As the editor of Monster Riff, I get access to a ton of awesome music before anyone else. Whether it’s a press release or a simple email from a band member, I often receive links to never-before-heard tracks. And some of them are absolutely awesome.
I’ll listen to the album, write up a review, push it out on social media, and wish the band the best.
A few months later, their social media presence hasn’t grown a lick—and their Spotify plays are still below 1,000 listens for each track.
But these are awesome bands!
The problem, of course, is that the marketing for these albums got botched somewhere along the way.
In many cases, these bands are working on their own, with little more guidance than a few words of wisdom from an older rocker and a blog post they read from some corner of the internet.
Under these circumstances, the results are typically the same: The band fails to gain traction, and the buzz around their album quickly peters out.
The problem I most commonly see (and we’ll dig into this further in a moment), is that most bands put all of their marketing efforts into the launch.
This is a mistake.
Successful marketing campaigns—for everything from albums to widgets—begin long before launch day.
How to Successfully Release Your Album Without a Record Label
The best time to start marketing your album isn’t during its release—or even a week before.
You want to start months in advance.
Here’s why: If no one cares about your band right now, no one is going to care about your band tomorrow when you publish your album on Bandcamp.
Sure, you might get a big break, and maybe Rick Rubin will stumble across your page and find himself stunned by your sound.
But that’s highly unlikely.
Most big breaks come through strategy and perseverance, not happy accidents.
With that in mind, let’s review eight steps for a successful album launch.
Here’s a table of contents to help us as we work through the contents below:
- Build up your social media presence.
- Start building your press relationships.
- Build relationships with other bands.
- Create a killer press kit.
- Promote your single properly.
- Make the release memorable and engaging.
- Decide whether advertising is right for you.
1. Build up your social media presence.
This one seems obvious: Build up your social media presence so you have more followers and fans to receive your messaging and buy your albums when they come out.
Way easier said than done.
If you’re starting from scratch and no one in your band has a ton of pre-existing clout, you’re starting all the way from the bottom.
And you’ll never get the results you’re looking for without a coherent strategy.
Now, the chances are that you already have a few hundred followers, but you may have found that the engagement you’ve received so far has been pretty lackluster.
Here’s how you can pursue better results:
1. Invite everyone. Platforms like Facebook make it easy to invite your family and friends to follow your band’s account.
When you’re just starting off, you need every decent follow you can get. Every follow means you’re more likely to get the engagement necessary to gain a little more traction on the platform.
And that brings you closer to pulling in followers who really matter.
2. Connect with other bands related to your own. Ideally, this will be a band with a similar style within your region (close enough to play shows together, should the opportunity arise), but the concept is the same no matter what: Agree to support each other on social media.
Like, share, and comment on each other’s content—and from personal accounts as well, not just the band accounts.
Here’s the reason: Although the algorithm on every social media platform is constantly evolving, they generally look to favor content that is heavily engaged with.
When a post quickly racks up a half dozen likes, comments, and shares, that’s a strong signal to the social media platform that this content matters.
For more details on building relationships with bands, skip ahead to Section 3 – Build relationships with other bands.
3. Build your story around the album. I could spend days talking about branding and storytelling within a band, but we’ll take the SparkNotes approach here.
Ideally, you’ll start promoting your album well ahead of its release date. As you do, tease out some of the background information little by little. Doing so builds intrigue and pulls followers in for more.
To read more about telling the story of the album, skip ahead to Section 6 – Make the release memorable and engaging.
4. Remember the “other” channels. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are obvious choices for promotion, but don’t forget about communities like Reddit, Imgur, and Tumblr.
Reddit, for example, can help you tap into focused communities that are already primed for your sound. The Stoner Rock subreddit (one of my favorites) has fewer than 45,000 members, but they’re a receptive bunch and very supportive of new artists in the arena (you might find r/DoomMetal to be a better fit if you like to go a little heavier).
A word of caution: If you’ve never ventured beyond the confines of Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, you may want someone to sit you down and explain the ropes of any channels you’re unfamiliar with or curious about using in your marketing efforts.
Places like Reddit have a written etiquette that users will blast you for violating.
Better to go in understanding the platforms inside and out if you’re interested in starting from scratch. Fortunately, starting well before your release gives you time to build up those connections!
2. Start building your press relationships.
Notice we used the word relationships. Remember: Your primary reason for reaching out to a journalist is to get coverage of your album, but you’ll get much better treatment long term (important if you want to reach out with your follow-up album) if you remember to treat journalists as people.
It’s a little like being nice to the bartender at your favorite bar. Butter them up, get on a first-name basis, and you’ll start to get preferential treatment.
A lot of bands strike onto press outreach because they believe it’s going to be the quickest way to get exposure.
That’s not necessarily the case. In fact, doing press outreach correctly is a ton of work, especially if you don’t already have those relationships.
If you’ve done your research and believe press is what your band needs, here are some strategies for making it work:
1. Engage On Social Media. If you’re just starting off in underground rock, you’re probably planning to reach out to some of the underground rock publications.
The thing is, many of these publications are managed from top to bottom by one person. Even The Obelisk (which has all of my respect), is a one-man operation.
If you start engaging regularly on their social media channels, they’ll notice. If you have something worthwhile to say, comment in addition to liking so you can actually get a conversation started.
By the time you reach out via email, your name will already be familiar.
2. Ask for permission. If there’s a site you really like and think it aligns perfectly with your sound, reach out to the editor now. Ask them what they’re most interested in covering. Will they take a single? Do they cover debut albums? Do they prefer music from a certain geographic location?
These questions are important, and most editors will be happy you asked. At Monster Riff, I don’t normally cover singles, but I might be willing to throw your song into the “What We Like This Week” sidebar if I dig your sound.
Another advantage: Asking that question gets your foot in the door by starting a conversation. Over time, you may even start to develop a professional relationship.
Regardless, you’ll have the rapport started for when your album drops and you’re ready to send it over.
3. Be strategic in your email collection. Not every site is going to be helpful in figuring out who you can talk to or what their email address is.
There are a handful of online tools and browser plugins out there that can help you collect email addresses attached to a website in one way or another. Tools like Hunter.io and Snov.io are relatively inexpensive and can help you collect accurate email addresses (so you don’t have to waste time guessing).
From there, you can save yourself a ton of bounces and bad send notifications by running your email list through a tool like BriteVerify to ensure the ones you have on hand are valid.
Depending on how you go about it, all of this has some sort of expense attached to it. You’ll need to decide whether or not it’s worth it.
4. Stay organized. You can find PR software out there to assist in your press outreach, but you really don’t need to break the bank on it.
In most scenarios, a simple spreadsheet will work just fine. To simplify your life (and to compensate for not having software to assist), be sure to track:
- Email address
- The publication they’re associated with
- The URL to the publication they’re associated with
- The date you last reached out
- Notes on their response
- Link to their published article about your album or band (if they’ve given you coverage)
5. Use a personal touch. As someone who has written a ton of cold outreach emails (I’m a marketer by day) and as someone who receives a ton of cold outreach emails, I know for sure when someone has done their research.
While I respond to everyone who reaches out, Monster Riff is still at a point where the email volume is manageable.
Not everyone you talk to is still at that point. And you’ll have a much better chance of getting a positive response by making your email feel like it was personalized just for them.
That includes details like:
- Their name
- Mention one of their articles you enjoyed
- Mention one of their social media posts you appreciated
It might seem like a ton of work. It is. But giving a good first impression is more likely to put them in good spirits the first time they listen to your album.
6. Explore all of your options. There are more publications out there beyond small blogs and major magazines.
Here’s the unfortunate truth: Unless you have some serious clout, significant connections, or have an outstanding and click-worthy story to tell, you won’t receive coverage in a Rolling Stone-caliber magazine or site.
That said, you likely can secure coverage in publications like Monster Riff.
But you do have other options. Consider reaching out to:
- Local radio stations
- Internet radio stations focused on your genre
- Local newspapers and sites with an Arts & Entertainment section
You might not receive the same exposure as if you were covered in Louder or Metal Hammer, but you may be surprised at your reach.
7. Let powerful tools source potential relationships for you. This strategy is a little more involved than the rest of the recommendations on this list, but it’s a powerful way of identifying publications that are most likely to dig your music and help promote you.
We’re actually going to employ something used by SEO (search engine optimization) professionals to find publications that are focused on bands that sound the most like you.
Here’s what you should do:
- Identify the bands you sound the most like. If your band is still pretty small, the perfect sweet spot is a band that isn’t on a major label but already has a few thousand listens (at least) on Spotify.
- Copy their website URL. If they don’t have one, copy their Bandcampe page URL.
- Visit a backlink checker, like the Ahrefs Backlink Checker.
- Paste in the URL and run the tool to look for backlinks.
What will come out is a list of links that have cited your URL in the past. Look closely, and you’ll probably find links to interviews and reviews of your target band.
Write these websites down, then go through them to find their editors or publication contacts. These are the perfect people to reach out to since you already know they’ll probably like your sound!
3. Build Relationships With Other Bands.
Find another band (or bands) in your genre and become friends—at least professionally. Working together, you can share audience members and reach a larger audience than you’d likely be able to while working on your own.
Spreading the Word on Social Media
Consider this: Let’s say your band page has 500 Facebook followers and you post about an upcoming show. It might reach 200 people if you’re lucky enough to get a little bit of traction in the comments and likes department.
Now let’s say you have partnered with two local bands to help support each other’s content. They both have the same size following as you, so now your post could reach 600 people.
But now let’s say one of their followers shares it, and one of their bassists shares it from his page as well. Now your impressions are starting to compound, and that initial 200 bubbles to 600 and then 1,000—and then beyond.
When everyone supports each other, everyone wins.
Support in the Community
Of course, you can also support each other in other ways.
Will you help promote each other’s shows? Will you play concerts together? Will you feature each other on your albums? Will you interview each other on Facebook Live—or even co-host a Live show on social media?
COVID might limit some of your options in 2021, but that shouldn’t prevent you from thinking of creative ways to get out there.
Coordinate At All Times (But Especially At Launch)
Keep the other band informed of all major beats: single releases, song reviews, album reviews, and (of course) your actual launch.
They should be prepared to like, comment on, and share all of your posts surrounding the album release. If they’re truly invested, they’ll give that post a day to breathe, and then they’ll push out their own post discussing how much they love the album.
They should then let you know when their post goes live so you can like, comment, and share as well!
4. Create a killer press kit.
If you’re reaching out to journalists for coverage, the least you can do is throw together a decent press kit. This makes life way easier for the journalist (I’m speaking from experience here) and it also improves your chances of actually getting coverage. If the journalist has everything they need in there, they don’t need to waste time asking you for more information.
Your press kit should include:
- Your band bio – Your band bio should be comprehensive, regardless of how long you’ve been around. Include:
- The date/year you formed
- Past members
- Associated acts your current and past members have played with
- Past albums
- Album artwork – This is a given. It’s also more reason to splurge for some awesome album art.
- Album lyrics – These help listeners engage deeper with your music, and they also help journalists figure out what your songs are actually about.
- Album liner notes – What is the album about? Who would you like to thank?
- High-quality band images – If necessary, find a professional photographer to get you some great shots.
Where Should You Host Your Press Kit?
The best place to host your press kit is on your website. It’s convenient for the journalists you’re reaching out to, but it’s also a goldmine of band info for your diehard fans.
If your website isn’t ready to host your press kit yet, you have endless options, many of which are relatively inexpensive (and you may already use in your personal life). These include:
- Google Drive
Whatever you decide, make sure your files are clearly labeled so that anyone can understand what they’re getting into before they open it. Again, think about this from the perspective of a journalist. If they’re opening up your press kit for the first time, will they understand what each and every item is?
Making Your Press Kit Unique
Most bands stop at the recommendations above. But what if you want to reach out to bigger publications—or simply stand out from the crowd?
Good news: You’re already creative. And creativity will help you stand out.
It’s time to dive into the world of snail mail. Yes, you’ll be heading to the post office here, and that’s another thing to budget for.
But it works.
Everything we listed above? Print it out on high-quality paper (or even have a full-detailed CD case made up if that wasn’t already in the works. A limited run will work fine for your press outreach).
Remember: The goal here is to make your kit stand out.
Just by reaching out through the mail, you’re already ahead of your underground competition.
But you’ll need to push even further. Consider adding in:
- Band t-shirts
- Band stickers
- Band poster
- Other band swag (keychains, etc.)
- Other creative, branded items
You can get all sorts of creative with that last one. Throw your album cover on a six-pack of the beer you brew at home. Include a DVD of the behind-the-scenes process of making your album. Send an amp screen with your band logo on it.
The more creative you can get, the more you’ll bury your band into the recipient’s mind—critical for building a relationship, getting an interview, and making sure your album gets a review!
The most important thing behind all of this is to make sure whatever you come up with is on-brand. The more on-brand you stay, the more authentic the whole experience feels to your audience—the journalists.
5. Promote your single properly.
You don’t need to drop the entire single at once.
Perhaps you start by posting a still image of your guitarist laying down the riff for the song. Or maybe you offer a behind-the-scenes video of your drummer working out the beat.
The point is to build intrigue long before you release the single. When you finally put it out into the world, people are interested.
YouTube: Priming Your Single for Your Long-Term Success
A single has one job: Get people pumped for the full album. A powerful single can turn casual passersby into fans and fans into diehard listeners who help spread your music through word-of-mouth marketing.
And YouTube is a powerful venue for ensuring your success.
YouTube is an excellent place to promote your singles, but it’s easier said than done. I’ve watched bands squander opportunities on YouTube over and over and over again. The big problem is that there’s simply so much to take care of.
Some questions to ask:
- What is your video quality? If you’re not confident in the quality of your video-making abilities (or you lack the budget for a professional shoot), you may be better off simply posting a still of the album cover while your music plays in the background. Another opportunity, of course, is to hire someone who’s capable of producing an engaging and high-quality lyric video.
- Are you using hashtags appropriately? You shouldn’t spam the video description with hashtags, but you should use a variety of relevant high-volume hashtags to assist in discoverability.
- How detailed is your description? Your single is an opportunity to whet someone’s appetite so they want to buy your full album. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste. Here’s a quick checklist of items to consider including:
- Lyrics (if you’re not an instrumental band)
- The story behind the song, if there is one
- Band name and details
- Band contact information—including links to your website, press kit, and social media accounts.
- Album information (launch date, guest artists, etc.)
- Do you want help in promoting it? There are a ton of YouTube pages out there that support smaller underground rock bands. Consider starting a dialog to see if they would be interested in hosting your single as well.
Even after your video and audio quality is outstanding and your copy is on point, you’re still not done.
You still need to promote the video through your established channels (newsletter, social media, email list) and ask for help from your partners in getting the link out there.
After that, there’s one more step: Be sure you’re constantly monitoring the comments and engaging with people as they come through. Even if the comments are negative, you should take the time to respond.
Managing Video On Facebook
After all of your hard work crafting the perfect YouTube submission, you may feel tempted to plop that video link all over the internet so people can find it.
But you may wind up shooting yourself in the foot if you take the same tactic on Facebook.
Facebook makes its money off advertising, so Facebook developers are responsible for keeping people on the site as long as possible. Offering a link to YouTube is concerning to Facebook for two reasons:
- The link drives people away from the site, which interferes with Facebook’s income.
- Facebook wants to be a go-to video platform, which puts it in direct competition with YouTube.
With those two factors in mind, Facebook may actually reward video posts shared natively to the site.
In other words: Upload your video file directly to Facebook when it’s time to share it.
6. Make the release memorable and engaging.
Before we get too far into the theory, let’s start with one of my favorite album launch strategies of all time. To do that, we’ll pull away from the Stoner Rock kingdom and head over to Industrial Metal land, where we’ll discuss Nine Inch Nails and Year Zero.
Basically, Nine Inch Nails worked with a marketing agency to build an entire alternate reality game (ARG) in support of its album launch. If you’re unfamiliar, an ARG is essentially a giant artificial rabbit hole for you to tumble down, often digging deep into conspiracies and similar adventures.
It was a good fit for the themes within Year Zero, and it definitely helped with album sales. They sold 187,000 records in the first week.
Now, I realize you don’t have the budget for something as extravagant as a full-blown ARG (and it also helped that Trent Reznor and Co. already had a large following behind them in 2007), but the point here is to be creative.
Here’s the most important questions to ask leading up to your album launch: How can we make the album launch a press-worthy moment?
Maybe you become the band that sends out pizzas from your favorite shop with the first ten album orders, or maybe you’re the motorcycle-riding band that gives out free leather jackets with your first five album orders. Strategies like these are “loss leaders”—investments you make early on that temporarily set you back before driving the engagement or, in this case, album sales necessary to start making some real money.
Whatever you do, make it feel authentic and true to your brands so your efforts aren’t labeled as gimmicks.
Some other ideas to keep in mind before, during, and after the release (in a COVID world where touring options are limited):
1. Tell the story of the album. There are two different stories at play here: The story of you and the rest of the band creating the album, and the story held within the album itself.
So many bands forget to tell these stories. Instead, they simply show up one day while saying, “Our new album is here!”
Unfortunately, this strategy almost always fails because there was no pre-built fanfare to support the effort.
In the lead up to your album release, consider sharing:
- Your songwriting process for the new album. How has it changed from previous efforts? How is the band gelling in the studio?
- Your tools for this effort. What are the pedals, amps, and other gear you’re using? While you’re discussing these brands on social media, be sure to tag them! The worst-case scenario: They say nothing. What’s more likely is that they will like or share your post. Best case scenario: They like your music so much, they offer a sponsorship. Continue building this relationship over time!
- Your song tabs. Your diehards will eat this stuff up, and it helps them enjoy the music on a deeper level. In some cases, this may even generate a few fan videos.
2. Get your fans engaged. You can interpret that line however you want, but you don’t need to be as clever and creative as Nine Inch Nails.
Instead, you can try some tried-and-true tactics.
Offer Bandcamp codes in a giveaway. Host a launch party on Facebook Live where you listen with your followers and offer commentary in between songs. Find a way to make your release a community experience.
7. Decide whether advertising is right for you.
Editor’s Note: This article was initially published in November of 2020. Much has changed in digital advertising since then, so Monster Riff highly encourages all bands to be careful whenever they decide to run their own ads.
The decision to advertise your album isn’t one you should take lightly. If you’ve never run a real, genuine advertising campaign before (beyond pressing “Boost” on a Facebook post), you have some work cut out for you.
I would highly recommend consulting with someone at this point. If not, you should spend a few hours reading up on the latest trends and best practices.
If you approach your ad campaign lazily, there’s a great chance you’ll never see that money again.
Let’s approach this from another angle: Let’s say your band decides to commit $500 on advertising. You’ve also decided to sell each album for $10. To make a profit, you need to become successful at driving “conversions” (a sale, in other words) for $9.99 or less.
To give you some perspective, there are some companies out there that pay $100+ for a lead (someone who might be interested in their product or service and is open to being sold to). That’s $100 just for the opportunity to potentially set up a sales call.
If you’ve never run an ad campaign before, $9.99 per conversion can be a tough bar to reach.
So make sure you have all the information necessary going in.
Start By Installing the Facebook Pixel
If you’ve never heard of the Facebook Pixel before, that’s OK. Basically, the Pixel is a little snippet of code on a website that tracks your behavior and feeds it back to Facebook.
It’s also the reason you’ll see ads on Facebook posted by websites you recently visited.
These companies are running “remarketing” campaigns. Remarketing campaigns tend to generate significantly lower CPC (cost per conversion) than other ad strategies.
Regardless of whether you plan to advertise through Facebook or Instagram (you control Instagram ads through Facebook), set up the Facebook Pixel on your band website.
You won’t regret it.
Basically, the pixel will sit in the background and collect site user information.
If you ever decide to run ads in the future, you’ll have a super juicy data set to help you with your targeting.
Consider YouTube First
One of the best venues for your ads right now is YouTube. The reason is simple: In addition to targeting people by their interests, you can tell YouTube which channels you want your ads to show on.
If there is a YouTube page that specializes in bands that sound just like you, that is the perfect page for you to show your ads.
Here’s an example from the real world: Mississippi Bones is an Ohio-based band with some heavy, riff-laden Hard Rock inspired by Clutch. Naturally, Mississippi Bones would likely do well advertising to Clutch fans, so they should look at advertising on a page like the OfficialClutch channel.
Where To Go From Here
Properly managing your album launch is a ton of work, and it might even take more time than the development of the album itself!
If you still need additional guidance, consider downloading The Stoner Rock Band’s Guide to Marketing.
It’s an easy-to-read primer on everything you should know about building your brand’s presence in the real world.