Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The 4 Dangers With A Self Released Album

“Self release” is all too common of a phrase in today’s music market. If we’ve learned one thing over the last decade in the industry, musicians and upcoming music professionals want to bypass the label as everything has turned “independent.” I’m about as independent as they come, but I’m also a realist. As a self-release is artistically liberating on one hand, it is also completely dangerous on the other. Approach a release incorrectly, and not only are you out money and time, but it has a negative ripple effect on a musician’s reputation and marketing appeal. To clarify, “independent release” for the purpose of this post, refers to a musicians self released album without using the resources of distributors, labels, marketing professionals, and other industry leaders. To disarm the naysayer, there is always an exception to the rule. As a musicians may latch on to the OK-Go Youtube model to prove a self release can be successful, “you’re right” but it’s not a realistic model to follow. That’s like a college graduate arguing they’re not going to work because they plan on winning the lottery. The chances you’ll nail it with a self release are limited at best; but before reading further I suggest viewing WHY YOU NEED A RECORD LABEL in order to understand my mindset with this post.
Set ego aside for a minute and become deeply aware with the common pitfalls with a self released album. If you can avoid the following traps you’ve already set yourself apart from the millions of other bands around the globe. Be smart. Don’t hang yourself on a negative release.
1. Match It With Marketing
People get way too excited about a self release, so it is important to distribute the energetic buildup. For musicians, they spend time writing, editing, recording, editing, mastering, editing, and eventually album manufacturing. From start to finish, thousands of creative hours have been poured into to one product, so clearly excitement is running high to get the album on shelves. Problem- where are those shelves? Whatever the amount of time it took to produce the album, the industry rule of thumb is to spend at least equal amount of time marketing the album before it hits the shelves. Example: if you spend 18 months writing and recording, at a minimum you should spend 18 months marketing the album. To have a financially beneficial release, along with elevating your artistic reputation, it is essential to focus on the marketing effort. I get it, really I do……you want to put out the album, but slow it down. Musicians are musicians, they are creators, but they aren’t marketing experts. Start by establishing a small buzz about a future release within your current fan base, and massage that buzz until it turns into a frenzy months before the actual release. Spend time finding distributor outlets, organizing future release parties, and maybe even a cross promotional partner. Bottom line, spend the time marketing.
2. Global Release? Really?
If I see an independent musician that’s described as “international recording artist” in their bio, I immediately dismiss them. Industry executives look for a variety of key aspects when evaluating an artist, one of which is realistic expectations and business planning. Don’t get confused, if you release an album, a release itself doesn’t mean you’re international icon. About the only thing international about it is the fact it can be found on the internet. YouTube and iTunes does not equate to an international singing sensation. If the intention is to have a global release, have an actual global release! Going global is possible, but it takes additional marketing time, researching market trends, and generating a fan base internationally. If this is the plan, first target a particular country. “Global” isn’t a blanket concept within the industry, as it means targeting new markets in far away countries. This is difficult but doable. “Global” is more a marketing trend as opposed to selling two downloads in Tokyo. Get some tips at 5 WAYS TO GO GLOBAL.
3. Social Media Isn’t the Final Answer
MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are all great tools to couple an album release, but it isn’t the promotional answer. You ask an independent artist how they plan on marketing/promoting a self release and 9 out of 10 will say social media. This isn’t unique, as everyone takes this approach in today’s market. It should be a component of your marketing effort, but as you try to stand out with a product in order to upstage your competition, social media follows the same trends as everyone else. Further, when you do use social media, be unique. I follow may too many bands on Twitter, MySpace, and chain e-mails that exhaust people with album alerts. There is fine line to walk between tactfully informing people of an upcoming release, and wearing people the hell out. For example, if you have 30 post a week, and all 30 Twitter updates say “New album out, check it out on iTunes.” you’re draining a fan base. Your goal is to gain followers, not to lose them. If every one of your posts is geared towards an upcoming album release, you aren’t doing anything to attract new clientele because there’s nothing on your site to keep people coming back. Be unique with your social media efforts, use them sparingly, and only invest time into social media to enhance release, and NOT to focus on a release.
4. Concert Fans Don’t Equal Album Buyers
Perhaps the most important element to keep in mind while planning a self release, is that concert goers don’t mean buyers. Another rule of thumb, less than 20% of your estimated fan base will actually purchase an album, and this is pretty liberal. Musicians get trapped into thinking that people who attend their shows will buy albums. Wrong. Any live music fan base is split between people who enjoy live music, people who enjoy going out, people who enjoy local events, and finally- the people who actually care about your music. Finally, don’t use your gigs as a gauge. Local musicians who constantly play the same venues, which constantly recycles the same customers, lose their marketing demand. As having gigs on your calendar is good on one hand because it keeps a cash flow coming, playing the same venues is also a self release killer on the other hand. You lose uniqueness by playing the same venues because you are recycling the same material. Regardless of what they tell you (or what you think you hear) fans get stale fast. The same set list, stage show, and production elements becoming exhausting. Just because you inject a new album into the mix doesn’t mean there’s new energy. In short, do NOT gauge your estimated album sales on the amount of fans who attend the concerts. It’s an unrealistic measuring stick.

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