This man just released an album independently without reading our tips first and such is his disappointment, he is now about to throw his guitar off a cliff.
Strange things do happen. Not very often. But sometimes they do – and on those rare occasions, when weird stuff with ley lines is going on and there’s a full moon up and a bunch of hippies are doing some sort of summer solstice dance around Stonehenge, a record that has been released independently can end up capturing a national radio DJ’s ears, and then some of his DJ mates’ ears, and ultimately the ears of the great unwashed...and before you know it, you have a hit of sorts on your hands. I say ‘hit of sorts’ because at this point, you’ve got good airplay, but in my book a hit still constitutes a piece of music that generates cash as well as awareness (you can get the latter easily enough by taking off your clothes and running around a cricket pitch, but you probably won’t get paid for it unless somehow your naked antics involve a spot of match-fixing; good luck to you with this endeavour).
The trick to turning airplay for an independently-released track into a real hit – or cold, hard cash – is to have built a very strong infrastructure that supports this independent release. You may end up surprising yourself (and me) by getting a truckload of spins on Radio 2, but if you are unprepared for this eventuality, then you are shooting yourself, your release, and quite probably any hope of a career in music, in the foot (I’m not sure the latter two entities have feet but the metaphor generally works I think. Or is it an idiom? Anyway, I digress).
In my view there are several important things that you simply have to do when releasing an album independently; these tasks ensure that you receive as much money as possible for airplay and sales. If I had a pound for the number of bands I’ve encountered that neglect these boring but essential tasks I would be covered in suntan lotion quaffing Chateau Neuf de Pape (or perhaps something slightly more refreshing, but you get the gist) in San Tropez. Now, since bands are not likely to give me a pound every time they ignore my sage music promotion advice, I might as well provide a litany of these vital but yawn-inducing tasks that should be ticked off a yawn-inducing ‘to-do’ list before any independent release goes anywhere near a radio station (or more likely, your mum).
So, here goes.
- Join PRS for Music and register your tracks with them. The PRS is now an amalgamation of two societies, the PRS (Performing Rights Society) and the MCPS (the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society). For a full explanation of what PRS for Music do, I’d suggest you read their benefits of membership information, but in a nutshell they sort songwriters and publishers out with royalties any time their music is played or performed (Irish peeps: google IMRO instead).
- Join PPL (Phonographic Performance Ltd) and register your songs with them too. It’s a similar sort of organisation to PRS for Music, but it collects and distributes royalties for record companies and performers rather than songwriters and publishers. Now, as you are releasing your album independently, the chances are that you are both a performer on the album and the record company releasing it, so make sure that the PPL know about your music and are giving you due reward for it when Jeff Smith's golden ears finally decide that you are worth exposing to 7 million Radio 2 listeners’ sensitive ears.
- Encode ISRC (International Standard Recording Codes) on your CDs. ISRC codes ensure that when your music is played on the radio, PRS for Music and PPL know about it and are able to pay you accordingly. In an era of diminishing music sales, revenue from airplay is more important than ever, and without ISRC codes on your single or promo CD, even if you have a huge radio hit on your hands, you may get a fraction of the revenue owed to you. One spin on national radio in the UK can be worth around £60 - not to be sniffed at.
- This sounds incredibly obvious, but ensure that your music is available to buy online on major sites (iTunes, Amazon etc.) before approaching anyone at radio. Ideally, you should have an album's worth of material up on iTunes before you release a single. Why deny people the oportunity to take a punt on a whole album (or a few tracks) rather than just spending 79p on one song?
- Consider some physical distribution options at the outset of the project. Despite all the new-fangled digital stuff that's currently dominating all thought in the industry at the moment, most album sales are actually still CD shaped, so if you end up with a massive radio hit on your hands, physical distribution starts to make a lot of sense. So it's a good idea to have a physical distribution plan in place at the start of the project – talk to distributors early on and ideally have a partner ready to step in should you need to get your CDs into record shops.
- Make sure you are generally easy to find online, so that when Whistling Bob Harris' listeners go looking for you on the interweb, they end up in the right place. Create a good website, and have strong, up-to-date presences on social media.
- Ensure that you have a decent data capture system set up on your website. (We'd recommend using a tool like Mad Mimi or Getresponse to capture email addresses and send e-newsletters.) If you do get a huge amount of airplay for one of your songs – something that might only happen once in your entire career – you may end up with a huge number of people visiting your website. You can future-proof your career a bit by ensuring that your site is optimised to capture as many of these visitors’ email addresses as possible (this is usually done by incentivising your data capture – offering a free download for an email address). A large database means that you can potentially generate a decent amount of income from selling music and gig tickets direct to fans in future, even if you never get played by Whistling Bob ever again.
- Ensure your song is on Youtube – even if you don't really have a video for it. Regardless of the increasing popularity of Spotify, Youtube is still effectively the world's de facto music database and if you have a radio hit, people will be looking for your song on there (you can find out more about the importance of having your music on Youtube here).
- Create a mailing list of influential music industry movers and shapers that you can get in touch with in the unlikely event that your music starts to become popular. This is always a handy thing to have lying about anyway, but if you suddently get a serious amount of airplay on a national radio station, you ideally want to be in a position where you can quickly and easily email a large bunch of A&Rs, managers and publishers, notifying them of your overnight success and telling them why they should sign your sorry ass.
I could go on, but I've got other things to do and you, dear reader, are not paying me enough. However, I think the above suggestions should act as a decent checklist for bands who are embarking on that most precarious of adventures, the independent album release. In fact, even if you don't have a monster hit on your hands, the above tips should help you maximise the income you do receive from any independent album release. At the very least, they should allow the PPL to procure 5p from your local radio station on your behalf and let your mum find your album on iTunes.