GUIDE TO RELEASING & PROMOTING YOUR MUSIC

The music industry has changed so much in the past few years alone. The old model of trying to raise revenue by selling records or even downloads is outdated; at least it is unless you are either a major established artist or you are the kind of artist(s) who can sell significant numbers of CDs at live shows. If you fall into either of those categories the first section of the following advice may not be particularly helpful. For everyone else involved in putting music out it might be.

RELEASING & DISTRIBUTING YOUR MUSIC                         

To be clear this advice only refers to releasing music digitally. There are a number of digital distributors around who will provide broadly similar services; placing your single, EP or album in digital stores across the world. I worked with quite a few of them over recent years and my recommendation is that you use Tunecore. I have found them to be the best value, the most efficient and the quickest to respond when I have raised an issue with them. They also get your music onto more digital platforms than anyone else including CD Baby, Ditto Music etc.

Ditto Music have the unique distinction of being a UK-based digital distributor which might make some artists more inclined to use their services. I am not going to say anything against them or any other distributor but I will say that both my labels were distributed by Ditto for a time and I decided, for my own reasons, to part company with them. I will also say, because it is 100% true, that they charge not inconsiderable fees to register their clients’ music with the UK & Ireland charts compilers and a much higher amount to register with the US and other charts. I can tell you that it actually costs literally nothing to register your releases with them yourself and it only takes a few minutes too. So I will leave it to you to decide whether you think a company that charges as much as Ditto Music for these free facilities is being as honest with customers as they might be.

Before giving your track to any distributor though you first need to make sure you have the following items ticked off:

  • a track or tracks recorded, produced and mastered to release standard

  • cover art (minimum 1600 x 1600 pixels) of sufficient quality with clear title, artist & label info on it

  • agreement with any others involved in the making of the single, EP or album about how you will split any royalties, written into signed contracts if necessary

  • any appropriate licenses applied for and obtained if you are releasing recordings of material written by others who are still alive or who died in the last 50 years.

Once you are satisfied you have a single, EP or album ready for release, go to tunecore.com and, if you are not already registered with them, register with them and then follow the links to upload your track, artwork and information. Be careful not to tick additional offers of record stores, CD manufacture and other extras as you will be charged for them. My advice is to go for the basic package and to tick yes to including Pandora in your distribution as it is the USA’s top streaming platform.

Set a release date that allows you time to build up a promo campaign and which gives the likes of Amazon the opportunity to offer pre-release purchase of the download version. I would recommend at least a two week gap and ideally longer between finalising details and making payment and the actual official date of release.

When inputting the track and artist info, if there is more than one artist or band name involved (i.e. in my case Neil March & The Music of Sound), you need to list them as two primary artists. If there is a featured artist, there is a separate box for that info. You do not need to have an ISRC code or UPC code (Bar Code) when inputting the data as Tunecore will automatically provide these for free once you upload the track and track data. The ISRC code is what identifies your track(s) and you will need to quote it when registering tracks with UK charts compiler, PRS etc. The UPC is the universal bar code which allows your music to be sold across the world.

Tunecore only charge $10 to release a single (at the time of writing) which, depending upon fluctuations in the US/UK exchange rate, equates to around £7. An album is $29.99 ($20 less than CD Baby).

REGISTERING YOUR SINGLE, EP OR ALBUM WITH CHARTS COMPILERS

To register your new releases with the organisation that compiles charts data in the UK and Ireland you need to go to the Millward Brown website and set up a Tornado account. It is free. Once you have the account set up it is a quick and easy process to log in, fill in the track details (including ISRC code) and register it so, if you are ever fortunate enough to generate huge sales, you can qualify to get into the charts!

To register with the US and Canadian charts, go to Nielsen Soundcan’s website and make sure you tick the box that says ‘both’ when confirming which country or countries you wish to be registered in. For this registration you will need your UPC.

You do not need to register for other EU countries’ charts and I have never attempted to register with any other territories. If you do have a reason to do so you will need to research this process.

ROYALTIES: HOW THEY WORK AND WHAT YOU WILL GET

There are different types of royalties so it is important to understand the distinction. There are sales revenues (which aren’t really royalties in the strict sense). Some distributors will take a percentage cut of any revenues they collect despite charging an upfront fee. Tunecore will pass on 100% of sales revenues to the customer which is another reason I prefer them. 

The sales revenues you receive are likely to be very modest unless you are fortunate enough to have a serious hit. Most people are used to paying no more than their monthly subscription to Spotify or Applemusic and streaming as many tracks as they like.  If you think about how many tracks they can stream for their ten quid, it is hardly surprising that the amount the label receives per stream is about 0.01p! You get more for a paid download but those are few and becoming fewer as most people turn to streaming. So I would strongly advise anyone whose business plan is based on projected sales to forget about it.

That is why membership of appropriate royalties collection bodies is more important than ever. There are two organisations you need to think about joining if you are UK-based. They are PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited) and PRS (Performing Rights Society).

PPL collects royalties from broadcasts (i.e. radio, TV), streams (if you achieve enough), video plays (YouTube, Vimeo) and live broadcasts (in licensed venues & clubs where the DJ setlists can be reported to them) on behalf of the ‘rights owner’ of the recording. So that is the person or business who owns the actual recording that is released; usually the record label. As most of you will be self-releasing, you ARE the label so you should join PPL (which is FREE as they collect their money from licensees), register as yourself trading as whatever label name you use and then you can start registering all your music with PPL.

PRS collect royalties from the same avenues I have described in relation to PPL plus live performance of the music (i.e. gigs at licensed venues, festivals etc. as reported to PRS). But PRS collects on behalf of the composer/songwriter. So if you are releasing music you have written/composed, you should consider joining PRS. There is a once-in-a-lifetime joining fee of £100 but once your total royalties have surpassed that figure, you are then making money without having to pay any renewal fee. 

You might also be interested in joining MCPS (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society) as they collect royalties on sales of tracks. However, if you are already playing the role of label, publisher and artist, there is no point inviting MCPS to collect your royalties from you, take a cut and then give you back less than you started with! I would recommend joining MCPS either if you are publishing others’ music (as well as or instead of your own) or if you are signed to a professional publisher and want to ensure your correct monies are being collected and passed on to you.

A word of warning though. In theory these organisations collect from ALL licensed radio and TV stations (including online ones), venues and social media channels that facilitate streaming. But in reality they only take random samples of most of these licensees from time to time so whether you actually get paid when your track is played on internet radio or community radio etc. depends upon whether you are lucky enough that PRS took a sample the day your track was played. The BBC plays are worth having though and a few of them can quickly wipe out the fee you paid to join. You should make sure you use the facility on the PRS site to inform them about any YouTube views and to report any live sets (yours or other people’s) at licensed venues or festivals that include your music.

PPL accounts once a year around summer time. PRS accounts every three months. So make sure you register new tracks as quickly as possible especially if they are likely to be released as recorded tracks.

OTHER MEMBERSHIPS

You might also consider joining other organisations. The Musicians’ Union (MU) is the most obvious one and most professional musicians are members (myself included of course). The MU can assist in various ways, collecting royalties on live performances, offering business advice and providing legal support and advice in disputes.

AIM (Association of Independent Music) is an umbrella organisation that provides a collective voice for the independent music sector in the same way that the BPI (British Phonographic Institute) does for the majors. It also runs courses and offers various advisory services.

You could join the BPI too but my advice would probably be that this is not necessary and if you want to be part of a trade association with independent sector interests at its heart, AIM is the more obvious choice. 

MAKING A VIDEO

These days most new releases are supported by a YouTube video. If you want a posh state-of-the-art video that is likely to be pretty costly but it is easy enough to make your own videos if you film sufficient footage on your phone and use Movie Maker to make a video. You can download Movie Maker free of charge and it is easy to use. If you learn how to use the Trim Tool function you can get singing and playing in sync with the track so it looks professional. It allows you to edit and use as much or as little of each individual video clip you upload and you can use the media balance function to silence any sound on your videos so that only the audio file (i.e. the WAV or MP3 of the track) can be heard. Play with the different background scene options and other devices and you can quickly learn how to make your video look better without spending any money.

I would advise setting up your own YouTube channel. It costs nothing but it enables you to keep all your videos together and to be able to play them back to back like a playlist. People like to see a video when listening to a track so it provides people with an added incentive to stream your music and, if enough people view the video, you can also get paid.

SOCIAL MEDIA

I am always dismayed when I talk to musicians who claim they are trying to achieve success with their projects but then tell me they are not interested in being on Facebook, Twitter etc. I am old enough to remember how much time and money it would cost me to do mail-outs to friends and fans every time I played a gig, promoted a club or released a CD. The combination of digital formats and social media has removed all those costs and enabled musicians to reach potentially thousands of like-minded individuals with news of new releases, gigs etc, links to listen to their music and so on all free of charge. So let me put it as simply as it gets. If you are not on social media, you are not going to achieve your dream of a career in music.

Different social media platforms are useful in different ways. Facebook is very effective for putting up a page about your band or yourself which you can edit, post short articles and news to, add photos etc. It is also very useful for inviting all your friends to events and generating fanbases.

Twitter is the best for building large volumes of followers, connecting with like-minded individuals, consistently sharing news, opinions, ideas and links and also for getting into online conversations with the media people whose support you are seeking (i.e. hosts of radio shows that play your genre of music).

Linked In is very good both for connecting with and then being able to message people across the industry whose support you may need to help take your career forward. It also enables you to continually add to and develop your online CV complete with links to pages where people can hear your music etc. And it is very good for publishing news and articles relevant to your music which might be a lengthy article you want people to read in which you set out ideas and perspectives or it could be a few lines announcing your new single with a link to the video on YouTube and/or the track on Soundcloud.

Soundcloud is currently the best place to set up a page where people can stream your tracks for free and can choose to register their like of the track (if they have a Soundcloud account) and to repost it on their own pages so more people get to see and hear it. At the time of writing the future of Soundcloud is sadly under scrutiny while they try to explore options for advertising. If Soundcloud folds, there are other options like Reverbnation (though be prepared to be bombarded with unsolicited emails if you use their services).

YouTube is obviously the undisputed favourite place for people to watch music videos on line so your video needs to be on there and it needs to be easy to find it. If possible I would advise putting it on Vimeo too as some people prefer it due to its superior picture quality.

There are other areas of Social Media that some musicians find useful. Instagram is an obvious one. I have not so far been able to find a great deal of use from it as it seems to be too visually orientated but I intend exploring it further when I have time. Pinterest and Tumblr have been mentioned to me but I am yet to be convinced of their usefulness as marketing platforms for music. Others may take a different view though.

SOCIAL MEDIA ADVERTISING

The concept of Social Media Ads is an interesting one. I used to use them a lot but have been more reluctant in recent times. But they certainly offer a low risk, low cost approach to marketing in which you set the upper limit depending how many days the ad is meant to run for.

Also you can be very specific about the demographic you are trying to target. You can pick the territories (even including regions, counties etc.), age range, gender mix and the kinds of music the audience likes and what its interests are. So in theory you could decide only to target 25 – 30 year old women living in Reading who list one or more of Electronic Music, Kraftwerk and/or Brian Eno in their interests. Of course you might find you have wasted your money because you have only reached 50 people but you get the point!

Whether you should use Social Media Ads depends upon what you are hoping to gain. In my experience, Facebook Ads can be very effective at increasing the number of ‘likes’ for your page and reaching a large number of people based on the information you input to the system about age, location and interests. However while those people may be happy to click that they like your post or even your page, evidence suggests most will not bother then clicking on your link and watching a video or listening to a track and even fewer will go on to purchase your music (in any form). So it is fine if you just want to gather numbers liking your page and lead posts and that has its advantages because every time someone likes your post you can invite them to like the page and if they like the page they will then receive all your future posts on the page as notifications. But it is not effective for selling downloads or streams.

Some people say Twitter Ads are more effective at least for building a following for your particular project or business activity. My own experience was not positive and I opted not to go back for a second chance. But like Facebook Ads, they enable you to set a tight budget and be quite specific about who you target.

With both these types of ads it is worth noting that the volume of people your ad reaches will change according to the locations you choose as the habits of users in different countries affect price. For example it will cost more to target people in the USA and it is harder to pinpoint where exactly to choose whereas you will probably generate a much higher ratio of post and page likes if you target countries like Thailand, Taiwan and Malaysia. The UK is one of the hardest areas to get responses from. So think long and hard before making these sorts of decisions. 

Google Adwords can be very effective in attracting internet traffic based on the use of key words that lead people to your page when they use those words in a google search. However you need to be very careful about setting your daily spending limit in the right way so that you both avoid overspending your budget and target numbers effectively.

PROMOTING YOUR MUSIC TO RADIO

One thing that has not changed in all the years I have been involved in and have followed popular and other (classical, jazz etc.) music is that being played on the radio is important for building a following and helping you to get better gigs. How you go about it however has changed beyond recognition.

First off it is worth giving yourself a reality check. Whatever your genre of music you will not get played (at all, even at 4AM!) on stations like Capital, Heart, Virgin or Magic. They only play music that is or has been in the mainstream charts. If you want to send them your tracks anyway (in case they end up being hits and they are forced to play them) you can do but I would advise not wasting time chasing them and campaigning for airplay.

Whatever your area of music you are always most likely to get on the radio via the BBC and they have set up a mechanism to help you achieve that. You need to go to bbc.co.uk/introducing and set up a BBC Introducing page with your artist details, links, membership numbers for PRS etc. and the tracks you choose to upload (which currently have to be as MP3s). Your tracks will then be assigned to your regional BBC Introducing Show (i.e. if you are from Kent, it will be BBC Radio Kent and so on) and to shows that are linked to the style of music you describe on your page. So for example, if you are making EDM and related music your track will probably be assigned to Monki on BBC 1Xtra who oversees new House, Techno and EDM artists. If you are a contemporary classical artist you will be assigned to Late Junction and In Tune on BBC Radio 3. If you are a Pop artist you will be assigned to Huw Evans on Radio 1 and so it goes on.

You should also set up a Soundcloud page (https://www.soundcloud.com) using the same email address as your Introducing page. This means you can then submit your track to Tom Robinson’s BBC 6 Music Mixtape. It is one of the most eclectic shows on the radio anywhere in the world and he and his team consider all types of submissions with an open mind. If you are selected for the Mixtape your track will be broadcast at 2AM on a Monday morning on BBC 6 Music and the podcast of the show will be available for 30 days. You might even be fortunate enough to get an additional play on Tom’s Saturday night show on 6 Music which goes out from 9PM to midnight and if you narrowly miss out on selection for the Mixtape you may instead be included at the Listening Post on Tom’s Fresh on the Net website (http://freshonthenet.co.uk/) where hundreds will listen to your music and decide whether to vote for you as one of their five. A word of warning though. If you get your mates to turn up mob-handed and vote for you at the Listening Post and it is obvious you have done so you will be disqualified and barred for life from sending further submissions. 

The Fresh on the Net website is a resource you should make use of. It is set up by Tom Robinson who is both a hugely successful artist and a popular broadcaster who has taken on the role of being the BBC’s leading voice in advising and helping upcoming artists to take their careers forward. The site has advice about the music business along with archives of the Mixtape and Listening Post and his comments are always worth reading.

You also need to make sure you are regularly contacting the target shows which are most like your music. Take time to research who the producers of each show are. You can simply email each BBC Radio Station and ask for a list. They will respond by sharing their schedule and the names of producer and co-producer for each show. In most cases the individual email address for each producer will be firstname.surname@bbc.co.uk (i.e. current producer of Huw Evans’s show is Kate Holder and her email address is kate.holder@bbc.co.uk). There are exceptions though either where a name has been used by another BBC employee (as with George Leeming whose address is george.leeming01@bbc.co.uk) or where a show is produced by a third party such as Reduced Listening who produce Radio 3’s Late Junction and have email addresses like Chris@reducedlistening.co.uk (Chris Elcombe). Another is Huw Owen who produces Pete Tong’s Essential Selection, legendary Radio 1 dance music show (and who is currently providing maternity cover as producer of 6 Music’s Freak Zone with Stuart Maconie. His email address is huw@me.com.

I would also recommend getting details of who the Head of Music is for each target station. At the time of writing they include Chris Price (Radio 1 & 1Xtra) whose email address is NOT Chris.Price@…; Jeff Smith (Radio 2 & 6 Music); Alan Davey (Radio 3); Nathan Thomson (Kiss); Mark Findlay (Capital); Russ Evans (Heart); Sam Jackson (Classic FM) plus the music team at BBC 6 Music (Lauren Brennan, Lauren Churchman, Jax Coombes) and Managing Editors like Matt Fincham (Radio 1), Jade Style(1Xtra) and Ryan Newman (1Xtra).

Some of the current producers you may want to send (respectful and appropriate) press releases and publicity emails to include Helen Weatherhead & Phoebe Bennett (Mary Anne Hobbs), Andy Warrell & Ben Backhouse (Tom Robinson), Adam Hudson (Nemone’s Electric Ladyland), Paul Sheehan (Jo Whiley), Paul Mann (Bob Harris), Mark Hagen (Bob Harris’s Country Music Show), Clair Gill & Nichola Ntim (Annie Mac), Kate Davey & Jacob Rickard (Mistajam), James Forster & Gary Pounder (Dev) etc.

You will also find that many of the large independent stations in the region are under the same leadership as their more well known national station partners. For example Capital decides the playlists for other Global Radio-owned stations in cities like Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool Manchester, Belfast, Glasgow etc. Global also own Heart FM, Smooth FM and Classic FM. Their personnel have email address ending thisisglobal.com.

I would recommend emailing press releases and information to the producers of shows that cover your area of music. Make sure you let those who are on BBC Radio know your track is on your BBC Introducing page as they can access it directly there. Also include your Soundcloud link and, if appropriate, YouTube and website links too. For non-BBC stations who cannot access your introducing page, you will need to send tracks by other means. The most popular is WeTransfer.com which is easy to use and enables you to send up to 2 GB of data. Another is Send GB who allow up to 4GB of data.

Needless to say don’t pester people too much and definitely don’t criticise or attack them because you believe they have ignored your previous posts. Remember they all receive vast volumes of submissions every week. Concentrate instead on what you can do to get noticed – a snappy headline, a novel video concept etc.

Internet radio stations are increasingly becoming important and influential in breaking new acts and providing an open-minded platform for new artists. There are numerous internet radio stations but the ones whose social media presence and consistently professional approach include XTended Radio; Radio Wigwam; RKC (Radio Kaos Caribou); Lonely Oak Radio and Sound Fusion Radio. These stations have a strong track record of playing music by new and emerging artists. Look them up on Twitter and get details of how to submit tracks.

Community Radio can also be very useful and supportive, especially where there is a local connection. For example, through my connection with my hometown of Hemel Hempstead, I have had incredible support from the excellent Radio Dacorum. There are also individual stations who play a range of new artists including Radio North Angus (RNA) in Aberdeenshire and Lochbroom FM in North West Scotland.

Returning to the BBC Introducing process your track will, as I mentioned earlier, be assigned to your regional BBC Introducing programme. These can also be supportive and provide a really useful platform from which to launch your wider campaign. I have had music played and given live radio interviews on BBC Three Counties Radio (as recently as 2017 and as long ago as 1997).

Specialist genre-based radio is not as prevalent as it once was but there remain some really good stations specialising in particular areas of music such as Mi-Soul in South East London (Head of Music: Ronnie Herel) who play Soul music and some House, Reprezent (Urban & Dance), The Arrow (Rock) and Jazz FM (the specialist wing of the old Jazz FM which became Smooth FM when the latter abandoned its pretence of being a Jazz station).

You should be able to find out how to contact and submit music to all these stations and many more by searching google. I would also recommend Wikipedia as a good way of learning more about music media and piecing together the jigsaw of UK broadcasting.

MUSIC PRESS (INCLUDING NEWSPAPERS & ONLINE MEDIA)

I will add more information soon about this subject. In the meantime I would advise looking up who writes about (your area of) music in national, regional and local newspapers and obtaining their email addresses for your contacts database and, although the music press has long since stopped being the hugely popular and influential powerhouse it was in the last century, the NME continues to publish a free magazine which has names and contact details of editorial staff (especially Reviews Editor and Features Editor who tend to be the ones bringing new acts to their pages) and there are magazines like Uncut, Mojo, Q, Mixmag, DJ etc. that are still publishing and, depending what area of music you operate in, may be useful to read and note down contact details for.

I will expand on this soon.

MANAGEMENT & THE ROLE OF MANAGEMENT COMPANIES & AGENCIES

Most musicians tend to end up managing themselves, more out of necessity than anything else. If you play in a band, someone has to get gigs, get recordings out to record labels and publishers, look for opportunities to get press or radio etc. unless you are content just to play to the same group of friends in perpetuity.

Whatever area of music you operate in and whether you are a solo artist, band, ensemble, composer etc, one of the most arduous and challenging aspects trying to build a career is management.

Unless you already have a robust list of useful contacts and a reputation to rely upon, getting meaningful bookings, landing opportunities for press articles, seeking commissions (for composers and songwriters), getting music into other media (sooundtracks, adverts, games etc.) is hard work and often with scant return for your efforts. Much better then if you are able to hand that responsibility to a manager so you can focus on the creative elements.

You do need to be careful though. The typical response of many, especially those in bands, to this problem is to take on a mate as manager; someone close to the band who is enthusiastic and wants to be involved. It can work so I am not suggesting you should rule this option out. But before you do, there are some important considerations you need to take into account.

Firstly, what is the basis of the manager’s involvement. Supposing he or she turns out to be really effective in getting you better gigs, sorting out press reviews and interviews, pushing for airplay and even negotiating a recording contract. You need to have a clear contractual arrangement in place from the outset; identifying what the manager can expect by way of a split of royalties and other earnings and what arrangements allow for band or manager to terminate the agreement. The standard split is that the manager takes 20% of all the artists’ earnings relating to music.

Secondly, you need to be confident that the manager is not just going to strut around in a new pair of dark glasses telling anyone who wants to listen that he or she is the manager while you continue to do all the work! You need to have at least some evidence that the person you appoint has the knowledge, drive and gravitas to go and get you the gigs and opportunities you either cannot or do not have time to get yourself.

Thirdly, you need to have a frank conversation with the proposed manager and ensure all parties understand that, if he or she does not prove effective in the role, it should not be seen as a personal affront if you decide to dispense with his or her services. Even more important is that there is a clear realism about what might happen if you are successful in reaching a higher level and find yourself under pressure from a record company to replace the friend with a recognised professional manager who has the reputation and track record to take your career to the international stage. In such circumstances you will want to be sure you can ‘look after’ the interests of that individual whose loyalty and endeavour has helped you reach this level and deserves proper reward for having to walk away.

For all the above reasons, you may decide that the best option of all is to deploy professional management as soon as you are able to. You might even be able to secure the services of a reputable management company because they are so impressed with your music that they are prepared to take a punt. However, in most cases, you are much more likely to attract the attention of a management company if you are already playing at known venues and can show you have achieved a lot from your own efforts.

There are numerous models for a management contract depending upon who you go to but two principal models dominate in the current era. One is, as I mentioned previously, that the manager or management company takes 20% of all earnings relating to your musical activities.

The other chief model is where the management company charges a minimum fee (usually monthly), generally refundable if the artists’ earnings for the month exceed that amount. The management company then pays 100% of the artist’s earnings to the artist and instead charges the venue, promoter etc. for providing the artist’s services. This model is great if you are already making some money from performing and can be confident that you will always have work to cover the minimum fee and make money thereafter. If you have no track record, it may be a high risk to enter into such an agreement before you have established yourself as being able to get regular paid work.

 

OTHER ACTIVITY

It always helps if you are playing live dates and appearances. But you should look to social media to publicise whatever you are doing to get noticed. 

Facebook offers a free service to set up events and invite hundreds of people. If you are curating your own gigs and need to be able to sell tickets via social media, Eventbrite are very efficient. They do take a commission of 3.5% + 49p (and 2% per ticket to enable purchase by Visa, Mastercard & American Express) on sales (with an upper limit of £19.95 per ticket) so you need to factor this into your sale price but it is worth it to be free of the extra burden of producing tickets and finding an alternative means of selling and distributing them (which may well cost more anyway).

Use the same contacts you are sending music to as a guide to who to invite to gigs. Remember it is unlikely they will come but you only need one important contact to turn up and like what he or she sees and that could be a massive boost for your career if he or she then decides to feature you on a show or put you forward for a bigger event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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