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Album Release Preparation: The Musician’s Guide to Marketing Plans Part 1

In this crazy ever-changing music industry landscape we see the same issue over and over again: A vast majority of artists don’t have a long-term plan in place.

The reason for this is in today’s DIY landscape there is no one in charge of creating such a plan. To make things worse the pressure of consistently releasing great singles or EPs, social posting, writing newsletters, booking, plus learning new technology and platforms keeps artists busier than ever and these never ending tasks battle long-term perspective.

Marketing Plans used to be a combined creation of manager, label A&R and marketing team, booking agent, and publisher who would be responsible for coming up with a big picture strategy and implementing a plan for each domain that he or she was responsible for. 

Today, most agencies that indie artists hire tackle what needs to be done right now and handle only their responsibilities without taking a 30,000 foot view.

This sadly has a lot to do with how the artists approach their releases. We know once the music is finished a deep sense of urgency rushes in screaming – release release! 

We urge you to take a deep breath and read on…

It is completely baffling that an artist or band would work so hard on new music, dedicating hours and hours practicing, writing songs, not to mention spending large sums of money recording, mixing and mastering, creating visuals, and album artwork only to rush the release with no plan in place.

Here are the basic components of our long-term marketing plans to show you the key elements you need to consider before you get too far ahead of yourself.

Even if your release is not new, it’s important to backtrack and reset the stage.

The 5 areas that need to be addressed before any official announcements should be made about a new album, EP, or even a single coming out are:

  1. Distribution
  2. Website
  3. Social Media
  4. Newsletter
  5. Press

Let’s dive in!

(again, if you already released music don’t worry! Backtrack and reset the stage.)

1. DISTRIBUTION

Digital distribution moves a lot faster than it used to but you should still choose a distributor and make sure if you are ordering physical copies of your music that you get them in plenty of time, especially if you are running a pre-sale or having a release party and you want to offer physical product at the show.

*Note albums used to come out on a Tuesday and now Friday is the official release (if you going by industry standards)

CD Baby, Tunecore etc doesn’t cover everything and independently you need to also be aware of additional distribution outlets for increased reach, a list that includes Soundcloud, Pandora and creating playlists on Spotify.

2. WEBSITE

The music industry is built on appearances. To be taken seriously it is very important to have a complete and professional looking online 360 degree presence. This starts with your online home – your website. You need have a modern and functional site that you can update on your own. Your website should have a section where fans can easily listen to and buy your music (not a player that automatically plays please!), a news section with latest happenings and a newsletter sign up offering an incentive juicy offer such as exclusive tracks.

Ariel wrote a detailed guide to help you with the architecture.

3. SOCIAL MEDIA

Time and energy needs to be spent building a strong online presence in order to be taken seriously as an artist for when the time comes to start actively promoting.

What we see is many artists don’t know the basics. This will hurt your promotional efforts as music industry professionals, music bloggers, and fans you may be contacting will visit your socials to see what kind of existing following you have and how serious you are. Stale, overly promotional, or boring profiles will not help your chances or engaging anyone.

We will focus on the 4 most important: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.

Branding is Key

Upload cover photos and banners that are in alignment with your brand. Use a publicity shot or your current album artwork with text on top of the images that promote the single, EP, or album release date, new music videos, and tour announcements. We love a tool called Canva – https://www.canva.com/ for fast and easy banner and social skin creation.

TWITTER

We love Twitter because you can easily build a following of targeted users and jump into conversations.  Every single person you interact with in real life should be followed on Twitter (friends, musicians, producers, club owners, etc.) Jump start your followers by following people and many will follow you back. Lastly target similar sounding artists and follow their Twitter followers, as there is a high probability that they will also like your music.

To keep your profile active with Tweets use Hootsuite. In as little as one hour you can schedule a weeks worth of tweets. Vary the topics you tweet about from career news (which should be no more than 20% of your output) to your interests, passions and hobbies. News, politics, sports, culture are all great topics to share for people to engage and connect around.

There are many relationship building practices and benefits for being active on Twitter of course that we teach our clients, but by following these instructions you will at least have a respectable presence on this powerful platform.

Watch Ariel’s Twitter Video Class it goes over the basics:

FACEBOOK

Pay-to-play is the reality on Facebook for a Page to get any real exposure. We suggest you spend money from time to time but have goals in place before you do, and you should have a complete Page that is active with daily posts. Make sure the page has a cover banner as discussed above and install apps that work as promotional tools for you and your music. Three we love are artist profile Bandpage, a store Bandcamp, or CD Baby, and a mailing list signup form  MailChimp. Even though posts won’t get seen by a large percentage of fans who have liked your Page without advertising, organic reach is still possible and an active Page helps show that you are an active artist. Videos and images have a greater chance of being seen, so share photos and upload videos as much as possible and finally ask questions to increase engagement.

YOUTUBE

YouTube is the first place millions of people go searching for music. It is a very powerful platform where artists are getting discovered. For any artist looking to increase awareness, it is imperative to have a presence on YouTube with a professional looking channel, with a cover image that is linked to your other socials so people can connect with you across platforms. Make categories to group your videos for easy viewing, such as “Behind The Scenes”, “Official Music Videos”, and “Live Performances”, and highlight an official music video in the featured spot at the top. The channel for The Flaming Lips is a great example of these practices put to use.

For the videos themselves we often see artists leaving off their artist name in the title of the video, which is terrible for search. Make sure you include keywords in your tags and place those most important keywords and keyword phrases at the start of your tag fields. Use adjectives that describe your music and similar artists as keywords with your artist name also being a keyword, the latter of which will will show up in the “related videos section” after one of your videos is viewed.  We also often see description sections left blank too. This is a crucial piece of real estate to tell the viewer what they are watching and provide links to other content you own, such as your website and iTunes, where they can go for more. Here is a video from NYC blog The Wild Honey Pie, they pack all their descriptions full of information where the viewer can go to learn and watch more. Their Channel is branded well too, utilizing the features discussed.

INSTAGRAM

The most popular visual social platform has experienced a meteoric rise. As of the beginning of 2015, there are over 300 million active Instagram users, over 20 billion photos shared and 60 million photos a day. If you haven’t yet, connect to people you already know on Facebook, and if you choose, you can also search and connect to contacts in your phone. Next, link your socials.

When you post photos, choose at least two hashtags, as this is how photos are found. http://top-hashtags.com/instagram/ is a site that will display the top hashtags trending in real time if you are stuck, or want to get into the conversation.

In addition to hashtags, you can also add captions to your photos before posting. I caution you to be selective about what you cross-post to socials. You want to tell a separate story on each social channel to get people to join you, and not get fatigued by the same posts across channels.

4. NEWSLETTER

This is the most important part of the strategy that you will want to skip – DON’T.

While social media is key for attracting your crowd and building your numbers, email is still the most vital asset you will build for generating revenue.  You make relationships with fans on your social networks, but you turn those relationships into customers with email.

According to the Direct Marketing Association, email marketing produced an ROI (return on investment) of 4,300% — or $43 for every $1 spent. 

Contact your mailing list once a month with news. Spend money on a mailing list service provider that can help you design a rich looking email and provide analytics and tracking capabilities so you can measure the effectiveness of your newsletters and make adjustments where need be. A premier solution that many of our clients enjoy working with is MailChimp.

5. PRESS

It might seem a bit early to start talking about press, but it’s not. PR takes time and effort to execute well.

Sadly, many artists believe that PR = blasting a press release out to the top 100+ music sites that they have Googled. This never works. because PR placements start with astute research.
Blog savviness gets placements.

You should be starting now to identify and familiarize yourself with online publications (blogs), podcasts, and radio outlets that are appropriate and strategic for you and your release. If you live in a smaller town (read: Not in New York, San Francisco, LA, or Chicago) there may be some local press that you can go after too.

There are thousands upon thousands of active music sites, and there are a million more non music sites that can feature your music as well.

Your big goal might be a review on Pitchfork, but what’s your backup when Pitchfork doesn’t respond to you and then doesn’t respond to your follow ups? Is Pitchfork even the right outlet for you to showcase your project? Sure, they have a large audience, but is it the right audience for you? It’s OK if the answer is no.

Not only will familiarizing yourself with music publications help you to know where to pitch your music, but it will also give you invaluable insight and ideas for your press photos, your music video, and pinpointing your genre.

Pro Tip: Keep in mind that a music blog is made up of content written by individuals. When it comes time to pitch you will be pitching to these individuals. Increase your chances that they will be interested in you by first being interested in them. Make a connection by following them on social media and retweeting them. Better yet, try to strike up a conversation with them on Twitter if the opportunity aries. A conversation about literally anything other than your music is recommended.

This way when you send that writer an email about your music, or if a publicist does that for you, there could now be some familiarity there and existing relationships that will help in getting your emails opened and then your new music hopefully featured.


Now that you know how to build a solid online foundation and the beginnings of an online community dive in and do it.