Self-Releasing Music As An Independent Artist
by Keir Easterbrook
Keir Easterbrook is a self-releasing independent artist in Brighton. In this article he lays out the basic steps of releasing music. It’s an overview of a detailed process that he has attempted to simplify to make releasing music as accessible and straightforward as possible.
There is a huge amount of material online around the subject of releasing music independently. Some written from experience and some from a theoretical viewpoint. In this article I will be discussing my experience with releasing music, and the resources I have learnt from.
To define ‘Self-Releasing’ and ‘Independent’: minimal connections to record labels, publishers, managers, etc, using an online distribution service to upload and share music that has been made by yourself, with friends, or having hired a recording studio with your own money
There are many reasons why an artist will chose to be a solo artist, or collaborate with other musicians, either in bands or groups, etc. For instance; it can be financial, a musician may want to reap the rewards themselves, or split the many costs with others. It can also be a creative decision, demanding full creative control, or feeling inspired bouncing ideas off others. There is no one set right or wrong path to chose, and there are pros and cons to them all.
Let’s dive in to the creation of the music itself. Initially, this is often a great struggle, as writers block, imposters syndrome – or a lack of knowledge and/or skill – can be common setbacks. With there being so many avenues to create and share music in the modern age – where do you begin?
One common avenue is to install a piece of recording software programme known as a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). This allows the artist to record, produce, mix and master music within the programme itself. Through studying – both at university and on online platforms like YouTube – I have managed to learn the ins-and-outs of several DAWs, using them for my own writing, recording, producing, mixing and mastering.
Nevertheless, an independent artist has the option to tackle as many of these jobs themselves as possible or choose to hire other people to help with that work, but this often requires money out of their own pocket. This is why many, like myself, have opted to learn more than one skill.
The next step is to decide how and when to release it. There are many online distribution services, such as Distrokid, CDBaby, Spinnup, Ditto etc, who will – for a fee – upload your music to platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Tidal etc. These services offer different pros and cons as to why you should use them to share their music. For example, Distrokid offer a yearly subscription based service where the musician will own 100% of the earned royalties on their music. And Spinnup is owned by Universal Music Group who use the service as a form of A&R to look for artists to sign. Each service offer unique pros that require individual research for specific artists and projects.
Artists will also need to create visuals for their music. This is at the bare minimum the cover artwork, it can be just text, a free stock image they found online, a graphic illustration they have created, a picture of them, etc. There are no limits. Artists can also create music videos, lyric videos, live videos, acoustic versions or any other video ideas they may have.
This will also act a promotional material for an artist, it is not essential for artists to create this much visual content around their music but it’s becoming more and more advised as it creates more content around one single release.
Once the music has been released it requires promotion. For me personally, this is the hardest step. Social media is a key place for the modern artist to get their work heard, not only in terms of gaining attention but also as it’s relatively cheap. According to statista.com, 77.9 percent of the population in the UK are active on social media. So the likelihood of an artist already owning a smartphone with access to social media is very high, and sharing their work is free to do. But the question remains, what to post?
Burstimo, a marketing company sharing tips and advice on YouTube, share 3 avenues that artists can focus on for the promotion. These are, Documenting, Educating and Entertaining. Documenting could be sharing the creation of a song or the day to day of an artist, almost like vlogging for the artists behind the scenes life. Educating could be sharing the knowledge and skills to teach other artists and musicians, breakdown their songs/ productions, etc. Entertaining could be creating comedy content to fit with a platform like TikTok humour niche. When it comes to sharing music only, simply reposting a link to the streaming platform or YouTube video is not enough to create an engaged audience. There’s a common rule in marketing called the ‘Rule of 7’, this states that a consumer needs to see something 7 times before taking the action.
Building a brand identity online is important, it’s about creating an environment for fans to return to and want to invest in. Of course, the internet and social media is not the only form of promotion. Radio, physical media, live performances, etc. are all still relevant even if they don’t have the same results as they used to. A good marketing campaign can make or break a release.
There are definable steps to self-releasing as an independent artist but not a strict set path. Every artist has the ability to create a path for themselves. Want to create songs purely for TikTok trends? Great! Want to be more about the art, release less frequently and not worry about promotion? Great! It’s all about figuring out what it is the specific artist wants and needs for their individual artistic expression. Technology and the internet have opened up huge opportunities for creative output but have also created a huge amount of new obstacles. The main thing is to be clear in your goals and consistent in your actions.