October 28, 2010

Week 6: How To Release Your Music (Part 1 of 3)

 (This is Week 6 of my Fifty-Two Weeks of Music Do-It-Yourself advice)

Snake Skin Prison's Keith Ploeger with the bands 11/19/10 release Nine Kinds of Bad

Having reviewed new releases for the last 15 years, I’ve seen a lot of different ways a band handles this subject. What I’ve gathered is there’s pretty much three pieces to this process, and each one is as important as the others.

First, you must decide how you want to produce your music; will it be a full-length or an EP? Are you going to produce a CD, release it online, or sell it via USB (or a combination of all three)?

Second, you have to plan and execute a CD release show.  This includes booking a club, promoting, and doing something to make it a special night, not just another gig.

Third, you have to get your music into the hands of the people who can promote your music. This would be radio, critics, bloggers, and club bookers and owners.

This is a lot of information, so I’m going to go ahead and break it up into three sections. So, “What Are You Releasing” is part one of this three part series.

PART 1: What Are You Releasing?
A Compact Disc
There are three different versions of Compact Discs (or CDs). If you’ve got one song, you release a single. If you have 3-5 songs, the release is known as an Extended Play (EP) and if you’ve got 8-15 songs, you’ve got yourself a full length or Long Play (LP). The terms EP and LP come from the days of vinyl (you know “records”). I included a little background at the end of this piece.

If you have at least 45 minutes of music, you can release an LP your standard full-length CD. To me a full-length CD is a milestone in a band. It’s making a statement that you guys are serious and committed to being a band.

On a cost level it makes sense as well. When you release a CD, the physical product costs the same no matter how many songs are on there. The cost to promote and mail the product to magazines, newspapers, radio, bloggers, and other interested media folks is the same.  But, if you only have 4-5 songs on a CD, you’ll only be able to charge half the amount because at the end of the day, the music is what the music fan is interested in paying for.

The EP
Based on the above, you can probably guess my stance on EPs. I really, really don’t like EPs. Initially, the fact is, you’re putting half the effort into something and asking fans and the media to treat it as importantly as a full-length.

Thinking of it as a band, my reason for not liking EPs is, you are wasting half that CD and it’s costing you the same amount of money to design packaging, order and print the physical CD, and promote. I am going to continue to shout this to anyone that listens. If you want to release 4-5 songs, get together with another band that has a similar style as you, and produce a “Split EP.” That way you’ve got 5 songs and the other band has 5 songs on a single disc.

If you do this you win in 3 ways. You are using all the space a CD allows, you are splitting the cost of production with another band, and you are crossing over to their fan base and introducing your fans to theirs. It’s really a winning combination. This is how underground punk bands used to do it about 30 years ago. Why it’s not done more today is beyond me.

If you decide to produce a physical CD, do me a favor and really think about your CD packaging. Have a design in mind and make sure it enhances the music. If you aren’t a designer, hire an actual designer to design the artwork. By the way, the drummers girlfriend “who took art once and can do it for free” seldom works out. If you go the designer route, give them guidance if you have an idea or know what you don’t want… but let them create the concept after listening to the songs. I’ll write more detail about this in another column, but just know that the design is as important as the music that it contains. It’s a product, and product packaging is the eye candy that may make someone want to pick your product up.

In 1999 30,000 "apples" of the Beatles entire catalog on USB was released.
New Media – Digital and USB
Now, there’s the matter of new media. You can elect to do a digital-only release where you sell (or give away) your music on your website or via places like iTunes. The bonus of releasing on your Website is, you can glean the fan’s information. If they give you their e-mail, you send them a link to the music. Now you have a valid e-mail for them and have expanded your mailing list so you can keep them informed about your band and invite to shows.

Another way I‘ve gotten music has been via a Universal Serial Bus (USB) Drive, or as I like to call it - a thumb drive. This is neat because it expands your options. You can place songs as well as any videos, lyrics, messages, or photos you’d like to share. It’s nice for a release with bonus content.

Here’s the drawback. Fans can easily delete the music in favor of having a thumb drive. So, in this instance, you should probably sell your “Music Stick” for at least double the cost of buying the thumb drive.

I did a little research on this to get the basic idea, but I also included my opinion. Here’s a little history. This is largely my view, so I reserve the right to be wrong on this, but I think I’m right. Originally bands (or record companies) would send out singles (45s) in vinyl to radio in order to get a song played. This cost less than sending a full record (as in actual vinyl).  

The term EP and LP were the formats in which the recording was produced via vinyl (source). When CD technology came about, the format changed, but we kept the terminology. The EP was originally just promo for radio, not a viable sales option.  Since the physical product was the same, record labels and bands decided to throw 2-3 songs on there, and sometimes alternate versions like a live version or radio edit and ship it to their promotional contacts.

When digital music sources came out, consumers (read the music fan) could suddenly buy the one song they liked via iTunes and the like. In order to cater to that, bands and labels started producing and selling EPs. It’s the “need it now” syndrome.

Yes... that's me. Are you listening? SOAPBOX TIME!

In my opinion, record companies and bands have done a lot of damage to the concept of a physical album by selling things to the general public that isn’t in it’s finished product.

Let me put it this way. In the current Rolling Stone, Keith Richards has an excerpt from his new book, Life that was released this past Tuesday. This is kind of like the concept of a “single.” Here’s a taste for free and if you like it, buy the book. That works. It’s a free taste and he got the media to bite.

My thought is, by releasing singles and EPs for sale, you’re taking away from the bigger package. EPs are no longer a call to pick up the new LP; they are being marketed as a stand-alone package. It’s a bastardized version of promotion and I’m not a fan. To me a single or an EP should be a freebie. They are hooks to get people to pick up a full-length.  Why should I spend $15 on an LP when I already dropped $5 on an EP that has most of the songs on it already?

Let me qualify my soapbox statement. I am a fan of digital media, but I do not own an iPod, I don’t have music on my phone (heck... I even turned off texting), and I may know more about the inner workings of a band that lead to an EP release than the general public…. But I totally think music fans would eat up a split EP. Pay for the band you like and get a bonus treat of a band that could be your next favorite.

Next week will be part two in my “How To Release Your Music” series. I’ll talk about planning the CD release show.  Trust me… it’s important.

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. For an introduction to his "52 Weeks of DIY Music Advice" visit this link - http://www.tinyurl.com/Claes52DIY. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here - http://www.seanclaes.com/.

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