In this episode we’re going to discuss the ‘how to’ release music process. It’ll be spread over several episodes, as there is so much to cover. We’ll cover the studio blues, what to drop: single, EP or album, the undercooked record, when to release, and the damage holding off can cause. We’re also going to figure out why the hell are we doing all of this?
So the time has come and you’re gonna release your music to the world. It’s a huge moment for any musician to set free their precious creations. To set free your music to the world, and hope and pray it’s well received and your career explodes. Believe me, I’ve been through these emotions more times than I can remember, and I understand exactly how nerve racking it can be and having a plan is essential [see episode 24].
There’s so much to be done. You have to temporarily step away from your songwriting mind and screw on your business and manager head, and get down to the details such as: lead times, publicity, promotion, interviews, in-stores, pressing, artwork, video, distribution, launch, tour, follow up, etc etc. It seems a monstrous task but you can absolutely do it.
Just give yourself stacks of time to prepare. Once it’s signed off and released, you then have to keep the pressure on and work even harder! But for now, let’s just focus on getting this release underway.
Why are we doing this?
So why are we writing and recording music? Well, it’s so we can take our music to the world, of course. The fundamental reason we want to make and release music is not to become millionaires, right?
It’s to fill the world with amazing music that will hopefully resonate with other human beings. We want to touch people and make them feel something whether it be joy or sadness, we are creating music to be connected. If you keep this in mind, you’ll do okay.
You might make a few dollars. Yeah, only a few, but that’s not your driving ambition is it? Of course not! Getting the right priorities in place early is important, so you don’t end up falling on your face because you haven’t become Ed Sheeran overnight and made a squllion dollars.
In order to reach the masses and be heard, you need to release your music. This all used to be carried out mostly by record labels, but lucky for you, it’s all in your hands now. I suppose the term ‘release’ means to officially make your music available to the public in some format. Funny, I’ve never really thought about that!
You make a decision on a format (we’ll cover this in more detail later), select the songs you’ve slaved over in the studio, have them mastered, design the artwork, press CDs if required, select a suitable release date, and begin the preparation for the release and launch.
The Home studio blues
Since the revolution of the home studio, we’ve been given this incredible power of being able to produce our music at home. Incredible, is this a game changer or what? I spent years and years on Tascam four track cassette recorders, doing home demos. When I got my first PowerMac and Cubase software in 1999, I was truly gobsmacked. I had more than four tracks!
The world changed for me overnight, but I will mention that this incredible change also brought its own problems to the table; restriction and commitment. It’s remarkable how ingenious you can be when you’re limited with 4 or 6 tracks. In some ways, losing those prohibitive restrictions opened the door for overkill and plundering songs to death. More on that later.
The penultimate Alcotomic CD, Where You Go, was recorded at Birdland Studios in Prahran by Lindsay Gravina. However, the last track called A Little Hour was completely recorded in a room in my house in Brunswick.
It was essentially our first self-recorded release. Andy on brushes and tapping a can of Raid fly spray with his drumstick, Paul was playing all the guitars and with me on the organ, and it sounded fantastic. It was a shock it actually came together. That was it! We never came back!
But beware. There is a downside to the ripper home studio environment. Unless you’re on an obsessive relentless mission, you won’t complete anything at home. I began to observe this drop out syndrome happening quite a lot in the 2000s.
Many people would buy a recording computer and some microphones. They start out with good intentions of writing and recording that special album, only to lose interest several weeks in – a result of the absence of big studio commitment, as I pointed out in episode 16 – The Million Dollar Myth.
It appeared that paying $1200 a day at some of the bigger studios was the incentive required to get the bloody thing finished! I must have been on a mission because I always dug in and completed albums – often alone, late at night, in my makeshift studio.
Ask my long-suffering partner. She thinks I’m quite unrelenting, and a perfectionist. But this is what you need to be aware of; the home studio can prevent you from getting to the finish line, if you don’t have a solid goal and a deadline to work to. It’s just too easy for some to walk away, order a pizza, and watch some TV.
Holding off too long and over producing
There’s always a flip side, isn’t there? Well this is it. The home studio environment can keep you working on a song for months, even years, as you try every conceivable mic and plugin in a vain attempt to get everything just right! Just as perfect as you heard it on the last Soundgarden or Cold Play album.
When my band Prettymess started, we were initially signed to a management deal with Ridgeway/Dacy. This is the company based in Melbourne and London that managed Taxiride and the Androids.
Pete Dacy was the producer and Kieth Ridgeway the dealmaker/manager. We found out that the first single by the band Taxiride took Pete Dacy and the band years to complete. They sat in his studio going over every single note and detail – sometimes deleting everything and starting again! But I will say the song is absolutely flawless as a result.
I’m not quite sure if this is the right way to go, however. Sure the song, Get Set, was incredible but it almost burnt the band out before they even got out of the starting blocks. When we got on board with Ridgeway/Dacy, they began the same process with us.
We practiced and practiced, even though we were already seasoned musicians. We were sent to singing lessons every week and I must admit, we sounded pretty bloody incredible. The management company re-arranged everything. This was largely why we parted ways, eventually. It sucked the life out of the songs, and us. We felt trapped.
Nothing was ever going to happen until everything was ‘perfect’. Their version of ‘perfect’ was virtually impossible to achieve. We had emerged from the indie DIY world, and this notion of ‘perfect’ just didn’t sit with us.
So, when then is it time to pull the pin on your recording, call it a day, and set it free? If you jump out too early you’ll have a recording that sounds like a half-baked demo – and believe me, that’s fine, if that’s your goal. Check out the Frank Varrasso interview.
He clearly states that the big radio stations like Triple J, that have the absolute power to make you a star, take your music very, very seriously. If you walk in with a seemingly poorly recorded demo, it could well be over for you. They seldom give you another chance, unless you have something special going on, and they want to hear you develop over time.
You’ll have to use your common sense to figure out when the songs are ready to go, and it ain’t easy folks. There’s always another harmony or keyboard pad you can fly into the mix. Although, is that improving the track or just cluttering it? It becomes a gut thing.
Providing your songs have got great sounds and excellent performances, you should almost be there. You can totally get this at home in your studio, but you have to know when to walk away. I’ve been sucked into this dark hole of ‘improving’ songs stacks of times. It’s tough and I don’t have an answer. You’ll have that gut feeling when it’s time, however, be careful NOT to release a demo, unless that’s your intention.
Single, EP or Album?
Gosh, how can you answer this little chestnut? I reckon this will depend wholly on what kind of act you are. Let’s think about it. If you’re doing dance music, a single might be all you need. Maybe a new single every month or two – digitally only, of course.
What about if you’re an alternative rock band or folk band? I reckon you might still be able to run with an EP or album for two reasons. Firstly, the kind of people who like rock bands like to own albums, particularly if they’re older fans. They want to hold on to a collection of songs that gives them a sense of taking a journey with a band.
Secondly, If you’re in one of these musicians that actually have a real playing live band, you often need to have something real and tangible to hand out, and even sell, at your live shows. They’ve almost become a promotional product.
Yes, it’s kind of old fashion having CDs, but at a gig, they’re a lifesaver. Selling an album to a psyched-up punter for $20 is a big financial windfall for your act. Sell 15 and you’re all going out for Chinese after the show!
EP’s to me are a kind of nice midway product for the performing band. They cost less to produce, and you can squeeze in 5 or 6 of your best on to one shiny disc. You’ll hear that the newer generation of music lovers doesn’t know anything other than a single. That may be true, but trust me, they’ll buy an EP if you’ve got one for sale.
When is the best release time?
Indeed … when is the best time to release your new EP or album? I’ve released 18 records over my career and I think I’ve never got the timing right on any. It’s a big question because everyone has a theory on when to drop an album or EP.
The old rule: don’t do it before and after Christmas, still applies, I suppose. However, that works on the assumption you’re battling U2, Taylor Swift and Coldplay for publicity space and airtime. Do you think you will be?
I’ve dropped EP’s mid-winter in Melbourne, when it tends to be a little quieter and colder. But then, getting people out to your launch shows can be difficult!
Autumn and spring have always been okay. But still you need to find out, if you can, who else is releasing music around that time and if there are school holidays, public holidays and big events going on. They have the potential to affect the deliverability of your new release.
If you’re totally a grassroots operation and don’t give a shit about anything but your friends, and perhaps a small group of fans, none of the above really matters.
You just find a time that works with your people and drop it! But remember – and this is super important, always allow a massive lead time for your release: three to six months.
Yes, it seems a lot, but publicity and promoting the record will require every minute of that time. Just getting your music heard by radio station programmers can take months if that’s the route you want to take.
Some magazines run three to four month lead times so if you’re chasing a review or interview in Rolling Stone magazine to support your release, you’d better start organising.
We’ll get into artwork, publicity, advertising, distro and more, in the next couple of episodes. There really is a lot to consider for your release. You don’t want to cut any corners or find out at the 11th hour you’ve forgotten something. So keep on planning and be ready.
Are you ready to release your EP or album? Are you prepared? And if so, do you have any tips that can help the rest of us? Leave your comments and any questions below. You can also follow me on Instagram @indieconfidential or you can message me here.
The next episode of Indie Confidential will be talking more about the music releasing process: mixing, mastering, distribution, publicity, promotion, and much more. Make some time to sit down and plug in because it’s a big job.
I’ll catch you soon.