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How to release music so that others wouldn’t throw it in the trash

Aleksandra Line

From a recording to a release. What do you have to do with your album to have the chance to become world-known

Evilena Protektore

It was in 2016 when I began reading lectures on music management. One of my students back then (a journalist’s intrigue makes me add he’s a successful Latvian jazz musician) very seriously asked me why he has to print his contacts on a CD — if the material is great, he will be noticed, found, and appreciated in any case. Back then, I laughed, thinking it was a joke; however, it appeared that it wasn’t at all. Years passed, and I realized way more musicians are joking than we all think. So during one of the editorial brainstorms, we decided someone has to write about what a musician has to keep in mind if he’s about to release his album so that it’s not only great in terms of content and music (that’s a question of taste, in any case) but also noticed by the crowds. And so that the listener, whoever that is — a beginner or advanced music lover, famous critic or journalist — would like to take such an album in his hands or find it in a streaming platform and get access to the music at all.

Now, a couple of years later, I often say during my lectures that a listener might as well not be lazy or stupid at all — nowadays, the world makes us find ourselves in such a dense informational bubble that it has become very hard to sift the grain. You have to reach the music, and in our daily life, when an opportunity to begin a day without a mobile phone is a huge privilege, we get access to as much information as ever before. So finding the right target audience for your album and then finding a proper message to talk to it is task number one, right after that music is ready. But before finding that message, there are more things to remember.

While your recording is done and hopefully well-produced, mixed, and mastered, you must find the proper release format. If the album gets released only digitally — everything is relatively simple (however, you haven’t forgotten about registering all the copyrights, I hope?). Here «simple» means finding the right name for the product that’s easily read and recognized by your audience, at least in the language it speaks, then designing a digital cover and timely placing the information in the relevant streaming platforms. By timely, I mean the standard six weeks — yes, you need exactly this much time for all the data to be found in the platforms of your choice and be able to still correct something if the need arises.

If you have saved or found some financing, you must have thought about the physical format. Discussions on whether the CD format has already died or is still in the dying progress haven’t seized — although right now, at the beginning of 2023, what I tell most of the haters is about really many foreign media who kindly agree to listen to your music only if you send them a physical album. So you can, of course, be very proud of your digital music; however, it most probably won’t reach, for example, an Alaskan jazz radio station if it won’t be available in a palpable way. Yes, a disc is more of an expensive visit card than an investment nowadays, but I’m tired of explaining to foreigners that Latvians are not too keen on producing CDs nowadays. Then there are also analog versions — it’s quite difficult to find a way to listen to a cassette and quite complicated to carry a vinyl in your purse; however, the first one is considered hipsterish, and the second one begins to revive. There are also more alternative formats — go on with them, but while you’re, for example, printing your band name in neon on a music USB, remember that the so-called Alaskan jazz radio will probably throw it away.

Once you’ve thought the format through, begin thinking about the insides. What’s been mentioned in the introduction to this article is also one of the main conditions — let’s not forget to leave some passwords for feedback inside the physical album cover, and these passwords better not be too hidden: e-mail address and phone number with a country code will do. On the «spine», if there is such on a CD box or vinyl cover, remember to print a musician’s, band’s or album’s name so that when a pile of records is placed on a shelf at home, you would tell your album from the others. Liner notes introduction and other texts is what we normally send to our friends to proofread, and it’d better be at least five of the friends. If we leave typos or style aside, sometimes you can be «lost in translation» in a metaphoric way — it’s nice if your listener doesn’t begin laughing about a wrong band leader’s name (real example).

Liner notes, or an introduction for the listeners, are what we must also think about thoroughly. There is a term in marketing called legend, and that has nothing in common with childhood tales or old-time sagas. You also absolutely don’t have to lie or think about non-existing things — the legend is just a message in a convenient form for reading or listening about the process of how the album was created or the project was founded, maybe a funny story that will stay in mind. Later on, you can also tell your legend in media interviews or include it in your social media posts and making-of videos. If the legend is good, it will probably be discussed by minor fans in intercity buses or cited by journalists. Free place for your advertising — and I advise you to use it instead of ignoring it.

With ready music, thought-through format, and contents that are correctly put together, we have reached the style — and one of the main things in the album is its design. Quoting an owner of former «Pasadena» Armands Rušenieks, «People don’t understand art. We live in a self–service era now — you cannot enter a supermarket and ask for a certain CD — if you don’t see it yourself, the seller doesn’t know where that is either. Your hand won’t reach for it if you cannot find it. That’s an impulse thing, and the impulse has to be powerful. Everyone knows what Whitney Houston looks like — it could be absolutely anything on her album cover, some flowers and all — but it’ll never happen; there’s her face and her name with the capital letters». Even though we’re speaking about jazz instead of pop music, the photo of the band leader is quite good for the cover (and I hope you remember that the photo has to be credible — a saxophone without a reed or an unplugged wire microphone won’t be that credible). And, if there’s any other solution found for your design, it makes sense to think about what’s more important — art or fame, even if we’re speaking about a debut album. You have to keep it in mind also if we’re choosing, for example, smaller, illegible fonts or too annoying a color palette. Let’s not forget about the insides as well — it’s great if song lyrics, photo catalog, or other useful information is done in one style with the rest of the design. And the «wheel» itself — a CD or a tape, the appearance of which shouldn’t be left aside.

What was the last time you’ve been in a record store? It’s important to keep in mind that even though most physical music fans buy the records during live shows, music lovers also attend the stores — and flip the records through. Design is the thing that will help a less-known musician become noticed in huge record piles, and if you have ever been bored while flipping through these piles, you can absolutely understand why it doesn’t make any sense to write the band and album name on the bottom of the cover with small letters. Something similar also goes for a CD or DVD disc: noticeable is not always tasteless, but you have to be pragmatic nevertheless — if you wish your listener to find your music, of course.

So your music is ready, your design thought through and the printing house selected, messages impeccable, contacts and other details are there — now you have to tell the world the good news. Apart from the consequent communication on the web page and social media of the musician (by consequent, I mean the one that begins way before the album is out), you have to remember that mass media is the first channel that helps connect your music to the potential audience. «I’ll call a dude who hosted one interview on the Latvian radio five years ago», or «Debut album isn’t worth it», or «Well, someone will notice in any case» — you have no idea, dear reader, how many disclaimers like that I’ve heard from lazy musicians who don’t see a meaning in bragging about how they spent a couple of months or years preparing it all. If you’re too lazy to contact the media or scared of it because of lacking experience — well, find a communication helper, it doesn’t cost millions.

There are also too many musicians among us who release their albums on the weekends and are not telling this to anybody at all. No, one post on Facebook doesn’t count. No, this isn’t the best way to go — you have no idea how much amazing music there is in the world, and now little time the listeners, award jury members, critics, and film directors have — the list can be continued. So the right time when we tell about it to at least the Latvian and Baltic media is working day mornings, and no, the journalists won’t go searching for you themselves if you seem cool to your precious self, only forget telling it to the others. Our magazine editor Anete Ašmane-Vilsone wrote more about communication with the media — take a look.

Then there also are foreign critics and mass media. An absolutely flawless press release in English or another language together with a press kit (biography, reviews, photos, and other promo materials) and download codes for the full album or .wav format files is what we remember to send them 2-3 months before the album is officially out. Let’s just imagine the editor’s board of the most famous music magazine in the world (you can put the name you fancy) and then imagine a beginner musician who released his album on February 1st, and on February 5th, it struck him that he needs to tell everyone about it. No, it takes these 2-3 months for the album, together with the whole information package, to reach the editors (then they listen to it, then there’s a chance that the main editor gives one of the reviewers the task to go through it). And then what a critic does when he sees that the album was released months ago, and that’s already old news? Right — he throws it in a waste bin, regretting he’s spent his precious time.

And finally, little things are left — for example, placing the released album in the record stores and documenting legal relations. Yes, my dear reader, there are enough stores — even in our dear Riga, there are also many digital ones, there are shops all over the world — and we have to establish good relationships with them all, or alternatively find a distributor who does it for you. Let’s not even begin talking about a presentation just yet — while writing this, I got tired and decided to give a recording a listen. Maybe you can also add something about what should or shouldn’t be done when releasing your album. Please share — let’s discuss it, giggle and learn from our mistakes together!