Guide to releasing an album so people actually want to buy it
In an industry landscape so heavily dominated by the release of singles, releasing full length albums is still incredibly important for artists, an if you can release an album that people actually want to buy? Even better!
By Greg Majewski of CD Baby’s DIY Musician Blog
Sometimes I look around at the single-dominated music landscape and think I’m the only geek on the planet who still exclusively listens to full albums anymore.
Then I remember that most serious musicians still release full albums, even if (or especially if) they’ve already released a series of singles leading up to it. Yes, even mega-selling pop titans who barrage the market with single after single eventually combine those songs on one release.
If you’re here, that means you’ve decided to release an album. This is a major milestone in your music career, whether it’s your first or 10th. We’re here to outline all the steps to make your new album a success.
But first, what does releasing an album actually do for your music career?
The benefits of releasing an album
The album format brings advantages that singles just can’t match.
Releasing an album grants you:
- Increased PR options: An album release is a major event. Artists generally release numerous singles each year, but only an album every few years. Even moderns fans weaned on singles know that an album release is a big deal, so play it up! When you release your album, go harder in your marketing than you would with singles.
- Physical media: You’re not pressing vinyl or CDs for your singles, because only the most obsessive fans buy single-song records, or especially CDs. You know what fans do buy? Full albums! Yes, contrary to what you might have read, music on physical formats is not dead. In fact, Music Week reports that physical music sales surged in 2021, with industry-wide sales growing 34% year over year to 4.4 million units in Quarter 2 of this year. People still want to own the music their favorite artists spent so much time creating.
- Other merch options: Going back to our first point, releasing an album is a big deal. Most independent artists don’t release new merch for new singles due to their relative frequency. But new albums are more rare. A new album is an event you can commemorate with a shirt with the album’s artwork, or a tote with the title, or a hoodie with both! Or merch for every song!
- A bigger evolution in your music career: An album is a new chapter in your musical journey. Look at the Wikipedia page of any artist with a deep discography. You’ll see their career history marked by album releases. It’s how fans track the progress of artists. Albums are a major creative statement and a line of demarcation from your previous era, especially if you had only released singles up to that point.
- More clout from the press and industry experts: Albums aren’t only how fans track your progress; they’re how critics and other music press cover your work. While there are some reviews of singles, no one’s dedicating many words to one song. A reviewer wants to sink their teeth into a full album. Likewise, journalists generally write features on artists after they release an album, not a single. People want to read the story of how you created the entire collection of songs.
- Higher visibility on streaming platforms: Spotify, Apple Music and the other major streaming platforms still place albums at the top of artist profiles. A new album goes right to the top for all to see your achievement.
How to successfully release an album
All those benefits are great, but we’re not here to sell you on releasing an album; we’re here to tell you how to release an album that people will be excited about, that they’ll want to stream and even buy. Remember when people bought music? They still do! They just need a harder sell than before.
Here’s how to make people want to stream and actually buy your album:
- Record more songs than you need: Spotify and Apple Music are identical in what they consider an “album”: to qualify as an album, your release must contain either seven or more tracks, or be over 30 minutes in length. If you’re aiming to just hit that seven to qualify, set your goal for 12 tracks instead, using all your ideas to fill any extra slots. It’s always better to have more songs than you need so you can be ruthless and cut the ones that don’t pass muster, saving only the absolute best for your album.
- Design attractive cover art: Yes, great cover art still matters, even in the age of streaming; especially in the age of streaming. Listeners have more music to choose from than ever before, and you want your album to stand out amidst the thousands of choices on fans’ feeds. These days, you can DIY professional-looking cover art for next to nothing and with pretty minimal graphic design know-how.
- Take artist photos: Like cover art, artist photos are a visual representation of who you are and what kind of music you create. Hire a photographer to take professional pictures of you/your band. Have ideas of what these photos should convey ahead of time so you can communicate that at the shoot. You can use these photos in tons of formats, including your album art/liner notes, artist website, social profiles, etc. Anywhere you can upload an image, you’ll have a great shot that will put a face to all that great music.
- Know your story: How do you stand out from the thousands of artists also releasing music? What makes your music yours and how does your new album fit into your story? Is your band a bunch of rebels who are releasing their most aggressive album yet? Or are you an intimate solo artist writing personal confessionals? Play that up on your website, social profiles and other web presence. Speaking of…
- Optimize your web presence: Use your spiffy new artist photos to deck out your website and update it for the new album. This is common practice for artists, as a new album signals a new chapter. Along with your new photos, don’t forget to update your bio with information about the new album. Give this new music context in the grand vision of your story and use a compelling call to action (CTA) to entice people to check out your work. If you’re the band of rebels, try “Hear the album that almost got us kicked out of the studio.” Or if you’re the indie singer-songwriter, maybe “My new album made my producer cry on the first song.” Also, don’t forget to update your banners on social platforms. Tease the new artwork with a brief upsell like “All-new album coming soon!”
- Create awesome physical product: Like we said above, the death of the CD is greatly exaggerated, and vinyl is still mega-popular, especially in the past year. The tangibility of vinyl and CD brings fans closer to the music and the artist who created it, so print some physical media. Enhance the tactile experience of your album with things like detailed liner notes, expanded artwork exclusive only to CD or vinyl (gatefold LPs have tons of room for those artist photos you took!) and limited color vinyl.
- Give your fans a deal: Don’t be afraid to discount the CD and/or vinyl pressings of your album. When you add your new album to the store on your website, run a limited-time sale for your fans if they buy it within a certain amount of time after the release date. You can even use retargeting ads to entice someone who may have added your CD to their shopping cart but never checked out.
- Make a web store: Virtual storefront Shopify offers integration with Facebook and Instagram so you can sell your merch right on social platforms. If you created your artist website with Bandzoogle, you can integrate a commission-free web store with your website.
- Build hype for your album with singles: You can create anticipation for your impending album release with a series of singles leading to the release. Many artists use the “waterfall strategy,” where they drop one single each month for a few months leading to the release of their album. If you’ve already finished all the songs for your next album, just hold off on releasing them all at once. Instead, distribute one song as a single each month for three to five months and promote each release on social media to build anticipation for the eventual full album.
- Map out a promotion strategy: Invest in your promotional efforts leading up to and after the release of your album. Even indie artists on smaller budgets can afford effective promo campaigns on social platforms like Facebook and Instagram and major websites through Show.co. It’s an essential tool in your music advertising repertoire.
- Make video content: The music video’s dominance might be a bygone era, but video still matters in the age of streaming. Heck, it might matter even more with the billions of users on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and tons of other social video platforms available. With all these platforms to choose from and the varying formats they host, the music video is a versatile tool at your disposal for promotional efforts, fan connection and expansion of your artistry. And unlike the heydays of MTV and VH1, making a great video doesn’t have to break the bank. You can even make compelling album launch videos, lyric videos and ads to place on Stories, Shorts and TikTok right on your phone.
- Organize your strategy with a content calendar: Departments that generate content organize all that with a content calendar so they know who is supposed to do what by when. Take a cue with your own content calendar of all the things you’re planning to do. Mapping out when you’re posting videos, new singles, social posts/ads etc. ahead of time will mitigate the chaos that comes with releasing an album.
- Plan your release timeline: Much like planning your promo efforts and accompanying preparation with your content calendar, you also need to map out all the information required for your actual album release. CD Baby’s Release Plan Generator guides you through all these steps one by one. From claiming or updating streaming platform artist profiles to creating a pre-save campaign, the Release Plan Generator has you covered with everything related to your album you’ll want to do in final prep stages before its release.
- Plan a release party: You’ve gone through all this work to write, record and prep your album for release. Once that’s all done, plan an event to celebrate unleashing your creation onto the world! In our current pandemic age, this is very likely a virtual event like a livestream. Either way, give yourself about three months of cushion between when you get your CDs/vinyl back from the manufacturer and the date of the release party. This gives you ample room to send your complete album and press release out to influencers like bloggers, radio program directors, podcasters and journalists. It also gives you some wiggle room in case there are any unforeseen delays in pressing your media. Promote your livestream on your website and all your social channels to ensure the maximum attendance.
- Boost your promo with a PR campaign: Looking for an extra bump in your promo efforts? Hire a public relations professional to pitch your album, videos, release show and just you or your band to press like blogs and music websites. They’ll also help you design an electronic press kit (EPK) with all this information collected so it’s all in one handy place for anyone you’re pitching coverage to. PR professionals aren’t cheap, but the extra attention can pay dividends down the road if it means more people attend your release event or get excited for your album from your music video. All that hype translates into more listeners for your album, which means more people actually buying it. And that’s why we’re here in the first place!
Distribute your album
After all that prep, you’re finally ready to get your album out to the world! To do this, you’ll need a distributor to send your album to all the digital platforms. That’s where CD Baby comes in.
We distribute to over 250 platforms worldwide, and offer a suite of optional services to take your music further and earn every cent you’re owed (more on that soon).
How to prepare for your album release
Those are the essential steps to take while preparing your album’s release so you can give it the best chance at succeeding. There’s also some general housekeeping and paperwork you’ll want to do during and after you complete the submission process to protect your music and get paid for every sale, stream and use once they start rolling in.
During your album submission, you’ll want to:
Protect your copyright
Copyright signifies the ownership of intellectual property by a person or group.
There are two types of music copyright:
- The composition (PA copyright) — which is the music and lyrics, owned by songwriters and/or publishers
- The sound recording (SR copyright) — which is a particular recorded version of that music and lyrics, owned by artists or labels
If you wrote and recorded your songs by yourself, you own all your copyrights! If you wrote and/or recorded with other people, you’ll want to get your ownerships in writing using documents called split sheets.
Once you’ve figured all that out, you’ll want to register your composition and sound recording copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office. You don’t have to do this before you release your album, but it’s a good idea to do it sooner rather than later so you’ll be protected.
Administer your publishing
The second part of protecting your copyright involves registering your compositions with performing rights organizations (PRO) and mechanical agencies. These organizations collect revenue for the use of your composition through publishing royalties. They exploit your composition’s publishing rights anywhere they’re used so you get paid what you’re owed.
And while you could affiliate with all those organizations and register your songs, you likely don’t have the time. And with many organizations you flat-out can’t due to publisher permissions and language barriers.
Publishing is collected all over the world, and you need a publishing administrator to collect it all for you. CD Baby is a globally registered publishing administrator through our CD Baby Pro service.
Opt in while submitting your album and we’ll register your songs with your PRO, and every PRO and mechanical agency around the world and collect any publishing royalties owed to you.
Register with SoundExchange
While we’re on the subject of collecting royalties for your songs, don’t forget to register your album’s songs with SoundExchange. This organization collects royalties for recordings played on satellite radio and Internet radio platforms like Pandora. Since this revenue is for the sound recording and not the composition, it’s paid to artists and labels rather than songwriters and publishers.
This is one of the few things CD Baby doesn’t do for you. So make an account with SoundExchange if you don’t have one already and register all your songs. Even if your music isn’t on Pandora (yet!), it could be getting satellite airplay you don’t even know about.
Monetize your songs
“Isn’t monetizing my music just making money from my songs?” you might ask. Well yes, but there’s more to it.
Music monetization is a new-ish term that describes seeking out revenue from new, non-traditional sources like social media and video platforms.
You can monetize these platforms to earn revenue any time your music is played:
As with just about everything on this list, CD Baby can help you monetize your music on those platforms. Just opt in for monetization while submitting your album and we’ll send your songs to those platforms. This will allow creators to use them in their posts, and will generate some revenue for you for those uses, which CD Baby also collects!
Opt in for sync licensing
Each month, CD Baby places artists like you in movies, TV shows, video games, advertisements and other media through our sync licensing program. A successful placement in this type of media puts your music in front of tons of new listeners.
And it’s not only a great way to get exposure for your songs; there’s real money to be made in sync licensing! When your music is placed, we negotiate the upfront fee according to a few variables with the party who’s placing your music, and those fees can reach some pretty impressive numbers. AND that revenue is growing.
Want your music featured on a big TV show or movie?
Make and sell merch
A new album calls for new merch! Print your album art on a shirt or slap the title on a hat. Merch related to a specific album makes the items seem limited and special. It’s different from a generic band shirt with your name on it. People want to collect something special, because they know albums don’t come around often.
Once you make your merch, there are a few places to sell it:
- Merchbar on Spotify: Spotify offers integration with a virtual merch table called Merchbar. All you need to do is sign up for Merchbar and verify your Spotify artist profile and you can list your merch right on your Spotify profile.
- Your website: If you don’t have an artist website yet, you should. Even in the age of social media, an official artist website is an essential component of your marketing efforts. You can create an intuitive, attractive website using Bandzoogle. While your website is a great way to keep in touch with fans and promote your music, it’s also a perfect place to sell merch since you keep most of the proceeds (or all if you use Bandzoogle’s Store Feature).
- Facebook and Instagram: We already mentioned Shopify above, but we’ll plug them again. You can sell your merch on social super easily with their storefront.
- At a show: They’re coming back! Slowly but surely, artists are gigging again. We’ve talked a lot about virtual merch tables, but what about analog ones? A well-stocked merch table at a show is the original way artists sell merch directly to fans. The best part? All that money goes right to you. And of course the smiling faces of happy fans purchasing your wares.
Sign up for physical distribution
Distribution with CD Baby also includes listing your CD and/or vinyl in major online retailers like Amazon. Just make sure to opt in for wholesale during the submission process and we’ll sell your vinyl or CD!
You can also sell your physical media directly to fans using the merch platforms we listed in the previous section. While that’s all great, you can take your merch promotional efforts a step further with a Free Plus Shipping and Handling (F+S&H) deal.
An F+S&H deal is where you send fans a copy of your new CD if they cover the shipping and handling. This is a great promotional strategy because you not only get your CD into fans’ hands guaranteed, but you also foster a connection with your fans. You can even offer a subscription to your mailing list as part of the deal so you increase your marketing possibilities at the same time.
As you can see, an album release is a major event in an artist’s career. There’s a ton to plan for and much more work required than there is when releasing a single. But if you follow our guide, you’ll be on your way to making a significant leap in your music’s success.