Releasing & Promoting Your Music
Written by Mae Mariyam Thomas
Being a musician today doesn’t just mean you make music. Being a musician means that you are also your own manager, stylist, brand advocate, social media officer, head of marketing, and peon. Sadly, making works of art isn’t always enough. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get creative and ingenious with how you release your music.
Your promotional plan begins the moment the germ of an idea for a song enters your brain. Every bit of creative juice that you expel while making your music must be saved because it is that nectar that is used to make the syrup you drizzle on your promotional pancake. From the initial voice notes, scribblings in your diary, videos of you strumming a potential melody, all of this amounts to the inspiration for the song. It’s the fuel that will fire up the marketing bandwagon and it won’t cost you anything.
For the release and promotion of your album, there are roughly four stages: The Tease, The Launch, The Campaign and The Tour.
The Tease, as the title suggests, is to drum up a little attention in your general direction in the lead up to the release of your single/EP/album. This can either be the release of a single or part of a single, a bit of artwork, some behind the scenes images or video. Nothing that is whole. It’s just a bunch of puzzle pieces that you’re sharing – to see the whole picture you’re going to have to wait till the launch.
Instrumental prog rockers aswekeepsearching in their most recent album release in 2019, put out their album artwork for ‘Rooh’. Alt rockers Parvaaz showed off a piece of in-studio video footage of the band during the completion of their album, Kun.. All of this helps drum up curiosity and informs fans that they have something to look forward to.
The Launch is the day you release your music – “Hello world! Voila! Here’s my gift to you…. My music!” It’s what all your promotions center around and marks the beginning of your ad campaign for your record. This announcement is usually coupled with social media fanfare, links to your music on various music streaming platforms, and maybe a music video thrown in.
It doesn’t matter if you grew up listening to the music in the 70s, 80s, 90s, noughties or now. If you have fallen in love with a song or an album or a musician, you become a nerd about it. You want to know everything about that song. Nowadays you can Google it or follow the artist on social media. But when I grew up, I could wait to buy the cassette tapes and unfurl the inner leaflet that had all the lyrics for the songs I adored.
You remember the creative juices, nectar, syrup stuff I mentioned earlier? Well this would be the right time to make full use of it. During The Campaign is when you can use all that material you’ve gathered while making your music to give people a glimpse into the origin story behind your songs.
The Campaign is where you organise your big push. An essential item you need to organise for, is a press kit – it should have the artwork for the single/EP/album, photos of you and/or your band, video links, a profile about you, information on your latest release, and of course the piece de resistance – your songs. This is what you fire at the press to get coverage and interviews. Start talking to radio stations, publications, and anywhere that will either allow you to play your music, or talk about it. There are a few radio stations that do promote independent music for instance,
- Radio One has a dedicated night for indie music.
- Radio Mirchi has an online indie music station called Mirchi Indies
- Red FM have started Red Indies in 2019 to showcase independent music
- RadioCity has an online station called Freedom Radio as well as an annual award show called the Freedom Radio Music Awards.
Online publications like Rolling Stone, Humming Heart, The WildCity, etc do promote music. I would also highly recommend sending your songs directly to music journalists because they can be attached to more than one media outlet (e.g. First Post, India Today, Scroll, The Guardian, HT, etc) which means that if they like you, they’ll write about you in more than one place. Some Indian writers that I admire are Amit Gurbaxani or Anurag Tagat. There might be specific social media accounts that dedicate themselves to indie music as well, like The Indian Music Diaries. Send your record to them too.
Always keep in mind that people are hungry for new music. If tomorrow all musicians stopped putting out music, there would be nothing to talk about or to play. “As you binge watch your thirteenth entire series or read a book or sleep to music, remember, the darkest days when everything stopped, you turned to artists” – Tweeted by a guy called Jishnu Bando.
Considering how expensive it is to record, produce, mix, and master, most artists release music every couple of years or some bands (progressive rock outfit Paradigm Shift for instance) might only release their sophomore album 10 years later! As an artist, you’re not bound by a schedule to churn out your art however, the more regular you are, the better your adoring fans will feel about the wait.
Some artists have done a press launch for their album release, e.g. Sharma & The Besharams for their record BeDesi, they created a live experience of their album in the venue with decorations, showcasing their music videos live as well as performing all their songs from the new EP. Alt pop act Spud in the Box created a more intimate experience in their home where they invited press and influencers to be part of a listening session of their new album where they talked about each song and what inspired it.
Next is The Tour, where you travel with your music and perform it. It’s a chance for people to interact with you in person. A lot of Indian artists take on the DIY formula to tour the country, i.e. directly contacting venues, or partnering with one venue in multiple cities like Hard Rock Cafe or Social. One of the first people who organised their own living room tour within Bombay was singer-songwriter Ramya Pothuri for her debut album, We Never Left. Three to four years later, a company like RECK, started LVNG that helps you organise your living room gigs/tour.
Finding creative ways to connect with your fans is tough and one great example of ingenuity was when patrons went to go buy tickets for Hindi prog rock act aswekeepsearching’s Rooh tour, you could pay a slightly elevated ticket price (instead of just an entry fee of Rs.499) of Rs.899 and get merch with the ticket too e.g. t-shirt, stickers & the album etc.
Timing is also of utmost importance. Most artists release their music during festival season – September to around Feb the next year. Considering that being on tour can be a hefty expense, festival season allows you to be on lineups and travel the country at the expense of the event organisers and promoters. Some live gigs will have press coverage that you are required to do, which gets part of your promotional job done too. You can stay on a couple of extra days in a place (depending on your contract for performance) and see if you can hook up more interviews or gigs at other venues.
Though in current lockdown times, performing live is going to be even harder than ever before. So, as we’ve all had to, one must pivot. Do a live performance online and stream it. It’s all the rage. Though this will be tougher for bands than just singer-songwriters, However, people are now recording their video performances individually, syncing it all together and launching their music. Ticketing companies like Bookmyshow or Insider, management agencies like UnMute or Big Bad Wolf, or event companies like OML are making that pivot to online from on-ground. So though this lockdown might be easier on your expenses, you might have to work out new ways to actively perform online and get paid for it too.
Some music streaming apps like Spotify, Apple, and JioSaavn, all provide exclusivity windows for you to promote your songs on their platform for the first week of release. I would recommend doing this if they are providing you with marketing muscle, and a promotional plan that gives you more than you would get by just putting everything out everywhere. There has to be a perk for you to restrict your release to just one platform exclusively.
So whether someone’s a nerd about music, or just wants to listen to a good song – they need to be informed about your release. These are just tools to help you navigate a time that may seem really daunting for you when you put out your music. Don’t pressure yourself too much to do everything. Work out what will be fun for you to do and enjoy the journey. It’s the same drill whether you’re the biggest musician in the world or a relative unknown.