So you’re thinking about, or getting ready to, launch your debut project? How exciting! Before taking this step, here are all of the things I would put in place in order for you to get the best results possible.
(You can listen to the podcast version here: http://www.texasmusicpickers.com/podcast-before-dropping-your-debut-album-in-the-texas-red-dirt-scene-i-would/)
Make sure have realistic expectations as to what this album is likely to accomplish for you.
Even if you’ve been playing for years, in the eyes of the industry, you’re just getting started when your debut album drops. Getting people to listen to new music from a band they’ve never heard of, can be tough, regardless of how good it is. It’ll take time to spread, and it will always be longer than you expect. You have to be ready to grind it out. In my opinion, you need to release at least two projects, with at least one of them being a full album, to truly evaluate the beginning of your career. Whether that comes in the form of two albums, or some sort of combination of single tracks, EP’s, and albums, you’re probably looking at 5 years minimum after your debut drops before you can effectively gauge the viability of making a career out of your music. I’m not saying you have to be grossing a million dollars a year at that point, just that you have some traction, you’re gaining momentum, and things are looking up. So you have to look at this debut project as just a piece of the beginning of your career, not the beginning.
It’s just not probable your debut project will get you signed to a major booking agency, put 150 shows on your calendar for the next 12 months, and amass you 50K social media followers. Your debut album is there to set your foundation and to begin the process of legitimizing you as an artist looking to take the next step. Those are the realistic expectations. Your goals are simple. If you can answer yes to all of these questions below 6 months after it drops,then in my opinion your debut was a success.
- Has it gotten people to take your band more seriously?
- Has it helped you book more shows?
- Has it helped you book better shows? –better venues, opening slots for better bands, paying private functions, etc…
- Has it helped you sell more tickets?
- Has it led to a steady growth in your fan-base: online and at-shows?
- Is it at least making a blip on the radar of some industry personnel?
Your goals and benchmarks for your sophomore project is really where the pressure picks up, so if you don’t set world on fire with your debut, it’s okay. You wouldn’t believe how many artists at the top have buried their debut album, once they start gaining traction with their succeeding records. This doesn’t mean you should take the launch lightly, or not give it everything you got, but keeping your expectations in line is important when starting out.
Understanding of Texas/Red Dirt Scene
It’s good to understand that our scene works differently than other scenes. Radio is different, the touring infrastructure is different, the coverage is different, the relationship with fans is different and so therefore your album release is going to be a little different. You can find a lot of great info out there on the music scene in general, but realize that it doesn’t necessarily pertain to this scene. Our scene is a little warmer, much more independent in some aspects and much more connected in others. Some things about it you’ll only be able to learn through experience. To be successful here, you’re going to have to work your butt off, have integrity, pound the highways, be ready to adapt, and live and die by the connection you have with your fans.
Get your social media presence cooking: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Yes, all three. Each of the them have their strengths. Get content on them and start building a following — and the sooner the better. These will be instrumental in promoting your album drop. Post to them regularly and don’t make it all about your upcoming album. Be personal, be funny, and shed some insight in to your life. Post regularly, and post acoustic videos (these always tend to do well). If you can, put some money behind some of the posts and provide a link to your email newsletter that will notify fans of the album drop.
Also have some decent artwork you can post that promotes the album, it’s drop, release shows etc…Canva is a great, free, graphic design website you can use.
Use a cheap, but effective email service like MailChimp to create a way for people to get notified by email when your album drops. Believe it or not, email currently has a higher click-through-rate than social media these days. While you may not amass a crazy amount of subscribers, you are creating a reliable way to stay in the loop for those people who are really interested in your upcoming album — and this gives you a list with a good foundation to build on for your next projects.
Get a few videos up on YouTube a few months ahead of time. Post some acoustic videos of originals and throw in some solid covers. Provide a mixture of quiet, intimate, on the couch videos, as well as live performances at venues and aim for quality over quantity. Regardless of the setting always try to capture video where the artists can be seen and the music and words can be heard.
You really need to have a website. That’s your centralized location for everything: links to socials, tour schedule, bio etc… While it may not be a hotspot for fans, this is where industry people (talent buyers, booking agents, bloggers, etc…) are likely to go to find more info on you and your band. There are a ton of cheap and reputable resources to help you build a website, or you always pay someone to do it. Either way, make sure it’s up before your album drops.
I know it’s already an expensive time for you, but if you can manage to get a few pieces of merch created, I think you can get some nice revenue-synergism with the album. It’s an exciting time for you and usually friends, family, and fans will want to support you. So I would take advantage of the likely additional revenue opportunities the album release creates for you.
This also allows you to have a revenue stream for fans (especially at your release shows) who are going to stream the album, instead of purchase it.
And MAKE YOUR MERCH AVAILABLE ONLINE! This drives me crazy. More often than not, artists launching their debut project, do not have an online store in place, and to me, that’s a lucrative opportunity wasted. You can use something relatively inexpensive like WooCommerce, or at the very least, allow fans to PayPal/Venmo you money and then ship it to them.
Mobile Credit Card Reader
Get a credit card reader you can use to accept credit card payments for your album or merch at your shows. I recommend this one with a chip reader . They’re easy to use and will absolutely help you capture more sales.
Get some decent promo pictures done. Even if you have to rent a camera for an hour, have a friend take them and use an editor that comes standard on a laptop, get something people can use for reviews and write ups. You’ll also want/need these for future shows. Blurry cell phone pictures just don’t cut it.
Write out a decent bio, or get someone to, and post it on your website and Facebook page. If people stumble across your music, they’re going to want to know more about you. Have something that can provide more info on you and your band available and easy to find.
Make sure you have reliable digital distribution in place and make sure your timeline is setup accurately for your album to release to iTunes, Apple Music, and Spotify on time. The two most commonly used are CDBaby and TuneCore.
Copyrights, PRO, and SoundExchange
Make sure you register your copyrights for your music. It’s easy and you can do it here: https://www.copyright.gov/ . Then make sure you affiliate with a Performing Rights Organization like ASCAP or BMI. And lastly, be sure to register on Sound Exchange which will help you collect digital royalties when your music is played on internet/satellite radio.
A Lead Single
I would absolutely release a lead single these days for a debut project, for the sheer fact that it will allow you to create an artist Spotify page. You can then start encouraging people to follow you on the platform, then they will receive an email when your album drops and a song of yours will also be placed in their Release Radar Playlist. Spotify is becoming one of the best resources to notify fans of new music from artists they like; but in order for you to get any sort of effective results, people need to be following your page… and they can’t do that until you have music on their platform. If you just release the whole debut at once, it doesn’t give you much of an opportunity to utilize the great tools Spotify can offer when releasing new music.
This also helps you extend the release process, create material for fresh social media content, and stay in front of the listener a little more; which has never been more important with today’s oversaturated market on the battlegrounds of the digital landscape. Feel free to even release another song ahead of the drop, just make sure you’re not stretching out the release process and promotion more than 3 months or giving away too much of the album ahead of time.
I probably wouldn’t go radio with it yet and I’ll explain why in a few sections, but I would send it out through CDTex. It’s an economical and effective digital delivery service that’ll get your music out there to some Texas/Red Dirt industry personnel.
Get some decent cover art done. You can find someone to create some for a reasonable price. This is one of the most overlooked areas for new artist, but in today’s digital landscape, do not underestimate the power of good cover art.
Pre-orders and Pre-saves
There are still people who buy physical albums or purchase digital ones from iTunes. Get that money while you can. Be sure to set up the ability for people to pre-order physical and digital copies. I think the “get an autographed copy when you pre-order a physical copy” campaign is generally effective. Remember, a sale today is always better than a sale tomorrow.
For those on Spotify, you can now set up “pre-save campaigns”. According to Metablocks” Pre-save to Spotify campaigns allow your fans to connect on Spotify and automatically add an upcoming album or single to their Spotify library when it is released. Additionally, fans can automatically follow the artist or a playlist and can have the album added to a new or existing playlist.” Now I’m not completely sure on its effectiveness, just because I haven’t had much experience with it, or garnered a lot of feedback from artists, but it seems like it could be a useful tool.
Even if it means that you’ll have to release your project months, or even a year later, have some money set aside to promote it. I wouldn’t go in the drop with less than a couple hundred dollars for social media, but I would also advise extreme caution for a budget over 10K. For 10K, you should be able to go to radio with a song, hire a good publicist, have some professional video content, create an EPK, create artwork and have some money to push your album on socials. I’m not saying you NEED all of it, but it can go a LONG way when used in coordination. If you do have a budget like this, or greater, I would definitely consult some other artists and do your homework. However, keep in mind, this is your debut project and therefore it might not make a lot of sense to put a lot of money behind it. The nice the thing about it being your debut project is that you have the luxury of slow rolling the paid promotion in the early stages. You can spend a little, wait, analyze and use your judgement.; maybe then hire a publicist or create some professional video etc…
This may some unpopular advice, but I wouldn’t put a whole lot of money in the pre-release stage of your debut. There is so much promotion going on these days and without having a catalog people can explore, it’s pretty tough to keep people on the line until there is.
You can put some money behind some social posts: announcing the upcoming album and announcing the release of the lead single, but I would wait until the album drops before spending the bulk of your promotional budget. I’m not saying to not promote it in the pre-release stage, just not to spend a lot of money on it.
Once the album drops, fire away and fire away immediately.
Also, make sure that if you’re going to put some serious money behind it, that the album is of good production quality. If your plan is to only spend 5K on your album, so you can use 15K on promotion, it’s probably not going to work out like you think it will. If you have to choose between the production value of your record and promotional budget, choose production value…However, you don’t need to go overboard with it. Production value that’s considered “above average” is really all you need to pay for at this point. And once again, do your homework. There are some great studios out there with great producers, that don’t cost a fortune!
I think you’re fighting an uphill battle these days to make a lasting impression on listeners without having a catalog they can dive in to, so I wouldn’t release the lead single of the debut project I mentioned previously to radio; instead I would wait until your album is available (or a week away from it) and then push something to radio. Push the “lead single” on socials, CDTex, and Spotify, then use a promoter to push a (new/different) single to radio in coordination with the album drop. Not only will this promote one of your songs, it’ll provide plenty of second-hand promotion for your new album; especially if you go on a radio tour and do on-air interviews (which I recommend). You can think of it as a single AND album promotion tour.
Going to radio will also aid in legitimizing you and help you be seen as someone who’s trying to make a career out of your music, rather than it just being a hobby. Plus, it gets you in front of all the people who look at the radio charts (don’t underestimate this). Also, with the way outside-of-the-region interest in our scene is growing, I think it’s a great tool for starting to build markets outside of Texas and Oklahoma.
Publications and Blogs
If you’re not hiring a publicist, then make sure you send it to people for coverage yourself. Just because it’s a debut project doesn’t mean that people won’t cover it. Send it to publications and blogs. The worst they can say is no.
It is most certainly harder to get coverage without a publicist; so if you’re pitching it out there yourself, here’s the way I’d do it:
60 days out, I would start reaching out to publications with an email that includes a background on the album, a well-crafted bio, a portrait and landscape quality promo picture, and a link to the album on SoundCloud and Dropbox.
I think you have 2 shots at contact, the initial email and the follow-up, so make sure all of your info is in the initial email. I would then wait about 2 weeks to follow-up if you don’t hear anything back. After that, you’re definitely running the risk of being too pushy. If you emailed them at 60 days out and then 45 days out to follow-up, you’re probably fine sending one more when the albums drops, just saying “hey I wanted to let you know that the album is out. Here’s the iTunes, and Spotify link. Have a good day.”
Inform the Industry
Dropping an album gives you a good reason to reach out to industry people. So if there are venues, booking agencies, management companies, Spotify playlsit curators, radio stations (if you’re not using a promoter) etc… that you’ve been wanting to reach out to and make contact with, here’s your chance. You now actually have something worth informing industry professionals about, so this is a great opportunity to start making some contacts!
It’ also important to note that whenever you’re informing or pitching people on your album, make sure you are communicating to them through their preferred channels. Many of these people have protocols for contact. Sometimes it’s email, sometimes it’s the phone, sometimes it’s a face-to-face meeting, and sometimes it’s a contact form. It would advise you not stray from what your gut is telling you is probably the best way to make contact, especially if they’ve publicly listed their preferred method.
I see a lot of new artists go about it the wrong way. Whether it’s continually tagging someone or an entity in social media posts, trying to befriend someone’s personal FB page, or calling/texting someone’s personal cell phone, these are good ways to get you noticed in the wrong way. Tagging a person or entity about your album drop once, maybe twice if it’s spaced out long enough, is probably ok, but after that I would give it a rest; especially if they haven’t responded to any of your attempts to make contact. I would also recommend not messaging people through social media messengers either if they’ve publicly provided a way to make contact.
Have at least one really solid release show (your home market is the obvious choice), but even if the other ones are 3 hour week day acoustic slots, have a few shows set up around the drop you can market as release shows. You’ll be surprised who will show up and these are usually the shows where you’ll sell the most records at. So get them lined them up!
You can also promote these a few weeks out and kill two birds with one stone by marketing the show and album together.
Network of Other Artists
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends who play a similar style of music, play in similar venues, or have fans that may possibly dig your music, and ask them to post about your album. This is a free, and often effective way, to get your music out to new fans! Just know that you’ve now entered into a nonverbal agreement to do the same for them.
Enjoyment and The Next Project
Once your album drops, relish it. Soak in the excitement and be proud of yourself for getting to that step. Have a blast at your release shows and celebrate. Take a mental breather for a few weeks…but then get ready to do it all over again. One of the biggest mistakes I see newer artists make, is waiting way too long to start preparing for the next album. You really need to have your sophomore project out within two years of your debut, and one year if your debut was an EP, to keep the momentum going and stay in front of the listeners. This means you need to be in the studio 18 months after your debut album is released; and half that if your debut was an EP. That’s not a whole lot of time. Like I said, take a breather, but then be ready to tighten that belt again and start saving for the next record.
The last thing you want to do is have to wait 3 to 4 years to put out another record because you haven’t been saving or writing. The sophomore effort is usually where artists have their best shot at making a splash, so it is not the time to have to skim on the production or cram in the writing. In my opinion, one of the worst things you can possibly do, is have a sophomore project with noticeably worse production value than the debut. It’s a real momentum killer and creates a long period of stagnation. It doesn’t necessarily have to be better production (although this is definitely a good thing), but it most certainly shouldn’t be worse.