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.
The trick to turning airplay for an independently-released track into a real hit is to have built a very strong infrastructure that supports this independent release. You may end up surprising yourself 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.
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:
- 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 check out their website in depth, but in a nutshell they sort songwriters and publishers out with royalties any time their music is played or performed (Irish peeps: check out 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 worthy of a spin on Radio 2.
- 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 might not get all the airplay money 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 stream and buy online on major sites (Spotify, iTunes, Amazon etc.) before approaching anyone at radio. Without your music available to stream or buy, you can't generate much cash from it.
- Consider some physical distribution options at the outset of the project. Despite the shift to digital, a lot of 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. Create a good website and make sure you have strong, up-to-date presences on social media.
- Ensure that you have a decent data capture system set up on your website. (You can use a tool like Getresponse or Mailchimp 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...and 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 on the radio ever again.
- Ensure your song is on Youtube – even if you don't really have a video for it. Regardless of the popularity of Spotify, Apple Music et al.,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.
- Create a mailing list of influential music industry movers, shakers and shapers that you can get in touch with in the 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, publishers and promoters notifying them of your overnight success and telling them why they should work with you.
Hopefully 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 are worth following, because they'll 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.)
Article by Chris Singleton
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