A Hitchhiker’s Guide To Releasing an EP

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Rich Nardo. Rich is a freelance writer and editor, and is the Director of Public Relations and Creative at NGAGE.]

 

A Quick Look at the Assets Needed and Suggested Timeline for Releasing An EP as an Independent Artist

One of the hardest thing for an artist to do is wait. Good musicians will spend a year or more writing and recording five or six meticulously arranged tracks. They know when to subtly sneak a guitar solo or drum fill on stage and how many bars to spend vamping on it. But when the time comes to share the music they’ve poured their life’s blood into, release day can’t come soon enough.

Much like the journey shared by Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect, putting out music should be experienced in volumes. They had the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy to help them plan. The goal of this article is to provide something similar; albeit simpler. By taking these things into consideration, your music will be given the optimal chance to reach as many ears as possible with or without the assistance of a Babel Fish.

Stage 1: Life, The Universe and Everything…Gather Your Assets!

Okay, so after all this time writing and recording, your EP is ready. You’re just a few short steps away from sharing it with the world. Before you decide just when that date will be, let’s talk about what else you’re going to be doing to promote the record.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself at this point:

  1. What’s my budget?
    How much money am I able to spend on this record? Is there enough to hire any help or am I better off going at this alone? Knowing the answer to this question will help figure out an initial content plan. It will also give you an idea of how much time you should spread the release over. The more you’re handling yourself the more time you should give yourself to accomplish everything.
  2. Will There Be More Money Coming In Once The Release Cycle Starts?
    Are you going to be doing any touring? Have you had any luck, or is there any demand, for merch? Album sales are tough and streaming income is great, but the numbers dictate that a considerable number of streams are required to actually generate income. Since you can’t bank on that income, ignore it for now. Other more concrete opportunities for generating cash should be what you’re trying to estimate in this step. This will help you decide if it’s worth elongating your campaign a bit to allow for more content creation or additional help once the first single is out.
  3. What Content Will I Have?
    In addition to the music, will there be remixes, music videos, live content or behind the scenes stuff? Also on a related note, you will need artwork and social media “skins” and “copy” ready to roll at this point.

Stage 2: And Another Thing…Set The Timeline!

You should start pondering timeline once the music enters the mastering phase. However, dates for an independent artist shouldn’t be committed to until you have all assets in hand (or at a minimum deliverable dates). Once you’ve gotten to that point, though, it’s best to nail down when you want to release everything.

  1. First thing to consider are singles. If you have a five song EP, I generally recommend doing two singles ahead of the full release. This will allow you to start generating a buzz leading up to release week.
  2. If you did any videos, you need to decide if you want to do separate audio & video campaigns or premiere the song initially alongside the video. If you feel the video is so integrated into the song that people will appreciate the music best with the visual accompaniment then, by all means, put your best foot forward. If you want to save a few assets for after you put out the EP, it might be best to do them separately and release the video a little deeper into the campaign. Keep in mind that you can’t “premiere” a track from the EP after the whole release is out, so having a video or, depending on genre, even a remix gives you a bit of a longer tail on marketing post-release date.
  3. When coming up with a timeline, you should also consider how much time is needed by your distribution. For instance, if you’re using TuneCore three weeks advanced notice will be required to make use of their “Features Submission” form. There is usually an element of advanced deliverables requirement for most streaming and download services as well.

Stage 3: The Restaurant At The End Of The Galaxy…Time To Release!

Congratulations! You fought the urge to just throw your music up online all willy-nilly-like and, as a result, your release is doing well now that it’s finally out. What’s next? Here are a few things you can do to continue promoting your EP.

  1. Play Shows! –  I can’t stress how important playing live is when you’re trying to establish yourself. There will be thousands of artists putting out new music ON THE SAME DAY that you do. Developing a personal relationship with an audience in a live setting will help you establish loyalty with fans and bring them back to your digital presence.
  2. Continue to Reach Out – Your music is out now, so premieres and “first looks” are off the table. That doesn’t mean that you can’t keep looking for new press. Keep digging for contacts and find people writing about music that may be into your sound. If you’ve had a couple of good press clips at this point, you now have quotes from other tastemakers in your toolbelt to convince this new wave of writers to cover you. Same principal applies to Spotify playlisting.
  3. Get Social – You can always use social media to promote your records and attract new fans. Just because your music is out doesn’t mean you have to stop posting about it. I never recommend coming off as sales-y with your digital presence, but if somebody writes about your music, post it and thank them. Do some live videos you can get up on Facebook and Instagram. If nothing else, keep posting to show your personality. Every little bit helps.

Hope you found this little guide useful as you prepare to put your new music out. Until next month, So Long And Thanks for All The Fish!

10 Fundamentals For Getting Along in Today’s Music Business

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Bobby Owsinski and originally appeared on his excellent music industry blog, Music 3.0.]

 

So much has changed in the music industry over the last few years that affect an artist’s ability to be successful. Some of it is brand new and a result of the technology we use, while some of it is good common sense that’s been used over and over during the past decades of the business. Here are 10 business fundamentals taken from my Music 4.1 Internet Music Guidebook (in no particular order) that an artist, musician, producer or songwriter needs to grasp in order to get along in today’s music environment.

• It’s all about scale. It’s not the sales, it’s the number of YouTube or Facebook views or streams that you have. A hit that sells only 50,000 combined units (album and single) may have 500 million YouTube views. Once upon a time, a sales number like that would’ve been deemed a failure, today, it’s a success. Views don’t equal sales, and vice-versa.

• The scale is not the same. In the past, 1 million of anything was considered a large number and meant you were a success. Today anything with that number hardly gets a mention, as it takes at least 10 million streams or views to get a label or manager’s attention. 50 million is only a minor hit, while a major hit is in the hundreds of millions.

• There will be fewer digital distributors in the future. It’s an expensive business to get into and maintain, so in the near future there will be a shakeout that will leave far fewer digital competitors. Don’t be shocked when you wake up one day to find a few gone. (Ed. Note: We’re not going anywhere!)

• It’s all about what you can do for other people. Promoters, agents, and club owners are dying to book you if they know you’ll make them money. Record labels (especially the majors) are dying to sign you if you have have an audience they can sell to. Managers will want to sign you if you have a line around the block waiting to see you. If you can’t do any of the above, your chances of success decrease substantially.

• Money often comes late. It may not seem like it, but success is slow. You grow your audience one fan at a time. The longer it takes, the more likely you’ll have a long career. An overnight sensation usually means you’ll also be forgotten overnight. This is one thing that hasn’t changed much through the years.

• Major labels want radio hits. They want an easy sell, so unless you create music that can get on radio immediately, a major label won’t be interested. This is what they do and they do it well, so if that’s your goal, you must give them what they want.

• You must create on a regular basis. Fans have a very short attention span and need to be fed with new material constantly in order to stay at the forefront of their minds. What should you create? Anything and everything, from new original tunes to cover tunes, to electric versions to acoustic versions, to remixes to outtakes, to behind the scenes videos to lyric videos, and more. You may create it all at once, but release it on a consistent basis so you always have some fresh content available.

• YouTube and Facebook are the new radio. Nurture your following there and release on a consistent basis (see above). It’s where the people you want to reach are discovering new music.

• Growing your audience organically is best. Don’t expect your friends and family to spread the word, as they don’t count. If you can’t find an audience on your own merits, there’s something wrong with your music or your presentation. Find the problem, fix it, and try it again. The trick is finding that audience.

• First and foremost, it all starts with the song. If you can’t write a great song that appeals to even a small audience, none of the other things matter much.

I’m sure you’ll agree that the music business is both exciting and invigorating in it’s current form. It’s not dying and it’s not wilting, unlike what you’ll hear and read from the old school naysayers. It is constantly evolving and progressing, and those who don’t progress with it will fall behind. That said, these 10 fundamentals will help anyone navigate the road to success.

June Industry Wrap-Up

Spotify Tests “Sponsored Songs” and Expands Concert Listings


In lieu of traditional audio ads that ‘freemium’ tier users of Spotify hear during a given listening session, Spotify is testing a new process that would allow artists and labels to pay for placement of their song – thus monetizing the free listening associated with this kind of membership. This opens up the potential for artists to to secure a place on playlists, which have soared in popularity among subscribers of all kinds over the past couple of years.

Users of the ad-supported tier will have the option of opting out of this test; and Spotify has confirmed that even if the test is successful, this feature will only remain on this tier. Relying heavily on its plethora of data, Spotify will target sponsored song placement based on listening habits.

While sponsored songs’ likeness to the traditional ‘payola’ models of old terrestrial radio is up for debate, it does represent a shift in how Spotify manages its ‘freemium’ platform and drives revenue from those still unwilling to subscribe for a monthly or annual fee. Spotify has remained one of the few popular streaming platforms to offer a free listening tier, and there has long been speculation around whether or not the company would be willing to eliminate it; the ‘freemium’ model is a key differentiating offer when compared to its growing and formidable streaming rival Apple Music.

It remains to be seen how this will be rolled out and made available to independent artists, but if it is made reasonably affordable and accessible to music makers outside of the label system, they could stand to benefit from the feature by reaching new listeners who are more likely to tune into a ‘sponsored song’ then a generic advertisement.

Spotify also announced that in addition to its partnerships with Ticketmaser and digital ticketing platform SongKick, users will now be able to access artists’ upcoming tour dates via a collaboration with Eventbrite and AEG’s AXS. This means more hometown venues, more touring territories, and more opportunities to promote local live experiences for fans.

LANDR Celebrates 1 Million Users


TuneCore’s pals over at LANDR – the tool that allows independent artists to instantly master their tracks at an affordable rate – have hit a major milestone: one million users! LANDR has continued to offer a great solution to artists hoping to polish the sounds of their tracks while lacking a robust mastering budget.

Throughout most of June, LANDR partnered with TuneCore Artist Chance the Rapper, donating $1.00 for every user that masters a track Chance’s Chicago-based “Social Works” Music Academy, as well as 10% of all purchases. We always love to see great brands connecting with great artists, and the charitable element of this arrangement only warms our hearts more.

Google Play Music’s New Release Radio Feature Launches


No matter what music streaming platform your fans dig the most, (and remember, we help you get your releases on a lot of ‘em!), we can all agree that they should be aware of new releases each week. After all, with so much music being digitally released each year, listeners can feel a bit overwhelmed, and it helps to have a little curated direction when it comes to being alerted about the latest and greatest.

Much like Spotify’s “Release Radar” or Apple Music’s “My New Music Mix” features, Google Play Music announced this month that it’s now offering a feature for subscribers called “New Release Radio”. It’s essentially, according to the Android Authority blog, “a playlist that offers up the latest new release and is actually updated on a daily basis to ensure that you’ve always got something new to listen to.”

As personalized, data-driven playlists and features continue to increase in popularity among streaming platforms, Google’s New Release Radio is a welcomed addition. We look forward to seeing how TuneCore Artists can make their music more discoverable to more fans.

ASCAP and YouTube Strike a Performance Rights Deal


In an era in which artists and songwriters have been forced to be more vigilant when it comes to collecting digital royalties, video streaming giant YouTube and performance rights organization ASCAP have reached a multi-year agreement for public performance rights and data collaboration in the U.S. This comes as a sigh of relief to many who have been seeking ways to ensure that royalties are being paid to songwriters, composers and publishers when their works are streamed on YouTube.

ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews says, “This agreement achieves two important ASCAP goals – it will yield substantially higher overall compensation for our members from YouTube and will continue to propel ASCAP’s ongoing transformation strategy to lead the industry toward more accurate and reliable data.”

Good news for TuneCore Artists who are affiliated with ASCAP: this new deal will allow the two parties to address the issues around identifying and compensating songwriters using the extensive amount of data they have available. This, in general, is also another important step towards creating a system within the digital music economy that holds platforms and rights societies responsible for proper royalty payments.

TuneCore Partners With Vinyl Replication Service QRATES

You don’t have to be up on every single current music trend to notice the soar and continued popularity of vinyl among fans and artists alike. Whether it’s a limited-run 7” or an attractive multi-colored 12” LP, independent artists have taken to pressing vinyl for new releases to sell to their fans – new and old – at shows and on their preferred digital channels. The global vinyl market is poised to hit $1 billion by the end of 2017.

While TuneCore is a digital distributor, we’ve made sure to offer resources for artists who are in need of a physical version of their releases via our third party CD Duplication Service. But today, we’re excited to announce an expansion of that offering: TuneCore has partnered with the vinyl replication service QRATES (pronounced “crates)!

As we’ve covered and as most indie artists will tell you, pressing up vinyl versions of a new release can be an expensive endeavor, and often times requires a minimum order of copies that don’t fit into artists’ business plans. QRATES lets artists commit to orders of 100 copies, where 300 or 500 might be the minimum elsewhere.

Using QRATES’ interactive design and vinyl-building platform, artists and labels can control the presentation of their records while keeping an eye on additional costs associated with specialization in real time.

While normally pressing vinyl copies of a new release can be time consuming and require a multitude of different steps and vendors getting involved, QRATES takes the hassle out of this process by handling all levels of production and offering an average 6-8 week turnaround.

On top of a smooth, trustworthy process,QRATES also offers artists the following services:

Distribution – Need a help with distributing? With QRATES you can try to sell your vinyl directly to record stores using our Store Delivery service. Store Delivery allows our international network of record store partners to purchase your records from ‘Press & Pre-Order, ‘Funding’, and ‘Sell Catalog’ projects at a wholesale price.

Mastering – Don’t know what to do with mastering for vinyl? For your greater sound experience, QRATES has secured a partnership with Color Sound Studio in Paris to offer an exclusive “STEREO COLOR” mastering service to our customers.

Crowdfunding – Using the “Funding Project”, your vinyl can be pressed with the exact amount of orders. To start the project, just build and customize your artist page, design your vinyl, and enter the necessary information to launch your project page. There is no sign up fee! Alongside our unique vinyl simulation tool, you can promote your vinyl with digital streaming, download and more to boost your orders.

Ready to learn more about getting your next project out on wax? TuneCore Artists can enjoy a 5% discount using QRATES (using promo code TUNECORE05) as a part of our partnership. Head over to QRATES’ site today to get started.

April Industry Wrap-Up

Facebook Launches ‘Chat Extensions’ That Encourage Music Sharing

As both streaming music and social media use has evolved over the years, it became pretty obvious pretty quickly that people love to share whatever new music they’re digging with their networks. Spotify was an early player in this arena by connecting social profiles to their platform so that users can see in a feed what the folks they follow are listening to at any given time of day. On top of this feature, users have always been able to send music directly to one another via a built-in messaging app.

As the social media giant Facebook looks to appeal to more and more businesses that use the platform for leads and engagement with customers, they’ve announced the introduction of ‘Chat Extensions’ within their messenger platform. The primary function of this launch is to offer the ability to perform actions within Facebook Messenger without switching apps.

For Spotify, this means the launching a new ‘bot’ that includes search, recommendations, and the ability to share 30-second song clips as well as launch Spotify from the app to hear full songs. Friends now have more options for sharing and discovering music within their chat windows. Facebook has revealed that a similar launch to support Apple Music integration is on the way, too.

As Facebook continues to beef up its music department in general and looks to innovative streaming platforms for partnerships, indie artists of all genres can feel good about new ways for fans to be sharing their tunes with friends.

A Month of Updates From Spotify

It’s hard to get through one of our ‘Monthly Industry Wrap-Ups’ without breaking recent news related to streaming giant and our friendly partner Spotify! This month, Spotify re-structured its multi-year license agreement with global music rights agency Merlin – which represents independent music companies like Beggars Group, Secretly Group, Domino, Sub Pop, and others.

The big story from this signing is that the updated agreement allows these labels to ‘window’ releases for Spotify Premium users only – a tactic used by major label groups to limit access to a release for usually up to two weeks. The significance of windowing is that it allows releases to only be made available to users that contribute higher streaming rates, (when you’re a ‘freemium’ Spotify user, you are using an account that gets served ads and each time you play a song, it pays out less than that of Premium subscribers’ streams who pay a monthly fee).

Spotify and other streaming platforms are required to sign licensing agreements with both independent and major label groups. But what’s new here is the apparent bargaining scraps indie labels have when it comes to keeping up with the majors. As a distributor that sees its artists getting signed to indie labels on a regular basis, it’s encouraging to see that they’re able to take advantage of opportunities offered by streaming platforms like Spotify.

Additionally this month, Spotify rebranded their “Fan Insights” – data about who is listening to artists, from numbers of monthly listeners to cities they’re being streamed in most – as “Spotify For Artists”. It’s available to all artists and managers, and is designed to be a ‘one-stop shop’ that allows you to track growth, update creative profile assets, and feature particular songs and playlists. Here at TuneCore, we’re always excited to see more data and insights being offered to artists to help them make business and branding decisions. If you haven’t already, head over to Spotify’s site to take advantage of these updates.

Google Play Music Gets Cozy With Newest Samsung Galaxy Model

As competition for subscribers and listeners continues to heat up among music streaming platforms, so too does competition among mobile device manufacturers. Nowhere is that more obvious than between Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy. As each company strives to attract brand loyalty to their respective operating systems, Samsung announced that its latest model, the Galaxy S8, has made Google Play Music its preferred music player.

That means those who pick up the newest Galaxy S8 will get the opportunity to use Google Play Music with enhancements just for them. One of these is an increase in cloud locker storage, with Samsung users being able to upload up to 100,000 tracks that can be streamed from anywhere (up from 50,000 for other users). Also, Samsung promises that it’s choice music player will support Samsung’s smartphone assistant, Bixby, “once support for voice commands is actually ready to roll out.”

It remains to be seen how many Galaxy S8 users will adopt Google Play Music over a preferred service, but it’s no doubt that Samsung will do what they can in collaboration to make it more attractive. For independent artists, it’s just another push for a platform that is carrying your releases already (unless, of course, you still need to add your music to Google Play!), and it may in turn end up being a great excuse for you to be promoting your Google Play links, as well.

March Industry Wrap-Up

Pandora Premium Takes on the On-Demand Streaming Game


While household names like Spotify and Apple Music boast a combined 120+ million users streaming music each month, Pandora has enjoyed the success of their proprietary “Music Genome Project” algorithm and their ability to draw users in with perfectly curated and personalized radio stations. Last year, Pandora announced it’s “Pandora Plus” service, offering listeners more replays and skips, as well as the ability to listen to offline radio stations. Now, after much anticipation, the biggest name in digital radio has announced “Pandora Premium”, their brand new on-demand streaming service.

Pandora Premium will function much like other monthly subscription streaming services, offering a similar catalog of over 30 million tracks for listeners to browse and discover. With its current user-base of 80 million, Pandora sees its transition into on-demand streaming as an opportunity for further growth. While it remains to be seen, there may be an advantage to joining the game late – for instance, Pandora won’t be focusing on ‘exclusives’ for big name releases, and instead hopes to utilize its personalization proficiencies to stand out in the crowd of streaming services when it comes to recommending songs to users based on their listening habits as a means of music discovery.

“We have very grand ambitions for what this can be,” Pandora CEO Tim Westergren said. “If we look around at the space right now, we just don’t think that there’s a product that’s done it right. No one has solved the ease of use and personalization part of the on-demand world. I don’t think there’s really a true premium product out there yet… we think we’re bringing something really different here.”

This development is great news for indie artists who hope to tap into Pandora’s user-base by making their releases available on-demand.

Ticketmaster Uses Software to Combat Bots More Effectively


Whether you’re a fan who paid out the nose for a ticket or lost out to what would have to be the fastest ticket-buying hands known to man, or you’re an artist who has had to deal with the backlash of bots buying up all their tickets, there’s a general consensus in the live music industry that these bots aren’t really doing consumers or artists any good. In fact, you could say most people feel that bots – which derive from software that immediately purchases tickets when they go on sale in bulk, only to re-sell at a higher cost to fans – are completely ripping people off!

Enter Ticketmaster’s “Verified Fan” program. Ticket scalping (re-selling tickets at higher costs), as it’s known, has become such a problem on the company’s platform that they’ve introduced new efforts to combat it by using customer data and new systems. For example, identifying fans’ purchasing history has been tested with lower-level tours to cut down on automated ticket buying systems and bot purchases. The program requires fans to register to buy tickets in advance (typically 48 hours before they go on sale); shortly after, Ticketmaster collects emails and scrubs out any believed to be connected to scalpers. Verified Fan is being used for pre-sales at the moment, but could be expanded for general sales in the future.

This is a meaningful attempt to make sure that artists – both major label and independent alike – are able to continue to offer tickets to their tour dates through this platform without worrying that their fans are getting ripped off.

Early Reports Suggest a Potential $16.1 Billion Year For Recorded Music During 2016


Each year, the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) announces official music industry figures to show how much was earned over four quarters. In March, Midia Research offered its own 2016 estimates ahead of the annual IFPI announcement – suggesting a 7% ($1.1. billion) year-over-year increase in the realm of recorded music at $16.1 billion.

Since the music industry entered into a major paradigm shift in the early days of Napster, and as illegal downloading took off across other platforms, this is considered a major uptick in annual growth. As Midia puts it, “Underpinning the growth was streaming which grew by 57% in 2016 to reach $5.4 billion, up $3.5 billion in 2015.”

While streaming music platforms were initially introduced as not only a way for fans to have legally licensed music at their fingertips but also to curb the trend in music piracy, there’s little doubt that artists and industry professionals alike have reaped the benefits of its popularity in the past couple of years. The report credits Spotify’s role in the growth, “accounting for 43% of the 106.3 million subscribers at the end of 2016.” But don’t sleep on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Deezer, who have been considered “strong contributors” to streaming growth last year.

Breaking revenue down by record label, we see that Universal, Sony and Warner Music made up a combined $11 billion in revenue, with independent labels generating $5.1 billion, or 31.3% of the global market share! As 2017 looks to offer increased figures, independent artists can rest assured that overall, recorded music can still be a viable revenue stream as more fans subscribe, listen, and discover.