So you’ve made a gem of a track, and you’re feeling it’s ready to bring it out into the light. Perhaps you don’t have a huge team around you, but don’t fret; releasing your music to the world doesn’t need a large team of managers, A&R people, and an outsourced PR campaign to be successful. In fact, you can nail most parts of the process with just yourself, some perseverance, and a stable internet connection. But there are a few things that you should consider outsourcing if possible, some planning to be done, and some essential decisions to make before you hit ‘upload’.
To help you get a feel for these factors, we enlisted the knowledge of two people who definitely know what they’re talking about, and their experience and projects in the music industry can attest to that.
Flagrant Artists Management is a management agency based in Melbourne. They handle the day-to-day business dealings of artists and producers alike, including M-Phazes (Eminem, Alison Wonderland, 2 Chainz), Cam Bluff (Amy Shark, ‘Adore’, Hilltop Hoods, Allday), and Ruel.
Ditto Music is the middle-person between you and digital streaming platforms. Rochelle Flack is their artist support and content assistant, and she helps Australian artists craft their release strategies every day. We went in-depth with Flagrants’ artist manager, Daniel Anthony, and Rochelle, about the things every musician should keep in the back of their mind in the lead up to a music release.
1. Look before you jump
After you finish producing a track, you’ll be riding the creative high – and that can affect your judgement on what to actually do with the song. Let it sit for a moment, and think. “Does this track show my skills off to their absolute best?” This point counts majorly if this is concerning your first release.
“First impressions are everything. I’m not saying if you don’t do the greatest first impression that you can’t grow from there, but if you release a song that’s 60% of what you can be, people will view you as that artist until you prove them wrong. What I find is that everyone wants to jump the gun and release things before they’re ready. It’s far more beneficial to have a good back catalogue of work that you can stamp your name on, instead of going out with something half-assed,” Daniel says.
Want to have a successful release, and plenty more successful releases to come? In the long run, it will only benefit you to hold off on official releases until you’re certain you’re producing close to the best work you possibly can. “Spend the time on it to get it right, tell the story you want to tell and stay authentic,” says Rochelle.
It’s a lot harder to convince people to take a second listen on a release that follows an average track, even if you’ve improved since the first one. But on the flip side – don’t keep silent too long to chase a dream of perfection.
“We have artists, who for them, the struggle of perfection can be crippling for them as well. There’s a fine line of making the decision to come out with something, and not doing it too quickly, ” Daniel says.
How do you know when the time is right? That leads us on to our next point.
2. Get a second pair of ears
If you want to make your music in a self-produced vacuum, with no output or influence from the inside world – maybe you’ll come up with something incredible and groundbreaking. But the more likely outcome is that with no feedback or outside input, the areas with potential for improvement will slip right by your ears. After extended listening, you’re immune to those little mistakes that only a fresh pair of ears will notice.
And this isn’t just something you should do once you think your track is all polished up. In fact, asking for feedback at the end of the production process can often be completely pointless, says Daniel, suggesting the midway point as the prime time to take on feedback – and that this way, you’ll actually put it to good use.
“When you’re creating music, it’s always more beneficial if you’re showing people when things are halfway through the creative process, rather than the whole way. If you show someone a song that you think is done in your head, and then you look for feedback, all you’re looking for is validation, all you want them to say is, “This is great, good job!“. Because if they come back with changes, you’re already too far ahead, your eyes are blurred, and you can’t see what the end product could be. If you do it halfway, it’s a lot scarier, but then they can guide you along the way, and then their feedback is used instead of just making you feel bad about the track because you think it’s done,” says Daniel.
But the more important fresh perspective does indeed come at the end of the production process – and that perspective is mixing and mastering. As you learnt and developed your music production skills, you probably also picked up some know-how on mixing. And it’s essential.
Mixing is what makes the difference between what can sound like a rough idea, and a finished track ready for the air (or digital) waves. But no one expects you to be the master of all trades, although those people definitely do exist. Take Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, who is essentially a one-man band when it comes to his recorded works – Parker writes, records, mixes, and masters the entire thing. But it’s safe to say, most of us aren’t quite there yet. And there is nothing wrong with that. Mixing is its own line of work entirely, and a complete art in itself. So if writing, recording, and production are where you stand strong, but your mixing falls short, don’t hesitate to call in some outside help.
“It’s better to focus on what you do best, and get someone else to do the job that you’re not world class at. A fresh set of ears is paramount. From a mixing point of view, when you hire someone who does that job every day, they can hear and implement things in your music that could never think of,” says Daniel.
3. Don’t procrastinate on your planning
We insist – planning your music release ahead of time, professionally, and with careful consideration, is something you cannot neglect. “What do musicians always forget to do when releasing their music?”, we asked Rochelle.
“They leave things to the last minute! Lead times are really important because a lot of things involved in a release can take their sweet time. Start planning weeks, heck, even months in advance. Map out a plan of attack, goals you want to achieve and a timeline. When going through the motions that accompany a release (like radio servicing, PR, distribution, booking shows) having everything spelt out in a plan keeps you on track and organised. If you’re not sure about how long something will take, ask to get a rough idea, then factor that into your timeline,” says Rochelle.
She continues, “It’s good to note that Spotify advises content be in their system 7 days in advance of release in order to be considered for algorithm playlists such as Release Radar. Make sure your profile looks the part and add in images and a bio to your Spotify via Spotify for Artists. For other platforms, many will curate their own editorial content or pull in bios from All Music Guide. Scope this out and submit your music – it might just land on your Apple Music profile. You can also submit images to other select stores and they’ll show up on your profile. Want your artist image on Apple, Amazon or Tidal? Be sure to email your distributor!”
4. Pitch to press with pride and care
When it comes to press, we suggest that for most musicians, there’s a good argument for keeping it simple – just for now.
“One of the biggest mistakes musicians make is employing PR too early on. It can just be a total waste of money. My biggest advice for PR is, in the beginning, do it all yourself. If you’re savvy on the internet – which everyone should be – you can find just about anyone’s email, from blog editors to record labels,” says Daniel.
Don’t be afraid to do a bit of digging. Ask for introductions from mutual connections, do a bit of a Twitter stalk, or get into the contacts pages of company websites, and you’re sure to find the name and details you’re looking for.
When it comes to actually typing out those press emails, there’s some definite writing protocol that will make sure you keep the attention of the reader as long as possible – and some no-no’s that will land your message in the trash.
“Your emails should always be well structured. If you open an email and you don’t see proper paragraphs, the grammar is awful, it just looks bad, then people definitely won’t take it as seriously. A lot of musicians will also write really long winded emails, explaining their whole life story, but the majority of people just won’t have the time and can’t be bothered. If they open up an email and see 15 paragraphs, they’re gonna look at it and go, “Ugh, why,” and they’re not even going to read it. You can pitch for blogs in four sentences. So when you’re sending music to blogs; keep it short, sharp, with Soundcloud links, don’t go too deep, and let the music do the talking,” says Daniel.
“A clean subject line, a couple of sentences about the project and essential info beneath that with clear links. You can then go into more detail on a press release/bio document, attached to the email. Remember not to use spammy subject lines (e.g. “!!!!!!” after every word) or attach huge files. As a rule of thumb, keep it under 5MB,” says Rochelle.
She continues, “Another key thing to keep in mind is who exactly you’re emailing. You wouldn’t pitch your music to Poison City Records if you were a commercial pop artist, or send punk/hardcore to a folk blog. Personalise your emails where possible, too!”
5. Get yourself a digital distributor
“Getting your music onto platforms is just one piece of the puzzle,” says Rochelle. But it’s a very important one indeed. To get heard by large audiences in 2018, it’s not secret that your music has to exist somewhere on the internet. And the best place for your creation to live is on a digital streaming platform like Spotify, Apple Music, or Youtube Music. But to get your music on any of these platforms, you need to go through a digital aggregator. They come a-plenty – from DistroKid, to Tunecore, to CD Baby. But if you’re in Australia, there’s a good reason to go with local distributors.
“You can go to overseas aggregators, but you won’t be able to get answers for days, and when there are problems, you need things fixed right away,” says Daniel. One of those locals is Ditto Music. So how do they work?
“We help get your music onto Spotify, Apple Music/iTunes, Deezer, Amazon, and countless other stores globally. Once the songs have been sent and accrued streams or downloads, we collect your earnings and pay the money into your account,” says Rochelle.
So your music is now available to the world. But the best way to gain traction on these platforms is by being hand-picked to be placed on a coveted, highly followed playlist.
“Playlists at each digital streaming platform are compiled by editors who have their ear to the ground and follow music culture and community closely. Your distributor may be able to pitch to them under a distribution agreement (this differs from distributor to distributor),” says Rochelle.
Labels, PR agencies, and other industry leaders you may be working with can also take on this job for you. But if you’re not quite at that stage in your career yet, don’t worry – the playlisting process just got a whole lot more democratic.
“In an exciting development, you can now take a DIY approach to playlist pitching by using Spotify for Artists. The tool now allows you to pitch your music for editorial playlist consideration ahead of your release. However, the best thing is to just ask your distributor if they pitch to playlists and how the process works with them,” says Rochelle.
6. Spread the word
So you’ve heard it a million times – there are not many artists whose releases wouldn’t benefit from a bit of social media shoutout. But if you really want to make a difference in your streaming numbers, hype, and overall success, your strategy has to go a bit further than a text update here and there.
“Connect with your audience visually. Statistics show that people are more inclined to interact with an image that a slab of text – so think about how you can show your message. Instagram is a powerful platform for this very reason, so spend some time grammin’ to hype up your release. Twitter is a platform the can be great to connect with others, but it’s not much use having one if you log on every 2 weeks and retweet everything you’ve been mentioned in. Use it consistently and let it be an insight into your artistic mind, or don’t use it at all. Facebook has powerful data insights but it can often tricky to drum up engagement. Again, focus on the visual elements with clean and clear copy when required,” says Rochelle.