The Bare Bones Indie Release Roadmap
The following is a guest post from musician and podcaster Quinn McGraw. I saw an early version of this post on the awesome Facebook group Last Band Standing and asked Quinn if he’d mind re-working it a little so I could share with you. He kindly said yes, and here it is!
To all of the indie musicians out there,
I just want to preface this by reminding anyone reading it that the only people who feel their music needs to be out there as fast as possible, is probably just you. Many people lose out on opportunities in gaining traction and buzz with their releases by simply rushing them for no justifiable reason. Patience, and tact, are key.
When you start a band, project, creative exploration, or anything of the sort, we typically focus our energy in creating a style, developing our branding, the voice of our brand, and a name and logo to follow. Taking time (and care) in crafting the body that will represent what you create is crucial, so why give releases any less care or attention?
Having played in many bands and having released a fair amount of music, both independently and on indie labels, I’ve learned a few things along the way that I feel are worth considering as you gear up for your next release. I’ve covered some of the basics (while enjoying my morning coffee before work), but take it all with a grain of salt!
BEFORE PICKING A RELEASE DATE
- Have the final versions of your mastered tracks ready for distribution. (cut, organized, accessible.)
- Have your album art finished and ready for distribution. (all file formats, high res, accessible.)
- If you plan on incorporating videos for the initial release, finish them first. (in your inbox, at the ready.)
- If you plan on working with a publicist, start dialogue with them as soon as possible. (this is important as they may need time to prepare press material, and a fixed timeframe may restrict their press options.)
- Have all merch designs to accompany your release ready, including high resolution mockups.
- If you plan on rocking a pre order campaign, you’ll want merch bundles priced out based on item costs so you aren’t losing money. (If not, order merch to sell on release day as a discounted rate!)
- Line up a tour/show before/after you release to help spread awareness of your new content.
- Put some money away for marketing. (PR Campaign, social media, advertising, etc.)
- Lastly, build yourself a roll out strategy somewhere so you have something to follow in case you forget what you’ve planned out and all of the pieces in place. (A roadmap can be a big help, especially if you need to pass the reigns off mid release.)
I can’t stress enough that having everything ready before picking a release date is crucial. Not only will having all of your content ready to go at the drop of a dime allow you to execute your release more effectively, but you will also remove a ton of potential stress for you, and the collaborators you’re working with as well.
There’s no rush. Take your time and build your arsenal of content before heading into battle! There can often be a lot more pieces to the puzzle here, but I feel this covers the gist of what you want to start thinking about as you get ready for your release. Get the ball rolling, as some of these things can take longer than you’d expect!
And remember, stay patient. No one is in a hurry to release any of this content… except you!
BUILDING AWARENESS (FOR REAL)
Once your content is ready…
Once you’re sitting on all of your files, and have decided on whether or not you plan on doing pre orders or not, I’d suggest trying your best to release a single before the EP/LP itself. This will help build awareness around your upcoming release, and give your fans a chance to clue in before missing the big release!
If your budget allows, I’d highly recommend dropping a single with a music video. Video content performs best online and engages your fans far more than just a link or a streaming video with your album art. Links also severely hurt your reach, but that’s another can of worms for another time haha.
I’d suggest dropping it one to three months before dropping your EP/LP. You can use this period to start building awareness, and even get a pre order campaign going (if you wish). Additionally, this is something that can be executed if you have everything ready, but maybe have a month or two to wait on the big merch order for release day. The key in all of this is to buy yourself time while building awareness. More importantly, be flexible. If you find that you’re losing buzz at 3-4 weeks and everything else is ready, make a decision about whether or not you could effectively deliver your release or start promoting it after the initial hype dies down. That’s a continual learning process with no right answer, I’ve found.
If you plan on releasing a single with a video, try to get some coverage or press talking about it. Again, building that awareness on a larger scale. Companies like High Road PR, TAG! Publicity (and many, many others) have rates that will put them into action and do a lot of the footwork for you, and could entail:
- A press release or press pitch
- Blog and social media news outlet placements
- A video premiere on a high traffic website (such as Alternative Press, for example)
Alternatively, blogs like Pure Grain Audio will often cover indie bands (among a tons of other indie blogs) if you reach out to them yourself.
PRO TIP I: Keep lists of media outlets that have worked out for future releases. “Lists will set you free.”
PRO TIP II: Treat your single like a release as well. Asides blogs and coverage, try dropping a 10 second clip with silence and maybe the release date slowly fading in over your video, or videos of being on set at the video shoot. Teasers are super effective and you just need to ask your director for a short “teaser cut” of your video!
“…but how do I get on Spotify?”
Digital distributors are relatively easy to get comfortable with, but as I said before, make sure everyone involved in your release is on the same page before going all Bruce Willis from Die Hard on picking a release date.
If you’re dropping a single with a video, you’ll most likely want to distribute it as well so you can track the metrics and engagement of the song first. This may help you with targeting posts and advertising when you drop your EP/LP and hone in on the target market. You may need separate artwork for this as well, unless you plan on just using the album artwork. No right answer here.
My band has used DistroKid for our last few releases. It’s been a great platform, and not to mention incredibly easy to work with. However, we have also used Tunecore in the past. Again, no right answer here. Do your market research! Things to consider when picking a distributor:
- How many platforms will they deliver my music to? (Spotify, iTunes, Smaller retailers, etc.)
- What’s the monthly, annual, or upload price? (Many vary here, so find what fits your budget.)
- Do they provide statistics and tracking metrics for who’s listening or streaming?
- What percentage are they taking from your downloads and streams?
- Do they offer deals for pressing and physical merch? (CD Baby does, to my knowledge.)
You’ll also want to make sure you upload your music for distribution a few weeks before you want the single/EP/LP to be available. It can take a few days to a month to ensure you will have your music live and ready for the day you’ve decided to pick. Planning ahead is the recurring theme in all of this, can’t you tell? Haha.
Make sure everyone in your team is aware of the release date, pick a date that is a solid day of the week, and get everything into the ether for distribution!
PRO TIP III: Tuesdays seem to do quite well. Most fans are occupied or busy during the weekend, but Tuesday’s give your fans 3 days of solid engagement during the week before gearing up for the weekend again.
DAY OF THE RELEASE
And so it begins…
When your single release rolls around and you’re about to push your video/content live, be sure to do your due diligence and follow up/engage with your fans where it’s necessary:
- Alert your mailing list if you have one about the new release / video.
- Change your social media banners / profile pictures. (If you are ready with properly sized graphics)
- Post on all of your social media accounts during peak times. (This varies on the platform and fanbase.)
- Give fans a reason to comment on your post and help build organic growth.
- Share your posts to music groups and other pages you admin to help build reach.
- Ideally, don’t post links directly into a post as it will cut your reach dramatically. (When you boost the post later, use a “learn more* option and link to Spotify or YouTube that way.)
- If you have a website, update the necessary links and videos so they reflect your latest release.
PRO TIP IV: Try to focus all of your attention and engagement to one platform. If your campaign allows it, and the goal is to get fans, try to not simultaneously push YouTube and Facebook. Upload both if you want, but try to drive views to one particular location before splitting your audience. If your goal is to build YouTube, adjust accordingly and proceed.
FOLLOWING UP YOUR RELEASE
Keep the hype train rolling…. Choo choo
Once your release is up, keep the momentum rolling. Engage with your fans as they comment and post on your video – build that reach! The more social activity on your posts, the more likely the algorithm will work in your favour and continue to push it organically to new feeds and in front of more people! You can always:
- Ask fans for their thoughts and feedback in the comments.
- Share the video to your personal accounts and social stories.
- Share blog coverage and press to your band/business pages, etc.
PRO TIP V: Throw in a little contest. “The best comment on the video wins a free copy of the album when we release it” or something of the sort. They key here is engagement… ENGAGEMENT, I SAY!
COMING IN FOR A LANDING
One more time, with feeling…
Now that you’re starting to build awareness for your release, start teasing the real deal (in a few weeks or months) after the single. If you want to drop a second single before the album as well, then repeat the steps above again. This is why it pays to not pick a release date while you’re promoting your record right away… it buys you time to decide on the optimal time between your single(s), gathering content, and hitting your fans with all of the tact and strategy they could ever ask for… all before dropping the real deal.
For the final hammer to fall, step into it feeling comfortable and ready to rock. Build the hype, pick a release date, drop the album and if possible, announce a supporting tour a few weeks after the release! Some bands even announce a tour between the single and the album release date to get back into the minds of their fans before dropping new music. You could even promote new unreleased songs by playing them in their set list!
PRO TIP VI: Never stop learning new strategies. Never give up. Always stay focused and patient.
If you have any questions, Feel free to write them to my podcast’s email with your thoughts, questions, and whatever else is on your mind: firstname.lastname@example.org
Quinn McGraw is one of the founding members of the progressive metal outfit Living Machines, comic book author and tabletop game designer for his studio Splice Comics, and has just started his own podcast titled Into The Machine.
Living Machines was formed back in 2015, and have since gone on to release two singles, an EP, and are presently working on their second EP. Their independent music video releases have averaged 20,000-50,000 views each, and they’ve already amassed roughly 8,000 followers on social media since their inception.
Living Machines’ music is based on a science fiction comic series that Quinn writes, named Gemini: A Tale of Future Earth. It is presently under publisher review, and is the first title that will be produced by his comic studio Splice Comics, co-owned with Living Machines guitarist Robin Fussell.
Additionally, Quinn has just stepped into the world of podcasting with his new show Into The Machine – airing his first episode sometime in the coming weeks. His podcast will revolve around interviews with musicians, artists, and other industry figures in hopes of providing useful and insightful information about the industry.
Into The Machine Podcast