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> Releasing An Album In The 21st Century, My experience of releasing an album
Rammikin
post Feb 9 2016, 04:09 PM
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Digital Distribution

I released an album recently and I thought I'd share the experience of releasing an album in the digital age.

I'm just a hobbyist with no professional aspirations, but I set a goal for myself in 2015 to create an album (See Gabriel's posts about the importance of goals). I wanted to write and record a set of songs. The problem is that's a bit of a vague objective. I tend to tinker with a song indefinitely, so "finished" is hard term to quantify. Consequently, I wanted to make my goal more concrete by actually releasing it on iTunes, Spotify, etc. That way I'd be forced to work towards a specific goal and there would be no question whether I'd met the objective. Plus, it would be fun to see my music on Spotify and iTunes.

I had no idea how one distributes an album these days. How do you get an album into the iTunes store? In the old days, physical distribution through retailers meant releasing an album was a huge undertaking, involving manufacturing and distribution, and required a large operation, in other words a record label company. Because of the costs, this was reserved for just a select few artists chosen by the labels. In the 21st century these manufacturing and distribution costs have been all but eliminated. While there are still record labels, they are mainly concerned with providing the promotion that a prominent artist requires when launching an album. That has opened an opportunity for digital distribution services, who simply do the inexpensive distribution for you for a small fee. In other words, the answer to my question of "How do you get an album into the iTunes store?" is: "It's quite simple".

I started looking at the digital distribution services to compare them. There are a number to choose from. Some of the more prominent ones are CDBaby, Reverbnation, and Tunecore. Basically they work the same: you give them audio files, album artwork, and some money. In return, they put your album on all the digital music services like iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, YouTube, etc, and even dozens of outlets I've never heard of (Guvera?).

The key differences between the services are the fee structure. Basically, some services require an annual fee and some don't. The ones who do require an annual fee charge less to release an album. There are also differences about the commission the distributor takes when you receive money from sales or plays. This issue comes down to how serious you are about making your music a business. If you expect to make money from selling albums, the commission structure is a critical issue. I'm just doing this for fun, so I don't expect any sales. And, I liked the idea of just paying a fee once up front, then having my album available to the world forever. (Or at least until the next technology comes along smile.gif ).

I chose a distribution service that has a one-time fee for an album: CDBaby. They charge $59 to distribute an album. Plus they charge $20 for the UPC code that you need for your album to uniquely identify it, so the total is $79. They frequently have $20 off sales and you can take advantage of that even if you aren't ready to release your album...just pay the $59 in advance and use it when you are ready.

So, I paid my $59 last summer and had my album ready to distribute in December. The process of preparing the album was pretty simple. You upload your uncompressed wav files and fill out some forms. (Note: if you want to put cover songs on your album, things get a lot more complicated since you have to deal with licensing the song from whoever holds the rights to it.). You create a 1400X1400 album cover picture and upload that. (My advice on the artwork is: make the text prominent. Something that looks good in photoshop may be barely readable when shrunk down to the postage stamp size that iTunes will show.) You answer some questions, and when you're sure everything's ready, you submit the album to be released. At this point, you have to be certain you're happy with the songs and artwork because it's a big deal to change anything after it's been released.

After you submit it, you get a chance to review it. That way you can verify your audio wasn't corrupted when uploading. After you review it, you give final approval. A few days after I did that, my album showed up on iTunes and Spotify!




Physical CD's

That was exciting but.......it doesn't feel like a real album unless you have a CD in a jewel case to give to your mother smile.gif. So, I started looking around for a service to reproduce some physical CD's.

It used to be the minimum order for CD's was 1000, which meant you had to pay in the neighborhood of $800. Nowadays, unless your Adele, nobody sells 1000 CD's smile.gif. As a result, the minimum order is now generally 100. There are many CD reproduction services to choose from, more services to choose from than there are for digital distribution. In my case, I went with a simple option: CDBaby also does CD reproduction. Because I did my digital distribution with them, I could order CD's without reuploading audio files...they would simply use the wav files I uploaded earlier. So, that's what I did.

There are a lot of options for packaging your CD: cardboard sleeves, digipacks, jewel cases, any number of folding panels, etc. I went with a simple jewel case, with a cover, inside and tray. The price for 100 of these was $250, plus tax and shipping.

With a physical CD, the critical issue is the artwork. It's a lot more complicated than digital distribution which simply has a single jpg file. With a physical CD you've got printing issues to deal with and things have to be precisely laid out. All these services have templates you can download to use to prepare your artwork. I downloaded the templates for Photoshop and started on my artwork. Basically, you have to make sure your artwork goes past the edge of what will be printed to make sure you don't have any unprinted regions at those edges. And you have to put your text within safety margins to make sure they fit within the printed area.

After I created my cover, inside and tray artwork, I uploaded the pdf's. Once uploaded, CDBaby has a neat 3D viewer that allows you to rotate a 3D representation of the CD and jewel case to see what it will look like. (I assume the other services offer something similar).

One choice you have to make at this point is: whether to put a bar code on your back cover. Graham Nash had a famous fight with his record label once about how he felt the bar code spoiled the artwork. I decided to include the bar code since it I didn't feel it detracted from the artwork too much and made it look more professional. And, if I ever wanted to sell these through a retailer (yeah, right smile.gif ), they would need the bar code.

That brings up the other service you can pay for at this point: if you want to sell CD's online, you can pay to have CDBaby do distribution. They way this works is: they make sure the physical CD shows up as available for sale at outlets like Amazon. They keep a small inventory (five or so) of CD's from the 100 you had reproduced, and when somebody buys your CD from Amazon, they ship out one of those CD's. I wasn't interested in that so I passed on that service.

The other option you can select at this point is: for $39 you can have them make a framed plaque with your CD, suitable for hanging on your studio wall. That seemed like fun, so I chose that. In all, including the plaque and tax and shipping, it was $400 for the 100 CD's in jewel cases.

In the end, it was a fun learning experience, and having a tangible goal to work towards made me work harder and more effectively on improving my musicianship. I hope these notes are helpful to anyone else who chooses to do a project like this.
















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Todd Simpson
post Feb 9 2016, 07:00 PM
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HUGE congrats are in order here. This is a momentus thing. Making an album full of music (actually completing songs, not just bits of them) is a challenge by itself. Not to mention going through the bits to get it out there. This is a great learning experience in each and every way.

How has it been since the release? After the release, if you are doing it all yourself, you gotta contact wads of blogs/sites/etc. and send them your music to review. This is one time that physical units/cds can come in handy as some folks use it as a "gate keeper". E.g. if you don't have a physical cd some folks won't take it for review, some record lables as well.

This would make a great saga of the entire process IMHO and should go in the wiki!!!!

Todd


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Rammikin
post Feb 11 2016, 02:29 PM
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As I mentioned, I don't intend to actually sell these albums. I just did it for fun. On the other hand, I did enjoy learning how the process works, so maybe I'd enjoy learning about promoting an album via the internet?


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Mertay
post Feb 11 2016, 02:45 PM
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Really nice read, thanks and congrats! smile.gif


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Rammikin
post Feb 17 2016, 02:21 PM
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Thanks. I hope this inspires someone else to do a similar project.


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klasaine
post Feb 19 2016, 04:02 PM
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I did the same thing. Though it's only available on Bandcamp so far. Either digital or physical.
Something (sort of) interesting that I've noticed is that folks are more apt to actually listen to it when they pay for it.
Of all the free copies I given out (dig or phys), the only people to actually comment or ask something about it (other than close, actual, real life friends), are the ones who've purchased, in one form or another, the record or a single song.
My take away ... Spend some money = listen to it. YMMV.

This post has been edited by klasaine: Feb 19 2016, 06:23 PM


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Todd Simpson
post Feb 20 2016, 02:58 AM
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I honestly feel you are doing the right thing in not trying to sell them at this point. Until you break through a certain level of fandom, you are really just trying to get your name out. So good call there smile.gif

Learning about promoting music is a great idea and learning by doing and with some advice from folks here will get you started smile.gif Getting anyone to "care" about a release these days, especially from an unknown act, is the hardest thing you can do IMHO. But it's worth doing as you gotta start somewhere smile.gif

THe usual suspects of course, social media, etc. Then contacting blogs that feature your general type of music or even close and asking for a review (they will want a press kit in some cases). It's a long road but look at OLA ENGLUND. It can pay off in th end smile.gif

Todd

QUOTE (Rammikin @ Feb 11 2016, 08:29 AM) *
As I mentioned, I don't intend to actually sell these albums. I just did it for fun. On the other hand, I did enjoy learning how the process works, so maybe I'd enjoy learning about promoting an album via the internet?


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Rammikin
post Feb 21 2016, 07:01 PM
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QUOTE (klasaine @ Feb 19 2016, 03:02 PM) *
Something (sort of) interesting that I've noticed is that folks are more apt to actually listen to it when they pay for it.


Very true. I learned that lesson writing iPhone apps. Giving something away for free would seem like a generous gift, but in fact the recipient will often interpret that as meaning the gift is worthless smile.gif.



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Ben Higgins
post Mar 22 2016, 10:29 AM
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QUOTE (klasaine @ Feb 19 2016, 03:02 PM) *
Something (sort of) interesting that I've noticed is that folks are more apt to actually listen to it when they pay for it.
Of all the free copies I given out (dig or phys), the only people to actually comment or ask something about it (other than close, actual, real life friends), are the ones who've purchased, in one form or another, the record or a single song.
My take away ... Spend some money = listen to it. YMMV.


Totally agree, same with advice.. people listen if they're paying for it by the hour! biggrin.gif

When I was due to put out my first album from The Reckoning, I was seeing that loads of people were releasing theirs for free. I thought about it and decided ok I'll do that if that's what people do these days. However the closer it got to putting it out I felt this horrible feeling.. it's hard to describe but I think it was actually a kind of sadness. I felt that by putting something out for nothing that I had worked on for so many years and carried with me was like a form of betrayal. It was as if I was personally saying that it was worth nothing.

It doesn't matter if somebody else doesn't value it or ever buy it but I won't treat it that way myself. Ultimately, if you don't value your art how can you expect others to do so?


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Todd Simpson
post Mar 22 2016, 05:00 PM
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This is a very good point. If we can't value it ourselves.....

To that end, some folks have gone with the "pay what you want" with a "suggestion" of a certain amount but not a requirement. That way it makes it easy for folks to pay whatever they can manage and gives folks that were going to just bootleg it the chance to get it legit and maybe capture their email along the way to add them to an email list/fan list/facebook fan etc.

This is part of the "FREEMIUM" model where the consumer gets to determine the price basically, but usually there is a "PREMIUM" option like OLA ENGLUND does where the tablature and midi drum tracks get included for download and the price goes much higher. I paid $50 for Olas first premium album just to get his midi drum tracks. He programs great drums IMHO and I get to credit OLA for drums smile.gif




QUOTE (Ben Higgins @ Mar 22 2016, 04:29 AM) *
Totally agree, same with advice.. people listen if they're paying for it by the hour! biggrin.gif

When I was due to put out my first album from The Reckoning, I was seeing that loads of people were releasing theirs for free. I thought about it and decided ok I'll do that if that's what people do these days. However the closer it got to putting it out I felt this horrible feeling.. it's hard to describe but I think it was actually a kind of sadness. I felt that by putting something out for nothing that I had worked on for so many years and carried with me was like a form of betrayal. It was as if I was personally saying that it was worth nothing.

It doesn't matter if somebody else doesn't value it or ever buy it but I won't treat it that way myself. Ultimately, if you don't value your art how can you expect others to do so?



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nikeman64
post Apr 1 2016, 02:25 PM
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QUOTE (Ben Higgins @ Mar 22 2016, 09:29 AM) *
When I was due to put out my first album from The Reckoning, I was seeing that loads of people were releasing theirs for free. I thought about it and decided ok I'll do that if that's what people do these days. However the closer it got to putting it out I felt this horrible feeling.. it's hard to describe but I think it was actually a kind of sadness. I felt that by putting something out for nothing that I had worked on for so many years and carried with me was like a form of betrayal.

Completely understandable !! The whole process is HUGE (writing, playing, recording, mixing , mastering, release), and the less people that are involved, the bigger it gets ! (homestudio artists need more lives biggrin.gif )

Nowadays we are all so used of having tons of free stuff on the internet that people seem to have come into some kind of mindset that this is the way to go.

Congratulations Rammikin for this project! Can you give us the title of the album , and your artist name (if it's other than Rammikin rolleyes.gif
You seem to have a feeling that people wil not be willing to buy your music but how can you know that for shure ? You came this far, I strongly believe you should put as much effort in promoting the album. wink.gif Give it a shot mate !!!

What about airplay?? Is there anybody on GMC who has been succesfull in getting airplay and how was this achieved ?

Nico smile.gif


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Todd Simpson
post Apr 2 2016, 01:51 AM
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You can "buy" airplay these days just like the good old days of "payola" smile.gif Mostly on satellite broadcast systems though. The good news is that you don't need "airplay" to get traction. I posted a video with Ola Englund talking about going from Bedroom musician to World Touring musician with his own line of amps and guitars. It's a great example of the power of social media. Breaking through the noise and getting people to notice you on social media is the hard part. That is the riddle that you have to crack as an artist and nobody can tell you how to do it. You have to figure it out for yourself, everyone does. YOu have to ask yourself, what makes me and my music different.

You have to give people a good reason to listen to you vs say periphery. I hate to say "gimmick" but something that is specific to you and your music. With Blind Guardian it was songs about Lord of the Rings, each band has their own "thing". The trick is to find your "thing" that element that only you and your music bring to the table. Just releasing music in to the wild without this, is a healthy lesson in humility. So find what makes your music, "your music" and put it to good use smile.gif

Todd





QUOTE (nikeman64 @ Apr 1 2016, 08:25 AM) *
Completely understandable !! The whole process is HUGE (writing, playing, recording, mixing , mastering, release), and the less people that are involved, the bigger it gets ! (homestudio artists need more lives biggrin.gif )

Nowadays we are all so used of having tons of free stuff on the internet that people seem to have come into some kind of mindset that this is the way to go.

Congratulations Rammikin for this project! Can you give us the title of the album , and your artist name (if it's other than Rammikin rolleyes.gif
You seem to have a feeling that people wil not be willing to buy your music but how can you know that for shure ? You came this far, I strongly believe you should put as much effort in promoting the album. wink.gif Give it a shot mate !!!

What about airplay?? Is there anybody on GMC who has been succesfull in getting airplay and how was this achieved ?

Nico smile.gif



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nikeman64
post Apr 2 2016, 09:15 AM
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QUOTE (Todd Simpson @ Apr 2 2016, 12:51 AM) *
It's a great example of the power of social media. Breaking through the noise and getting people to notice you on social media is the hard part. That is the riddle that you have to crack as an artist and nobody can tell you how to do it. You have to figure it out for yourself, everyone does. YOu have to ask yourself, what makes me and my music different.

You have to give people a good reason to listen to you vs say periphery. I hate to say "gimmick" but something that is specific to you and your music. With Blind Guardian it was songs about Lord of the Rings, each band has their own "thing". The trick is to find your "thing" that element that only you and your music bring to the table. Just releasing music in to the wild without this, is a healthy lesson in humility. So find what makes your music, "your music" and put it to good use smile.gif

Todd


Seems like finding a needle in a haystack. Still, it should not keep one from trying, right ?! smile.gif smile.gif Others have done it and they probably didn't expect any succes either.


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Rammikin
post Apr 2 2016, 05:30 PM
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QUOTE (nikeman64 @ Apr 1 2016, 01:25 PM) *
Congratulations Rammikin for this project! Can you give us the title of the album , and your artist name (if it's other than Rammikin rolleyes.gif
You seem to have a feeling that people wil not be willing to buy your music but how can you know that for shure ? You came this far, I strongly believe you should put as much effort in promoting the album. wink.gif Give it a shot mate !!!


You can listen to the songs and view the accompanying videos here:
https://vimeo.com/channels/somewheretohide

Here are the spotify and itunes links:
https://open.spotify.com/album/2LTGD8yM0AAWgsePbKGi3v
spotify:album:2LTGD8yM0AAWgsePbKGi3v
https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/somewhere...de/id1072435014


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Todd Simpson
post Apr 4 2016, 06:16 AM
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PERSISTENCE is the key to everything. Guitar, etc. So DON"T GIVE UP EVER. Just keep pressing forward and learning as you go on everything you encounter. It's the only way smile.gif

QUOTE (nikeman64 @ Apr 2 2016, 03:15 AM) *
Seems like finding a needle in a haystack. Still, it should not keep one from trying, right ?! smile.gif smile.gif Others have done it and they probably didn't expect any succes either.


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