Bands are notoriously unreliable, forgetful and flakey aren’t they? Well in a sense that’s probably a good thing: in an ideal world musicians should be creative mavericks, not organised project planners. But since the music world these days seems to revolve around doing absolutely everything yourself, a bit of organisation goes a long way, and in this post I thought I’d share a low-tech but very effective way to plan an album release - and one which, incidentally, involves a lot of post-it notes.
For this exercise you will need:
- Several packs of post-it notes
- 1 roll of brown paper
- 1 marker pen
- 1 laptop
- Everybody involved in your album release
Step 1: Get everyone together
Get everybody who is involved in putting out your release together in the same room. Easier said than done, but try to get the band, your designers, manager, live agent, distributors, PR people, radio pluggers, CD manufacturer and the guy who’s making the tea all in the same room at the same time (if you can’t achieve this monumental feat of diarisation then get as many of your team as possible in there). These are your project ‘stakeholders’, and you need their help to create the perfect project plan.
Step 2: Create a timeline
Unfurl your roll of brown paper and pin it up on the wall. Then, mark out the first Monday of every week for about 4 months on the roll of brown paper, so that you have a timeline which stretches out for about 16-20 weeks in front of all your collaborators. If you are really organised, you might want to prepare this in advance of your meeting.
Your timeline should look something like this (but containing more weeks and columns):
Step 3: Identify tasks
Write ‘ALBUM RELEASE’ in big letters on a post-it note and place it on the timeline on the date that you think the album should come out. Then give a bunch of post-it notes to all the stakeholders in the room. Ask them to work backwards from this date and write all the tasks relevant to their work on individual post-it notes – for example, a PR task would be to mail copies of your CD to long lead magazines; a designer’s task would be to produce the album cover and so on. Make sure each post-it note lists not only the task but the person responsible for completing it.
Step 4: Add tasks to the timeline
When everybody has identified their tasks, ask each stakeholder to approach the timeline with their post-it notes and place them on the timeline at an appropriate point in time before the release. Ask contributors to be realistic and logical about their deadlines (yes, good luck with that).
At this point, you should have a roll of brown paper that looks somewhat like the below example (but containing a LOT more tasks):
Step 5: Jiggle the timeline
As more and more tasks get added, you’ll find that some of the deadlines on your roll of brown paper are quite frankly ridiculous: you’ll probably find that the radio plugger has said he’s going to send the album to radio after the record has come out, or that the artwork won’t be ready until after the CD is printed. At this point it is time to move all the post its around so that all the task deadlines make sense. You may even find that your release date was far too early / ambitious, and needs to be pushed back to accommodate everybody’s lead times. Ideally, your manager or somebody very organised should arbitrate this process so that it’s not a complete free-for-all or bun fight.
Step 6: capture the timeline into a spreadsheet
Once all the task timings have been agreed upon, it’s time to capture the timeline onto your laptop. Each task should be assigned an ‘owner’ (i.e., radio plugger, press officer, live agent etc.) on a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet should contain the following columns:
- Completed? (Yes/No)
Step 7: implement the plan
Now you have your plan all laid out neatly in Excel, it’s time to implement it. Again, it’s helpful if you have a manager (or project planning freak) to do this, but regardless of who ends up ‘owning’ the spreadsheet, you need to ensure that the spreadsheet is constantly referred to and updated in the run up to the release and that everybody involved in the project is hassled constantly to ensure they meet their deadlines.
What if people can’t make the meeting?
If there are stakeholders who can’t make the brown paper meeting – the groupies, for example – then just try to capture as many tasks as you can with the people who can attend, and liaise with other stakeholders as soon as possible after the meeting to get their tasks entered onto the timeline too.
I know, it isn’t rock and roll…
All this seems like a very dry, not-at-all-rock-and-roll process. But at the end of it you should have a much clearer idea of 1) the work that an album release really entails and 2) how to ensure the album actually gets released. Hopefully the number of post-it notes and the shockingly long lead times won’t put you off music for life, though…