How to release an album is a confusing topic for many musicians, and this article is not meant to answer every question or give a “one size fits all” template of any kind. However, I think it would be useful to go over a few general things I see happening very often among unsigned artists when it comes to presenting their work to the public. Here are some basic ground rules for releasing your album or EP.
1) Don’t just post your album on the release date. Promote properly.
Artists often tend to take release dates literally. Meaning, if my release date is January 27th, then I must withhold the music until then. On the 27th, I’ll post a notice to my Facebook friends with Soundcloud and Bandcamp links to my album, and there you have it. Do you see an issue with this? There are multiple issues, actually. First off, the album is now already old going by most blogs/publications standards, so you have very little chance of getting the album reviewed, unless you target very small indie blogs or hire a good publicist, and even then you won’t get the same results as you would have if you gave promotion it’s due time. I recommend at least 1 month of advance promotion time, preferably 3, since that is the amount of time print publications take to plan their next issue. If you’re not touring extensively and you have a smaller fanbase, a month will do just fine. During this time, you’ll want to reach out to as many media outlets, music blogs, podcasts, internet radio shows, etc, specifying that this is an advance release. This means the album is fresh out of the oven as opposed to yesterday’s muffins. Make sense? Of course it does! And yet, most bands don’t know about this.
2) Don’t think like a major label artist. A release date, for you, is just a fixed point in space.
It’s important not to get too caught up in major label artist/major record label album release tactics. Some of their techniques are appropriate for you, and some will hurt your progress. Here’s what I mean. A release date, for a major artist like Tool, is highly anticipated by millions of people, and so they can afford to do certain things like hording their music/keeping it a secret until the release date, or possibly release extremely cryptic 30 second ambient clips.
This does not typically work for independents. It’s important to understand this. If you have less than 10,000 or 20,000 fans, do not horde your material. We’ll get to that in a moment.
For an independent artist, a release date is not a major event hotly anticipated by fans the world over. It is a fixed point in space for the purpose of identification. When your new album comes out on June 14th, and you promote it as such, then iTunes reads “June 14”, as does CDBaby, and importantly, reviewers and websites note this date. It identifies the release and makes it official, historical. Think Wikipedia. Your release date is a benchmark, sure, but it’s meant to pinpoint your album so that is publicly exists.
3) Stream it, baby. Go with the flow.
I mentioned not hording your work a few times now. So many unsigned artists I talk to are very concerned that their fans may hear their album before it’s release date. I always recommend streaming your album on Bandcamp and Soundcloud in advance of the release. Even as early as 6 weeks is fine to stream your album. Keep in mind, these networks allow you to stream only, not make it available for download.
The confusion on this point, once again, comes from artists thinking like major label artists. This type of thinking leads not to fame, but to obscurity. It seems counter-intuitive, I know. The idea is, if it’s not there and ready for people to hear, and it’s not heavily promoted, people won’t come back. People will come back and check a 2nd time to see if the new Nine Inch Nails album is ready yet, sure. But that’s because they’ve built a relationship with him for years. They won’t do the same for you. So you should not only stream your album, but try to get as many blogs as possible posting the stream. Get your fans to share the stream. The absolute worst thing that will happen is that more people will hear your music and become fans. Think about it logically.
One artist’s argument to me was that fans would rip his music from the album stream. He should be so lucky! I don’t even know what to say to that. Let me tell you, if that’s your biggest fear, you’re paranoid. If fans are eager enough about your music to rip it from a stream, then you have a seriously intense following that is presenting you with opportunities you need to mobilize. Embrace it.