By Laurel Thomsen
1. Test & Plan for Success
The process of album promotion should begin long before your first recording session, at performances where you test drive material and determine which songs your audience members can’t live without. It’s important to view your album as a product. Choose songs that inspire listeners to ask after a show, “Is that one on one of your CDs?”
Your album needs balance and contrast, and song choice and order can make or break the flow. Start with a gesture that is confident and instantly memorable, and end with an element that is playful, takes your listeners’ breath away, or finishes on a contemplative note. In between, you can place material that is more introspective, and balance slower tempos with more upbeat ones, changing keys and moods.
2. Engage Fans Early
Create some buzz in the months leading up to your album release. Six months before my recording partner and I were set to record our fourth album, we sent out a call to our mailing list and created an online listening team to help select the material. As we whittled down the songs, we previewed rough demos on social media, and later, clips of us recording in the studio. As we started filling our performances with more and more material from the new album, we started taking pre-orders.
As you get closer to your album release, start sharing sneak peaks with your social-media and mailing lists, such as your album artwort or a “single” from the album. You might host a few Facebook or Instagram Live events where you play some of the pieces and answer questions.
YouTube is a primary way for people to discover new music and artists, so create music, live, picture, or lyric videos for the songs on your album. The first few videos can be released before the album is even available, along with information about how to pre-order. Be sure to tag your video liberally.
3. Investigate Publishing Avenues for the Independent Artist
There are a number of companies dedicated to helping independent artists sell their music online. For two decades, CDBaby has helped artists connect with consumers through online sales of physical and digital music, as well as distribution to all the major streaming and download sites. Artists pay a one-time fee per release plus a percentage of sales, and can choose which sites they want their music shared with, both paid and unpaid. Bandcamp and SoundCloud are other popular services that share music online.
Artists releasing original material also need to register it with a performing rights society, such as ASCAP or BMI, in order to collect royalties for songs played on the radio or used in film. Sound Exchange, AllMusic, and musicbrainz.org are other sites recording artists should sign up with surrounding a release.
4. Seek Out Media Promotion
A successful album should help grow your fan base. Long before your release date, compile a list of print media, blogs, and radio programs that share music similar to yours. As you select material for your album, consider a theme or story surrounding the song selection or recording process that you can later use to grab attention. Write a succinct “elevator-pitch” to share with your album, along with the titles of a few key tracks a busy radio DJ should focus on. For those intent on landing a print review or play on the radio, engaging the expertise of a publicist may help.
5. Once You Can, Sell Directly to Your Fans
By far, we sell more albums at our performances than anywhere else. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this avenue is obviously more challenging than usual. But mentioning that you have recordings for sale is appropriate in streaming concert situations, but, as is the case in any performance, becomes annoying when it’s more than once during a set.
When you sell an album, you are really selling a memory. Your fans want to recapture a feeling they had—of inspiration, beauty, nostalgia, joy, connection. Keep their enjoyment intact with a warm, positive attitude whenever you engage with your fans: it’s not just a CD, but an experience.
Want more? A longer, more detailed version of this article is available. Read “Shutdown Skills Series: 5 Tips on Promoting Your Own Recordings.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Strings magazine.