Hacking the Self-Release Option
Self-releasing an album or EP has become a growing trend for producers who want to get their music out. It’s not hard to see why: with the proliferation of producers, finding a label to release your music has become increasingly competitive. Especially if your goal is to release on vinyl, you can have a long road ahead of you. Everyone wants a vinyl release, but the pressing plants have limited capacity and waiting lists are very long. This can lead many to give up on finding a label and try to go it alone.
Tempting as it can seem though, the self-release option can also be a trap. The last thing you want to do is make a rash decision based mostly on your frustrations, because you can end up regretting it for a long time to come.
The self-release option can make sense for some people, but the decision should be made for the right reasons, and taken only after careful consideration.
As artists, we believe in our own music. It’s our baby, and this self-confidence is what motivates us to keep going. The downside of this is that it makes it extremely difficult to find constructive lessons in failure, or to interpret rejection as anything other than a personal blow.
It’s not personal. The truth is that if you’ve knocked at tons of doors and no one has answered, there could be a reason. This is definitely not the time to go for vinyl! It’s important to heed the red flags, and to learn from them. It could be that the music isn’t there yet, that the label match is wrong, or that the timing is wrong for the genre/style you’re aiming for. Sometimes, ideas can be outdated… but what’s “passé” one day can make a comeback tomorrow, so it’s important to get feedback from active DJs too.
The fact is that timing is crucial. It’s been said that a hit happens when the right artist arrives with the right song, at the right moment. Today, pretty much everyone would agree that Michael Jackson’s Thriller is a classic, but at some point, the record label had to make a tough call about whether the album would resonate with people. Of course, it’s more of an art than a science to try to gauge if a song might break through. But this is what labels do.
With this being said, there are times when self-releasing could pay. But in addition to having the right reasons, you also need to be smart and strategic in how you pursue it. Here are some tips for making the self-release option work for you:
Release on Soundcloud with a free download. There are pros and cons to taking this route. On the plus side, it allows you to consolidate and build up your fan base. But be careful: if you’re letting your eagerness get the best of you, you could also be wasting an opportunity. Just imagine — you’ve given your EP away on Soundcloud, only to get an email a few months later from that sick label you thought had passed you up. Labels can take time to get back to you — a lot of time. Don’t let your lack of patience get in the way of sound judgment.
Release on Bandcamp. Bandcamp has been positioning themselves as the best new way to reach the masses, providing artists with a great platform to gain new followers while getting paid for their music. You can stream your music, sell it in any format, and set your price, with a pay-what-you-can option that lets you set the minimum amount. If you do go with Bandcamp, be sure to link your page to your Soundcloud profile to get the most from it.
Pursue undercover releases. Finding a middleman to release your music can be a very smart move for your career. Having your music vouched for by someone with reach or influence lends it credibility, and lets you tap into established networks that can carry your music to eager ears. There are a couple different routes you can try here:
- This might sound controversial, but try reaching out to music blogs and pirate sites personally, sending your music to them and seeing if they’d be interested in sharing it. If you offer it to them as an exclusive scoop, they’ll be more likely to boost it. (So go site by site, giving them a week or two to respond before moving down your list). We have to think of any outlet with a big following as today’s answer to traditional broadcasters. If a huge number of people are listening to what a site pumps out, then why not try to become their ally? Plus, these sites are usually very knowledgeable about what people want to hear, so they might be able to give you some useful feedback.
- Give it to DJs personally by contacting them one on one, especially if they have a podcast. Here too, they’ll be more likely to bite if you offer it to them in exclusivity. Even better is if the DJ does a podcast for an awesome label. If they pick it up, your music will be touched by the label’s soft blessing in a way, and you’ll be killing two birds with one stone by riding the label’s coattails and boosting your exposure even more.
Whichever way you go, always, always be sure to target your outreach carefully, thinking strategically about how to connect with your audience. Whether we’re talking about publications, blogs, DJs or labels, the way to grab their attention is always by making a human connection. It’s hard work, but you can’t cut corners with this. The more time and energy you invest in finding the right people and personalizing your messages, the greater chance you’ll have of piercing through the noise and getting noticed.
Good luck, I’m also here to help, as always.