How to successfully launch an independent release

So you’ve spent months, if not years, writing your material, rehearsing and recording it. You’ve played it to friends who have given it the thumbs up and you’ve decided that you want to release it independently. There are any number of options and platforms. You may want a physical release on vinyl or CD, a digital release on the various platforms such as Spotify or iTunes. You may have accompanying videos released on Youtube.

Deciding a strategy for what medium you release on is very much determined by the genre and style of music and also what you are trying to achieve. Some artists see an independent release a stepping stone to greater things. Some prefer the freedom of independence and the fact that you can control your own destiny and keep all of the income. Many established artists now release independently for these reasons. We will be looking at these options for releasing music in a forthcoming article. Today we look at the mechanics at getting the release into the public eye, without a huge budget.

Whatever your platform or motivation, you will need a strategy to connect your music with your audience. There are millions of great tracks out there that many people would love, but have never heard, because they have no association with the artist and no one has ever signposted them to the music.

When you are considering a release, the first question you need to ask is “How can I connect with my audience?”. I’ve advised hundreds of bands on this process. As an artists, you are in a unique position to understand your own music and your audience. The first thing to understand is who they are. What is the demographic you seek to appeal to. Understanding this, will mean that you can target your campaign effectively. One sensibly placed post on social media can make a release, whereas headless chicken spamming of your followers can destroy it. Considering what you are working to achieve is key. A hip hop release will have a very different strategy to a prog rock album, but the principles are very similar. If you want to reach the maximum possible audience, then a properly executed launch plan will make all the difference. I recommend a planning stage and then a six week plan to launch.

Planning phase.

This is the key phase. To connect with the widest possible audience, you need to connect with key influencers first, they will introduce you toyour target audience. Every different genre has different players, so for your release, the first stage is to identify as many key influencers in your genre as possible. These are typically music bloggers, playlist compilers, Radio show producers, music press (online and paper depending on genre). It is well worth putting in the homework on such key industry figures and ascertaining what sort of music they like and what sort of new music they play, also work out how you can best connect with them. Shows such as Gary Crowley on BBC London and BBC introducing are great examples of places to get new music played. There are many online stations, shows and podcasts all of who can widen your audience. Put together a good marketing pack. Although you clearly love all of the music you make, if it is an album, concentrate on pushing the strongest song, as influencers will not listen to ten, to see if there is one they like. Work out why you think it would appeal to the influencer and use a personal approach along the lines of “I really enjoyed the track by The Fall* you played last night, they are a big influence of ours and you can hear it in our new track” (* change as necessary). Of course the influence must be relevant/.

It is also important to book some appearances or shows at the time of release, as these will give people a chance to see you. Nothing looks worse when you make a release than a website with a gigs page and nothing on it or a “coming soon” banner. If you’ve got no shows booked, then it probably isn’t time to release your product. You should also have some merchandise to sell at the shows. This includes, badges, T-Shirts, vinyl, cd’s etc. Remember that what you sell at shows, you keep all of the income from. Invite key influencers to the shows on their social media, you never know….. Having shows at credible venues lends legitimacy to the band. If people check your website and there is nothing of interest on it, they most likely won’t come back.

Your launch pack should include the following. Your product (CD/Vinyl/Links to online versions on a pre release unlisted site), photos of the artist/band, brief biog of the members of the project, including key musical influences for each member. Many bands make the mistake of listing artists they think are cool, rather than those that actually are relevant to the music. With regards to the band member biog, keep it relevant, short and sweet. People like to know who they are dealing with. Unless you are a convicted sex offender or a mass murderer on the run, anonymity won’t help you build a career, so list past musical associations, or facts about your music that may be interesting (for instance type of guitar played, pedals etc).

Good pictures and a decent promo video will also help. A good band logo will also help. Once you’ve got your list of shows, contacts and your media pack you are ready to go. Your marketing campaign will last eight weeks, with six weeks run up and two weeks of heavy plugging after release. Make sure all of your social media is in place for day 1 of the start of the campaign. Make sure that you have proper clips etc ready in case you get asked.

Week 1-2

This is where you send out your media pack to the key influencers, with the release date, details of shows and availability for interviews etc. Send this out and then send a couple of reminders over the next two weeks, if you hear nothing back from them. Also start mentioning the release date on social media. Don’t bombard people or spam them. Post on other sites, but don’t over post and keep everything relevant. The best way is to start or join conversations and subtly slip in about your release. There is a rule that people generally need to see seven mentions of a release on social media before it sinks in, but if they’ve decided that you are a decent person to follow they will be receptive. If the contact is all in one big burst, people will decide it’s spam and block it.

Week 3-4

This is the middle of the campaign. You should have some idea of whether there has been any traction. It is worth sending it out again to those who haven’t responded. They may have missed it the first time. This is also the time to put a couple of tasters out on your social media. Keep a log of all positive engagements and plays. It is really important to stay focused and ignore negative comments and trolling. If you start arguing with people on social media that simply don’t like your music, you will alienate those that do. I always recommend blocking such trolls. Keep your eyes and ears open at this stage for opportunities to plug your music. Don’t be overly obvious, but ensure things like your social media profile identify you as having an imminent release and use related graphics on profile pics etc. I’d recommend changing these fairly frequently as this will give you presence without obviously spamming. Make sure you retweet/repost all good comments.

Week 5-6

This is the key period, the run up. If you can, get on radio shows, even if it’s phoning up about the weather! Be seen, be heard and if you can slip in “can I just mention our show promoting our album” if possible. Post one or two things a day on social media relevant to the release and have a count down on the site. A few small clips, videos etc are a great way of raising interest. Contact everyone you sent the pack to and say “the release is on …… we are available for interviews etc”. The worst that can happen is they ignore you. Don’t just post “We are releasing our album on Friday” post something that makes it sound interesting.

Week 7-8

The release is now out. Post on social media every day, with pictures, links and clips. In the preparation phase, you should have made a schedule of what you would post when. Short clips of the members of the project talking about the songs and what they mean, links to playlists, thanks to everyone who has liked it etc. If you get radio plays, mention this and give links to listen again streams etc. If you get included on an influencers spotify playlist etc, tweet/Facebook it out and mention all of the other artists included. They will most likely retweet this to their fans, which will help you build an audience. Social media engagement is the key

The key things to avoid

There are several don’ts. Don’t flood your timeline with repeated tweets/posts etc. This will simply alienate your fans. Build a genuine fan base. Don’t chase followers who are not relevant to your music. It is fine for a new project to start off with no followers. Build this organically. If your fans see that you are chasing dodgy follow back accounts, they will see you as not being genuine. I’d recommend that social media accounts are a constant work in progress. When you don’t have releases, tweet about music and retweet artists you like and feel kinship with. This will tell your followers what you are into and what they can expect. Avoid issues that are not relevant to music, unless there is a key reason (eg if you are playing at a gig and there is transport disruption in the locality). If you are a rock band, your target audience is probably not interested in local politics or litter picking, so spend your time tweeting on issues relevant to your music. If you are a rocker with an interest in Bee keeping, have different accounts for both subjects. That will spare both your rock and bee keeping buddies a load of irrelevant posts on their timeline. If they like both, they will follow both.

Finally don’t get dispirited if you don’t get the response you hoped for. Many influencers are simply saturated with content. See what worked well and what didn’t and try and learn the lessons.