You’ve worked hard on this track. All the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the making of your masterpiece deserves to be matched by an equally magnificent pre-release strategy. Keep in mind that you’re not simply letting go of a song into the public’s arms; you’re creating a highly anticipated, and uniquely memorable moment for your listeners.
This moment requires meticulous planning. Start with getting your administrative work in order, think about the timing, strategize your distribution, and put some serious muscle into your marketing plan.
A great pre-release strategy is one that will produce the biggest possible impression, the widest possible reach, and a long-lasting ripple effect to follow. Let’s start with the boring stuff.
1. Copyright your work
Mailing a copy of your work to yourself as a means to copyright it is a cute idea—if it actually worked. You need to register your single with the U.S. Copyright Office. This is the only trusted way to ensure you own all rights to your music, and that you have access to the Copyright Office Courts should there ever be a legal issue.
When registering, you should include all relevant information about the song; lyrics, annotation, split sheets, etc. In doing this, you are protecting your work and ensuring that you earn royalties should anyone want to use it commercially in the future.
Now here’s the annoying part: It takes three to five months to process an electronic registration. So you’re going to want to get on it the moment your song is complete, and make this the first step of your strategy.
2. Timing is everything
It’s your job to decide the right moment to release.
There isn’t a specific month that necessarily stands out as the magical moneymaker, however, what I suggest is to avoid the last couple of months of the year. October, November, and December are usually when major artists release singles in order to take advantage of the shopping spikes of the season. If you’re not Taylor Swift or The Foo Fighters, you probably want to steer clear of their massive shadows.
What I can highly recommend is releasing your single on a Friday. People tend to be in a fantastic mood on Fridays because they’re anticipating the weekend—hence why Spotify’s most popular playlist is called New Music Friday. Put out your single at the end of the week, and it has a higher likelihood of being permanently associated with excitement and good memories (like reminding Susan of her first date with Sexy Steve).
3. Getting your distribution in order
The internet is your marketing playground. Create accounts and upload your music for distribution on every music streaming, buying, or downloading channel that exists. Why is this necessary? Because you want to accommodate every potential listener’s preference.
Online platforms include Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, iTunes, Google Play, Deezer, Amazon Prime Music, Tidal, Primephonic—the list goes on. Music distribution services like CDBaby usually cover most of these channels for you, but all of these channels have different processing times, so upload and register your track in advance.
Bandcamp and Soundcloud are both user-generated, so you’ll have to do those ones manually. But the largest audio streaming service right now, in both catalog size and number of users, is Spotify. So put some extra effort into your Spotify distribution if possible, and make sure to create a Spotify For Artists account to stay on top of your analytics.
Secondly, submit your single for Spotify playlist consideration. This way, your song is guaranteed to show up on the Release Radar playlist of your fans, but in addition, you now have a chance to be featured on various other playlists when the release date hits.
4. Create buzz with killer marketing
For the three months prior to your big release, you should craft a marketing plan to create hype leading up to your release date. Such a plan might include a digital posting calendar for your website, blog, and social media platforms, a press campaign to get early and late reviews, a music video, behind-the-scenes content, and newsletter blasts.
But remember, you’ve got to have the content before you can create the calendar.
Make sure to generate fresh, targeted content that is a little bit more interesting than simply random photos containing the caption: “New single coming soon.” Here are some ideas.
- Your cover artwork: Use variations of the single image that appears on your cover to generate visual content that will display on streaming platforms, posters, flyers, and merchandise, ads, and add them to your press kit.
- A band photoshoot: Arrange a shoot and align the concept with your artwork, for example, incorporate the same subject matter and create a through flowing theme with the photographic treatment.
- Video snippets: Combine audio, preferably the hook of your new song, with animated graphics, performance footage or a montage of photos—once again, incorporating the desired aesthetic. These videos can be teasers, between 15 and 30 seconds at most.
Schedule these kinds of abstract posts in your content calendar for release in months one and two. Order them in a way that builds momentum.
In the third month, you can start posting content that makes it more “real” to build more anticipation. Some ideas might be video snippets of the band talking about the song, photos and videos from the studio, release date announcements such as a countdown, etc.
Rotate all the abovementioned content on your digital platforms, especially across all of your social media platforms. Consider both organic as well as paid advertising. Remember, that with social media paid advertising, you get to extend your reach outside your circle of followers. You can target users who have shown interest in music similar to your own.
5. Help your hit to hit hard
As mentioned above, the moment of release should be massive and memorable. Some ways to heighten the impact will often include lining up the following events to occur as soon as the single drops.
- A blog premier: Work with a blogger or editor you know to schedule a premier the day before your release. If this isn’t possible, do it on your own blog! Then invite your newsletter subscribers, radio DJs, music journalists, and more to enjoy an exclusive experience of the music.
- Radio play: Choose some radio stations that you believe would be a good fit for your song. Be sure to follow the correct submission process for each station. Along with your song, submit your electronic press kit (EPK)—updated to include news, images, reviews, and concert dates, and all other relevant information.
- Interviews: Have an interview scheduled with a journalist or blogger moments after the drop. This space can be used to speak about the inspiration behind your song, the creative process, what the lyrics mean, and the recording process.
- A Q&A session: Lead an open conversation on social media, allowing your followers to ask questions about your track and answer them in real-time. Announce the Q&A session in advance to get listeners excited.
6. Maintain the hype
Once your song is out there stealing hearts for you, now you have to find ways to extend its traction for several weeks to follow. This is especially important since your single is likely going to one day be tied to an EP or album down the road. You might also want to capitalize on the hype by using it to promote upcoming shows and new merchandise.
That’s where bonus content comes in—it helps to hold the attention of your listeners. Bonus content can include the following.
- An acoustic version: A stripped-down, unplugged version of a song always has a certain intimate quality to it. It gives the listener the opportunity to hear the lyrics more clearly and makes the musician seem more vulnerable, thereby more accessible.
- A remix: Many bands will hand their songs over to be remixed by DJs and producers in genres totally different from their own. This gives a fresh spin to a song and helps to increase its reach.
- A collaboration: By getting a guest artist to sing or play your song with you doesn’t merely give new energy to your song, it also paves the way to reaching a whole new fanbase—the collaborating artist’s fanbase.
- A live version: A live recording might not sound as perfect as the studio version, but there’s just something about it; fans love it. Release good quality footage of your band performing the song live at a show.
7. Make it work
It is best to have all these different components ready and lined up before the single drops; that way, you’re not scrambling. The key to your pre-release strategy is “momentum.” The more prepared you are, the easier it will be to build, manage, and maintain the desired momentum around your release.
Once again, you’ve worked hard on your song. Now, make it work hard for you.
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Carla Malrowe is a vocalist, songwriter and music industry blogger from Johannesburg, South Africa. She is the lead vocalist, keyboardist and contributing songwriter for industrial-rock band Me’ek. Malrowe is excited to announce that she is currently working on the debut EP of her new dark electronica project Shiver Kiss.
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