How to Release an Album Online (The Complete Beginner's Guide to Your First Record Release)
For years I had no idea how to release an album online, so I let the songs clog up my hard drive. After lots of research (and frustration), I finally put it all together. Here's how.
Note: Many thanks to the incredible Ari Herstand for laying much of this out in his book, How to Make it in the New Music Business. It’s full of brilliant information on all aspects of being a musician these days.
This guide on how to release an album applies a lot of the lessons from that book, as well as my own experiences.
I've tried to make it a practical, FUN case study about how I released my first album for my synthwave project, “Portents.” (you can stream it while reading this very lengthy article - it's great instrumental background music!)
Stay organized - download the free timeline.
As I’ll relate below, I had a deadline I wanted to hit for release and didn’t plan well for just how long things would take. Moreover, I didn’t build in enough extra time. This guide for how to release album is going to cover everything from how to release an album on iTunes to how much does it cost to put out an album.
So download the worksheet, give yourself realistic expectations for deadlines, and build in extra time.
Also, some of these links are affiliate links (which means if you click on them, I get a commission). Regardless these are my honest, unbiased opinions and are really the services I used.
Preparing to publish your first album
Once you’ve recorded your album, it’s important to master it. Mastering involves making sure that all the songs have a nice tonal balance, are loud, and they’re in the right format. So whether that means .Wav or .mp3, mastering is when you convert it. It's also where you get it to a commercial volume level.
If you’ve got a production studio at home, you may want to consider mastering the tracks yourself. However, if you produced your own tracks, you probably shouldn’t master them as well. That’s because you’re so used to the tracks that you might not be able to hear them with fresh ears. Plus the idiosyncrasies of your ears, your monitors, and your room will already be baked into the final mix, so you don’t want to double down on it.
Initially I self-mastered the tracks using iZotope Ozone, but I just didn’t hit the mark (for many of the reasons described above).
Instead, you can have a friend master your tracks. Or you could hire a pro from a site like AirGigs.com. Alternately, you can use an online automated service. After experimenting with a review copy, I ended up choosing eMastered. The quality was perfect for this album (especially the eq curves and the amount of compression) and the turn-around time was instant. Because I wanted to get the album out by October 1st, online mastering ended up being a no brainer.
Art for Your First Album Release
You can’t release an album without art. In fact, these days I’d argue that the album art may even be more important than the underlying music at first capturing the listener's’ attention.
Now, I don’t have much of an eye for design, so initially I went to Fiverr and hired someone to produce the album art. While I’ve had great experiences with Fiverr in the past, the particular artist I hired missed the deadline and would not commit to meeting a subsequent. Bummer!
Like I said I was under a tight deadline and timing mattered (which is why you should download the album timeline).
So I then went to Pond 5 and purchased some royalty free art for less than $5. From there, I went to Canva, a free online graphic design site where I literally do everything, and started with one of their album templates. After about a half hour of tinkering, I ended up with some album art that I really enjoyed (below) and that fit the vibe of the album. This was probably the best way to do album art on the cheap for your first record release.
What do you think?
How to release an album: Copyright
Copyrighting an album is way easier than you’d think (at least for a US copyright for your record release)! Now, when I was first researching how to release an album, I had no idea where to start with this.
Go to Copyright.gov and register the album. It costs $55, and you have to upload all of your songs. In fact, you could use the opportunity to copyright all of your songs as part of an unreleased compilation album. Note that this only works if you own the composition rights and the sound recording rights to do this.
How to Make Money Selling Music
It’s important to recognize that there is a difference between registering your copyright with the government, and registering your song with Performing Rights Organizations (PROS) like BMI & ASCAP. And how they're different from digital rights administrators like CD Baby Pro, Song Trust ($10 off through my link), and Sound Exchange.
This stuff is VERY confusing, and I’d encourage you to do a lot more independent research. If you really want to dig into all the registrations you need to earn all the money possible from your music, please check out Ari's book, How to Make it in the New Music Business. I’m just trying to provide a very basic guide of what you need to do for your record release.
And if you find this confusing and don’t want to deal with it, you should just publish your music through CD Baby Pro (this is not an affiliate link (not that that would influence my suggestions)).
They will register your songs with all the relevant societies around the world and make sure that you get the mechanical royalties for sales + streams as the owner of the recording and the performance royalties as the songwriter. It’s fast, easy, and costs like an extra $20.
However, if you’re like me, and you’ve had to figure this out all back asswards. I have a bunch of different accounts scattered all over, so it just makes more sense to do it the long way, which I’ll explain.
Registering with a PRO
First, you need to create an account with a PRO - BMI or ASCAP in the US (it doesn’t really matter which - but you must pick ONLY one). The PROs will collect the portion of the revenue stream that belongs to you as the songwriter/composer for public performances within the US.
Second, you’ll want to register with Song Trust ($10 off through my link). Song Trust will end up being the tool you use to register your publishing royalties from around the world, and they will collect for a broader range of plays within the US. You can also have them collect royalties for Youtube performances (unlike PROs). A lifetime membership costs something like $100.
How to Release an Album on iTunes & Spotify
Both are reputable, have great software, professional and easy to work with. The big difference is the pricing model they use. Ari put together this amazing, in depth report for free.
CD Baby charges a one time fee per album or single. As of October 2017, they were charging $29 per album. Distrokid, in contrast, charges $19.99 per year for unlimited albums, released under one name.
Depending on what your plans are, both provide great options.
I ended up choosing CD Baby to distribute my album for the following reasons. First, I like the idea of paying a one time fee and having my music out there forever. Second, I plan on releasing multiple albums under different names (i.e. doing a lo-fi hip hop album, an indie rock album, a bosa nova album, etc).
For me, DistroKid’s unlimited albums per year just wouldn’t work. That's because even though I have a lot of music I want to distribute, I’d end up paying way more to do it under multiple names (which costs extra).
But if I was a fairly prolific musician writing in one genre, I think I would have gone with DistroKid instead.
Online Promotion: Building a Web Presence
These days, it goes without saying that you need to be everywhere online. Here's the major things you should prepare - consider it your releasing an album checklist. Or at least a starting point.
You might think that having a website has nothing to do with how to release an album, but you're probably living in 1992.
These days, having a website is a must. It’s the only platform you can trust to never change the rules and to never force you to pay extra to interact with your fans. It’s a steady light in the darkness.
On your website you’ll want to include at least one photo, your bio, links to your music, any upcoming shows, and, most importantly, a way to sign up for your mailing list so you can directly talk to your fans.
If you’re not particularly tech savvy, I’d recommend setting up a website with Wix. It’s super easy, looks great, and is affordable. Again, this is probably the best option if you’re just releasing music as a single artist on a semi-regular basis.
If you’re more tech savvy, then you can build a site from scratch, which might ultimately be more affordable. I already had the tech knowhow, the domain hosting, and the software licenses I need to launch a band site.
So for me it was better to just register a new domain for the record release and host it on my existing account.
I use Bluehost for all of my internet hosting and domain registration needs. Right now they have special where it only costs $3.95 a month. Then I used Thrive Themes to build a responsive website designed to capture user email addresses.
Let me tell you, ask any “internet marketer” or band or anyone - having an email list is really where it’s at. The list allows you to announce new releases, tour dates, and share silly anecdotes with your fans for free. Other marketing tools (like Facebook) cost WAY WAY more per interaction.
Now that you’ve got your website up and running, at a minimum you’ll also need a Facebook page. You’ll want to include most of the same info on your Facebook page as your website. But you’ll also need to commit to making a couple of posts every week to keep people engaged.
You’ll also want to create a Youtube channel (did you know that Youtube is one of the biggest music discovery sites around?) so that you can eventually upload your music videos.
Instagram is really hot right now, and is a great way to communicate with fans, if you’ve got visually compelling content. Twitter can be great for interacting with folks, but I find it hard to gain much traction without being on it constantly. Still, you should create an account.
EP Release Strategy: Publicity
Now you’re going to need to get some press! You need to have an EP Release Strategy to get publicity. I didn't. So next you want to submit your music to blogs and Spotify playlists. If there’s already blogs that you follow in your genre, then those are great places to start.
But if not, there’s plenty of ways to find new opportunities. Go to Hype Machine and check out which blogs are bumping music similar to yours. Then visit the blog and send the editors a quick email laying out what you’re about and why you think your music would be a good fit, and include a streamable link to your song (DON’T ATTACH FILES). Dropbox.com or Box.com are the best - Soundcloud can be unreliable (and may not be in business by the time you read this.)
You should also check out SubmitHub, a service where you can search for blogs that match your genre, and submit your songs (for a fee you’ll get more attention). Because Spotify pulls information from blogs to a certain extent, this is really helpful tool for kickstarting some buzz for your record release.
Wondering how to get your songs included in playlists? Here's some tips from a friend on submitting to playlists, which is now an essential skill you need to know as part of how to release an album, from Gerry.
Ok here is the lowdown for contacting the playlist curators(always drives me batty when people say contact the curators but don’t tell you even where to start…..so this is where you start)
now keep in mind if you wanna triple and quadruple your efforts,you could always hire an intern or assistant on fiverr for cheap,to hunt down the profiles for the curators.
That is another option of course.
Step one: Cruise on to spotify and do a search for the genre,moods,feelings, artists names etc you want.
Ignore the official playlists.
Make a list of all the user-generated playlists that your songs would fit on Spotify.
Step two: Click on the user the person that created the playlist.
What your looking for is the the persons name(not a screen name,90 percent of the time a user links up there facebook profile with there spotify account.)
Click on their profile,and look at the photo
Step three: Now search the name on Facebook. 90 percent of the time the photo will be the same as the facebook profile because they are linked up.
Next once you find the person you send them a message.
Really enjoyed your music for”insert playlist name” its how I discovered”insert name of artist and relevant into from the playlist”.
I have this new song that came out that I think would really fit well on this playlist.
Here it is”insert spotify link”.
Id be honored to be included on it.
Thanks have an awesome day.”
The method works awesome.
Ive seen 6 different plug companys doing the exact same thing.
Additional bonus ideas and outside the box stuff:
You can also go deeper on your research and look on linkedin,Google,look for there emails etc.
Facebook is the easiest way to do this.
You can use the same approach with twitter as well.
Now if you are uber crafty and savy with this working Deezer with this method works amazing,with the linked in info,twitter etc you can actually find their office address ,you could actually reach out with postcards etc
Maybe a cute little merch sticker etc.
With deezer most of the stuff international so sending out the postcards etc is a unique way to really get in touch with the curators.
(same idea ive seen used from the 303 infinity guys back in the day……he used to send out tons of flyers etc its pretty awesome)
Running ads on Deezzer format:
You can use Feature fm ads to get onto playlists on deezer.
Its fairly in expensive.
Lastly keep in mind any user-created playlist on most of these services usually have curators on facebook,so you can search it out on tidal as well.
By doing this,you ll be able to create long term connections and relationships with spotify curators etc.
On Spotify and Youtube, search for playlists that include songs in a style similar to yours. Then try to track down the curators and send them a link to your tracks. You can also try using Soundplate to submit directly to Spotify blogs.
How to Advertise Your Record Release
Facebook advertising is becoming huge, and as a musician you desperately need to learn how to use it. My band relies on it heavily to promote our shows, but it’s also a great way to target potential new fans for your music.
I’d start out by watching a few Youtube tutorials (I recommend Miles Beckler’s channel unequivocally). Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals from, I’ll tell you how to apply them as a musician.
You’ll need to start out by figuring out what your goal is. Are you trying to get people to like your Facebook page? Do you want to drive traffic to your website so you can convert people into newsletter subscribers? Do you want people to watch a music video?
Once you’ve got that figured out, you’ll need to set your budget. Facebook requires a minimum budget of $1 per day. To see meaningful results, you should probably be spending $5.
From there, you need to find your audience.
This is where it gets cool.
If you sound like another famous artist, then you can (and should) directly target their fans, by showing your ads only to people who have that artist as an interest.
When you design your ad, you’ll need a nice image or video, and some text that says something like: “Fans of XXXX are loving the new album by YYYY. Find out why.”
How to Make Cheap Music Videos
Did you know that Youtube is the second largest search engine?
These days, everyone should have a music video up on Youtube. Having music videos ready is a super important step in learning how to release an album. You can do something really simple in iMovie or Cyberlink, where you just put the music behind a static image of your album art (like this).
Or you can hire someone on Fiverr to make a lyric music video for you.
Or, if you’re feeling creative and adventurous, you can make a music video on your own by downloading free clips on sites like Pexels and buying stock video on sites like Pond 5. I went down this route for some of my music videos (like this) and was really happy with the results.
So there you have it, you've learned how to release an album! Releasing your first album isn’t too daunting, you just have to go through the steps. And if you mess up - remember, it’s not the end of the world. Most of these things can be undone, and you’ll be releasing more music in the future, anyway, right?
Cheers and good luck!