single release checklist

My Single Release Checklist

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.

I’ve been releasing a new track every 4-6 weeks for some time now, and I daresay I’ve got it down to a science.

I upload the track to DistroKid a month or so before release, then work my way through the checklist below.

Many of the items won’t apply to you, but they’re sure to give you some ideas!

Solicit Spotify Canvas

A canvas is a 3-8 second video that loops during the song on the Spotify mobile app. You can see how many users viewed your canvas in Spotify for Artists:

28-day new album stats (click to enlarge)

You’ll notice that views don’t always scale with streams or listeners, maybe because playlist streams tend to be background listening?

I don’t know what to make of the data, and I don’t know that having a canvas helps in any meaningful way.

My doubts notwithstanding, I routinely hire Walker Dunn to create a canvas for new songs, which he repurposes for YouTube. Here’s a recent example:

repurposed canvas by Walker Dunn Visuals

I’ll often test out the canvas in ad campaigns too, though videos with less motion tend to perform better.

Pitch to Spotify and Amazon Music

I’ve never once been added to an editorial playlist, but I still pitch every track as soon as I can.

You probably know by now that you can pitch to Spotify editors through Spotify for Artists, but did you know you can pitch to Amazon Music too?

Amazon for Artists

Spotify URI to Rise

I’ve been promising a review of Rise for some time now, but they’re in the process of a nearly complete overhaul.

In the meantime, I’ve paid $225 per month for eight months, and here are my results:

That one screenshot ambiguously captures the entirety of their current reporting. Some of the numbers refer to a single track while others reflect my entire eight months on the platform.

Rise executes pre-saves for each of my new tracks if I provide the Spotify URI ahead of the release date.

The last single before my album release went through that pre-save cycle twice, for 9.2K pre-saves in total!

I can’t tell if it helps or hurts. They forgot to execute pre-saves for one of my singles, yet it performed about the same as the rest.

Upload to SoundCloud, YouTube, Bandcamp

I generally use the same track description across platforms, so it’s convenient to just upload to all three of them in one fell swoop.

For SoundCloud and YouTube, I use a Mac text expansion app called aText to quickly append my social media links after the lyrics.

I set YouTube to unlisted and SoundCloud and Bandcamp to private, then copy the SoundCloud share URL for pitching.

Test Facebook Ads with Captions

I like to have a fully-optimized ad campaign ready to launch on release day.

To make that happen, I test out my ad copy and creative with a traffic campaign directing to my DistroKid Hyperfollow page. To keep costs low, I only target India, Indonesia, and The Philippines.

Sometimes I get a few pre-saves, but mostly I’m just trying to piece together a winning ad from multiple headlines, descriptions, and video assets using different parts of the song.

In my limited testing, lyrics captions performed slightly better than without, so I use Rev to create them for a couple of bucks.

They provide an SRT file that needs to be renamed to a Facebook-friendly format, like so: thelimitverse1.en_US.srt

Once my testing is complete, I create a new campaign with a single ad, ready to turn on when the release goes live.

For more on the subject, check out my Facebook Ads for Spotify Best Practices.

Announce Pre-Save

Most artists spend a lot of time and effort on this step, but these days, I rarely bother.

I already get thousands of pre-saves through Rise, and I can’t tell if it makes any difference.

Even before Rise, I felt uncomfortable asking fans to grant control of their Spotify accounts to a company they’d never heard of.

Recently I read a deep dive on the topic by RootNote that finally convinced me it’s not worth it.

Pitch to SubmitHub

I’ve written twice about SubmitHub, most recently here.

So many emotions! Discomfort, embarrassment, anger, humiliation, and every once in a while, jubilation. Still, it has to be done.

My best performing song got a 22% acceptance rate:

I’d argue that this is the single most important step on the checklist. If your track gets universally shot down, at least you know not to waste your money on ads.

One important piece of advice: upload your song as a high-quality mp3.

The audio quality through SoundCloud is poor and YouTube is even worse. To my admittedly picky ears, it’s so bad that when I’m curating I’ll often just look up the song on Spotify.

Early Spreadsheet Pitches

I maintain a song pitching spreadsheet with the following columns:

Outlet Name, Type, Followers, Listeners, Contact Name, Contact Email or Link, Date of Last Contact, Approvals, Notes

Not every column applies to every outlet, depending on what type it is (blog, radio/podcast, YouTube, Spotify)

The spreadsheet is separated into three main sections:

Early Pitches, Release Day Pitches, Retired

My approval percentage through direct pitches is roughly on par with SubmitHub. My only consistent acceptances come from a handful of genre-specific radio shows.

Share YouTube with Mailing List

As a perk for my mailing list subscribers, I like to share the song on YouTube a day early.

I’ll usually say something like, “I’ll be hanging out in the comments all day, so let me know what you think!”

With any luck, the video will have a solid chunk of likes and comments before I turn it loose on the public.

Compose Email Blast

I craft a short and sweet email with the same description I used for SoundCloud, YouTube, and Bandcamp, plus a too-big-to-miss “LISTEN NOW” button, followed by a special thanks to my producer-tier patrons.

Dungeons release email blast

The button directs to a ToneDen Smart Link that I haven’t created yet because I don’t have the Spotify URL.

But that’s okay because I’ve got a custom domain set up! I can create the Smart Link later and point it to go.colortheory.com/songname.

You may wonder why I don’t just use my DistroKid Hyperfollow link. I prefer to use ToneDen for my ads and I want to send everyone to the same place.

I schedule the email blast to fire at 6 a.m. PST on release day so that I can double-check that everything works the minute I wake up.

Set SoundCloud, YouTube, and Bandcamp Public

I usually do this before dinner, a few hours before the track goes live on Spotify at midnight EST.

After setting the YouTube video public, I add it to any of my relevant playlists. I can’t do it ahead of time because when I add unlisted videos to public playlists, people find them!

I also add a pinned comment with a link to my ToneDen Smart Link.

Bandcamp automatically sends out an email announcement shortly after setting the release to public, which usually generates a few sales.

Update Show.co

Once the track is live on SoundCloud, I update my Show.co campaign to swap in the new track.

I keep a Show.co playback widget in the sidebar of Passive Promotion, which looks like this:

At one point the widget registered a stream upon each page load. I was getting thousands of plays every month via the blog embed, which was great social proof! Sadly, it looks like they fixed it.

Now that the stream count is accurate, I could just as easily swap in a SoundCloud player and ditch Show.co entirely.

Add Spotify Link to SubmitHub

We’ve reached the point where I need a Spotify URL to continue. I can usually snag it early via the profile tab of Spotify for Artists.

I add the Spotify URL to SubmitHub by going to Submissions ➤ Submissions I’ve Sent ➤ Edit This Song ➤ Additional Sources

SubmitHub additional sources

In a pinch, curators can always look up the URL themselves when they add your track to a playlist. But why risk it?

I’m an active SubmitHub curator myself, for my Vocal Synthwave Retrowave playlist.

Apropos of nothing, here are my 2021 stats:

  • You listened to 4,494 minutes of music
  • You wrote 83,282 words of feedback
  • You approved 475 songs and declined 1,399
  • Your most-approved genre was Synthwave (294)

Update Spotify Playlists & Bio

While I’m at the Spotify for Artists profile tab, I can usually click through to my upcoming release and add it to my playlists.

I add the song to the top of my Vocal Synthwave Retrowave playlist and my Color Theory Official Playlist.

Then I’ll copy the song description to my Spotify bio which links back to my aforementioned official playlist.

Create ToneDen Smart Link

Now that I’ve got my Spotify URL, I can finally create a Smart Link for my scheduled email blast and Facebook ads.

Check out an example here.

Update Feature.fm Bio Link

I prefer a Feature.fm bio link over Linktree for social media. Here’s about half of mine:

Feature.fm Bio Link

One of the features I like the most is the ability to embed a YouTube video at the bottom, which is where I’ll usually swap in my latest release.

Launch Facebook and Google Ads

Okay, now it’s 9 p.m. my time = Midnight EST. The track is officially live on Spotify!

The ads for my Facebook campaign should all be approved by now, so I flip the switch and let ‘er rip.

I also maintain a YouTube (Google Ads) campaign at $10 per day. When I release a new song, I duplicate the ad for my last one and swap in the new URL.

Google Ads is messy and confusing, which is why I’ve never written about it. As luck would have it, I’ve got a review of YouTube Growth Engine lined up for next week. Stay tuned!

Announce on Social Media

Fast forward to 6 a.m. on release day. I check my phone in bed to make sure my email blast fired and that the link works.

Next up, it’s time to tell the world about my new song! I share my ToneDen Smart Link on:

Twitter – I’ll pin the tweet unless I’ve got something more important going on
Instagram – post + story shared directly from Spotify, then added to my highlights
YouTube – under my community tab
Facebook – on my page, shared by my profile to my news feed + groups
Bandcamp – even though they already got a new release announcement yesterday
Reddit – just the r/newretrowave subreddit
Discord – a fan reliably shares my new releases, but if he didn’t, I would

Release Day Spreadsheet Pitches

Some outlets can’t be pitched to until the track is already released.

The biggest category is Spotify curators that aren’t on SubmitHub like Indiemono, but there’s also one particular blogger that prefers release-day pitches.

If I were to attempt another influencer campaign, now would be the time. I’ve previously reviewed Breakr and SpaceLoud, but I’d likely do it on the cheap with SubmitHub.

Add Song to Songtrust

I wait to register each new song with Songtrust until it’s live on Spotify so that I can link to the recording.

Songtrust will then register the song with ASCAP and 200+ other societies around the world.

At some point, I also need to register the song with SoundExchange, but tend to do that in batches.

Sync Lyrics in Musixmatch

If you want lyrics to appear in Spotify, the easiest way to make that happen is the Musixmatch artist portal.

You can also add them through DistroKid or through the regular Musixmatch site, but it’s more work.

If you’re looking for even more work, you can perform a word-by-word sync with the iPhone app. Personally, I think that’s overkill, but maybe that’s just my perfectionism talking.

It’s really hard to move your finger in time with the lyrics, and as a listener, I find it distracting to see individual words light up mostly in time.

Email Follow-Up

The following Tuesday I might send out another email blast asking if fans heard the song. More often it’ll end up as a p.s. at the bottom of a message on another topic.

At this point, you could re-announce on social media or even to Bandcamp with some other angle. You could tell a story about how you created the song, what inspired it, what the lyrics mean, how it’s performing on Spotify so far, what playlists it got added to, etc.

That would absolutely be my advice, but I rarely follow it. I’ve already mentally moved on to the next piece in my content calendar.

Check on Ads

After four days, I usually have a pretty good idea of how my ads are performing.

If they’re not doing well, I may turn them off. If they’re really not doing well, I may swap in the previous track at the top of my playlists.

To put it in concrete terms, let’s say I’m paying $0.30 per conversion to send people to my official playlist with my new song at the top. If I’ve got another song that only costs $0.10 per conversion, I’d be better off swapping in that one and moving the new song further down the playlist.

Tweet Download Codes

Two weeks after release, Bandcamp sales have ground to a halt, so I like to share download codes on Twitter.

https://twitter.com/colortheory/status/1459262959826264067

These tweets always generate ample profile views and link clicks. Even if they didn’t, having a few more faces on my Bandcamp release page is always a good thing!

Rinse & Repeat

We made it!

Now we get to do it all again and again, and again, every 4-6 weeks until we die. By that time, we’ll have automated the entire process so that it can continue indefinitely, with our own personalized AI creating the songs.

As ridiculously long as this checklist is, I’m sure I’ve skipped over plenty of opportunities. Maybe not in the early stages, but certainly post-release.

What did I miss? Any questions? Share your single release strategies in the comments!

48 Comments

  1. I really want that Rise review. It seems like bots to me. Looking at your spotify for artists, Your followers have skyrocketed in the last 8 months but your streams/listeners haven’t increased hardly at all, it doesn’t really add up.

    1. I’m sure it’s not bots because I’ve tried it out from the listener end and seen how it works. My guess is that Rise listeners are getting stuff saved to their profiles left and right and they never get around to listening to it. Hopefully we’ll get better reporting in the updated version!

      1. ive tried RISE and to me so far it makes no sense: followers are ALL from The Philippines – but streams/listeners – not even 1 is from that country and whats the point in this? It’s expensive and really short in their explanations of what is going on.

        1. This is (very valuable) news to me!

          I agree that the site is quite vague. They are in the middle of a revamp and invited me to start from scratch when the new iteration launches, which would be around now based on what they said a couple months ago, but when do these things ever happen on schedule?

        2. u said you’ve tried it from the listener end and have seen how it works? i’m really curious because i don’t really get any clear answers other than that pre-saves and saves help the algorithm but that it’s the audience that decides to stream it. in a simple world that I hope exists, a person who saves your song, or a new follower, is listening – including the song you’re using in a campaign – but that isn’t the case. then Rise keeps on mentioning engagements and spotify impressions and this would have a positive effect on spotify algorithms: but algorithmic playlists and mixes are ZERO according to SFA since start of conversion campaign (like the one above) and exposure campaign. so there are new followers from the Philippines who are not listening. I’ve experienced this before with an artist whose account was brought to zero followers a few months later. the weird thing is that the song before this without any help from Rise is doing better in every way – while twitter is mentioning this song constantly.

        3. Yes, I tried out the Messenger bot and you can too at JACKTV if you want to give it a go!

          I’m at the point where I get 5K presaves of each of my songs, but I don’t know how many of those result in actual streams. I don’t think presaves alone influence the algorithm one way or the other.

          One way that Rise definitely helps is by including my tracks in their playlists. Just doing a quick scan, I can see at least 30K streams from at least 15K listeners. Here’s an example.

          I’m still getting plenty of followers, but no one has ever reached out to me to say they discovered me through JACKTV or their playlists.

          Just to clarify, you’re looking at your Spotify for Artists data (Audience ➤ Followers) and then selecting Philippines from the dropdown, and seeing that’s where most of your follows are from?

        4. yes through sfa, audience followers. i noticed you have a lot of followers from that country as well. and streams as well?
          thanks for showing me how it actually works.
          yes 2 artists on that playlist, but not even 200 streams – that’s weird

        5. Let’s see… last 28 days I had 881 streams from the Philippines and 276 new followers. Worldwide I have 552 new followers. So yes, disproportionate!

        1. Thank you. I didn’t see any website update. I’m just wondering how they work. You give them some rights on fb, spotify and youtube – but i don’t see how they are promoting the song content and where the pre-saves are from.

  2. Good grief! I have a musician friend coming around tomorrow night to discuss some essential music marketing tips so your timing couldn’t be better although I only do about 25% of the above which perhaps explains a lot.. haha! Thanks again Brian for your honesty and transparency as I have to admit I learn as much from the failures as I do the successes. You’ve probably saved a great many of us a lot of money and for that I’m eternally grateful! Take Care, Neil (Indelible Scars)

  3. Thanks for the post!
    Do you keep track of how much you spend on promotions and how much you actually get later fro, royalties/purchases?
    Also, could you please share how many streams you receive from release radars on average? I’m curious how this numbers scales with the number of followers and presaves, since I don’t have much releases yet but I’m trying to predict how it can go.

    1. I prepare my own taxes, so I do see the bigger picture at least once a year! As for specific releases or promotions, I often try to break those down in posts here.

      I just checked my Spotify for Artists stats, and lately I’ve been getting 1500-1700 streams per release from Release Radar. Since 2015, I’ve gotten more algorithmic streams from Radio (about double) and Discover Weekly.

  4. Curious, my friends and I also tend to get 1/10th of the followers amount in the release radars. Thanks for the info!

  5. Hey Brian,

    canvases are only visible for mobile users, I think. So the numbers are always lower, you don’t see the canvas when listening at your desktop. Maybe you can see a pretty acurate ratio between your listeners on phones or at home.

    Best

  6. Hi Brian,
    I just want to say a huge, “thank you.” You clearly put a lot of time into sharing your knowledge and experiences with other artists and I will be coming back and re-reading this article well in advance of my next release.
    I will make sure to follow your links as you deserve some recompense, no matter how small, for all your helpful work.
    As someone who is also stuck in the 80s, I do have to ask a small favour (I understand totally if you don’t have time). My releases definitely have an 80s feel, but I’m unsure how to describe my sound in terms of genre, or other bands I may sound like. If you were able to take a quick listen to any of the three tracks currently released and share whether they evoke other artists/genres, that would be hugely valuable to me.
    Here’s the music page on my website: https://theenglishassassin.bandzoogle.com/music
    Thank you again for all your valuable advice.
    Regards,
    TEA

    1. You’re welcome! I appreciate the kind words.

      I took a quick listen and the first two tracks seem to fall somewhere between Momus and Bauhaus. That third track is a bit more enigmatic. Oasis meets Midnight Oil?

      I wouldn’t consider it synthwave or a fit for my playlist, unfortunately. I suspect it’ll be tough to market since it falls between the cracks genre-wise. You may have to focus less on what scene you fit into and more on your personal story, inspiration, and visual branding.

      1. Thanks so much for your input, Brian.

        ‘Falling between the cracks’ doesn’t really surprise me as I suspected as much. But if that’s where I land, I’ll just have to work with it 🙂

        You have helped a great deal in that I am sure you are correct that I won’t really fit a scene. That will help me focus on promotion through avenues that aren’t so genre-driven. And I love all the band comparisons. In scrambling around for something myself, I had arbitrarily come up with Leonard Cohen meets Depeche Mode, BUT Momus meets Bauhaus is a much better fit (and yes, Are You Good? seemed to push in a quite different direction, but I’ll VERY happily take that Oasis/Midnight Oil mashup!)

        PS – Just listened to Ponytail Girl and it’s utterly fabulous. Siri knows I ‘like’ it. Hopefully she’ll remember 😉

        All the vert best,
        Phil (the name behind TEA)

        1. I’m delighted to hear that my quick take was useful Phil!

          At the risk of tooting my own horn, I do think that Momus meets Bauhaus is a stronger comparison since there’s a good distance between those two, which leaves more for the imagination to triangulate on. In my mind, Depeche Mode is already on the Leonard Cohen spectrum because Martin Gore clearly draws inspiration from him.

          I do wonder how useful the comparison is though, as it may only serve to alienate younger listeners (i.e. most of the population) who aren’t familiar with any of those acts!

          Thanks for the kind words on Ponytail Girl! Believe it or not, I recorded that one right around the turn of the century!

  7. Hi again Brian,
    My smart wife suggested I ask if it’s okay to use your quote about the sound falling somewhere between Momus and Bauhaus (this is closer to the sound I expect for future recordings). If it is okay, I would obviously link back to you, so should I link directly to your website, or would you prefer links to somewhere different? I cannot promise anything more than very meagre traffic at the moment, but who knows what the future holds.
    Cheers,
    Phil

  8. Hey Brian .. thanks for all of this info. Just signed up to Rise for them to run a Spotify campaign .. noticed here that you use Rise .. And run your own FB and Youtube campaigns. Any specific reason why ?

    1. Thanks for using my affiliate link Mike! Apparently you have to sign up for the campaign in the same session after clicking the link, which you must have done because I got an email notification.

      I’m currently only using Rise for Spotify, though it might be fun to try their YouTube or even Instagram promotion services in the future. I still run my own Facebook ads because I’m guessing there’s little crossover between the people I reach through my ads and the people Rise reaches.

  9. I would add to this, ‘set up “promote a single” on Pandora through AMP’. It’s easily the best free promotion I get on my campaigns. Unfortunately this means having to get your music accepted by Pandora’s submission process but I was able to make it happen after a couple tries but once they accept one project they automatically accept all future projects.

    1. Great advice Tieran! I didn’t mention Pandora since it’s US-only. Also, you need 10 on-demand spins on your track to even feature the track (same for “promote a single” right?).

      My featured tracks definitely get exponentially more spins than the rest of my catalog on Pandora, but I’m lucky to get 1.5K streams per month. I’d been planning to write about AMP forever, but seeing as I rarely even get the prerequisite spins, I don’t pay much attention to Pandora anymore.

      1. You’re correct but you can easily fudge the 10 track spins by listening to the song on repeat on your own, though you have to watch a commercial first (you didn’t hear this from me :). I’ve had 2 of my featured tracks getting on average 600 spins a day for 2 months straight and I’ve only featured 10 tracks. I probably have the added advantage though of being in a more popular genre (hip-hop), I know you’re audience is more niche.

        1. I hadn’t thought to do that, but I definitely will! The featured tracks get more plays than all my other tracks combined. Thanks for the tip!

        2. Shortly after writing this I featured a track and after a week I haven’t gotten a single “featured spin”, just a heads up. I know AMP is undergoing a lot of changes recently so hopefully this is a one-off thing but I figured I’d let you know in case your next featured track gets no love.

        3. I’m doing much better than you, with 2 spins! 🙂

          At least playing the track 10 times worked to allow me to feature the track in the first place. It’s a shame it’s not getting more spins though, as it’s the most likely of my tracks to get a good thumbs-up percentage!

  10. Hey Brian! I love the blog. I have used YouTube/Google ads (after i was banned from facebook even with new ad accounts) as well as Snapchat Ads to give away a free song in exchange for an email address. Wondering, how do you/how would you grow your email list? I find its the best way to ensure growth of my fanbase outside of youtube subscribers and spotify followers

    1. Thanks for the question Drew!

      I’ve outlined a bunch of ways I get emails in my posts over the years. Right now I’m offering five of my best songs as an incentive.

      I’ve got a signup form on my Synthwave Top 10 podcast page and my home page. I import Bandcamp purchasers weekly.

      My free CD and recent pay-what-you-want CD offers generate lots of buyers, who of course get added to my list.

      I’ve gotten hundreds of emails from contests through TuneSpeak and Gleam.

      Believe it or not, I’ve never run ads just to get email subscribers. I’d rather go with a CD offer where I can potentially make some money.

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