We all want to know the best, quickest, most efficient (aka cheapest) way to release a record in today's music industry. But, the ugly, sometimes unbearable truth for avid rule-followers like myself...is that there's no right way. I repeat: There's no right way.
While that sinks in, I'd like to offer a peace offering: there are definitely better ways to go about doing this, so maybe some of this will be helpful to you whether you're releasing a record, about to self-publish a book, or you're planning a trip across the world. If you just happened to google "How to Release a Record" and came across this page, well...there's a reason for that (outlined in step #3 below), but let me just say that this post is not so much about how to release a record and everything about how to shape your goals by understanding yourself. How's that for a sudden turn of events? Gotcha.
How to Release a Record in 5 Steps:
Identify Your Goals (Big and Little)
Be Real with your Limitations
Use your Resources/Get Creative
Prioritize and Compromise
Law of Attraction
1. Identify Your Goals (Big and Little)
My go-to method for strategizing goals consists of a stack of post-it notes, a large, blank wall, and a glass of wine. Have you ever boldly stated, "I'm going to do [insert amazing accomplishment here]!" And then a month later it's merely just a distant memory of that-one-time-i-was-super-motivated-and-told-everyone-publicly-i-would-do-it-and-never-did. Yeah, me too. And it sucks. It sucks to get super hyped up about your goals only to run out of momentum, or have serious self-doubt, or simply not enough time to follow-through. The good news, though, is that you can change that process. I think a big reason why we don't achieve big goals is because we don't break them down into bite-sized chunks. We all choke on our large pieces of steak and end up throwing away the rest. Here's a better approach:
Big Goals: Make a general timeline of when you would like to release your record, and what you want to achieve. Don't worry, you can always adjust this later. This is simply to plan out the big picture to see what you're working with and to give your project a framework. Someone once told me that a dream is simply a goal without a deadline. I think there's truth to that.
Ask yourself what you need to accomplish that big goal. Are you releasing a record? What are the different elements involved with it? Here's a few: Full-Length, EP, Single? Where do you want to track it? Who will perform on it? What will the artwork look like? Who will design the artwork? What PRO should you go with? What the hell is a PRO anyway? Do you want CDs or Vinyl or Tapes (for all you hipsters, I know you're out there)? Where will people buy your music?
All of these things need to be considered so you can plan out your smaller goals. Example:
Big Goals: I want to release a record one year from now. I want to release a full-length album on CD and record with this engineer. I'll need X amount of musicians altogether.
Big goals should be statements with deadlines. Once you have your big goals and general idea of what they look like, start planning out your little goals by using questions.
Big Goal: One Year Timeline
Little Goals: What do I need to accomplish the month before release? What about the month before that? And before that? You get the point...
It always helps me to work backwards so I can stay realistic about how much time certain goals will take.
2. Be Real with Your Limitations
This one is a big one to remember, especially for all of us dreamers who have grand visions of doing remarkable things in a remarkable amount of time. You have a physical body that needs rest and recharge, your bank account is not limitless, there are only 24 hours in a day, and oh...life happens. Be realistic. Don't announce a CD Release two months from now if you haven't even started tracking and you have five weddings you're in next month. Don't get attached to the idea of hiring the BEST mastering engineer in the industry either, unless you've already budgeted for it.
Time and time again, I've seen so many friends and peers in the industry create hype about a new record release like it's about to drop yesterday, only to run into setbacks and issues that defer the release by YEARS. Yes, years. Don't make yourself feel ashamed or create doubt because the project seems impossible given your circumstances. I bet there are a lot of other things you haven't considered yet which leads me to the next step...
3. Use Your Resources/Get Creative
I can't recommend this one enough, but before I dive into this one, let me just say that using your resources is not a free pass to take advantage of people's time and graces. So if you're making a mental note of all the people who have things they can offer you, vast amounts of industry contacts, or otherwise...please stop. Let me explain.
There are some sensitive issues when it comes to releasing a record, so let's just go for the most painful one: money. If you're looking at your bank account wondering if you'll ever save enough money to put out a record, this one's for you. Again, going back to Steps 1 and 2, know what your goals are and be real about your limitations.
If you're worried because you have $5 in your wallet and 5 musicians you'd like to perform on your record, all at $100/hour...let's brainstorm. What can you offer others? What are your other skills, maybe even outside of music? Let me tell you a story...
I quit a job in Nashville once...prematurely. And when I say prematurely, I mean...I wasn't being real with my limitations. As a result, I was quickly draining my bank account with no promise of replenishment. So, I started considering my skills. I knew I could perform music and I could teach music, but after exhausting Craigslist and existing clients for new opportunities, I decided I needed another outlet and fast. I started considering more slices of the music pie. What specifically can I teach? This led to expanding from teaching just violin and viola to more instruments, to songwriting courses, even music theory classes and organizing a summer music camp. I knew the wedding industry in-and-out, so I threw together a website in a week and started targeting newlyweds and managed to book three gigs in one week bringing in a few hundies. For a more recent example, fun fact: I spend most of my 9-5 time working on websites specifically for search engine optimization. Most of these websites are related to the medical/health industry, insurance or e-commerce. AKA not music. So if you ended up on this page via Google, voila. It's the magic of SEO. Normally I wouldn't tie SEO and music together, but in this case...it's a resource I have that I've learned I can use.
But let's get back to your dilemma...
If you're struggling with money to wrap up your record, don't be afraid to get creative about your income sources. Be willing to offer your skills for others in exchange. Also, don't underestimate the willingness of people who may genuinely want to help you succeed in your goal, BUT...again...do not take advantage of people. Crowdfunding platforms and things like PledgeMusic or Patreon are great ways to politely ask for support, plus you have the added bonus of giving them something back for that support. Research. Learn more about tools out there that can help, and don't be afraid to ask yourself, "What if?" A lot of my greatest discoveries in getting past road blocks stemmed from asking that question. Oh, and that's another good one: ask all the questions. It's not outrageous if it's possible, so ask the damn question.
4. Prioritize and Compromise
We all do this every minute of every day, so applying this skill to your project should be no different. We all have "best case scenario" ideas and "wish lists", but sometimes we need to remember that project planning can sometimes be inclusive of those things too. If you find it hard to be flexible, you might find yourself in the same place for a long time. Consider what is valuable to you, what is valuable for your career, what is absolutely necessary and what is okay to leave behind. It's easy to get caught up in the details and, especially as artists, hold on tightly to that list of must-haves. Sometimes, though, we cling to these things so desperately and never get anywhere, so prioritize the things that have value (it's a good exercise to define "value" too) and be willing to compromise on the things that have less value.
5. Law of Attraction
Don't worry, I'm not going to get all metaphysical on you. I am, however, going to encourage you to visualize what it will look like when you reach your goal. I do believe that if you focus on something with a persistent mindset, you'll naturally find ways to attain it. Be your biggest cheerleader. If not you, who else? All of that talk about believing in yourself...albeit cheesy and buzzword-ish, it's also just good advice. The more you believe you can do something, the quieter the voice of doubt will be when things get tough. The more you stay focused on your goal(s), the more you'll be brainstorming ways to achieve them.
Releasing a Record is difficult, but absolutely achievable. If you have specific questions, feel free to shoot me a message here.