10 Aug Top 5 Rookie Mistakes When Releasing New Music
Summer is a great time to release new music – just be sure to steer clear of common rookie mistakes. For readers who pursue music as a hobby, the following list is not for you – just keep doing what makes you happy. This is for the artists who want to make music their career and who want to understand how the professional music community thinks.
#1: EPs are where songs go to die
An EP (short for “extended play”) is longer than a single but shorter than a full-length album (an LP, or “long play” record). Think four to five tracks. EPs are a relic of a bygone era when music was technologically limited to certain types of vinyl. They have virtually no role in the modern music industry and simply come across as half-baked records. I’m also showing my age a bit here because I still believe in the power of full-length albums. When was the last time you heard someone raving about their favorite EP? I’ve heard great songs wither and die on EPs because they never got a proper release.
If you have five decent songs, chances are only one of them is actually good, in which case you should release it as a single and finish the album. If you truly have five solid songs, then write five more and make it a full meal. I will listen to an LP I enjoy over and over, but no one wants to hear the same five songs repeat every 20 minutes.
An additional problem arises when, if you try to re-release those five tracks on a subsequent album, your fans will not be excited about buying the same songs again. Just don’t do it. Finish the album and follow the rest of the tips here.
#2: Releasing cover songs without a license
So you want to record an entire album of cover songs? Great! You’ll have to pay for it, though. If you think creating your own version of someone else’s song absolves you of copyright infringement, think again. The good news is that many compositions can be mechanically licensed through the Harry Fox Agency website, which serves as a convenient clearinghouse for a lot of famous (and not-so-famous) songs. If the song you want is not listed with HFA, you can get a license issued directly from the song’s publisher. Even better, consult with an attorney who specializes in music to help you navigate this complicated terrain.
#3: No spine, no find
Once you’re ready to print physical copies of your album (NOT an EP, right?), don’t waste your time and money on CD packaging that doesn’t contain a spine. You know what I’m talking about: those flatter-than-a-pancake CD covers that double as coasters or get stuck forever between your car seats. Just don’t do it. The best reason I’ve ever heard for this – besides looking cheap and not worth your fans’ money – is because it will get lost on a radio station’s shelf. If there’s no spine, they’ll never find it again.
This is bigger than radio stations, though. As your career advances, there will come a time when you have to solicit the services of publicists, booking agents, bloggers, record stores, management companies, venues, etc. If you want any of them to take you seriously, then start by taking your packaging seriously. Invest in yourself and your product if you expect others to do the same.
#4: Poor album artwork
Your album artwork is your listener’s first introduction to you and your music, and it plays an enormous role in whether or not someone even bothers to listen. Cover art can be as much an expression of the artist as the music itself, but it also functions as a critical marketing tool. The purpose of marketing is to draw in customers, and if your album art fails to do that, you’ve at best missed an opportunity to make a sale and a new fan, and at worst you’ve actually turned away customers with bad album artwork. You don’t have to wear a cowboy hat to sell a country album, but don’t steer your listeners wrong about the contents of the record either. Be creative and get feedback from friends, fans or internet strangers on which images, concepts and even typeface convey you and your music the best. They may reveal to you things you never even considered.
And above all else, don’t forget to put your name, album title and song titles on the packaging AND on the disc. You’re not famous enough not to.
#5: It really is all about the marketing
So you’ve spent years pouring your heart and soul into the production of an album (NOT an EP!), worked tirelessly on the album artwork, finally got it mixed and mastered, and then… you got trigger-happy and released everything online for free. No build-up, no announcement, no press release, no tour, no exclusive first-listen for your fans or bloggers. Nothing. You just assumed that once the internet heard your beautiful creations, money and attention would start pouring in like the gold rush. But it doesn’t work that way.
Making an album takes a long time, and planning for the release of that album should take a long time too. Music at its core is all about the creator, but if you want to make music your career, you have to set your ego aside and consider your audience, at least for marketing purposes. Think about all the great album releases that have drawn you in. None of it is accidental. Good marketing is designed to be subtle. If you’ve never marketed a product or service before, written a press release, or organized a tour (the traditional ways in which artists promote and sell their works), then you may want to consider investing in the services of a publicist, marketing firm or booking agency (that is, if you can get one to accept you as a client). This is what separates the music hobbyists from the professionals.
If all of this makes your head spin, then take a deep breath and don’t worry – the music business is a marathon, and the rewards go to those with the most endurance. Success, if it happens at all, necessarily means familiarizing yourself with the standards and practices of a nearly century-old institution while also navigating the rapidly evolving world of instant digital distribution. This is a team effort with a lifelong learning curve, so invest in yourself, prepare for the long haul, and outsource the tasks you’re not an expert in. You can do this.
Beth B. Moore, Esq. is an entertainment lawyer at The Beth B. Moore Law Firm based in Atlanta, Georgia. Beth specializes in copyrights, trademarks, contracts, and general business consultation for clients who work in music, film, television, theater, gaming, literature, web development and other creative arts industries. You can reach Attorney Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org.