How To Release an Album: 9 Tips for Self Releasing Music

How To Release An Album music marketing heat on the street

How To Release an Album: 9 Tips for Self Releasing Music

Successful artists know how to release an album without rushing. Abraham Lincoln wisely said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” If you don’t setup your album properly, you will miss out on 50% (or more) of the opportunities that are available to you. Bookmark this page. Save it as a reference and revisit when setting up your next album, single, or EP release.  Here are the steps to follow.

  1. Setup Your Album With Distribution
  2. Release Singles To Build Awareness For the Album
  3. Launch A Pre Order Campaign
  4. Get In The Charts With This Price Strategy
  5. Be Patient, Don’t Rush
  6. Get Your Singles In Playlists
  7. Optimize Your Music on Streaming Services
  8. Revamp Your Social Media Strategy
  9. Release an Album Like a Record Label

1. Setup Your Album With Distribution

The first step for how to release an album is making sure it’s properly setup with digital and/or physical distribution. Distribution can be boring, but the setup process can add another layer of income streams if you do it correctly. I recommend one of these digital distribution services because they are built with your band in mind: CD Baby, DistroKid, TuneCore, or EmuBands. They offer similar services, but each has a few things that make them unique. It’s important to properly setup your metadata, song titles, pricing, and pre-order strategy.

Mistakes To Avoid

Mistake to Avoid: Setting up your release for distribution before you have your music rights in order. Things like YouTube setup, publishing, royalties, SoundExchange, and international royalty collection are all things you need to consider. Read this post on 35 Ways To Make Money With Music 

Mistake to Avoid: Choosing a big generic genre. On most digital services Rock is The Rolling Stones or Queen. It’s very difficult for developing and emerging artists to compete with those evergreen classic rock titles. You’ll be able to chart higher in sub genres, and the more specific your genre tags are, the easier it is to capture your target audience. Use the metal genre tag if you play “heavy” music. Even if you don’t identify with metal, most of the sub-genres for heavy music on Apple are nestled under metal (i.e. hard rock, metalcore, screamo, hardcore, progressive, etc). If you don’t fit into that, choose Alternative or Indie Rock.

2. Release Singles To Build Awareness for the Album

If you’ve included one or more instant grat tracks with your iTunes pre-order, you are ahead of many other bands. Great job! I see developing bands skipping this step 80% of the time. Instant Grat tracks are not outdated, and I’ll explain why.

First of all, Apple (iTunes) put instant grat tracks into place in 2011. They were a big hit for Apple and their customers. But there is another big advantage to having instant grat tracks. Look at them as extra opportunities to get features on the Apple Music and iTunes store and build anticipation and awareness for your EP or album. When Apple sees it attached to an EP or album campaign they’re more inclined to want to get involved in your big marketing effort. 

Also, if your single performs well on a playlist in the months before release date, your album may get more support from Apple on release week. In addition to iTunes, those same instant grat tracks (or singles) should go live on Spotify, Amazon, Google Play, and other digital services. If your distributor only allows one instant grat track, release the others as stand alone singles. Major distributors and some aggregators allow artist to setup staggered instant grat tracks on multiple days prior to an album release, but TuneCore, CDBaby, Distrokid, and those type of services only allow one day for pushing instant grat tracks. You can do more than one, but you have to make them available on one day. 

Mistake to Avoid: Using different ISRCs on the stand alone single vs album. Make sure your pre-release singles have the same ISRC as the album version. This will prevent you from splitting the streams and algorithm popularity between the two versions, and other possible headaches. The only exception here is when they are clearly different recordings (sessions) of the same song.

Mistake to Avoid: Not pitching pre-release tracks for playlists at least three weeks before. 6 weeks before is ideal. You have to pitch early to get to the front of the line. Programmers are looking far out, so do yourself a favor and get to curators before your competition. Curators rarely go back and program old tracks after they’ve already been released. Don’t make this mistake. Plan ahead.

Grab my Spotify Track Development Plan – Free PDF 

3. Launch A Pre-Order Campaign

Pre-orders and pre-save on Spotify & Apple are more important than post release marketing. Remember Lincoln and his axe? Physical pre-orders will come from your web store, venue pre-orders, CD release show, and Digital album pre-orders will come from iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and your web store. Pre-save on Spotify and Pre-add on Apple Muisc is a way to have your album show up in a user’s music collection on the day of release. It works for singles too. Learn more here

The benefit to Pre-Saves and pre-orders is that when programmers are making their decisions on playlists and store features, they favor bands with more pre-saves.

Mistake to Avoid: Not setting up your digital pre-order and instant grats on the same day as you setup your digital album for distribution. You can’t do it afterward. Use it or lose it.

Mistake to Avoid: Not registering all of your UPC’s with Nielsen Soundscan early enough. You have to register your UPCs at least 2 weeks before you start pre-ordering. Otherwise you risk not getting credit for those pre-orders. Inquire with your distributor about ensuring Nielsen database department has all UPCs for digital configurations, CD, and vinyl.

pre save spotify heat on the street music marketing

4. Get In The Charts With This Price Strategy

Getting in the charts is a great goal. Charts are a way to get social proof within the industry and with fans. So when you chart, talk it up on social media and within the industry. I’ve written a post about charting and Soundscan. It’s U.S. focused, but the concepts apply everywhere.

Pro tip: Touring and submitting your venue sales through atVenu every night helps add to your chart position and overall album sales.


5. Be Patient, Don’t Rush

Too often, bands rush to put out their new EP’s or Albums without preparing. If I was going to release a new album, I would want to put in five months of hard work setting it up to the biggest audience. I would make sure to have tour dates in the weeks leading up to release, and stay on the road thirty days after street date. The further you get from street date, the harder it is to sell albums. Use the time before that tour to attack the markets (press, influencers, blogs, video promotion, radio, social media, advertising).

I would make a goal to bring on 10,000 new followers/fans before street date, so that I’m not relying solely on the current fan base. Over 90 days, that’s about 100 new followers p/day (Maybe 20 on each of Spotify, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter) every day – or any combination of those.

Use Facebook video ads, contests, Pandora, etc. Also run Spotify follow and pre-save campaigns.

With each single launch and/or video premiere, roll out awesome campaigns to back them up. Fans will appreciate a smooth rollout and clever marketing.

6. Get Your Singles In Playlists

Get your tracks featured in targeted playlists. Assign Spotify playlist promotion to one band member, while others focus on other things. Look at the “about” sections of other artists on Spotify. Notice the “Discovered On” section tells you which playlists included that artist. Click over to the playlist and sometimes you will find a submission form link or email address in the playlist description. If not, you will need to search for this person on Facebook, Instagram, or Soundcloud. Reach out to them with a brief submission email.

Mistake to Avoid: Submitting too late. Playlist curators value new music. The Spotify for Artists portal won’t accept song submissions after release date. Submit for playlists between six and two weeks prior to the release of a particular track.  For “listener” playlists on Spotify, the day of release is fine.

7. Optimize Your Music on Streaming Services

Spotify For Artists Take advice directly from the source. Spotify has gone into great detail on how artists can and should utilize the service. It’s totally worth spending several hours searching around the Spotify website artist section. Get access to your stats through Spotify For Artists. Check out their guides, videos, FAQs, and best practices.

Apple Music: Apple has a portal for artists called Apple Music Connect. It’s where you can share video, audio, and images with your fans in a sort of Facebook wall environment. Claim your artist profile and tap into Apple Music Connect. Read through the FAQ’s to learn more: 

Pandora AMP & Song Boosts Pandora recently extended their hand to the artist community with a suite of artist tools called AMP. To learn about it, Pandora has provided this AMP Playbook. Recording radio style liners and song boosts are game changers for music streaming.

YouTube – YouTube is #1 for music streaming globally (in terms of volume). We’re talking serious traffic. So make sure you capture as much of it as possible. Feed the algorithm and optimize your music video. To learn optimization techniques I recommend you do a Google search and read up on three or four recent articles. Recent is key. Search “music video promotion on youtube”

Mistake to Avoid: Missing out on streams from Pandora, Soundcloud, and YouTube. Some digital distributors require some extra push to ensure your tracks go up on Pandora and YouTube in a timely manner. (Like on street date). It’s common for Pandora to only put your music on the “paid” tier, and not the “free” tier. So be proactive and reach out to Pandora Artist Support and your digital distributor ahead of time.

8. Revamp Your Social Media Strategy


All of these social platforms reward consistency and frequency. Don’t sell sell sell. Use each platform the way they are intended. You can sell, but make sure it’s in combination with something interesting or normal conversation. Instead of “watch our video”, ask a question, start a conversation, or say something intriguing that begs a click/view. 

9. How To Release an Album Like A Label

Check out my musician’s guide to the music industry. It lays out an overview of the various departments at a record label.

EXERCISE: Case Study Research

Have each band member research a band. Do this all in one day. Don’t just pick your favorite bands. Pick bands that have records coming out 2-4 months from now. That’s easy to find, just go to every record label’s website and look at their “coming soon” releases. Then go to those bands’ social media pages and websites, and study how they are setting up their albums. Compile all of your research and take note of things that were positive and things that were negative. If you follow the same best practices, you will be ahead of 90% of other bands.

Disclaimer: Not every label does it right. Choose labels that you respect and have a reputation for cutting edge rollouts.

Take notice of how they announce their album and artwork. How do they launch their pre-order? Watch how they promote their first single and music video. Work with your team to incorporate some of the things you learned and challenge yourselves to come up with your own unique release plan.


Now that you know how to release an album, get your plans together and make it happen. Help the community learn from your process and share your experiences in the comments below.

Todd McCarty

Over the past two decades, music industry leader Todd McCarty served as GM of rock/punk indie label Fearless Records, and SVP Sales at Sony Music / Century Media. He still consults for record labels, but is actively blogging and working to educate new artists through

6 Comments on “How To Release an Album: 9 Tips for Self Releasing Music”

  1. Hey Todd,

    Really great blog, quick question for you. Do you need to have a label thats been up and running for two years in order to report sales at shows or can an independent do this as well?

    1. Hey Drew, Any artist can can use AtVenu to submit venue sales. You don’t have to have a record label. You just need to ensure your physical album (CD or Vinyl) is assigned a UPC and that UPC is registered to Nielsen Soundscan. Don’t assume your digital distributor will submit a physical UPC to Nielsen Soundscan (most don’t offer that).

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