26 Things To Do Before You Release Your Song Or Album
As a working artist, avidly read blogger and best-selling author, Ari Herstand knows of what he speaks. By actually doing the things he writes about—creating original music, booking his own tours, making videos and utilizing all forms of social media—he has come to understand how artists can take command of their career and make smart, successful moves. In the following feast of proven, practical tips and music industry advice (excerpted from his new book How to Make It in the New Music Business) Herstand shares his hard-won knowledge with you:
1. Market Research
How do you know if you suck or not? You’re biased. So is your mom and your friends. Your friends aren’t going to tell you if they hate your music. They will come to your shows to support you. To make sure your music is ready for prime time, you need some unbiased opinions. You can submit to industry experts, influencers and curators on Fluence. Fluence allows you to pay people who are difficult to reach to listen to your song or watch your video. Most “curators” (as they’re called on the platform) charge a few dollars a minute. If you’re asking for feedback, prepare for it to be brutally honest. I’m a curator on Fluence and I typically write five-to-ten-paragraph critiques of songs submitted to me. Eighty percent of the stuff I receive is not very good; 15% is decent, but not great; and 5% is so great that I have to share it (if it’s released) and help the artist make connections.
But Fluence can get quite pricey. To hit the general public, you can use Audiokite. You basically pay about $20 to get 100 people to listen and rate your song. This is a great way to help decide which demos should make the album or which master should be your single. Use my affiliate code AK-ARISTAKE for 30% off your report. You can filter by genre (so folk lovers aren’t rating your heavy metal song).
ReverbNation has a similar program called Crowd Review, and TuneCore has Fan Reviews. SoundOut also has a very similar standalone product worth checking out. Then there’s Music Xray which specializes in submitting your music to gatekeepers (for a fee), but also offers Diagnostics. For $10, five “Music Industry Professionals” will rate your song on five criteria: Composition, Production, Arrangement,
Performance and Hit Potential.
Use one of those platforms to test out your song before it’s released.
2. Register Your Publishing
There are a ton of royalties out there. Kobalt estimates there are 900,000 distinct royalty payments for a single recording. So, to make sure you grab as many of those as possible, you have to register your music in all the appropriate places and sign up with an admin publishing company like SongTrust, TuneCore Publishing, Audiam or CD Baby Pro.
3. Register Every Song with a PRO
In America, the three PRO’s (Performing Rights Organizations) are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. In Canada the sole PRO is SOCAN. Most admin publishing companies will register your songs with the PRO of your choosing so you don’t have to worry about taking this step once you sign up for an admin pub company.
4. Register with SoundExchange
SoundExchange is how you get paid for Pandora and SiriusXM (and all other digital radio) plays. Make sure to register an account and submit your catalog.
5. Get on AllMusic.com and Discogs
AllMusic is the most inclusive credits database in existence. Discogs is a close second. Why Spotify or Apple hasn’t integrated this info into their system is beyond me. Your music should be registered on AllMusic.com and Discogs so people can find out who played the violin on track 3 and who cowrote track 7, because most people won’t ever see your physical liner notes. To get registered on AllMusic, go to allmusic.com/product-submissions and follow the instructions. For Discogs, you can submit the info directly through the site (Discogs.com).
6. Register the Copyrights
You can currently register all of your songs at once for $55 with the U.S. Copyright Office. You can do everything at Copyright.gov. Just be extra careful with this, because if you file the applications incorrectly and you later have to file a lawsuit against someone, the court may say that your registration is invalid. The safest bet is to hire an entertainment or copyright attorney to do this for you so you don’t screw it up!
7. Register for YouTube and SoundCloud Revenue
You are going to be putting all of your music up on YouTube, so you want to collect all of those royalties. Pick a YouTube and SoundCloud collections company such as Repost Network, Audiam, InDMusic or AdRev. Or, better yet, your distribution company will be able to collect these royalties for you. CD Baby, DistroKid and TuneCore (among others) have this as an opt-in add-on. I recommend just keeping everything under one roof and having your distribution company collect these royalties for you. (Many of them actually outsource to the aforementioned third-party YouTube/SoundCloud collections companies anyway.)
8. Pick Your Distribution Company
To get your song in iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, Deezer, Google Play and 90-plus other stores and streaming services worldwide, you need a distribution company. The top digital distribution companies (for indie artists) in the world are currently CD Baby, DistroKid and TuneCore. I keep an updated comparison on a bunch of these companies at aristake.com/?post=92. If you want to go one step deeper, you can start a record label and apply to work with a bigger distribution company like INgrooves, The Orchard or Believe Digital. These distributors work only with labels, but they can offer more personal attention and benefits than the open-to-everyone distributors can.
9. Get a Licensing Company
If you’re interested in getting your music in TV shows, commercials, movies, video games and trailers, you’ll want to get a licensing company. You can download a great guide from the Music Business Registry that has contact information for nearly every publisher and licensing company out there. You can find the Publisher Registry at: smarturl.it/mubu-pub.
10. Create the Folder of Assets
You will need to access assets regularly leading up to your release and directly following it. Make sure you create a folder that either lives on your Desktop (or in your Dropbox/Cloud) that contains:
• Text doc of all lyrics.
• Wavs of every song (including instrumentals).
• 320kbps (metadata tagged) mp3’s of every song (including instrumentals).
• High-res album cover (at least 3,000 pixels x 3,000 pixels).
• High-res album cover without text (to use for posters).
• Stems (for remixes). These are isolated vocals, drums, bass, guitar tracks.
• Print-ready promo photos (300dpi, no larger than 10mb in size).
• Web versions of promo photos (74dpi, around 1mb in size).
• Merch designs.
• Album press release.
• Text doc with album credits (break these down by song).
• Short and long bios.
• Promotional materials like poster, flyer and advertising designs.
• Music videos.
• Behind-the-scenes videos.
• Text doc containing login information to all your sites and links you will need to reference frequently (Box.com, SoundCloud, Spotify, Bandcamp, PledgeMusic, iTunes, etc.).
11. Get New Photos
You should build up a network of photographers in your city. You can never have enough high-quality photos. Every release is a new beginning. It’s a time to update and enhance your image. To rebrand, if necessary. Photos give your audience the first impression of the music. People will judge your project based on the artwork and photography before they choose to listen to the music. So your photos should have the same vibe and energy of your release. Make sure your photographer listens to the new music. And make sure the photos you release alongside the new music make sense. You need to wear an outfit conducive to the new sound. John Mayer moved to Montana to write his albums Born and Raised and Paradise Valley. The photos were taken in Montana and were indicative of his new direction. Your new album needs a story. And those photos need to match the story. Pick your top 10 (edited) photos and include them in your Folder of Assets. Pick your top three and use these for all initial press and promo. You can roll out the other seven in time with new videos, singles, tours and shows.
12. Write a New Bio
Your bio is your story. It is the single most important piece of your release—next to the music, of course. It should reveal why people should care about you. What sets you apart? Why are you unique? And more specifically, what is the album’s story? With this in mind, you can craft your bio. Many outlets will copy and paste your bio for their needs. Make sure you have three bios, a long one, a short one (one or two paragraphs, definitely under 500 words) and an elevator pitch. Make sure every bio includes pronunciation of the name. Your bio should be written in the third person.
13. Write a New Press Release
This is different from your bio and doesn’t need to be posted anywhere online. You will send this directly to media outlets.
14. Make a List of Blogs to Contact
Not every style of music works with music blogs. Many of the top music blogs are listed on hypem.com. Search similar (current) artists to see how often they are written about (if ever) on these blogs. Make a list of those blogs with contact information and submission guidelines. Most blogs specifically list how to submit music. Make sure you follow their guidelines. You can also submit to blogs on submithub.com.
15. Create the Videos
Every song you release should have an accompanying video on YouTube. It doesn’t need to be a high priced music video, but it should have a video component. There are inexpensive apps out there that can easily create lyric videos for you. Make sure the videos fit the vibe of the song and the project.
16. Create a Bandcamp Page
Bandcamp is the No. 1 independent music store. It is self-managed by you. You don’t need to use a distributor to get on Bandcamp. You can go to Bandcamp.com and sign up for free. You can offer “name your price” downloads. A fan once paid me $200 for my album (set at $5 minimum). Bandcamp now offers subscriptions and a physical merch store as well.
17. Create (or Rebrand) Your Website
A new album demands a new website. It’s a good idea to rebrand your website every couple years regardless if you have a new album or not. Bandzoogle and Squarespace are website builders that require no design or coding knowledge. They have beautiful templates to choose from and are very simple to use.
18. Create (or Rebrand) Your Social Sites
Now that you have new photos, album cover and bio, use these assets to rebrand all your social sites. You are bringing an entirely new package to the world. Make it shiny, sparkly and tasty. And put a bow on it!
19. Get a Mailing List
If you don’t have a mailing list yet, start one. This is the most important fan engagement tool you have. A McKinsey & Company study recently concluded that email marketing is 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined. MailChimp, FanBridge, iContact, Constant Contact, Benchmark and SendinBlue are some of best and most widely used email list services.
20. Submit to Pandora
Pandora is the No. 1 Internet radio station in the United States. You can submit at submit.pandora.com.
21. Create New Merch
A new album or tour demands new merch. Get creative with your merch offerings.
Read More: 10 Reasons Why Your Merch Doesn't Sell
Music supervisors want a quick and easy way to listen or download your music. Most prefer Box.com or Dropbox.com links because they can stream your song in the browser or download it if they want to use it. Get all of your songs, mp3’s and wavs—full versions and instrumentals—up on either Dropbox or Box. Click the Share button and grab the link for every song. Put that in a text document in your Folder of Assets.
23. SoundCloud Profile
You’ll want to get all of your music up on SoundCloud. Not only is it an active community, like YouTube, it is the easiest way to send someone a streamable song. You can also put a SoundCloud playlist on your website and embed players around the Web.
24. SmartURL.it Links
SmartURL is one of the best link-tracking services out right now. Like Bitly, SmartURL will let you know how many people clicked your link, but will also give you much more detailed analytics, like location, device used, referring domains and other stats. You can also decide to point users to different destinations based on their device. Like, a “download” link could send iPhone users to iTunes and Droid users to Google Play or Amazon. Boom! SmartURL is one of the only ways to post iTunes links that actually send people to iTunes (and not Apple Music). Create SmartURL links for every link you save.
25. Register Your Trademark
For your band name and your logo.
26. Form a Corporate Entity (like an LLC)
It gives you some legal protection and enables you to open a band bank account (and get paid).
ARI HERSTAND is the author of the best-selling book How To Make It in the New Music Business: Practical Tips on Building a Loyal Following and Making a Living as a Musician, a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and the creator of the music biz advice blog Ari’s Take.