9 Tips For Throwing An Awesome CD Release Party

Superwoman-1By Musician and Marketing Consultant Solveig Whittle (@shadesofsolveig).

I did something important this weekend. It was important because I’m dying. Not anytime soon, mind you, but someday I won’t be here. So, because I could – because it mattered to me – this weekend I did a few things I enjoyed doing a lot. Things on my bucket list. These were all things I’ve never done before, and I did them with people I love and respect. I:

  • entertained 50 people,
  • performed original music I had created with my life partner, Stevie,
  • opened for Amanda Palmer (@amandapalmer, yes that Amanda Palmer), and
  • kicked off the launch of the first ever Solveig & Stevie CD, Superwoman (available soon via iTunes and all your favorite channels and services).

Oh, and I moved people. That is really the most important part of what I did this weekend. I made something beautiful and magical for people I love and for complete strangers alike. How do I know this? Because people haven’t stopped telling me since last Saturday. That is why I make music: to move people. I don’t need to be a star. I don’t need to be famous. I’m old (relatively), and I have three kids. I think regularly about how best to live the rest of my life, and what kind of meaningful memories I want to leave behind when I am gone. I’ve done my time in corporate meeting rooms. I want to make people feel. I want to touch people and make them think about their own creativity. If I did that for even a few people last weekend, that makes me happy.

"Yes indeed. What a night! Could the long term good vibes of the church be blessing our communion ! I’m not the least bit religious but last night was the best feeling I’ve had in a group of strangers since the sixties." – Tim Rounds

(Let’s get this out of the way: I know that Amanda Palmer is a controversial figure in music and social media. Particularly this week. However, this post really isn’t about any of that controversy, except to the extent that Amanda Palmer cares passionately about things that matter, she shares her opinions, and she expresses herself with honesty and transparency. I admire all of those things about her, and I aspire to emulate those qualities of hers. She played for us at our party, and she did a great job. She is an amazing performer.)

Stevie and I held our CD release party at an old Baptist church on Capitol Hill in Seattle. It’s a beautiful space with art deco stained glass windows and the original pews and woodwork. It was purchased by a friend of ours and converted into a recording studio/performance space. Just to be clear, though, you don’t have to have an old Baptist church or Amanda Palmer at your CD release party. Those were just the icing on the cake, the trimming on the tree. The really important stuff has nothing to do with that.

Here are a few of the important things I learned from my CD release party:

Make It Bigger. Don’t pass up an opportunity to combine things – whatever you can throw in to it as long as it makes sense – to make your event bigger. When I contributed to Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter campaign last year, I wasn’t planning to have her resulting house party anywhere except in my own living room. But things change. Amanda had to delay the house parties, and time marched on.

So when I realized that my AFP House Party coincided nicely with the wrap up of our Superwoman CD project, I decided to combine them. Since I was planning to throw a party for my family, friends and fans anyway, I thought – wait, why not make it a bigger event? I also had discovered this amazing performance space which had never been christened (excuse the pun, it’s an old Baptist church) with a live audience. It seemed the perfect storm of opportunity.

"That was one of the most enjoyable evenings of music that Becky and I ever recall. Thank you for including us !" – Klev and Becky

Set A Date. Having a concrete event date, making the plans and getting it all together motivated me to get the songs finished, mastered, and duplicated. It was a short run – and may be the only set of physical CDs I ever press for this album, but I had to create artwork for the label, set the song order, and call it done. See, I tend to be a perfectionist, and calling it done was a big step for me. Having an event helped me get over that hurdle.

Superwoman-amanda-palmerBring In Other Artists.
Stevie and I knew we couldn’t exactly translate the songs on the CD to a live band experience. It’s a studio album, with a fair amount of “production value,” as Stevie, the Phil Spector of the Northwest, likes to call it. (Stevie asked me to clarify that he is the young Phil Spector, not the old crazy one who wears wigs and kills people). So we asked our friend Brooke Lizotte, an amazing and accomplished piano player, to play with us. We adapted a selection of the songs from the CD, even ones Brooke had not played on (he co-wrote and plays on only one of the songs on the CD). That turned out to be a perfect combination. We ended up with incredible new semi-acoustic versions of those songs, in particular, one called Zombie Lover.

Of course, having Amanda Palmer cap off your CD release party was an incredible night for everyone in attendance as well. Keep in mind, though, that it’s not necessary to have someone famous to collaborate with – it could just be your favorite musician friends to help you open, or another band you’ve played with before at a club who also has a CD coming out or recently released. Bringing fans together from different but similar acts can work out really nicely, and the audience appreciates the diversity and the additional entertainment value they are getting. Amanda even brought her friend Jason, so my audience actually got to experience three acts in one night!

"hey!!! wanted to say goodbye but couldn’t find you – that was WONDERFUL!!!" Amanda Palmer

Hire A Professional To Ensure Good Sound and Record Everything. We had an amazing professional sound man, Mark. We had an amazing professional videographer, Josh. We also had an amazing space that resonated even without amplification. We videotaped and audio recorded both rehearsals as well as the performance. I am as excited about the content we produced from the concert, editing and releasing it, as I am about the original CD. There is something about a live performance that is electric. I have some fans who are not in Seattle, and so this is also a chance for them to experience the party even though they weren’t there. On a practical note, I made sure everyone who entered the venue was aware that we were photographing, videotaping and recording the event, and offered to accommodate anyone who didn’t wish to be recorded.

Think Outside The Box For Venues. There’s no reason to have a CD party where the sound is bad, where the stage is cramped, where the audience will be uncomfortable, where there are TVs blaring in the corner. This is your event, and people are there to hear your band. Bars and clubs can be great places to throw a CD release party, but I wanted to be able to provide both a visually and acoustically pleasing experience. Since I’m a vocalist and lyricist, I wanted everyone to hear the lyrics, because that was important to me. Besides this place was so special, so physically beautiful, I think people enjoyed just being in it.

Perhaps a friend has an amazing house, back yard, barn, warehouse space, or community clubhouse. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Of course, using an easily accessible location is important, and you may have a favorite commerical venue that works perfectly for you and your band, but sometimes it’s good to think about it as a “destination event.” This is a special event, like a wedding. This is for you and your fans, and they should be willing to come somewhere a little new, a little mysterious, and a little bit more exotic just to hear you.

Recruit Help. I had an amazing team of 15 people who helped produce this event, from my daughter who baked desserts, my other daughter who performed in my video (did I mention we also premiered the Zombie Lover music video also that night?), to a friend who MC’d so I didn’t have to, to a fantastic mixologist/bartender and photographer. All these people were either my friends or friends of friends. Because they knew me, I think they did an extra specially good job helping out. I have to say, I felt so loved.

"What an exquisite time last night at the ‘SECRET’ CD release party!! Amanda Palmer was awesome, but the vibe of the CHURCH and the amazing Solveig Whittle and Stevie Adamek were the reason everything was so wonderful!!" – Eddie M. and Aury M.

Charge $20 And Give Away Your CD. I learned this from my “How To Self-Publish Your Book” seminar with Patrick Snow. This is important. While I didn’t recoup all of my expenses for the event, it helped that I pressed CDs and gave away one to each ticket-holder. $20 is a nice round number, and no one had any problem paying for the event and CD combination. I also had drinks and dessert included, but honestly, I think people would have been happy with just the CD and the show for $20. Don’t expect to make a lot of money from an event like this. I spent money, but it was so worth it to me. This is an opportunity for you to pre-sell your CD, and you can defray your expenses. Only you know how much you think your fans will reasonably pay.

Superwoman-finalUse Event Software.
I used SplashThat.com to set up my event in advance and sell tickets, which really helped because I had a nicely designed website with e-commerce and email list management system all built in. You could as easily use Eventbrite or Brown Paper Bag Tickets or even Evite – but it helps to use some software to help manage things. Sure, they will likely take a percentage, but being able to sell tickets in advance, email and manage a list, and seamlessly allow people to use credit cards makes things so much easier.

All I had to do was forward a URL, and people could sign up, and I could integrate it with my social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, email). SplashThat also allowed me to have discount codes for special people (volunteers, press, VIPs), and still have them register so I could get their email addresses and a headcount for the catering.

"We listened to your CD last night ‘OUTSTANDING’ the drinks good, dessert good, your daughters are lovely and Brooke was ridiculously good, I was moved. Amanda was super fun. ELBOW CHILLS ALL AROUND." – Randy T.

Move Them. We practiced. We did a dress rehearsal. We messed with the lighting and did test recordings of the audio and video. The result was that when we finally went up on stage to perform, there was nothing I needed to think about except my performance. Everything was exactly how I wanted it to be, and I could get lost in the moment, connect with the audience, and deliver the performance I wanted to deliver. I’ve performed for 2000 people, and I’ve performed for 5 people. This was for me, though, more than just another coffeehouse or club performance. I poured myself into this performance in a way I never have before.

Amanda did too – but she’s already really good at that. She is fantastic live, and I learned so much from watching her perform. I plan on continuing to push myself to be even more open, to be even more expressive, because that was the part that people cared about – they came to see us be ourselves up on the stage. They came to see us perform. They came to be moved.

I’m sure there are many other practical tips for throwing a CD release party. Every musician is different, and every CD release party will be different. Do you have any suggestions to make? Any experiences and lessons learned you’d like to describe? Please share in the comments below.

Photos by Tim Rounds

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