This post is geared towards an artist/band who just recorded their first legitimate project and doesn't know what to do with their music after receiving their mixes from their producer.
I've been in the recording business for roughly ten years and nearly every artist I’ve worked with has no clue what to do with their project after they finish recording it. Most people receive their mixes from their audio engineer and stick them on Soundcloud and Bandcamp and call it done. I wish I could buy every one of these bands a drink and take 30mins to explain how doing that is selling their music short.
I’ve compiled this list of pointers from my own experience in the music industry as well as advice given by colleagues. If you can afford to record 5-10 songs professionally, most of these will only cost a single digit percentile of your recording bill. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it will certainly point you in the right direction.
This one sort-of goes without saying, however it deserves mention because not every studio sends their clients a mastered finished product. Without getting too technical, mastering is why (most) music you hear on Spotify and iTunes is the same volume and sounds good anywhere you play it. Make sure you communicate with your producer about how they want to handle mastering. Personally, I have a couple of trusted colleagues I keep on retainer for mastering and I wrap the cost into the estimates I send to my clients. It's one less step my artists have to worry about and I can ensure my work sounds like it should before it's promoted with my name on it.
Note: Don't use Landr or other similar "mastering" services. To master a song well, it takes a nuanced ear which can't be emulated by an algorithm or be rushed by an online company who "does it cheap."
This point is relevant to every other point I'm listing on this post. If you don't do this right, the rest of this article is pretty pointless.
Get your artwork professionally designed. Don't do this yourself unless you have serious experience in graphic design and/or a degree. This point applies to both your album art and your band/artist brand. Have your designer draft you a logo (and a couple variations of it) and use it everywhere (album art, merch, social media, etc). I've seen too many good albums fall by the wayside because the artist didn't invest in a good design for their own brand and their album. Design programs at your local college are a great place to start. I've had excellent luck working with design and art students and they work on the cheap.
Worth. Every. Penny. Distribution is paying someone to take your music to the major retailers/music services and telling them to sell it/host it. I always recommend Tunecore to my artists. If you're proud enough of your music to pay for a professional recording of it, you're crazy not to spend another $30 to make sure it's available to everyone. It's $30 for the first year (for the entire album) and $50/year after the first. This gets your music on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play Music, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Yo Momma's Music, all the big ones. The best part is you keep the money you make with Tunecore. All you need is a PayPal account and some chump change.
3.) Social Media.
You're reading this article because of the power of social media. Even the most absurd musical artists gain notoriety because of YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. Make a Facebook page and an Instagram for your band/artist brand and use the graphics you paid for on point #1. Post photos of you rehearsing, photos of your shows, videos of you screwing around, etc. Post anything; content is king in 2017 and people will continually see your name cross their newsfeeds if you keep posting an encouraging them to comment. Facebook Live videos are also incredibly effective. I'll do a more detailed article about this point on a later date.
This is where point #1 gets even more relevant. You don't have to spend a ton of money on merch, but what you spend it on needs to look legit. I could detail exactly what kinds of merch to invest in, but Hugh McIntyre at Sonicbids nails it perfectly here.
Also, I can't stress enough the importance of having a nice merch table. Merch booths are how you make money in a band, so don't be lazy with yours. Buy a folding table and a cheap, black table cloth at Wal-Mart. Arrange your merch in creative ways to grab attention. Light your merch booth with thrift store lamps. Hang your t-shirts on a piece of chainlink fence and light it with clip-on lamps. Give away cheap stuff (pins, stickers, etc). Do package deals (shirt+CD for $20). Use Square or PayPal Here to take credit cards. Have your designer from point #1 throw together a price list, print it on nice paper, and buy a standing plastic sign holder from Office Max for $5. A little money and attention goes a long way here.
I don't recommend this for every artist. Duplication is paying someone to print your album artwork and press your CDs professionally. If you're touring or playing a ton of shows locally, I recommend having your album manufactured. Don't skimp on this and try to do it yourself with Avery printable CD labels, or even worse, selling burned CDs in paper cases. Professionally pressed, shrink wrapped CDs are what separate the men from the boys when your merch booth is lined up with the other opening bands and the headlining acts you're opening for. I always recommend Discmakers to my artists. I've never had an issue with the company and their work is always pristine (providing your designer did well and formatted your art correctly). Make sure you purchase a unique UPC code for your album; I know Discmakers offers this. If you ever try to sell your album in a retail store, you absolutely MUST have one of these.
I advise even fewer artists to do this than I do for duplication. Copyrighting is a tedious process that usually requires an attorney. I typically only advise country artists, songwriters selling their music to performing artists, and occasionally pop artists to copyright their music. If you're in a band and you do decide to pursue copyrighting your album, pay an attorney to do the paperwork and copyright the "sound recording" as opposed to the music and lyrics themselves.
Note: There's an urban legend most people believe called the "Poor Man's Copyright." It involves mailing a copy of your work to yourself to legitimize when it was created using the postmark date. It doesn't hold up in court, don't do it. Here's proof. Here's more detailed proof.
A Few Final Words:
You are only as legit as you show people you are. This statement is a double-edged sword, many people who suck at music have made a name for themselves solely on marketing and many talented artists have gone unheard due to a lack of good marketing. To succeed in music in 2017, you need to do both well. Don't just throw your music up on the Internet and beg people on Facebook to listen to it, give them a reason to WANT to seek it out. Good marketing and good music will do this for you.
SoundCloud is the norm for artists hosting their music online. I love their platform and their app functionality, but I don't recommend using it for a legitimate release. I advise reserving your SoundCloud space for singles, acoustic versions, live cuts, bonus tracks, etc. There's too many people posting demos, terrible quality recordings, and crappy advertisements for me to justify putting finished, polished tracks next to them. Don't put your pearls before swine. Signed artists aren't even putting up full versions of their songs on Soundcloud, so why should you?
Bandcamp is great for us DIY'ers and their "name your price" feature is awesome. My only issue with the service is that it is so closely associated with "local and aspiring bands." It's an easy way to sell your music and make money, but I don't see why I would post my music here when I can put it on all the major services and retailers for only $30. Granted, I'd make more money on Bandcamp per unit than I would with iTunes, but Bandcamp is not integrated into peoples' phones like Spotify and iTunes are. If someone buys my album from Bandcamp they have to jump through another hoop to listen to it instead of just opening up Spotify or iTunes like they do for everything else they listen to. People don't jump through extra hoops, that's just the instant gratification crazed world we live in.
Have anything else to add? Drop it in the comments below!