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Album releases

How to plan an album release — on a post it note

Post it notes - image accompanying an article about planning an album release

If we’re honest about it, band members and artists aren’t always the most organised people around. This is a problem, because (1) today’s music industry places a huge emphasis on musicians organising about 90% of all their admin themselves; and (2) releasing music in a way that will ensure anybody listens to it is a surprisingly complex task, with loads of pre-planning and multiple stakeholders involved.

So 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

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 a strong 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):

bp1-example.jpg

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.

At this point, you should have a roll of brown paper that looks somewhat like the below example (but containing a LOT more tasks):

bp-example2.jpg

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.

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:

  • Task

  • Owner

  • Deadline

  • Completed? (Yes/No)

It’s a good idea to use a cloud-based spreadsheet if possible for this — i.e., using G Suite or Office 365, because that way, all your stakeholders can access a ‘live’ version of the document which, as your album release project progresses, shows in real time what’s been done and who needs to be chased to do something.

Step 7: implement the plan

Now you have your plan all laid out neatly in a spreadsheet, it’s time to implement it.

Again, it’s helpful if you have a manager (or project planning enthusiast) 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 regularly reminded 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, then just try to capture as many tasks as possible with the people who can attend, and liaise with other stakeholders immediately 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 the work that putting out an album really entails, and you will have given your record the best chance of being successfully released (and heard).

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Should bands bother promoting albums?

Cassette tape - accompanies article about album promotion

by Chris Singleton

The music industry is in a constant state of flux. Streaming is taking over from downloads. Vinyl is making a comeback. Hi-res audio is on the way. Live promoters are becoming record labels. Record companies want to sell t-shirts. To quote a certain AOR band from 2004, everything’s changing. And yet despite all this change, one thing seems to stay the same: the notion that the album is the be all and end all. 

Yes, despite the fact that people are consuming music in all manner of ways, on all manner of devices, and often in some sort of shuffle mode, we musicians seem wedded to the idea that at some point we should get 12 songs together, stick them on a shiny piece of plastic, assign a ‘release date’ to said piece of plastic, issue a press release about it and hope that people buy it when it hits the shelves (or not: finding a record shop to stock anything in is a devilishly hard business these days).

In some ways, this obsession with and emphasis on the long-player is perfectly understandable. The album has proven itself to be a great format; and wonderful things can happen when you place twelve songs by a great band in a row. The LP has a proud history (though not as long as some imagine – it’s really only since the mid to late sixties that the LP really became the art form that it is considered today).

The main problem I see with the album doesn’t really concern the format though: rather, it’s the way that the album seems to be the only thing that musicians think is worth promoting. With a lot of new bands I encounter, virtually all of their promotional activities are exclusively centred on an album and take place only at the time at which that album comes out; this is fine if you are Coldplay or U2, with a truckload of existing fans ready to obligingly buy a full LP’s worth of material – but not so good if you are a brand new band starting out. There’s generally no fanbase at all there to buy your album, even if it’s great, and shouting about the fact that there’s a record with 12 songs on it out on Date X is not really going to do you much good. There are an awful lot of other people doing that.

The problem is that by leaving your music promotion until the point at which your album comes out, you have possibly left things too late. By all means release a full album, but try to create a promotion schedule that starts well in advance of its release date – maybe up to a year in advance. Here are a few things that you could consider doing as part of this:

  • Rather than putting an embargo on your album tracks, and insisting, PinkFloyd-style, that they can only be listened to as part of a full album, release them (ideally with accompanying videos) online regularly – and approach blogs and music sites about your band every time you do.
  • Use Facebook ads and other social media tactics to build up your following and email mailing list so that both are as large as possible well before the record comes out.
  • Don’t leave it until the album comes out to start gigging – get out there now and start developing a live following.
  • Approach managers, publishers, agents and labels with individual songs that might pique their interest; don’t necessarily wait until your album is 100% written, mixed and mastered to do so (you never know – an individual song might convince them to put some budget into an album project).

The other thing to remember is that you might be a singles band, not an albums band. Your album might be an incoherent mess but it might have 3 killer singles on it. If so, focus on your strong point – and place the emphasis on (and plough your budget into) promoting singles over and above an album.

But to answer the main question posed by this post - should bands bother promoting their albums? - the answer is actually a resounding yes. It’s just a case of starting way earlier than you might think is necessary. A promo strategy which kicks in way before an LP comes out is crucial to giving you the fanbase (and media support) that you need in order to sell some copies of that LP (or see bums on seats at the accompanying tour). It’s simple: if your album is your big musical statement, make sure you have a big following to hear it - BEFORE it comes out.

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