The Ultimate Countdown Planner For Your Upcoming Record Release
You’ve just got the final masters back. The dream project you’ve worked so hard on for long is suddenly right in front of you. This is it.
In the rush of excitement of planning a record release, there are many things that need to be done, some more easy to remember than others. This extensive guide will help you stay focused, relaxed, and celebrating what you’ve achieved.
We’ve split up different tasks on your to-do list into the following categories:
- Recorded Package
- Release Party
Like this, you can easily jump to what’s most relevant. Let’s get started, shall we?
Make multiple hard copy backups of final masters.
Your laptop can fail. Your email can be hacked, your Cloud storage can be lost. Take time to store the final masters of your recordings on external hard drives or USB sticks you can hold. Store them in different places, to protect the content down the line. A fireproof safe, a watertight box, and a location outside of your home are all good ideas.
Write up a formal list of everyone involved in the production for liner notes/credits.
You never know when you need to list all your session players, or when you’ll be used as a reference for their creative resumes. Make sure you spell their names right, and detail who did what.
Make sure all copies of contracts (for those being paid in percentages) are signed, photocopied and secure.
You don’t want your producer coming after you, years down the line, convinced that you owe him money for underpaying his royalty rate, and you can’t prove him wrong because you lost the only copy of your signed agreement (assuming you had it in writing) a long time ago. Have multiple copies, safeguard them – just in case, money does do weird things to people.
Pay all those who agreed on a flat rate in full.
Unless you want the studio owner to crash your release party by getting up on stage and not letting you play until you cough up the remainder of the ignored invoices, it it recommended that you finishing paying everyone who agreed on a flat/hourly rate of compensation.
If you’re American, fill out an application to be the US Copyright holder of your own music.
Other countries follow the “it’s yours upon creation” standard, so the paperwork isn’t necessary now that all digital files have time stamps on them.
Clear the permissions for cover songs and samples.
Obviously, it’s smarter to ask for permission while in the pre-production stage, but this is still a better option than not asking, getting popular, and then being sued for every penny the song will ever make – just ask The Verve.
If you’re in a band or use a made up stage name, fill out an application to trademark the name with your respective country’s trademark office.
This applies mainly to new acts, but if you haven’t officially done this, do it now. You don’t want anyone in your geographical territory or musical genre starting a band with the same name as you. On the flip side, if you discover that your band name has been taken, it’s not too late to change it before making merch.
Register your new songs with your country’s Performing Rights Organization so that you can collect royalties on their public performances.
That would be ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC in the USA, SOCAN in Canada, for example. Songwriters: look yours up and become a member if you aren’t already one.
Make sure your bandmates and session players are registered to receive Neighbouring Rights.
Imagine if you were paid $50 flat to play bass on a some indie track, and then discovered months later it became a smash hit, earning everyone else involved way more than you made. You’re not the performing artist, nor the songwriter, but you might be entitled to Neighbouring Rights royalties. There may be money waiting for you if your name was correctly listed on the liner notes. Worth signing up to keep tabs on that. *This offer is currently not available in the United States of America.
Start searching for inspiration for your cover art.
Do you want a traditional photograph? An illustration? Something abstract? Put together a folder of visuals you like (magazine ads, book covers, museum art, other album covers) and try to laster-focus on what you want that’s the same or different from these pictures.
Start contacting and consulting with photographers and/or graphic designers.
Try on the outfit you were thinking of wearing a few days before, to make sure you like it, that nothing is broken – if there are problems, this gives you a bit of time to find a backup plan from your current closet, or go shopping to replace a particular piece.
If doing a traditional photoshoot, book as much of the day off as possible.
If your photos rely on natural light, look at the weather forecast and plan accordingly.
Pay the photographer and/or graphic designer in full.
Make sure you clear the rights to reuse this image and fonts as you please for commercial purposes – like this you don’t need to wait for their permission every time you’re printing a promotional poster or run of logo t-shirts.
Name the artwork files clearly and distinctively so that they don’t get lost in your computer.
Making backups is also a good idea.
If you’re putting your music online: decide on your online distributor.
There are a few of them out there, so shop around and compare whose package would best suit your needs. Online music distributors don’t upload your music instantly, but ask you to choose a release date to show in the details under the title.
It is recommended that you choose a release date more than a month away – while the music distributors can technically get an album live in a shorter period of time, many stores/streaming services, do routine quality checks on randomly selected material being sent to them, which can slow down the process. Nothing is more embarrassing than announcing your new album is now on iTunes… but the search results are empty.
If you plan on making physical copies, don’t create an account with a distributor yet, keep reading.
If you’re offering fans a run of physical CDs, scope out pressing and duplication companies.
Find out how much they charge, their minimum order number if you only want to make a few, how long it takes to make and ship them. You don’t want to release the EP a month from now, but not have cassettes on hand to sell for another three. Try to find a company in your country or in one your country has a beneficial trade agreement with, so you don’t have to pay too much in duties at the border on heavy boxes.
If you’re offering fans a run of vinyl LPs, scope out vinyl mastering engineers and pressing companies.
Mastering music to vinyl requires a different process than to an .mp3 format to sound good.
Ask your recording studio if they recommend anyone, if they offer the service in house, or use Google. This can be done over distance, as you are basically transferring the mixed stem files for the specialized engineer to master all over again. Then look at pressing companies – same rules as with CDs, but you might want to order a larger number than you know you need, to accommodate breakage (vinyl is notoriously fragile).
With these factors in consideration, start narrowing down a release date.
You can create the account with your online distributor either now, or once you have physical copies in hand. If you’re doing a purely digital release, you’re all set. The most popular release dates for albums are towards the end of the work week (think, Thursday-Friday), but if you’re a small artist, you might prefer not to to release your album on the same day a huge artist in your genre is as well. You can either use major holidays to your advantage (an EP of break-up songs on Valentine’s Day!), or avoid them like the plague (no way am I doing the record release on New Year’s Day, everyone will be too busy/hungover to care!
Honestly evaluate your draw and brand.
Make a “wish list” of all the venues you would like to have your release party at. Two main factors come into play when deciding whether a venue would be right for you: capacity, and environment.
Capacity: simply put, the number of bodies that can safely fit in a room. Ideally, you want all your concerts to be in a packed house – it’s better to sell out a small theatre than play to an empty arena. What is your draw? How many fans can you safely promise the venue will come to see you play? Booking agents want to know whether it’s worth blocking an evening off of the calendar for you, instead of another act. Don’t blatantly lie to them, or you’ll be blacklisted across town. Pull up the geographical territory filter on your email list or most active social media platforms, and only count fans within a one-hour trip radius of you. Everyone else who comes is the effort of hard marketing.
Environment: would your music be a good fit for this establishment? Would they be proud to promote your logo next to theirs? Will the venue’s regulars bob their heads to your sound? A death metal bands isn’t likely to be welcomed at the senior’s centre bingo hall. An artsy jazz trios isn’t going to win over the Saturday night crowd at a rowdy country saloon. An edgy rapper best known for political and violent lyrics isn’t going to get to play the lunchtime set at a family restaurant.
Save yourself the time and make yourself look good by researching and only applying to places that make sense.
Contact the booking agents.
Find out who is in charge of deciding which artists get to play the venues you want. Ask other bands you know who’ve played there if you’re unsure, and contact the booking agents politely through their preferred channels.
Book your venue.
Depending on the popularity of the venue, it may already be booked (this is why it’s important to have a list of multiple places). But once you find a great place, confirm and get the details in writing.
Announce the release party.
Make it into a Facebook event so it shows up in fans’ newsfeed; maybe even make a Facebook ad campaign!
Pre-sales of tickets are your best friend, so that you can have a good idea of the number of people dedicated to coming in advance – if the venue’s website does ticket sales, go with them; if they don’t, use another trusted and secure website to handle ticket sales. Contact local media outlets, and offer them free tickets in exchange for a review or interview.
Consider creating a contest to giveaway a pair of tickets (this both builds fan loyalty and will boost you in the social media algorithms by getting statuses shared around and commented on).
Brainstorm what kind of merchandise you want to order.
If this is your first time ordering merchandise, think about what your fans would clamour for and spend their money on – you can even make an online poll to get their direct input. The classic band T-shirt seems like an obvious choice, but remember you will need to order multiple sizes, and it’s always the XXS and XXL poles that you have too many of, while constantly running out of S-M-L. I would recommend starting with one-size wearable merchandise, such as beanie hats, pins, iron-on patches, silicone bracelets, and temporary tattoos. Other popular ideas include stickers, drink coasters, pens, guitar picks, and shot glasses. A lot of artists tend to have the same items as merchandise, only with their logo on it as the differentiating factor. The best way to sell yours and get people talking is to have something vastly different, and perfect for your brand.
Order the shipments.
Following the same guidelines as with ordering physical CDs. “Find out how much they charge, their minimum order number if you only want to make a few, how long it takes to make and ship them.
You don’t want to release the EP a month from now, but not have [merch] on hand to sell for another three. Try to find a company in your country or in one your country has a beneficial trade agreement with, so you don’t have to pay too much in duties at the border on heavy boxes.”
Announce your upcoming release online.
Now would be the time to change all your official social media profile pictures and website design to the album cover art, and mention the release date in the description. Consider doing a social media post countdown starting a week before.
Decide if you want to do a promotional single.
The typical mainstream music release strategy has its pros and cons.
– You can get early media coverage for the single (reviews, and rotations), building up fan excitement for the full project.
– You can win over new fans with your first single, and make it easier to convince them to hear more.
– If you have a short EP with only one “big” single, it might be hard to win over casual fans to be interested in the B-sides.
– If you’re counting on your fans to own physical copies of your record, they may decide the stream the rest of the project instead if that’s the only place to hear the first single.
It’s completely up to you, as you know your project, genre and fans the best.
If you want to do an exclusive premiere, contact blogs one at a time.
An exclusive premiere is when one place has sole access to your music for a specific period of time. Adele’s 25 album used this technique on a large scale by only having her songs available for purchase (no streaming) for the first year after release. For smaller artists, it might be a cool collaboration idea to let a respected and influential blog premiere your release on the first day. They would have a private streaming link for all readers who click on their site, and hopefully your fans and their readers would get along really well.
This technique is very grassroots, and requires promotion from both parties involved. If you’re going to use this strategy, contact the blogs one at a time, so you don’t cancel on anyone an hour after agreeing, because someone even better got back to you. Wait for a clear “not interested” or silence after several follow-ups before moving on.
Change all social media profiles to say that your release it out now.
On release day, change everywhere you displayed your “coming soon” release date to show that it’s out now. Many digital music distributors will give you a list of links to where your album can be purchased/stream online – copy and paste those into a desktop document for ease of access, and make it as simple as possible for fans to listen to your new material on their preferred service.
Upload audio to YouTube.
YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. If you don’t put your audio on there with a still image of the album artwork, someone else will. You might as well be first one and collect those views and ad revenue.
Upload song lyrics to your website.
New fans, hearing your songs for the first time on curator playlists or the radio, might be so intrigued by you that they Google the only identifying part of the track they remember: the lyrics on the hook. So, do yourself a favour and have a part of your website specially dedicated to your own lyrics, so that you come up at the top of the first page of search results. Bonus if you can encourage them to sign up for your mailing list and guide them towards the merch shop while they’re on your turf.
After the official release, start pitching to bloggers, program directors, playlist curators and other music taste-makers. If you did a premiere, wait until the term of exclusivity is up. Now, it’s fair game to pitch to everyone who might be a good fit.
And there you have it! A long checklist of things most artists need to get done when preparing for a big release. Of course, you are unique and will never have exactly the same release strategy and results as anyone else, so please tailor this to fit your exciting milestone.
Good luck on your release, and your journey in the music business.
Summary: How to plan for the record release?
1. Make sure all your paperwork has been taken care of (contracts, permissions, trademark, etc.);
2. Double check if you paid everyone who agreed on a flat rate and triple check if you paid them in full;
3. Register your new songs with your country’s Performing Rights Organisation so that you can collect royalties;
4. Hire a designer to create cover art for your record;
5. Hire a professional photographer and make some amazing photos;
6. Scope out pressing and duplication companies for CDs and vinyl mastering engineers for vinyl LPs;
7. Decide on the release date;
8. Contact the booking agents and book your venue;
9. Take care of merchandise;
10. Announce and promote your release party online using every available channel.