The following guide comes from Zach Hangauer, owner of Range Life Records, home to artists like White Flight, Fourth Of July, Suzannah Johannes and Say My Name.
The professional way to promote your music is to hire a publicist and a radio agent. The catch is that you can’t just “hire” these professionals – they have to want to be hired by you! And they can be expensive. Ballpark “indie” rates range from $1,000-$4,000 for a publicity campaign and $1,000-$3,000 for a radio campaign.
So what do you do if you can’t afford to professionally promote your record (or can’t interest any publicists or radio agents because they’ve never heard of you and don’t want to have to create interest in you out of thin air)?
Do It Yourself.
Yes, it takes having to come up with a game plan. And yes it takes a lot of mundane legwork. And, sure, you’re probably not going to be quite as effective at promoting your music as a professional would be, since you don’t have their reputations or connections. But it’s totally doable. And if you’ve successfully made a record in the first place, you’re definitely capable of successfully promoting your record!
Step 1: Set a Release Date
Once you have your digital masters and/or finished product(s), take a look at the calendar and find a Friday (Fridays are the industry standard day for new releases) roughly 3 months away (3 months is a long-standing industry standard that allows you enough time to get set up, send press releases, service radio, make videos, etc — though things can happen a lot faster now, if you want them to). This is now your Release Date!
If you’re planning to release your record Digitally, and you plan to go through a Digital Distributor, and your Album Artwork is complete, now is a good time to start the Digital set-up process (it typically takes an hour or two to get signed up with a Digital Distributor and to upload your mastered .WAV or .AIFF files).
Your next task will be to assemble your assets, get your Electronic Press Kit together and begin letting publicity outlets know you have a new record coming out!
Electronic Press Kit
Electronic Press Kits, or “EPKs”, consist of all the standard tools you’ll use to promote your record. Your Album Artwork, Liner Notes, Bio, Publicity Photos, Music Video(s) and Remixes will all go into your EPK. The best way to keep your Kit organized is to make a folder on your desktop, title it “EPK,” and anytime you create something that you plan to use promotionally, make sure it gets in that folder!
For Digital Distribution, you’ll need to make your Album Cover a 2400 x 2400 pixel .JPG or .PNG file, at least 72 dpi and in RGB color mode (for physical printing, your file will need to be saved in CMYK). From here, you can downsize the file to whatever dimensions you need for promotional purposes.
If you plan to post an image of your Album Cover on your website, in your social media, or in your press release, a best practice is to “Save for Web” in Photoshop to optimize the file size. If you need help designing your artwork, try an inexpensive indie designer like Fiverr ($5-$40), a crowdsourcing site like 99 designs, or Tunecore offers an Album design service for $129.
They typically include who played on the record, what they played, who wrote the songs, who recorded it, where it was recorded, who mixed it, who mastered it and any shout-outs and thank you’s. You’ll have options to input your liner notes when you set up your album with a Digital Distributor, Bandcamp and/or Soundcloud. Liner notes are also pretty standard to have in your artwork if you’re making any physical products.
Here’s a secret: whatever you write in your Bio and/or Press Release will be used, oftentimes verbatim, in any review or publicity you receive. So write your Bio exactly the way you want your audience to read it. In general, your Bio should be a paragraph or two that quickly covers who you are, where you’re from, any pertinent accolades or press quotes you’ve received and then your best attempt at making the record you’re promoting sound, in words, like something someone would want to take time out of their life to listen to. Be honest! Be thoughtful! Be concise! Let your bio serve as a time capsule of where your band is at – and leave it there, no reason to ramble on! P.S. I recommend that you write your Bio to be pretty interchangeable with your first Press Release.
If you’re fortunate enough to get any press, they’ll want a high-res (300 dpi at a standard photo size like 4×6 or 5×7) publicity photo or two, so try to be prepared. Nothing fancy – have someone take a few shots with a digital camera or smart phone and upload them to your computer. If you have a photo editing application like Photoshop (even iPhoto or Picasso will do), maybe crop it a bit, and adjust it to look its best. Be sure to save a few high-res options for press and then “Save For Web” copies of the photos to use in your social media and in your press releases.
Music videos, however amateur, are a huge asset to your EPK and my advice is to either dedicate yourself to making one before your release date or find someone skilled and dependable in your social world to help make a video for you. Once it’s done, upload it to YouTube and/or Vimeo and then link to it in a press release and embed it on your website, and in your social media. (Even uploading a “music video” that simply shows your album art while the song plays is useful, since it allows your music to be discoverable (and monetizable) on YouTube.)
If you know someone whose remix skills you admire, hit them up! A good remix of one of your songs is a great way to cross-pollinate audiences, deepen the interest in your album and is another excuse to drum up some social media and publicity buzz. Most people capable of doing remixes prefer to have “stems” of your songs. You can save everyone time by making sure, when you’re mixing, to bounce stems for anything and everything you think might be worth remixing. My advice is to move on getting any remixes going as soon as you’ve got your final mixes – it’s impossible to get them finished and into your EPK folder too soon!
If you think you’d like to try hiring a Publicist, keep in mind that they are extremely picky about who they choose to work with (which is good, since they have to believe they can get you some publicity if they’re going to take your money!) And they are not cheap – expect to pay at least a few thousand dollars for a publicity campaign, and that’s for “Indie Music” publicists.
If you have the confidence in your record and the money in your budget, here’s a good list of cool Publicists to send an introductory email and listen-link to:Solid Gold, Chromatic, Force Field, Terrorbird, Toolshed, Press Here,Motormouth, Stunt Company and Tell All Your Friends.
For the majority of bands, who are not able to afford or retain a Publicist, getting word out about your music depends on you.
Here is how to do it:
Creating Your Own Press Release
1. Research and make a thorough list of email contacts for all the Music Blogs, Magazines and local press outlets you want to send a press release to.
2. Make sure either the entirety of your album or whatever select songs you want to share are properly hosted at a linkable source (such as Bandcamp orSoundcloud).
3. Compose a paragraph or two announcing, describing and tastefully hyping your upcoming Album.
4. Compose an email to yourself that looks something like this:
If you have rich-text-editing capabilities in your email service (like Gmail, Yahoo orMac mail), be sure to give the layout some Pop! If you need help inserting images into your email, here are instructions for Gmail, Yahoo, Mac mail, and Outlook.
5. Test it by sending it yourself. Make sure your links are working! Once you’re happy with it, create another email to yourself, copy/paste your content into the body of the new email, make sure the Subject line has all the right info, enter the email addresses you’ve researched into the BCC field and send it out! (Using the BCC field on an email addressed to yourself is recommended for bulk email send-outs. If you have specific blogs that you want to connect with, it’s a good idea to send an email addressed exclusively to each one, personalizing it however you see fit.)
Congratulations – you’ve sent out your first Press Release!
Should you follow up? Absolutely, if you can do it tastefully and without expecting too much. Publicity outlets are under no obligation to be – or stay – in touch. It’s safe to assume that if someone wants to write about your music, they’ll let you know. The best follow up is another Press Release (or two), in the weeks and months leading up to and through your release date, letting them know about a Video or Remix or Tour Dates!
Some people prefer to use email/newsletter services like MailChimp (free), Mad Mimi(free) or Campaign Monitor (about $10 per campaign) for Press Releases. The benefits are the custom formatting they offer, as well as, if you’re into it, the detailed analytics they provide you about who is checking out your email and what they’re clicking on. One potential disadvantage is that these services make it easy for the bloggers you’re sending it to “unsubscribe”, and many will…
SubmitHub is a service that attempts to connect your goal of getting your music heard by music bloggers to the music bloggers interest in being financially rewarded for taking the time to listen to your music.
There are two tiers: a free “Standard” option, and a “Premium” tier that starts at $1 per credit (a credit allows you to send one song to one blog in the network and ensures that you will, at the very least, receive listening notes back from them). Credits get cheaper the more you buy.
Either way, with SubmitHub you get the statistical satisfaction of seeing if and when your song has been at least listened to by any of the blogs in their network.
StoryAmp is a free service that helps tailor your press release(s) and tour date info to Music Journalists and media outlets. Promoting your music through a service like StoryAmp – especially if you’re touring – can be a nice compliment to your own DIY music blog send outs.
To professionally service Radio, you need to hire a Radio Agent – but Radio Agents, just like Publicists, Booking Agents, Licensing Agents and Record Labels, are super picky about who they choose to work with. Simply being able to afford one is oftentimes not enough. They have to want to work with you. And if they’ve never heard of you, and you have no inside connections, they probably won’t be interested.
Is it worth a shot? Sure! Try sending an introductory email with listen-links to any of the Radio Agencies you’d like to hire. Typical Radio campaigns are a few thousand dollars (sometimes less, depending on duration and whether or not you’re sending out physical copies).
Here’s a list of cool indie Radio Agencies you can try reaching out to: Terrorbird, AAM,Vitriol, Distiller, Fanatic, Pirate!, Crowd Control, Planetary Group, Tinderbox, A man A plan A canal and Team Claremont.
If you’re one of the majority of bands who can not afford, or can not pique the interest of, a Radio Agent, getting your music considered by radio stations depends on you.
Here is how to do it:
Submitting Your Music to Radio Stations
*You should submit your album to radio stations 4-6 weeks before your release date
1. Submit your music to Pandora.
2. Upload a few of your tracks to the always-influential L.A. radio station KCRW via their “Malcolm” Digital Submission program.
3. Research and make a thorough list of email addresses for all the College Radio andInternet Radio stations you’d like to contact.
4. Make sure a stream of your album is properly hosted at a linkable source such asBandcamp or Soundcloud. (If you want to keep your album private, you can do so on Bandcamp with Bandcamp Pro and on SoundCloud via their “Secret Links”.)
5. Upload a .zip file of your album in Mp3 format to your web server or to a fileshare platform like Dropbox, Hightail, Mediafire or Google Drive – or create a Secret Download Link to your Album on SoundCloud.
6. Compose a paragraph or two announcing, describing and tastefully hyping your Album (can be the same as your Press Release).
7. Create an email to yourself that looks something like this:
8. Test it by sending it yourself. Make sure your links are working! Once you’re happy with it, create another email to yourself, copy/paste your content into the body of the new email, make sure the Subject line starts with “DIGITAL DELIVERY”, enter the email addresses you’ve researched into the BCC field and send it out! (Using the BCC field on an email addressed to yourself is recommended for bulk email send-outs. If you have specific stations that you want to connect with, send an email addressed specifically to them.)
Congratulations! You’ve successfully delivered your album to Radio.
If there are specific stations you want to follow-up with – in particular your local and/or favorite station(s) – check into the Station Manager’s office hours (Station Manager office hours are usually listed on the station’s website) or call in and talk to one of the DJ’s you like. (“Hey, I really love this station. I recently submitted some music to you guys and was wondering whether you’d had a chance to listen to it…”)
*Also worth considering: both Tunecore and CD Baby have easy and free options for servicing Internet radio, available to members and subscribers.
SEO & Social Media
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
The “Search Engine Optimization for Music” theory is that your music is not something people discover on the web through random searches (“indie rock”, “chill electronica”) – rather, that people discover your music first (through friends, playlists, shows, blogs etc) and then take to search engines to search specifically for you. So it’s your goal to ensure that when you’re being searched for, you can be found.
Here is a bare bones strategy for optimizing your searchability (for more elaborate ideas, check out Dan Shure’s fantastic “Music SEO – 7 Lessons in Brand Optimization for 2015” article):
1. Create Your Own Website
Having your own Website, dedicated to your music, full of all of your keywords that the bots can crawl and index, is the fundamental way you can create and control your presence on the web. There are many options for how to do this, but here are 3 blueprints:
A) WordPress: Sign up for free, pick a theme, customize it with their customization tools and start putting your content in. Easy. Quick. Free — or, for $18/yr, add your own custom domain name (recommended — it would otherwise have “.wordpress.com” in your url). You can also buy more advanced templates for WordPress on their site or on ThemeForest. Be sure to tag your posts!
B) Squarespace ($12-$16/month) or Bandzoogle ($9.95-$14.95/month), give you all the hosting and quick-start template features of the WordPress option, with the additional features of free custom domain name registration, built-in eCommerce platforms and more advanced customization.
C) DIY: The basic costs of setting up your own site are your domain name registration fee ($10-$25/yr) and your hosting costs ($10/mo). Best practice is to select your host first and then register your domain through them – it’s usually the best deal. And then either use your web-skills to get everything designed and set up or get a friend’s help orCrowdsource a design or pay a professional (probably anywhere from $500-$1500). You can always get in touch with me – I’m a web designer and am happy to work with indie budgets – and I’ll see if I can help 😉
2. Push Your Data
There are a number of things you can do to make sure your music is indexed and optimized for search. Here’s a checklist:
- Contribute your music data to Music Brainz (free)
- Create a free account and submit your release info to Discogs
- If you’ve made CD’s, submit your CD and bio to the All Music Guide
- Create a Google+ brand page
- Add Google’s Structured Data to your website, specifying your logo/band image and social profiles
- Add Google’s Music Actions to your site, enabling your music to be played directly from a Google search
- Submit your lyrics to Musixmatch
- Link your content! In the “About” sections of your Facebook and Twitter accounts, link to your Website, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, webstore and YouTube pages — and vice versa!
- Tag your content! SoundCloud, Bandcamp, YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, Tumblr, WordPress etc all allow to tag your content on their services with keywords, so be sure to do it!
- If you have an old MySpace account that keeps popping up in your searches – and you’re not actively using it – do us all a favor and send it packing!
3. Social Media
In promoting your music, you should use any and all Social Media services that speak to you — there are no rules!
Three services, however, are particularly vital for musicians:
SoundCloud makes your music searchable, accessible, linkable and embeddable. If you look at sites like Pitchfork and Stereogum, the vast majority of the music they promote is being hosted by SoundCloud. It’s free, easy to sign up, provides basic analytics, allows you to make your music streamable and/or downloadable, provides you with custom and easy-to-share links to your music, and works seamlessly with Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media outlets. SoundCloud is also a cool forum for connecting – it has all the follow, re-post, like and comment features of a social network, plus you can send tracks to music media outlets and other artists on SoundCloud via SoundCloud Messaging.
Note: when putting your music on SoundCloud, be sure to put links to buy the song/album, links to your website/other social media, and any other relevant info about the song/album in the about entry field, so that the info appears as additional content. Hereis an example.
Bandcamp provides you with a free, customizable storefront for selling your music and merchandise. Like SoundCloud, it’s another way of ensuring that your music is searchable, streamable, linkable and embeddable. You can use Bandcamp as your exclusive storefront for downloads and merch or use it as a complimentary service to your Digital Distribution. Links to your music on Bandcamp can be shared throughout your social media, in your press releases, and on your SoundCloud and YouTube pages. (You should also link out, from Bandcamp, to your website and other social media profiles.)
Posting to YouTube allows the visual component of your music to be searchable, shareableand potentially monetizable. It’s even useful (in terms of “search”) to make “videos” for your music that simply show your album art while a song plays! Yes, Vimeo is also cool, but having a YouTube Channel for your band is fundamental. Be sure to take advantage of YouTube’s Analytics, and follow the advice from their Creator Academy. And definitely link to your website, storefront(s), Bandcamp and SoundCloud from your YouTube profile and in the descriptions for each video! (Here’s a good example.)
With these bases covered, you’re ready to rock.
((Image by Martin Fisch, Creative Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0))