to start working far enough away from your release date to maximise the build-up, but not so far that people forget about you. 

6. Create private download links

Your release should be online, ready for press writers and reviewers to check out when you contact them. Use Google Drive or Dropbox to store your music privately and send download links to whoever wants to feature your release. Alternatively you can use Bandcamp and distribute free download codes to interested parties. 

*Side note - never attach your .mp3’s to emails, it’s annoying, takes up server space and will get your email blocked. Having a link within the email to download your music is preferred.**

7. Compile your press kit

Otherwise known as an EPK (electronic press kit), this is what you send to press to try and get coverage. Your press kit needs to include the following:

  • Photos & artwork
  • Biography
  • Link to video
  • Link to stream/download music
  • Social media/web links
  • Previous articles & reviews (if any)
  • Achievements (opening slots, releases, tours)
  • Contact info (email and phone)

You can create your own document or find a template online, but it’s best if you can easily include it in the body of an email, or as a single attachment. Remember the people you are sending your EPK to are busy and receive multiple press kits daily, make yours concise, modern and easy to read.

8. Features & reviews

Features and reviews in popular publications can put your release in front of thousands of people at once, and rapidly expand your audience. 

Email your press kit to websites, blogs, podcasts and magazines, asking them to feature and/or review your release when it comes out. Make sure to send your emails at least one month in advance of your release date to allow sufficient time for response.  

Your emails should be from a professional email address related to your music, not a personal address. For example: yourname@yourbandname.com is good (if you have a website) - yourbandname@gmail.com is acceptable - mrfluffy.ears_1990@yahoo.co.uk is bad.

Make sure to read and follow individual website submission guidelines, as each is different, and write personalised emails if possible: you will get a much better response. Also, some sites ask for compensation for articles and reviews; in this case you should choose the publications most closely related to your niche and spend within your budget.

For websites you are particularly interested in, try tweets, facebook messages and phone calls in addition to promo emails. Don’t hound people, but contacting them in more than one way can help to ensure they see your message, remember you, and get back to you. Again, refer to individual website submission guidelines for their protocol. 

Choose a handful of your favourite sites and ask them for an exclusive stream or feature, to go live the day before, or the day of, your release. Exclusive means you can only do it through one site, but by contacting a few you might get a backup if your preference doesn’t respond. Exclusive streams can be a great way to direct your fans to a single site, to look important, and get a lot of listens on release day. 

Make a spreadsheet of all the websites you contact, keeping notes of contact name, email address, date emailed and response. This way you won’t double-up anywhere and you’ll have a ready-made contact list for your next release, with notes on who is likely to support you.

9. PR

Public relations services can be a great help when releasing new material. For a set fee, music PR companies will contact publications on your behalf, advertising your release. The advantages of PR is that they have a list of contacts and relationships that are likely to get results, as well as the knowledge of the best way to advertise to specific genres and niches. The disadvantages are that they charge money and their campaigns can sometimes be generic and impersonal. If you choose to go down this route be sure to do your research and find examples of successful campaigns they have done in the past for bands like you.

10. Email campaign

This is sent to your current email list of fans. When you release your video send an email advertising it and announcing your upcoming album release. During the build-up to release day you should be sending one email a week reminding people about the release and maybe offering them additional content, advance listens or video teasers to create anticipation.

Hit them again the day before and the day of release. Remember, these people are already your fans and will be the group most likely to buy your album. 

11. Promo content

Create additional content to drip-feed your fans to keep their attention and create excitement during the lead-up to release. Studio diaries and photos, countdown video teasers and album snippets all do a great job to promote your release.

Contact a few local radio stations and try to get interviews or performance slots to promote your release.

12. Distribution

Your release needs to be available wherever your potential audience prefers to hear it. If half of your audience buys their music through iTunes; your release better be there on release day.

Using a paid service like DistroKid, you can schedule your release to go live on a certain date across all streaming and download platforms for a relatively small annual fee. It is essential to have your music on Spotify, Google Play, iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon, YouTube, Pandora, Tidal and Deezer.

Bandcamp is also a great option for independent musicians, as they allow you to set your own price, and take less of a sales percentage than most other online platforms. You can upload your release and set it to private until release day.

13. Release day

This is what it’s all been building up to, make it a big one!

Announce the release officially across all social media platforms - maybe do a facebook live video of you celebrating - everything you can think of to draw attention to the release. Consider paying to boost your announcement posts on facebook and Instagram to make sure all your followers see the post.

Organise a release show/party at a local venue where you have your greatest fan base. Consider the size of the venue - you want it to be packed - live photos of your album release will look better with a packed-in crowd, so go for smaller venues rather than larger.

Advertise the night a few weeks out, sell tickets and go the extra mile with things like lighting and costume on the day to make it special. This is where you can sell any physical copies of your release directly to your fans.

Consider playing a live, online gig for your audience that can’t make it in person.

Put on a free ‘invite only’ listening party at a local venue, rehearsal studio or your house for friends, family and fans. It’s as easy as advertising a party and playing your final album recording loud over the PA system. These events make people feel like part of the ‘in’ crowd and can be great for networking, making friends and convincing people to buy your release and share it with others!

14. Everything else

A professional release is a massive job, but it can be hugely rewarding if you do it right. Put everything you have into it, constantly explore new ways to advertise and promote your release, this is your chance to be heard. Get obscure and play a show at a local swimming pool, go traditional and make posters and hand out flyers. Get your inner circle of fans working for you to spread to word and promote the release.

It’s the extra effort that will make your release a success.

But honestly, in the end and after all the hype has died down, your release is for you. Do yourself proud. Once you’ve released your work into the world and done everything you can to tell people about it, relax; celebrate this amazing personal victory and revel in the moment. You’re achievement is in the release itself, not in how many people download it. You did it!

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