MusicMusic Business

One Person’s Experience Releasing An Album In the Digital Music Age

I will continue along in the process from my last post which covered distribution. The next topic to address is release and promotion.

The point of these posts is not to provide instruction on how to do these things. There is plenty of that information already available which I am linking to. My goal with this writing is to bring the information together with my actual experience. Sometimes, I find it helpful to read about a topic and then read about how different people have implemented it.

As with the music business in general, the release of an album is now more complicated. There are some very detailed guides out there on how to do this. Here’s one example:

Complete Beginner’s Guide to Album Releases

I would breakdown the album release process into 3 phases each with their own set of tasks:

  1. Build-up/Anticipation
  2. Release day
  3. Follow-up/Promotion

As with distribution, I feel that these activities are specific to one’s situation. For example, I didn’t do a lot of build-up because I am a newcomer with virtually no fanbase. For me, step 1 amounted to a couple Facebook posts in the weeks prior to the release. There was no climax of social media posts. There was no single released as a teaser.

Similarly, with Step 2, I didn’t focus too much on a specific release day. Instead of something like, “On [this day], my debut album will be released on streaming services and be available for download. Get ready!”, it was more like, “OK, everybody, my album is now available for streaming and download. Here’s where you can hear it!”. Maybe this was a bad decision. Maybe I sold myself short with this outlook. I don’t think so. I just don’t believe in going overboard with this stuff. If I was releasing an album with a few thousand social media followers in place, I would have taken a different approach.

One thing I did do on release day was to use the opportunity to experiment with Facebook and Instagram advertising. I have done some research about it online about this and find it fascinating. I just like to geek-out on stuff like this.

I created a Facebook ad from my post which announced the release of my album. I was fairly pleased with the results. The post linked to the music page on my website where potential fans could listen to the songs via a Bandcamp embed. Based on the data in the Facebook ad manager, Bandcamp stats and the Google Analytics data on my website, a lot of people were made aware of my music because of the ad. That’s good. That was the goal. Did I actually make any sales from it? Probably not, but it is hard to track that. The total cost to me was around $16. Honestly, it was worth $16 just to experiment with the ad platform. But that’s just me.

I see two approaches to a release day Facebook ad:

  1. You are an established artist with at least a few thousand page likes – in this case you might just want to target the ad to the people who are already your fans. This would simply help get the post onto the newsfeed of those established fan.
  2. You are new artist with little or no fanbase – in this case, you can do what I did which is to target the ad to people who like similar music to yours. Again, the goal here would be awareness, new page likes, and link clicks to your website or other platform, i.e. Bandcamp.

The key with Facebook ads is to nail the target audience. That’s where their ad system can be very powerful. The other key is do test different audiences, analyze the the results and continue to improve. I’d like to do another post just about this because there isn’t a ton of info online already about how musicians can most effectively leverage Facebook advertising.

I also promoted my Instagram post that announced the release. I am not sure what happened here, but I didn’t get much engagement. I may have done something wrong. The cost quickly rose to $5 and I turned it off. It just wasn’t working. The goal there would be to get profile visits and new followers. Even though it didn’t work out, I would try it again.

In general, I feel that social media advertising is a great way for musicians to promote their work. It’s simply the cheapest and most effective way to reach people.The cost is so low that it is worth it just to experiment.

Another example, is boosting your gig with Facebook. I recently did this for a gig that was a bit out of town. I created the audience of people that were into similar music and lived within 15 miles of the venue. I spent $5 on that. Very hard to track the return, but the gig was well attended. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if some attendees were there because they saw the event ad.

Getting back to the release, there is obviously a ton that one can do in Step 3, follow-up and promotion.

Here’s a breakdown of what I did:

  • SubmitHub – One thing working against me here is that my genre is not well represented on that platform. Again, I would consider this a fun experiment and learning experience. I like the concept of it and would probably recommend that people try it.
  • Local Radio – One out of 3 stations that I contacted has played my song so far. Yay! One station went under. So, that went pretty well.
  • Booking Gigs – this is in both lists because I could be putting more effort into it. If only it weren’t such a drag!
  • Put my music online most anywhere and everywhere that I could, i.e. SoundCloud, Youtube, in addition to all digital distribution done by CD Baby. As an unknown artist, I believe it’s best to make it available everywhere. Again, if I were established, I would approach that differently.

Here’s a breakdown of things that I didn’t do or am struggling through.

  • Try to get the album reviewed – haven’t put much effort into this. I think it would be great to get it reviewed, but just haven’t figured this one out yet.
  • Try to get on Spotify playlists
  • Try to get reposted on SoundCloud
  • Creating an email list
  • Contact blogs directly that feature music like mine using Hype Machine – haven’t figured this out yet and am not sure that this avenue is covering my genre. For more information about this world, check out this post.
  • Have a album release show
  • Do a Facebook live event
  • Contacting local press, i.e. weekly entertainment publications
  • Try and contact more radio stations outside of my local area – not sure exactly how to do this, but could probably figure it out with some effort
  • Booking Gigs – I am doing this, but it is a struggle and I could be doing more
  • A Plan! – I didn’t have any release or promotion plan.
  • Just acknowledge that all this is a royal pain in the butt and hire a publicist – doesn’t seem like a good idea for a newcomer, but maybe

I don’t want to overlook engagement in the local music scene here. That may be the most important thing that anyone could ever do. A lot of the other things mentioned above are what I would call “virtual world promotion”. There still is an argument for focusing on becoming more well-known at the local level.

The next blog post I am working on with address the psychology of self-promotion. This will help explain why some of the things mentioned above were not done or continue to be very challenging.

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