You worked hard on your record, and you want it to be heard. But how do you get your music in front of the people who would love it the most?
The answer is a solid marketing plan with plenty of lead-time. In this article, we'll walk you through an example record release and promotion timeline that puts your music and marketing in your own hands.
Six months before
Wait, six months? We get it—you've probably spent years writing these songs, months perfecting them, and plenty of time and money in the studio getting them to sound perfect. You probably want to put your music out into the world as soon as it's mixed and mastered.
But patience is key.
Not even considering enormous wait times on vinyl, giving yourself 4-6 months to get your promotional assets, press list, tour, and more together is the best gift you can give yourself.
Finalize your promotional budget
We know it’s not particularly fun, but the first thing you should do as an independent artist is make a budget and commit to sticking to it. Not including the cost to press physical copies of your album, here are some costs to consider:
- The cost of sending promo CDs and vinyl to journalists (not all of them will review records based on digital downloads)
- Your website domain and hosting (if you don’t already have one, you can get hosting for as little as $5 a month)
- An email service like ConvertKit, which is free for up to 1,000 subscribers
- Social ads
- Graphic and video assets (or the tools to create them on your own)
When you make your budget, be sure to set aside an “emergency” fund in case another great marketing opportunity or unexpected expense pops up.
Line up your distribution/physical printing
Now, this is why we recommend planning your release up to six months ahead of time—because that’s how long it can take vinyl records to get pressed.
When you’re searching for vinyl, CD, and tape pressing plants, reach out to several providers to make sure you get the best price and that their schedule estimates work for you. Read reviews and talk to friends about their experiences with different providers.
Check out social profiles for those providers—some have active social accounts and post about the bands that hire them. Even if they don’t post about every record, ask if they can send you pictures of the printing process so you can share on your social profiles.
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Virginia-based record pressing plant Furnace Records has an active social media presence where they post about albums they’ve printed. Video via Furnace Records.
Now is also the time to start looking into digital distribution. These online distributors will place your music on streaming services and online stores like iTunes for an annual or one-time fee. Many, like DistroKid, also offer free and affordable tools that help you promote your music, including putting you in touch with Spotify playlist curators. Keep these perks in mind when choosing your online distributor.
Get your website or landing page in order
Your website doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does need two things: an online store and an email signup form. The online store can wait until you’re closer to your release date, but an email list is the best way to keep in touch with the fans who care most about your music.
If you’re not quite ready to launch an entire website, you can use ConvertKit to build a simple landing page even if you don’t have any website skills. Your landing page doesn’t have to be fancy—all you need is an eye-catching image and an email collection form that encourages fans to sign up for updates on the new album, tour, and more. You can even entice more subscribers by offering a free download of an upcoming song or demo.
Start brainstorming and creating promotional assets
If you haven’t already, now is the time to connect with photographers, videographers, and designers for the assets you’ll need for album promotion. You should start planning out:
- At least your first two music videos
- At least one photoshoot with 2-3 looks for PR
- Print and digital ads for magazines, banner ads, and social ads
- Album artwork
While you don’t need to get started actually filming your videos and plotting photo shoots, you should be trying to finalize album artwork. The rest can wait a few months to get started, but keep in mind that music videos take longer to both film and edit than most visual assets you’ll use in promoting your album.
Start planning your tour
There’s a reason bands tour to promote their record—it sells record and boosts your visibility outside of your geographic base.
Ideally, your tour will kick off with a hometown record release and will see you touring regionally or nationally. Try to connect with local bands in different cities to see if they’d be interested in sharing a bill with you. After all, if you’re less known in certain cities, a local band can help boost show attendance.
Pro tip: Look at the geographic breakdown of your email list to help decide what cities you should play. For example, if you have more fans in Las Vegas than San Diego, you might want to skip San Diego for a show in Las Vegas.
Get PR started
If you’re not hiring a PR team, that means it’s on you to reach out to journalists, bloggers, radio station programmers, podcasts, Spotify playlists, and more. Make a list of dream publications, sites and blogs that have covered you or similar bands recently, and anywhere else you’d think would be a good fit for your music.
Be sure to add local targets in each city that you plan on including in your tour. Include local record stores that do in-store performances, free weeklies, college papers/radio, local radio, and local music blogs as well as national publications.
Once you have your PR prospects, create an email segment in ConvertKit separate from your “fans” list and begin organizing press contacts. Upload your press contacts along with fields for each journalist or editor’s name and publication so you can personalize each outreach message… without sending 100 emails one at a time.
Three months before
Six months before your album release is when you start planning, and three months before your release is when you finish building out the assets you’ll use to promote your record.
Formally announce your release date
That’s right, it’s time to announce your release date! By now, you should have set up a webstore so you can open up a presale for your album. Encourage fans to buy early by offering exclusive merch bundles and special gifts for those who buy early—for example, autographs, personalized notes, or limited edition merch.
If you’re not sure what webstore platform you should use, take a look at the ecommerce platforms that integrate seamlessly with ConvertKit to see what fits your needs and budget.
You should also create a landing page with pre-save links for streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. Some online distributors create this for you, but you’ll have more creative control if you build your own landing page with those links.
Finalize creative assets
If you haven’t already started filming videos and finalizing any creative assets, now’s the time. In addition to full music videos, see if your editor can pull clips and teaser snippets for social and ads.
Make sure assets are optimized for both computers and smartphones. After all, more and more people consume content primarily on their phones. It might take a little work to edit videos to fit those formats, but it’s worth it to have content that looks like it was made for increasingly popular platforms like TikTok.
Build and publish your EPK
Your Electronic Press Kit (EPK) is what you’ll send out to journalists and other press contacts. Your EPK should include:
- Images from professional photoshoots
- An album streaming link and download link
- A link to download instrumental versions of your music
- A full bio and album liner notes
- Links to published and unpublished videos
- Contact information
- A form to request a physical copy of the record
- Previous press clips
Since your EPK will have your entire album streaming and available for download, you should put the EPK on a password-protected page on your website (be sure to share the password in your outreach email) or on a landing page that you don’t share openly.
Reach out to press targets
Once you have your list of press contacts uploaded to ConvertKit, send out your EPK and ask if any journalists would like a physical copy in addition to an interview.
Ask targets that normally do premieres for bands that you consider peers if they’d be interested in exclusive premieres for the album, singles, or the videos. Where applicable, include confirmed show dates for local publications.
Don’t forget to personalize your messaging! Journalists get hundreds of emails every day, and personalization shows that you took the time to get to know them a little bit better. It could be the difference between hitting their archive folder and getting them to view your EPK.
Please remember that journalists are people, too. Yes, it’s their job to write about music, but just like musicians they work in a tough industry. Don’t take it personally if they don’t get back to you right away. You can follow up and be persistent, but don’t be rude and don’t reach out daily.
Confirm physical materials (like vinyl) are on schedule
If you haven’t already gotten test pressings, reach out to the plants that are pressing your vinyl and printing your CDs and tapes and make sure their timeline is still accurate. If any of your physical materials arrive a little late, that’s okay. The important thing is to set as accurate an estimate for vinyl and CDs as possible.
One or two months before
Welcome to the home stretch! Now is the time to actively focus on promoting your first singles and your album as a whole.
Release your first single
Your first single sets the tone of your whole album release. Chances are, you already know what the first single should be and hopefully you’ve filmed a video for it. Release your video on YouTube or, even better, premiere it with a local or national publication. Submit your single to independent radio stations across the country and ask fans to call in requests to hear your first single.
The temptation might be to sell your single as a stand-alone track, but ultimately you want people to preorder your entire album. Reach out to your online distributor and ask them to make the first single and “instant gratification” track on services like iTunes. With instant gratification, anyone who preorders your album can immediately listen to and download the single.
Alternatively, you could use the new single to drive email subscribers. Set up a ConvertKit form and automation so that anyone who joins your email list automatically gets access to your first single.
Start the countdown on social
You should start making regular posts on social with regular gentle reminders to preorder your record. Here are a few types of content you should add to your social rotation:
- Behind-the-scenes from making the album
- Clips of live performances and music videos
- Countdown graphics showing the days until the release date
- Screenshots of any press you’ve gotten from your single release
- Pictures of merch like stickers and tapes as they arrive
- Videos of you talking about the different songs on the record
Send presale reminder emails
Now that you have an email list of fans, let them know about the album release. Unlike social, where you should try to post daily, emails should be spaced out. Build an email schedule and stick to it. Here are a few email ideas to get you started:
- 12 Weeks Out: Presale Announcement
- 10 Weeks Out: First Single Premiere
- 8 Weeks Out: Promote Merch Bundles
- 6 Weeks Out: Promote Album Release Show
- 4 Weeks Out: Presale Reminder
- 3 Weeks Out: Second Single Premiere
- 2 Weeks Out: Album Release Show Reminder
- 1 Week Out: Larger Presale / Release Show / Tour Reminder
- Release Date: Album Available Now
Follow-up with interested press contacts
A few months ago, you sent out your first press release and an EPK. Hopefully you got some warm responses, and now is the time to follow up. Reach back out to the journalists, podcasters, bloggers, YouTubers, and more who either responded to or opened your emails. Send a follow-up to those who didn’t respond just in case your initial outreach fell through the cracks. Again, be persistent, but polite.
Pitch Spotify playlists
In addition to traditional media outlets, Spotify and YouTube playlists are gaining a lot of influence with music lovers. You can pitch Spotify playlists directly through some distributors (like DistroKid) and through Spotify’s artist portal, which you can only do before your album is released.
Promote your release show (and tour)
Promoting your release show and tour on email is a great start, but there’s a lot more you can do to pack that venue. Get posters out around strategic areas of town, flyer similar shows when they let out, and create and promote an official Facebook event.
The week of
It’s the week of your album release, which should mean you have a ton of stuff to do, right? While your to-do list isn’t totally bare, you should have taken care of a lot of the hard stuff in the months leading up to your release. Now is the time to ship out pre-orders, interact on social, wrap up any interviews or press requests, and have some fun.
Start shipping pre-orders
We’re not going to lie to you, shipping orders isn’t the most fun by its nature. Hopefully your webstore (which integrates seamlessly with ConvertKit, of course!) has tools to help you ship your records, like printable address labels or even discounted shipping rates.
Try to add a personal touch to your early shipments. Even if you can’t afford to drop in freebies like stickers or koozies with every order or don’t have time for individual thank you notes, a quick doodle on the packaging is an easy way to give a little extra love to your biggest early supporters.
Pro tip: Shipping records is a lot more fun with friends! Invite your crew over to have pizza and wine and turn your chore into a party.
Keep the social momentum going
You don’t have to have an incredible ad budget to hype up your fans on social. Hold daily giveaways for test pressings, smaller merch items, Zoom chats, and tour tickets leading up to your album release. After all, giveaways get a ton of engagement on social, and more engagement means a larger reach.
Promote your release party
If your release party isn’t already sold out, do whatever you can to get people to scoop up those last few tickets. Send an email reminder to local fans who haven’t already purchased, make sure the venue is doing their part to get the word out, and double check local event listings.
Remember to enjoy the moment!
Whether music is a hobby or your livelihood, releasing an album is a huge achievement. Now is a time to be proud of yourself and what you’ve created and to have fun! If you didn’t meet your pre-sale goals or your release show doesn’t completely sell out, that’s okay. You can work harder next week to make those moves. But this week, remember to enjoy the moment.
Looking for more tips on making it as an indie musician? Check out our interview with Ryan Baustert of Throw the Fight.