I often get asked by my music making friends how to go about releasing a record.  Recently, a buddy from London sent me this inquiry:

“Hey Ben,

Did you hear the record yet? I also wanted to ask you if, as a producer, you have any advice/opinion on releasing a record. I know there are these self-release services like CD baby and Tunecore — do you have any opinion on these? Or do you think it's better to wait and try to find a label, even if that takes a long time?

Thanks man, G”

Given the current state of the record business, I firmly believe holding out for a label deal is not the best approach. As a new artist, even if you got offered a deal, it would likely not be in your best interest to take it.  Record companies are in a frenzy to survive and have resorted to taking a piece of an artist’s tour revenues to help recoup the cost of making records.  In the old days they ‘gave’ you your support.

To attract a notable label that will offer you favorable terms, you’ll need to have a proven track record as a reliable artist that can sell tickets and has a considerable amount of streamed radio songs and on-demand songs.  And if you have that going on, why give a label that didn’t help you build your career a piece of the pie?

OK, so you are starting out, no label, what can you do to get yourself heard?

1.  Release a digital single, or two, and build a buzz on social media before you drop your album on the world.  Try and get some reviews or music bloggers writing about you and get some synergy behind you and your music.  Just because the record is done doesn’t mean you need to rush into releasing it.  It will be just as fresh in 6 months as it is today.  My good friend Steffen Franz who own IDC, an independent music distributor, advises to never release a record at the end of the year as it will hurt your chances of getting press.  A CD with a release date of 2016, even if it was released in December, is old news on January 1st, 2017.  If anything, post date your record.  Nobody will notice but you.

2.  Play out and showcase your music live.  Don’t wait for the CD release to get out there.  Once the smoke clears and your friends go home you’ll find yourself wondering what comes next.  Instead, book some low-profile gigs and hit the open mics if you are a solo artist. Use these as an opportunity to build your email list, promote your record, and yes, your pending CD release show.  If you have the time, money and flexibility, book a regional tour and plan CD release shows in each market.  Just make sure you build a small following in each city first and plan to go back at least twice a year.

3.  Get on as many music streaming and on-demand services as you can.  Consider releasing a single or two CD Baby as they are a portal for Apple Music and other streaming services.  Pandora now allows you to self submit, and don’t be afraid of Spotify.  Once you are as big as Taylor Swift you can give them the finger, but for now, you want exposure, and the small amount of revenue you might receive from any streaming service when you are starting out is not the point.