Nothing is more important for an independent music artist or band than the day they release an album. Despite all the adversities independent artists face in their effort to get the attention of the listening public, the release of an album can act like a great equalizer, if the band does their job, has a good track record with their fans, and gets the word out. Similarly, the fans of independent artists should understand the importance of the release day, and how their participation can help get their favorite artists to the next level and a little bit of elevated notoriety.
Traditionally, all albums in the United States and in parts of Europe and elsewhere have been released on Tuesdays. Though there was never a globally-recognized release day, as time went on Tuesday became the default. If you wanted you album release to be optimized, minding the Tuesday release day was a savvy move, even if you were a small band that may not have a chance of showing up on Billboard‘s, or anyone’s album charts. Since almost everyone released their albums on Tuesday, it was an easy time for the media to compile all the releases together. So even though a small independent band from Oshkosh may not have the same footprint as Taylor Swift, if they did their job and let folks know when they were releasing their album, their album might be found right beside Ms. Swifts on Tuesday in some lists.
So now labels and distributors from all around the world have pow-wowed and decided that Friday is going to be the universally-recognized global release day come July 10th, 2015. The idea is to curb piracy and streamline distribution amongst other benefits to the industry and artists by lining up when albums are released regardless of country of origin. It’s worth noting that if a band has a separate distributor for The United States and Europe for example, there still may be a different release date in the different continents or countries. But regardless, the date should still be on a Friday.
The reason this new date is crucial for independent music acts is because more so than ever before in the history of music were seeing independent bands receive more and more recognition on industry album charts. As an independent artist, or the fan of an independent artist or band, you may be used to thumbing your nose at Billboard and other such outlets as the music equivalent of beauty pageants and decree music shouldn’t be regarded as a contest of who can come in first. But the simple fact is an album release can be the opportunity for an independent band to get noticed like never before.
Because most mainstream consumers have turned to either buying single songs online after hearing them on the radio, or streaming music online from their favorite artists, many mainstream acts are seeing historic declines in their album sales numbers. Of course when you’re selling downloads in the millions and packing arenas, it all makes up for itself in the wash, but meanwhile the fans of independent bands and artists are still buying lots of physical albums, or purchasing cohesive albums online. Since independent fans rarely hear their favorite artists on the radio anyway, they’re still married to the album concept, and we’re seeing this reflected on industry album charts.
When independent Texas country artist Aaron Watson hit #1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart with his last release The Underdog in late February, it was the first time an independent male artist had ever achieved this goal in the chart’s history. An independent band in the form of Southern rock outfit Blackberry Smoke hit #1 earlier in the year. On top of that, other independent artists are setting records left and right in all genres of music, and older artists—whose fans still buy records—are also setting personal bests on albums charts after decades of declines.
And don’t let anyone tell you these numbers don’t matter. When a fan buys a cohesive album, whether a physical or digital copy, they are showing a level of commitment to a band, both spiritually and financially, that the downloaders and streamers are unwilling to. A physical sale will mean more money in the pocket of the artist and their independent label (if they have one) than the equivalent amount of streams on Spotify. And furthermore, Billboard recently changed their album chart rules to calculate in streams, so even with this gerrymandering of the playing field, independent artists are still thriving.
And even if you’re a band that’s too small to even consider landing on any charts, a good showing from a successful album release cycle can still give you a boost of confidence, or an new benchmark set that can help propel you into the future and lend to your prosperity. It’s not all about numbers, it’s about giving your art the best platform to be shared with as many people as possible.
But back to the new Friday release day starting industry wide on July 10th. Here are five main keys to keep in mind.
1. Mind the release day.
Don’t think you’re too cool for school to follow “the man’s” rules. The global release day is one rule worth following. If you want a chance for your album to excel, and to compete on a level playing field and potentially pique the interest of the industry, you must release your album on a Friday to give it that full week of metadata aggregation. Take Jello Biafra’s wisdom to mind. You can be underground, but still do it right. Don’t give “the man” a leg up by acting like this particular rule doesn’t pertain to you.
2. Getting the word out leading up to the release will be key.
Frankly, it was surprising that Friday was the day chosen as the universal release day since in the media world, it’s the worst day of the week for getting the word out about whatever you’re trying to promote. The TV show The West Wing used to have a recurring theme of The White House releasing unsavory news Friday afternoon since more than likely by the time Monday rolled back around it would be forgotten or overlooked by the 9 to 5 media. Hopefully consumers and media outlets will recalibrate to the new system, but a Friday release means it’s even more important to make sure you get the word out about your album prior to the release, and have a lot of momentum behind it riding into the next week when the media comes back from hammock time and honey do’s.
3. A Friday release day has certain benefits. Take advantage of them.
One thing that’s terrible about the Tuesday release day is it’s smack dab in the heart of the work week. If you want to have a CD release show, you’re asking your fans to figure out how to wing it on a school night. If you wait until the weekend, you’re missing out on making your release a big event culminating all on one big day to break through the din of everyday news and events. Now that Friday is the day, you can set up an in-studio interview during Friday rush hour, throw an album signing event at a local record store at 6 PM, and then melt faces come midnight at your big weekend night release show. This might give you the momentum to carry the release into the next week.
4. All the old rules still apply, and may even be more important.
For the reason’s stated above about the challenges of getting the word out, a Friday release day makes all the older maxims about how to release an album even more crucial. Don’t go blathering about your new album over and over until you’re ready to announce a solid release date. Announce your release date roughly six weeks to two months before the release, and avoid holidays, or days you think similar bands might be releasing albums as well. When you know everything is going to be lined up and go off without a hitch, announce your release date, and either include a pre-order link, or follow up with a pre-order option shortly thereafter. Release a song or video prior to the album to start the buzz and drive those pre-orders. If you can, stream the album a week before the release. And then when that big Friday comes, have everything lined up like the grand finale of a fireworks display to go off like a controlled explosion.
5. Fans have a role in the successful album release too.
Pre-order, pre-order, pre-order, or order an album on the day of the release. If you want to help your favorite band or artist out, support them by buying their record as early as possible, or at least during the first week. This way all of that metadata will be waiting there to hopefully give them a decent showing on the charts, or at least result in something the band can be proud of. And don’t just think this is all about Billboard‘s charts. Americana, Texas country, and other genres and regions throughout the music world have their own charting system or other ways to highlight sales, and a solid showing by your favorite band can mean them maybe finding a better booking agent or manager, getting to play that festival they always wanted to, or getting signed to a bigger label. If a band can prove they can sell 5,000 records, then that means someone in the industry is more willing to give them a chance. Being able to gloat about getting to X spot on a certain chart can open doors. And even if a band is too small to worry about charts, handling the album release properly will still optimize the amount of sales, and hopefully propel then to the next step in their development.