I'm about ready to start recording an EP & I wrote a little "step by step" of "how to independently release an album" a while back that I've been referencing I thought I'd share!!
You see, I'm a singer/songwriter & I've released 4 Albums independently! I've had some cool successes from each of those releases. I've had songs featured on MTV's Laguna Beach, Nickelodeon's teen channel Noggin, an independent film, Radio play & lots of local press! All of this doesn't come easy, it takes lots of emails, phone calls, connecting and more! Here are a few things I've done over the years when releasing albums. Hope it helps you get a better game plan for your release!
How to Independently Release an Album
- It starts with an idea, that turns into a song, that turns into a group of songs that carry a specific theme or message you want to convey. That plus A TON of work, planning, scheduling & practicing happen in between all of that. You have to keep a timeline & have a plan to have a successful Album Release!
Step 1: SONGWRITING.
-It starts with a song. Whether you get a melody & hum it into your iphone, or get some powerful lyrics that you scribble into your journal & piece it together later, or co-write with a fellow singer-songwriter, an album starts with songwriting.
-Everyone’s songwriting process is different, but going into making an album, I like to have all of my songs finished. Yes, you might get some ideas on the spot in the studio, but you don’t want to waste precious studio time trying to finish a song! That can get expensive because a lot of studios charge by the hour!
Step 2: CHOOSE YOUR SONGS. SET A THEME.
-Many times the songs you choose for your Album have a specific theme or message you want to convey. It’s great to have a theme or message as a jumping off point for photo shoots & music videos that help with promotions!
I released an album called “Out of the Woods” & I did a photo shoot & music video in the woods & most of the songs on the album talk about coming out of the “woods” of anxiety, depression & finding out who I was outside of all of that. It was a powerful message & I was able to convey that concept & message through not only the music but the art & promotional materials! It was cohesive & powerful.
Step 3. POLISH YOUR SONGS.
-Once you’ve chosen your songs, POLISH THEM by playing them over & over, make demos of them to listen to & memorize them, & show them to trusted friends. When you show them to friends, be sure to GLEAN from what they say, but don’t let other people’s opinions sway you from your heart about the project & songs.
Step 4. START FUNDRAISING.
-Whether you raise the money yourself or do a Go Fund Me or Kickstarter Campaign, make sure you have ALL of your funds raised before you start recording! Give at least 2-3 months for the process.
Step 5. CHOOSE A PRODUCER.
-Choose a producer that GETS your sound!
-Really do your research of studios & producers. It’ll make all the difference! You don’t want to get stuck with a producer who doesn’t get your sound. You’ll end up getting frustrated instead of feeling inspired & excited about the project. I suggest sitting down for coffee with potential producers & interviewing them first to see if you mesh! Check their past work, ask friends, & go with someone who loves your music too.
Step 6. FIND QUALITY MUSICIANS TO HELP YOU RECORD.
-Once you find the producer that will represent your music well, see if they know musicians or find musicians in your circle that will play your music the way you want to hear it. If you don’t know of any, throw it out there and audition a few!
I had a crew of musicians I could count on that knew my style & music.
Step 7. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!
-Practice with your band like crazy until you have the feel & sound you want for each song.
A lot of times I’d have different musician friends or back up vocalists featured on different songs. So even if you don’t have a full band to practice with, shoot the artists the demos you worked on in the beginning to practice with then get together with them & make sure they have all the parts worked out.
Rely on your producer to help if you’re unsure of certain specifics in a song like interludes, lead guitar parts, vocal effects & more. That’s where your producer shines! As long as you have the base of the song, the producer can help you add the layers & flare.
Step 8. MAKE A PLAN FOR TRACKING & MIXING YOUR SONGS.
-Get together with your producer & make a plan for tracking your songs in the studio.
A lot of times I start with acoustic guitar & scratch vocals to a click track as a jumping off point. Then start adding the other instruments like Drums, Bass, rhythm electric guitar, lead electric guitar, keys or synth, strings.. whatever elements you want in that specific song.
-Get all your musicians scheduled & crank it out. The tracking process can be as quick as a week, or as long as 3 months, depending on your producer & your work schedule.
-After tracking, leave plenty of time for MIXING. It’s important to get all of your levels just right.
Step 9. MASTERING.
-After tracking and mixing the next step is to Master your album! Mastering makes your music “Radio Quality’, evens out the volumes & transitions from track to track. My friend has a quick turn over rate for mastering (2-3 days) but many times mastering can be a 2 week or more process from listening, to any changes, to the final product.
Step 10. COPYRIGHT & REGISTER YOUR SONGS TO A PERFORMING RIGHTS ORGANIZATION.
-While you are mixing & mastering your songs, send your mixed songs to the Library of Congress to be copyrighted. Also, register your songs to a performing rights organization like ASCAP or BMI so that you can get royalties if your song is played on the radio, used in a TV show or Movie.
Step 11. PHOTOSHOOT & ALBUM COVER DESIGN.
-While you’re getting your songs mastered, do a photo shoot for your Album cover & promotional photos. Make sure you keep with the theme of your album.
-Hire an artist to design your Album, promotional materials like a Bio with a picture, Facebook Banners, posters, T Shirts & maybe something unique like a plushie with a download card!
-Maybe even have your designer help make your website design more cohesive.
-Also, choose a company to duplicate your CD’s to get a template for your designer to design the front, inside & back of your CD. I go through Discmakers or CDbaby.
*DO NOT schedule a CD Release Show until you are in the final stages of this process! Sometimes things don’t go to the plan & you may not have your duplicated CD in time for the release show!
Step 11. CREATE A BUZZ.
-Once you have your Mastered songs back, think about making a semi-professional music video! It’s a great way to introduce your album to the world & have your friends SHARE, SHARE, SHARE!
-KNOW YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE. Know your marketing campaign towards for your audience.
-Another way to create a buzz is to take a bunch of fun video & photos of the studio process & share them on youtube, Facebook & Instagram. Make sure you use HASHTAGS! Also, following people with similar interests will most likely get you followed back!
-When you know your Album Release Date, send a Digital Press Kit with your songs, Bio & Promo photo to Local News Stations, College Radio Stations, Local Bloggers, College Newspapers, Local Newspapers, Local Magazines, alllllll the internet radio stations & more. I did this not expecting much, but I had a TON of Press before my release! It was awesome!
-Offer freebies! Free Song, free song art, get creative!
Step 12. GET YOUR MUSIC ON THE INTERNET. (ITUNES, SPOTIFY, AMAZON & MORE)
-Once you get your Masters & Album artwork approved, get your album on the internet! I went through CD BABY to get my music on all of the Internet download & streaming sites! I think you could do it one at a time, but it would be a lot. I think it took about a week to get everything through. CD BABY tracks all of your sales & sends you money via Paypal when someone buys your music, it’s great for the indie artist!
Step 13. RELEASE YOUR ALBUM!!!!!
-After you’ve finished steps 1-12, you’re ready to release your album! Have friends & family help you spread the word on social media & hashtag like crazy! You’d be amazed at the amount of unique visits you’ll get to your videos & photos just from a hashtag!
-Plan an Album Release Party! Make the release special, get some local press on “the list”, invite all of your friends, family & everyone who helped you make the album. Have a table with behind the scenes pictures & video. Design the stage extra special. I used vintage looking lights, it set the vibe I wanted & made for cool photos. Also, invite local musicians to open with 3 songs to make it a music community event/celebration! Highlight the musicians you appreciate!
-Make your merch table EPIC. Display your Albums in a unique way. Find a Vintage Suitcase to display your CD’s in or get some cool lighting to display your music in a unique way. Draw people’s attention!