The Definitive Album Release Checklist
Your album is mixed and mastered, finally! You’ve got cover art and maybe even replication lined up. Now what?
This is the question I was hired to answer. Specifically, I was asked to create a to-do list for a band’s debut album. They were generous enough to allow me to share it with you.
Keep in mind that all this stuff comes before the actual promotion. We’re simply laying the groundwork here.
Register your .com domain
If yourbandname.com isn’t available, choose another band name. No joke! Owning your domain is HUGE.
Trademark your band name
I hired Gerben Law Firm, and the entire process was a breeze. Josh conducts a comprehensive search, which will turn up any competing marks.
Even if you’re not worried about others infringing on your mark, conducting a search will protect you from infringing on others, and potentially save you from having to change your band name in the future.
Create profiles on the major social networks
You must be on Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, and YouTube. Hopefully you can snag your band name as your username on all of them.
You might as well at least stake your claim on Instagram and Google+ while you’re at it.
Register with a Performing Rights Organization (PRO)
ASCAP or BMI, take your pick. If your song gets played on terrestrial radio or TV, they’ll collect royalties for you.
Register with SoundExchange
They collect royalties for plays on digital services like satellite radio and Pandora.
License any cover songs
Unless you wrote every song on your release, you’ll need to pay the publishers of the songwriters who did. You can go direct through Harry Fox using their Songfile service, or through Limelight for maximum hand-holding.
Choose an aggregator for digital distribution
I use CD Baby to get my music on iTunes and Spotify, but there are plenty of other options. Ari Herstand has a very detailed comparison of the key players.
Don’t feel obligated to sign up for all the extras, because you likely don’t need them, and can add most of them later.
You can sell your music on Google Play directly, though I’m not convinced it’s worth the hassle. [UPDATE: Google Play is no more!]
Launch your website
I built my band site with WordPress, but maintaining it can be a time sink, with constant updates to plugins and WordPress itself. You’ll notice my band site is a mirror image of my promotion blog, to keep things simple.
If you’re not keen on designing your own site, I recommend Bandzoogle.
Set up Google Analytics
If you don’t, you won’t know if anyone is actually visiting the site you put so much effort into creating! Google Analytics provides more detail than you’ll ever want, including real-time tracking of site visitors. Creepy AND fun.
You’ll probably want to set up Google Webmaster Tools while you’re at it. Both are tedious, overly technical, and utterly necessary.
Start a mailing list
Until you’ve got 2000 subscribers, Mailchimp is the way to go. Unfortunately, it’s cost-prohibitive beyond that. I’ve got 5500 subscribers on my mailing list, which would be $65/month. I’m only paying about $170 for a full year with Fanbridge. You can get a free 60-day trial here (nothing in it for me).
Schedule a photo shoot
I’d prefer to remain anonymous, but there’s no way around it – you need professional photos. My last shoot was a few years back with the amazing Gabriel Goldberg. I’m totally overdue, and totally procrastinating.
Write your bio
Or better yet, hire a professional to do it. I keep four versions handy: long and short, in first person and third person varieties.
Get on Wikipedia, if you can
According to Next Big Sound, four thousand people have viewed my Wikipedia entry in the last 90 days. You’re not supposed to write your own, but luckily I’ve had multiple editors contribute to mine over the years.
The problem is, even if you get someone else to do it, it can be removed if you don’t meet their notability guidelines.
Set up direct-to-fan sales
iTunes takes 30% of sales. Bandcamp takes 15%, so referring my fans there is an easy call. With a $5/month pro account, they even let you use your own domain. In my case, music.colortheory.com.
Generally I’ll take pre-orders by creating a single teaser track with 30-40 seconds of each song nicely crossfaded into the next. On release day, I swap in the full tracks and allow them to be streamed in their entirety.
Make your assets downloadable
For my last EP, I created a Dropbox folder that included all the tracks in .wav and mp3 format, plus instrumentals, album artwork, hi-res press photos, and remix kits for every track. Sharing with producers, publishers, and bloggers was as easy as emailing a link.
Figure out which songs to promote
I suggest getting a 100-listener report for every song on your release from Audiokite. In a few days you’ll know which songs best resonate with fans of your genre. Good to know, especially if you’re going to make a video!
Submit your release to Pandora
They will listen to one track, and one track only, so choose the one that scored highest on Audiokite. The bar is pretty high, and the process can take months, but it’s worth it. I make about $40/month from Pandora alone, via SoundExchange. Submit here.
Get your music heard by key influencers
It’s worth paying a few bucks to get your music heard by people who can move your career forward. Fluence allows you to reach music bloggers, music directors, producers, other acts in your genre, and more.
You can even submit your stuff to me for mixing/mastering or promotional advice. If I like it, I’ll share it with my non-insubstantial following on Twitter.
And now that that’s all done, you’re ready to begin your promotion!
For completeness’ sake, here are some other items that I think are safe to ignore, or at least wait on:
Getting your own UPC and/or ISRC. There’s really no point, since your aggregator can assign both.
Creating an electronic press kit (EPK). In most cases, your Bandcamp page will suffice. If you’re promoting directly to the press, consider adding a press section to your site with high resolution photos.
Copyright registration. You own the copyright to your music when you set it in tangible form – in other words, when you write it down or record it. Registering that copyright with the Library of Congress is a redundant bureaucratic nightmare, but if it makes you feel better, have at it!
Royalty collection. I use Songtrust to collect the publishing royalties worldwide that fall through the cracks at ASCAP. That doesn’t amount to much! It can wait until you land some serious sync placements.
Creating a publishing company. Same idea. If/when you land a big placement, then register it with your PRO to collect the other half of your royalties.
Amazon Advantage. The Advantage program allows you to sell physical CDs through Amazon, and costs $30 per year. I don’t even make the annual fee back anymore, and plan to cancel after Christmas.
Did I miss anything?
I could write an entire post on any one of these items, so obviously I’ve kept the details sparse. Ask me anything, and I’ll do my best to clarify in the comments!
Photo by Daniel Kulinski
I like how you included the things you shouldn’t worry about just yet. There is so much to be done, it can get pretty overwhelming! I appreciate your guidance in helping us prioritize certain actions to be taken.
Have you looked into what Audiam offers for tracking down royalty payments?
It seems like there are a lot of companies offering this kind of thing now. It’s hard to tell if they are all equal or what. Anyway, thank you for sharing your insights.
Thanks for the kind words Gary! Glad you found the article useful.
I’ve been using both Audiam and AdRev, intending to write an article comparing the two at some point. Either way, we’re talking pennies. I’m not sure it’s worth the tradeoff unless your music is racking up hundreds of thousands of unpaid streams, because having every video that uses your song flagged by ContentID is a major deterrent for fans who might otherwise use it in their videos.
Interesting… I guess I normally wouldn’t worry about it except – one of my band’s songs was used in a youtube video that went viral with over 2 million hits. Thing is, the creator doesn’t own the video content either. I wonder how that all is supposed to play out. I mean, it was from a show that aired on the Cartoon Network and I always assumed a battle over royalties with them would be pointless 🙂
Ah, well in that case, I’d try Audiam and email them directly about the video in question. They are really good about responding quickly.
Cool, thanks for your advice, Brian!
Great checklist! Especially if your trying to make your music a source of income.
thanks a lot for sharing this man. People like you make internet worth existing.
Glad you found it useful!
Greetings Brian, this article/checklist has been very informative and helpful the last couple of days. Thanks for writing and sharing!
I do have a quick question: Is there any overlap between SoundExchange and SongTrust, or is it necessary to register with both?
No overlap at all. You definitely should register with SoundExchange. I’ve been meaning to write about Songtrust for a couple years now, but I suppose now that they simply take a percentage (15% if memory serves), it’s probably worth signing up with them regardless as well. Used to be they charged an annual fee, which might not offset what they collect.
I have written a number of songs, parodies, carols,love songs including cradle songs. I do not have a band who can add music and play. I am willing to collaborate with one and split equally. Being in the Netherlands I am at a loss. Any suggestions.
Sorry I missed your comment the first time Benny!
I would look for a publisher who can help find homes for your songs with other artists. Sounds like you’ve got quite a range there!
I’m working on a site for my music and using wordpress. Do you have any theme recommendations that you think work well with this?
I’m just using the stock theme for now, for both Passive Promotion and colortheory.com. I had to update it in a hurry to pass Google’s mobile-friendly test before it got penalized in the rankings.
I admire all the effort you put into this website. Your tips are great and have been very helpful to me until now (specially earbits and audiokite).
I’d like to know what is your advice for getting people to support you on bandcamp. I’ve been trying to promote my profile phantomsvsfire.bandcamp.com without success, so I’d appreciate if you could give me some advice.
Thanks for the kind words Siam!
I’m not exactly king of Bandcamp myself. Every month or so, I offer a free download for a week. That at least builds awareness of my music.
Another idea would be to trade recommendations with other bands in your genre.
You can of course use your Bandcamp URLs when promoting your music on social media. On Twitter and Facebook, the player appears in-line.
Umm… yeah. That’s all I’ve got. I’ve never really thought about promoting my Bandcamp site specifically. I focus on building my mailing list instead. Then when I have music to share with the list, I send them to Bandcamp!
just wanted to say a BIG thanks!! this article and all of your others have given me so much great practical info than all the other blogs and diy types of info I get from other places. Many of your suggestions etc I have been doing but the devil is also in the details if you know what I mean! There are many choices of vendors to support musicians and it helps to know which ones are working and how/why they are working. I appreciate so much your openness on your own journey to help others along the way. I am going to stay camped out on your site 😀 Please continue to blog on and keep us informed!!
Much appreciated Staci! Glad you’re finding my articles useful.
I would love it if you would write a similar article for a promotion checklist once you have completed all these steps.
I found your blog by searching for people who have actually used Fluence to see if it is an effective way to get promotion. And I found Fluence because a blogger said to use it for music submissions on his blog. And I found that blog by searching for blogs on Hype Machine that have featured music similar to mine. And I found Hype Machine after an artist I was researching to find blogs to submit to mentioned being number one on their popular chart. And I found out about music blogs when I released my first EP on social media and discovered that followers are not necessarily fans or people who will buy your music. I only sold two copies on iTunes.
I released by first single for my second EP in June and submitted to about 20 blogs on Hype Machine with no response. I researched how to submit to blogs and built a promo email off of feedback from bloggers and advice from PR sites. I have now submitted that to about 200 blogs, mostly on Hype Machine, and have only gotten my song posted as a list of “must hear” songs and three reviews on non Hype Machine blogs. It is really frustrating to be completely ignored which is why I wanted to try Fluence. I don’t care what anyone says, $6 is a small price to pay for an unrepresented artist to get actual feedback and not just get lost in an overcrowded inbox and never be heard.
I found one top tier blog that’s on Hype Machine on Fluence and was very excited to be able to know they actually listened to my song. But their feedback seems to tell everyone with a good song to hire a PR firm to promote their song on blogs. Wtf?
I write my own songs on guitar and pay my producers out of my own money along with photo shoots, etc. I don’t have money to hire a PR firm. I spend it all making music (that no one may even buy). This is so frustrating. I am now trying to focus on non Hype Machine blogs since they seem to be more responsive, they are just harder to find.
For my next single, I am planning to do pre-release market research with Audiokite after reading your article along with getting feedback only responses from producers and engineers on Fluence to see if my song needs additional tweaking.
And then resubmit a private soundcloud link final version to blogs pre-release for an exclusive premiere (I made that mistake, too, of picking my release date before I got any press).
What would you suggest is the best way for an unrepresented artist to break into today’s PR dominated blogosphere? What steps should you take?
Here is the song I am promoting:
So sorry I didn’t reply earlier Rochelle! I must have missed the notification.
I actually haven’t had much luck with music blogs either, but then again, I haven’t made much of an effort.
I did just try Fluence from the artist end for the first time! So far I’ve received six critiques out of the nine I submitted to, and I may get a blog feature or two out of it.
At least if you don’t get featured, you’ll get an actual response with honest feedback. The critiques I’ve received so far have been both helpful and eye-opening.
I’m not about to hire a PR firm either, but I wouldn’t waste my time on non-Hypem blogs unless they are really popular. There’s no reason to rack up coverage that won’t generate listens.
The track, and your voice, are great by the way! I reposted it on SoundCloud.
Your story is so similar to mine… and to 99% of the talents out there.
In my particular case, since what I do is closer to classical than to -say- edm or songwriting, it turns exceptionally difficult to me to find a reasonable way of … investing money and time. Since, i fear, the methods are completely different (or at least the adresees). For instance, in hypemachine there are 3 blogs about classical music. One covers classical guitar (and I play piano) and another one wrote for the last time in 2013. In the list of “genres” there is no “classical”, no “Latin” (I also play tango). So I am cursed to try “jazz”… which my music is not… but heavy metal is even further from reality.
Anyway… have a nice day
Wow, great checklist Brian! Thank you for sharing this along with all the informative comments and suggestions.
This is great! Very helpful. These are things that I definitely needed to know, as I’m working on releasing all of my music on my own from now on. Thanks for this!
Glad you found it useful!
Outstanding article, Brian. Gleaning the experience of someone who’s already been there is obviously a HUGE Timesaver for anyone wise enough to seek it.
Big up yourself man! It’s a great read and so helpful. Thanks!
Just curious – where do you stand on letting people (potential fans) pay as little/much as they choose for an album? As myself, not being an established artist, is it better people hear and maybe share/talk about my music as opposed to moving on to another?
This is one approach I have been considering at the same time as using CD Baby to place the music on all major online platforms.
Personally I do place a value on what I do, I mean this album has taken me around 3 years from conception to completion, but is purely selling my music at a set cost going to turn potential fans off?
My genre is a hip hop crossover type sound from Northern UK and admittedly one could argue my location and nationality could make attracting listeners more difficult – maybe offering music for free could aid the potential of gaining fans?
Love to know your opinion
A few years ago I thought it was a bad idea:
But I’ve softened my stance since then, and have set all my Bandcamp releases to allow fans to pay more than the stated price (except for my “free downloads” album).
It could just be that my fans are really nice, but about half of them do!
If you don’t want to let the entire album go for free, you could set one of the tracks for free. Or you could create a 3 or 4 track EP of tracks from the album, and make that free. All with the option to pay more if desired.
Regardless, I’d let CD Baby distribute it everywhere.
Wow, that was dope! I thought I was ready for my promo but I now I think I missed a few steps. I wanted to ask if the same thing goes for a Mixtape Album?
I suppose so, except maybe some of the copyright-related stuff.
Hi Brian, tanks for your check list, this was huge to me.
But I still have a problem, I’m a European (not UK) artist, and I did found a lot of information, but mostly to US artists.
Do you have a clue, about how it works in Europe, or can I simply use the same services that you guys do in U.S.?
Most of the services are the same. I suppose you’ll register with PRS instead of ASCAP or BMI.
I licensed a song to a major movie distributed world wide. Should I try Songtrust? Btw your discount code doesnt work ;(
Congratulations Suzanne! That’s fantastic!
Yeah, I’d totally go with Songtrust. Sorry about the discount code. It was limited to 20 uses, and I guess it ran out. I updated the article to reflect that.
Hi Brian…Enjoyed this article. I am finishing my sons website. Is it ok to put the EP 4 songs on his website in and audio player. You will not be able to download the songs.
Would this be considered a “release” of material if it is only on his website?
We have no intention of selling or distribute them to digital service provider.
I just want to use this website as a electronic press kit and shop it around to managers, agents and labels.
Please explain to me the parameters of a EP Release. The dos and don’ts.
I doubt anyone actually would, but it’s quite simple to download the songs even if you don’t technically make them available for downloading. If it can be streamed, it can be downloaded – no way around it.
Personally I’d make an actual EPK using ReverbNation or another service, or just send folks to a private SoundCloud or Bandcamp link. Most site players, even the one built into WordPress, are finicky and don’t work with some browsers, or on mobile.
The advice in this article applies equally to singles, EPs, and albums. I can’t think of any EP-specific concerns offhand.
Hi Brian! Very informative article and thank you so much for it! I have a duo band – Healer Twins and we released our debut album (self-titled) month ago in UAE, we’ve done album launch there as well. We also had 2 interviews (local radio and journal), we have physically and digitally released it (iTunes, Bandcamp, Spotify and so on, everywhere..)
After 1 week of album release we moved to London, so now we are in London (for studies). I feel like we have paused a bit and it’s quite confusing what to do now (here in London). Should we launch an album we released here as well? when would be the best time? or should we just book small gigs with few songs from album and introduce us to public here? what would you suggest us to do next?
Thanks in advance!
Congratulations on your debut release Thea!
I don’t perform, so I don’t have a solid handle on how to best integrate gigging with album promotion. That said, unless your previous promotion was highly targeted to UAE, it seems like the cat’s already out of the bag to me. A “re-release” in London doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it’s not like you can put together a huge release party there since you’re just setting up shop.
I don’t think of myself as a “California band” or even a “US artist.” All my stuff is released worldwide, and I only promote it online. So for me, your geographic focus simply does not compute! My advice is to follow through on your online promotion plans, and think of your local gigging as separate from your album promotion. Do it, of course, if you enjoy it and you’re selling CDs and merch.
Yo! This list is Killer! I will definitely be utilizing this reference for my EP. Two thumbs up!
Hi Brian, I have most of this completed already but a great checklist just to make sure I didn’t forget anything. Quick question re: CD Baby. I am about to release my 8th album and in the past, CD Baby didn’t take a chunk for Sound Exchange royalties. I have always received my sound exchange check in the mail separately. Now CD Baby is taking a cut? What’s up with that? What if I did all the work on my own through Sound Exchange and don’t want CD Baby to take a cut of what mine?! Is there a way to register my new album with CD Baby and have them stay away from my Sound Exchange money?! I’ve already entered all of the metadata for sound exchange as I have for every previous album. Seems shady of them to do this!
You can definitely opt out of that! Hopefully that’s the default.
Here’s what CD Baby says here: https://members.cdbaby.com/soundexchange.aspx
“We will only collect UNCLAIMED royalties. If you’ve already registered with SoundExchange, you will continue to collect your digital performance royalties directly.”
So you should be good!
Is this checklist the same on 2018? or maybey there are some new steps now?
I might emphasize different sites and services (i.e. Instagram over Facebook), but the broad strokes are the same!
Thank you Brian!
The link to submit your track to pandora needs to be updated.
Done — thank you!