iTunes Holiday 2017 Delays & Closures – Plan Ahead!

You read that right, folks! We’re already approaching the holiday season, and once again we’re here to remind you that it’s imperative to be prepared if you’re planning on distributing music during November and December. Like many of us, our pals at iTunes and other digital store partners take time off during the holiday, resulting in potential delays.

See below for some guidelines that’ll ensure you have a successful release just in time for the holidays:

  • In order for content to become available in iTunes and other stores between Friday, November 17th and Friday, December 1st you must upload and pay for distribution in TuneCore no later than Tuesday, November 7th.
  • In order for content to become available in iTunes and other stores between Saturday, December 2nd and Friday, December 8th you must upload and pay for distribution in TuneCore no later than Tuesday, November 14th.
  • In order for content to become available in iTunes and other stores between Saturday, December 9th and Friday, December 22nd you must upload and pay for distribution in TuneCore no later than Tuesday, November 28th.
  • In order for content to become available in iTunes and other stores between Saturday, December 23rd and Sunday, January 7th you must upload and pay for distribution in TuneCore no later than Tuesday, December 12th.

In order to make sure that you don’t miss the release date for your song or album, plan ahead and distribute your new music as soon as you can to avoid getting caught in holiday closings/delays. The earlier you get your new music on iTunes and other stores, the more time your fans will have to buy it!

If you’re not ready to release that album just yet, we always recommend releasing a single early to garner some excitement!

If you are planning on submitting your new release via the TuneCore Feature Submissions Page:

  • To be considered for a feature for Friday December 1st, you must fill out and send your Feature Submissions Form by Friday, November 3rd.
  • To be considered for a feature for Friday December 8th, you must fill out and send your Feature Submissions Form by no later than Friday, November 10th.

Regardless of how your fans celebrate the holidays, give them the chance to use your music as a soundtrack – distribute your holiday music today!

Making the Case for Digital Liner Notes

When the 33-⅓ RPM speed became the preferred format for albums on vinyl, a wonderful and often overlooked tradition came along with it: album liner notes. While previous renditions of this – literal notes about the recording living within the album’s sleeve – had existed in recorded music before this, often times the space was reserved as an advertisement for other recordings from the label putting it out.

 

Album liner notes made it possible for artists to get creative with messaging, crediting personnel, and offering fans a little something extra in the way of art. Eventually as preferred formats of music evolved to tapes and CDs, the tradition continued. Anyone who grew up buying music in the 1990’s can tell you how much extra work it was to read some of those liner notes, but regardless of that, how satisfying it was to have a little something extra from their favorite band or artist. Of course, vinyl record liner notes are the best because of their size. I even remember trying to make wall art out of some of the Clash records’ (that I more or less stole from my dad) liner notes as a kid.

 

As the tides changed once more and fans switched to digital, liner notes became more of an afterthought for most – and eventually new music fans would be buying and streaming without even having their own personal history of CD booklets. In 2004, iTunes began offering digital booklets to certain albums. TuneCore offers artists the opportunity to include digital liner note PDFs when they distribute to iTunes for an additional cost.

 

While more and more releases began to include digital liner notes within iTunes over the years, it’d be a stretch to say it was any sort of craze or phenomenon. Fans can be delighted to find that their new digitally downloaded album contains a little something extra from the artist – a recent high profile case of this was Drake’s 2016 Views album which featured a digital booklet of images that were considered to be ‘meme-able’. This was an interesting example of a pop star not only incorporating something considered to be rather antiquated into their release, but doing so in a fashion that appealed to his generation of music fans.

 

But beyond that, does anyone care? Sonicbids published a great piece about this a few years back, with artists and industry folks chiming in with their opinion on the once-holy liner notes. These days, we see artists who cater to their ‘niche’ fan bases by focusing on vinyl releases – whether it’s LPs or 7” records – while still working with distributors like TuneCore to offer a digital component for those who prefer to stream or download. Artists have the opportunity to connect with these fans further by getting creative with their liner notes, and should they feel so passionate about the effort they put into them, include it as a digital PDF as explained above.

 

Another overlooked element of these booklets is that they give artists the opportunity to credit the producers and engineers associated with the release. Aside from the general karma points of shouting-out those hard working folks, it also allows artists who are fans learn who helped make such a great release even better. (It might even throw some business their way.)

 

There’s little doubt that artists with fans who prefer vinyl will continue to choose this medium for releases – but some wonder how long the resurgence of vinyl will last and how effective or important it is to the majority of independent artists. During a time of great saturation for indie artists online, standing out in the crowd can feel difficult – but what better way to garner some extra attention for your new release than a unique creative offering at no extra cost to the fan? Perhaps digital booklets and liner note PDFs can be an artistic channel for more artists to express themselves, give proper credits and ‘thank yous’, or provide a bit of a window into the production of the album or EP.

 

If you’re an artist who’s beginning to roll out vinyl copies of an upcoming release, it’s likely that you’re putting some thought into what your fans are going to be able to see and read in addition to what they’ll have to listen to. This should be cherished and seen as an opportunity to really connect with them, even if it’s just some credits and a cool poster. But for that other portion of your fan base who’ll be downloading, it may be worth your time to convert it all digitally, too.

 

If you’re an artist who is really just starting to develop a fanbase, vinyl copies of your new release probably aren’t in the cards. But as you begin to consider how you’ll be marketing it when it comes out, think of how a digital PDF of liner notes and additional art could help foster a new level of dedication from your fans that both already exist and begin to discover your latest release. If you feel you have the kind of audience who would appreciate this sort of component to an album, it’s likely that some will even consider converting from their preferred way of listening, streaming, to downloading it permanently.

 

Got any cool success stories with offering fans digital PDF booklets with releases? Let us know in the comments! For more information on how to include one of these with your next release via TuneCore, read more here.

Music Streaming Platforms & Mastering – 3 Guiding Concepts

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Alex Sterling, an audio engineer and music producer based in New York City. He runs a commercial studio in Manhattan called Precision Sound where he provides recording, mixing, and mastering services.]

Background:

As an audio engineer and music producer I am constantly striving to help my clients music sound the best that it can for as many listeners as possible. With music streaming services like Apple Music/iTunes Radio, Spotify, Tidal, and YouTube continuing to dominate how people consume music, making sure that the listener is getting the best possible sonic experience from these platforms is very important.

Over the last several years some new technologies have been developed and integrated into the streaming service’s playback systems called Loudness Normalization.

Loudness Normalization is the automatic process of adjusting the perceived loudness of all the songs on the service to sound approximately the same as you listen from track to track.

The idea is that the listener should not have to adjust the volume control on their playback system from song to song and therefore the listening experience is more consistent. This is generally a good and useful thing and can save you from damaging your ears if a loud song comes on right after a quiet one and you had the volume control way up.

The playback system within each streaming service has an algorithm that measures the perceived loudness of your music and adjusts its level to match a loudness target level they have established. By adjusting all the songs in the service to match this target the overall loudness experience is made more consistent as people jump between songs and artists in playlists or browsing.

If your song is louder than the target it gets turned down to match and if it is softer it is sometimes made louder with peak limiting depending on the service (Spotify only).

So how do we use this knowledge to make our music sound better?

The simple answer is that we want to master our music to take into account the loudness standards that are being used to normalize our music when streaming, and prepare a master that generally complies with these new loudness standards.

Concept 1: Master for sound quality, not maximum loudness.

If possible work with a professional Mastering Engineer who understands how to balance loudness issues along with the traditional mastering goals of tonal balance and final polish etc.

If you’re mastering your own music then try to keep this in mind while you work:

Don’t pursue absolute loudness maximization, instead pursue conscious loudness targeting.

If we master our music to be as loud as possible and use a lot of peak limiting to get the loudness level very high then we are most likely sacrificing some dynamic range, transient punch, and impact to get our music to sound loud.

The mechanism of loudness maximization intentionally reduces the dynamic range of our music so the average level can be made higher. There are benefits to this such as increasing the weight and density of a mix, but there are also negatives such as the loss of punch and an increase in distortion. It’s a fine line to walk between loud enough and too loud.

Here is where loudness normalization comes in:

If our song is mastered louder than the streaming target loudness level then our song will be gained down (by the service) as a result. If you are mastering louder than the target level then you are throwing away potential dynamic range and punch for no benefit and your song will sound smaller, less punchy, and more dynamically constrained in comparison to a song that was mastered more conservatively in regards to loudness.

If we master softer than the target level then in some cases (Spotify) the streaming service actually adds gain and peak limiting to bring up the level. This is potentially sonically adverse because we don’t know what that limiting process will do to our music. Will it sound good or not? It most likely will create some loss of punch but how much is lost will be based on what content was put in.

Some music is more sensitive to this limiting process. High dynamic range jazz or classical music with pristine acoustic instruments might be more sonically damaged than a rock band song with distorted guitars for example so the result is not entirely predictable just on loudness measurement but also on musical style.

Thankfully the main platforms other than Spotify don’t add gain and peak limiting as of this writing so they are less potentially destructive to sound quality for below target content.

Concept 2: Measure loudness using a LUFS/LKFS meter.

The different streaming services have different loudness standards and algorithms to take measurements and apply the normalization but for the most part they use the basic unit system of loudness measurement called LUFS or LKFS. This metering system allows engineers to numerically meter how loud content is and make adjustments to the dynamic range accordingly.

Being able to understand how our music masters are metering with this scale is useful to see what will happen when they are streamed on different services (i.e. will the algorithm gain them up or down to meet the target or not?)

Concept 3: Choose which loudness standard to master to.

Direct your mastering engineer if you are working with one to master to a target loudness level and consult with them about what they feel is an appropriate target level for your music. If you are mastering jazz or classical music you probably don’t want to make a very loud master for sound quality and dynamic range reasons but if you are making a heavy rock, pop, or, hip hop master that wants to be more intense then a louder target may be more suitable.

iTunes Sound Check and Apple Music/iTunes Radio use a target level of
-16LUFS and this would be a suitable target for more dynamic material.

Tidal uses a target level of -14LUFS that is a nice middle ground for most music that wants to be somewhat dynamic.

YouTube uses a target level of -13LUFS, a tiny bit less dynamic than Tidal.

Spotify uses a loudness target of -11LUFS and as you can see this is 5 dB louder than iTunes/Apple Music. This is more in the territory of low dynamic range, heavily limited content.

Somewhere in the middle of -16LUFS and -11LUFS might be the best target loudness for your music based on your desired dynamic range but the goal is not to go above the chosen target otherwise your content gets gained down on playback and dynamic range is lost.

In all services except Spotify, content that measures lower than target loudness is not gained up. So for people working with very dynamic classical music or film soundtracks those big dynamic movements will not be lost on most streaming platforms.

However since Spotify is unique and adds gain and peak limiting if your content is below target it is potentially the most destructive sonically. So should you master to -11LUFS and save your music from Spotify’s peak limiting but lose dynamic range on the other platforms? It’s a compromise that you have to decide for yourself in consultation with your mastering engineer.

You might want to test out what -11LUFS sounds like in the studio and hear what the effect of that limiting is. Is it better to master that loud yourself and compensate in other ways for the lost punch and lower dynamic range? Or should you accept that Spotify users get a different dynamic range than iTunes users and let your music be more dynamic for the rest of the platforms?

In all cases there is no benefit to going above -11 LUFS because that is the loudest target level used by any service. If you go louder than -11LUFS then your music will be turned down and dynamic range and punch will be lost on all the services needlessly and permanently.

Further Reading:

Great info – graphic on the different streaming loudness targets.

More info on LUFS/LKFS metering.

TuneCore’s New Refer a Friend Program Helps Artists Earn and Save

Anyone creating music in 2017 knows that collaboration is a beautiful thing. Whether it’s a featured hip hop verse, a bluegrass rhythm section, or two songwriters coming together in the studio, musicians working toward a common artistic goal can have incredible results. Heck, we’ve even talked about apps that allow artists to collaborate with greater ease than ever.

In the spirit of indie artists doing right by their fellow indie artists, TuneCore is proud to roll out an all new “Refer A Friend” program! This opportunity gives you a chance to hook up some of your fellow artists who – unlike you – don’t know how to get their music sold online yet.

As long as you are a TuneCore Artist with an active distribution, each friend who you refer gets 20% off of their first release, and you get to release your next single on us!

All you need to do to get started is head over to our Refer A Friend page and choose how you want to invite friends to take advantage of this opportunity. You can email them directly using our portal, or open it up to your friends and family on social media by choosing to post right to Facebook or Twitter.

However you choose to share, you’ll be given a unique URL for your friends to click. It’ll take them to TuneCore to learn more, and if they choose to sign up and distribute, an automatic 20% off will be added to their release. Once they release their music using your link, you’ll receive an email with a free Single Distribution code! Simple as that.

tunecore-refer-a-friend

TuneCore is already proud to benefit from a solid reputation in the independent music community, and we owe a continuous ‘thanks’ to the artists who have helped us grow via word-of-mouth. Now moving forward, we’re happy to be able to give back to you

Start referring your indie artist friends today.

Utilizing Soundcloud to Drive iTunes Sales

[Editor’s Note: This blog was written by Janelle Rogers, the founder of  Green Light Go Publicity, a music PR firm which helps up-and-coming musicians reach their audience.]

 

There’s no doubt that convincing fans and music listeners to buy music in 2017 can be an uphill battle. For nearly 20 years the music consumer has been conditioned into downloading music for free. Services like Spotify, Pandora and Soundcloud have made it even easier, while making it legal.

You may think the only way to get your music heard is to give it all away for free.

Not so fast.

Like any legitimate business model, you should be looking at how you can market your product to drive sales. A single can be your product to market while iTunes provides the vehicle to drive sales.

How do you do that? Let’s dive into a simple five step strategy to market your music on Soundcloud to drive sales on iTunes.

1. Create a Sales Goal

Before you start marketing your music, you should set a realistic sales goal of what you hope to achieve. Note, I said realistic. If you only have 30 Soundcloud followers and 100 Facebook followers, chances of you selling 1,000 downloads of your album on iTunes within two months are fairly unrealistic. In that case you need to make a compromise, either extend the timeline to where you can realistically sell 1,000 downloads or decrease the amount of sales to reflect your current followers.

2. Offer a Track for Free

If you want people to buy your music, you need to give them a sample of your music to try out. It’s the equivalent of going to your local market, trying that new crunchy snack at the sample table and then buying the entire bag because you can’t get enough.

Determine one single you can give for free off your new album and set a limited time frame to download it. You’re offering a single for a limited time for three reasons. It allows listeners a chance to really hear your music and decide if they want to hear more. The limited time creates incentive to download before it goes away and it keeps fans from solely relying on free music.

Lastly, by only offering one single it gives incentive to purchase more music if they are interested or at the very least streaming from Spotify where you’ll be paid for each listen. If you were to give away your entire album, you’re essentially giving away the entire bag of chips without asking for anything in return.

3. Post iTunes Pre-sale or Sale Link

Next, you need to make it easy for fans to know where to buy your music on iTunes. Post your iTunes pre-sale link or sale link on your Soundcloud profile, any public tracks from the album, and your Facebook and Twitter profiles. You should also include the release date so fans know when it’s available.

4. Alert Soundcloud Followers of New Music

Soundcloud made notification changes in 2014, which make it difficult to communicate when you have a new song available. In the past, when you uploaded a song, your followers would receive an email notification with a link to the new song. Currently, Soundcloud offers no bulk email notification option to alert fans of new music. Without your fans receiving notifications of your new music, what can you do?

First, you’ll unfortunately have to take the time to privately Soundcloud message every follower on your list individually to notify them of a new song available. That’s the good news if you only have 37 fans. It’s very bad news, if you have 10,000. This would be a very time intensive process if you did this every time you released a new single. You need a notification process that is both efficient and in your control. The best way to do this is to also notify your Soundcloud followers of your email list with a direct link to sign up and receive notifications when you release new music.

If you don’t have an email list, that should be your first priority for two reasons. One, you control how your fans are notified and you also don’t risk losing fan contacts on a platform who owns the contact information or controls how information can be sent.

Lastly, keeping your iTunes objective in mind, you should also include that iTunes pre-sale link and call to action in your individual messages and newsletter announcements.

5. Increase Soundcloud Following to Increase Sales

In order to increase sales outside of your base, you also need to increase your following. The best way to utilize this within Soundcloud is to follow those who would be interested in your music and are current Soundcloud users. If you also factor in users who repost tracks regularly, no more than 2-3 times daily, you have the opportunity to grow your base exponentially.

First, think about bands who are similar to you on Soundcloud and follow them. Then take a look at their followers and start following those who fit the parameters in the above paragraph. Soundcloud does limit how many you can follow in one day, so I recommend keeping it to ten per day, which will also make it more manageable as you engage with those who follow you and comment on your tracks.

This brings me to engagement. You should also be engaging with those you follow or who follow you, by liking tracks they post (If you like them) and commenting. This is especially true if you are following a band or someone else in the music industry.

This is also the one area where I suggest NOT sending your iTunes link, keeping in mind you should have it included in your song description. You are building a fan relationship when increasing listeners so you need to make sure the listener experience is a good one. Once you have built that relationship, then you can repeat the above process by releasing another single to support the album and including the iTunes link when you privately message.

This method is the first step in increasing sales for your music. In this day and age, however, you need to be creative and adapt to a constantly changing industry. Album sales are just a portion of revenue for a band. You should always look at how you can build your audience and create an experience they want to be part of, so they will in turn support your every endeavor.

iTunes Holiday 2016 Delays & Closures – Plan Ahead!

You read that right, folks! We’re already approaching the holiday season, and once again we’re here to remind you that it’s imperative to be prepared if you’re planning on distributing music during November and December. Like many of us, our pals at iTunes and other digital store partners take time off during the holiday, resulting in potential delays.

See below for some guidelines that’ll ensure you have a successful release just in time for the holidays:

  • In order for content to become available in iTunes and other stores between Friday, November 18th and Friday, December 2nd you must upload and pay for distribution in TuneCore no later than Tuesday, November 8th.
  • In order for content to become available in iTunes and other stores between Friday, December 16th and Friday, December 30th you must upload and pay for distribution in TuneCore no later than Tuesday, December 6th.
  • In order for content to become available in iTunes and other stores between Sunday, January 1st and Sunday, January 8th you must upload and pay for distribution in TuneCore no later than Tuesday, December 13th.

In order to make sure that you don’t miss the release date for your song or album, plan ahead and distribute your new music as soon as you can to avoid getting caught in holiday closings/delays. The earlier you get your new music on iTunes and other stores, the more time your fans will have to buy it!

If you’re not ready to release that album just yet, we always recommend releasing a single early to garner some excitement!

If you are planning on submitting your new release via the TuneCore Feature Submissions Page:

  • To be considered for a feature for Friday December 2nd, you must fill out and send your Feature Submissions Form by Friday, November 4th.
  • To be considered for a feature for Friday December 9th, you must fill out and send your Feature Submissions Form by no later than Friday, November 11th.

Regardless of how your fans celebrate the holidays, give them the chance to use your music as a soundtrack – distribute your holiday music today!