how I like to independently release material

A friend called Pip – hi Pip! – is just nigh on completing his new album with his freakcore band aAnd? This post started as a personal letter to Pip, but it has information which I get asked for a bit so I figured I’ll slap it up here for people to refer to.

For some strange reason Pip asked me for advice on how to independently release a metal CD. Why he asked me for advice, I’ll never know. I cocked up aspects of the release of ‘The Floating World’ as my previous post described and I’m far from the model of success as an independent artist. Nevertheless, I love giving advice and pretending that I know things so here we go.

aAnd? are at the following stage: they have an album’s worth of recorded material, a bucketload of promo shots, great artwork and logo, sexy skintight morph suits that they wear when they play live, and some top industry contacts. So all they need is to get their music out cheaply and professionally, make sure it’s promoted (with the aim of selling as much of their music as possible), and avoid getting torrented into nothingness. Simples.

Getting a CD made

Once the music and artwork is done, this tends to be the simplest part. I use a bunch of dudes out in Asia called Mobineko. They are cheap and horrifyingly efficient. Go to the quote machine on their page and check it out. I tend to go for the  12cm standard CDs with the 10mm jewel case, and my last CD had an 8pp stapled booklet with double-sided rear tray. But go with whatever floats your boat. It is entirely possible that there is a CD production place in your vicinity that can do you a better deal but if you can’t be arsed searching for them, Mobineko are pretty sweet.

If you’re wondering how to get your spunky fab artwork onto the CD and into the booklet, then you’ll find there’s a section of the website that has photoshop PSD templates that you can download. Most online CD manufacturers have templates on their website to use but if they don’t, the ones on the Mobineko website are perfect. May I suggest that you download the templates before creating your album artwork? Even though I thought my dimensions were perfect, I had to redo everything once I tried fitting stuff onto the template. I’ll assume Lewis (reader note: Metal Hammer art editor) is doing your artwork so I don’t have to remind him to do the work in CMYK. And if I can give one awesome bit of advice for the artwork then it’s this: once you’ve done it, take it to a local printer and get him to print proofs. Make sure that your fonts and colours actually work when they are printed out onto paper and cardboard. This may cost between 10-20 quid, but it’s the best insurance you’ll ever have. You don’t want to be getting a box of CDs from the factory after spending hundreds and be bricking yourself wondering how they’re going to look.

Something you need to be aware of: if you intend to actually distribute your CDs through retailers, a barcode needs to be on the artwork. Don’t ask me any more questions about this, because I totally skipped it. After the experience I had with retail on my first Senseless album, I’m happy never to do retail again. It’s an ego boost, but nothing more. You probably won’t get any retail distro as an independent anyway, unless you cosy up to one of your PHD guys. Once distributors and the outlet take their percentage of your sale, you get very little return back. And half the time, your stock doesn’t get displayed on the shelves. Then after a few months, the stock is returned to you and you are charged for it being returned thus obliterating any profit you made from retail in the first place. Having said that, Australia’s JB HIFI is a fair mainstream retailer to get stocked at if you can find who does their metal ordering and you want to shift some units. I can’t speak for any other country though.

How many CDs and promos to print? Oh jeez, I don’t know. I’d suggest getting at least 50 promos done, and no more than 100 CDs at this point. This is on the assumption that you’ll be playing live monthly and running a merch desk at shows, as well as selling CDs online. If you don’t intend to play live and don’t want to set up a webstore, then make it 50 CDs and 50 promos. If you guys are actually going to go balls-and-all with the promos and foist them onto all the nobs that you know then print 100 of them.

Selling the music

What do you need if you’re going to sell music? You need an entity for people to give money to. In this day and age, this means PayPal. So open a PayPal account if you haven’t already. If you haven’t got a PayPal account open, then you have a decision to make: you can either register a business and open a business PayPal account which you can all access, or you can just nominate the most trustworthy bandmember and use their PayPal account. The problem here is that you’re all English which means that one of you will probably try and steal all the money, or ‘borrow’ large chunks of it with false promises of “I’ll pay you guys back, honest”. You all seriously need to invade another country and drop all your scum off there. NOT ‘STRAYA, WE’RE FULL (of bogans).

The pro’s of using a business account is that this is the most fair and transparent way of sharing and keeping band earnings. The problem with this method though is you’ll need to register a business, open a business bank account, declare earnings and submit tax. Knowing and loving England as I do, this will be difficult and expensive. The best halfway point is to create a PayPal account using a joint band email address you all have access to, and nominate the most trustworthy bandmember’s bank account. So if he rips you all off, at least you can log into PayPal and confirm that the money is indeed gone.

Selling music in an electronic format is easy: go to CDBaby, open an account, pay a small one-off fee, upload music and artwork, update profile, DONE </Gordon Ramsay>. This now puts you onto Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Pandora, and all the millions of other online retailers selling music. You can also link your Facebook page to your CDBaby account so anyone visiting your Facebook page can click a button and buy your album.

CDBaby doesn’t put your music onto bandcamp however. I recommend you create a bandcamp profile and upload music there as well, because a lot of people actually buy their music from that site. I didn’t create a profile there when I released the last Senseless CD, and it was the first site a lot of Europeans and Scandinavians went to when they wanted to purchase an electronic copy. It sells high-quality files like wavs or flacs, and you can nominate your prices and even sell merch from there. You can also have your entire album stream from there, and I find it’s useful to have the one location that streams your music also making it available for purchase. There is no upfront fee, they will just keep the profits from 1 out of every 10 sales for themselves.

Selling physical CDs online is slightly harder, but you are capable chaps and I’m sure you can nut it out if you put your mind to it. What I did was this:  I created a website (domain name and hosting from fasthosts.co.uk ). Then I created paypal BUY buttons – you do this by heading to paypal, logging into your account, looking up how to create paypal BUY buttons, and following the instructions. This generates some HTML code for you. Then I created a sales page for my website and stuck the HTML code for those buttons in it. BOOM! People can now visit my website and order a CD just by pushing a button. I get an email (which I’ve linked to my phone alerts so I get a funky ‘ping’ whenever someone buys my shit), and the email has the name and the address of the person to send the CD to. At that point, the money is already in my paypal account.

The other way of selling CDs online is to use consignment services – I know CDBaby offer one. The problems here are quantity. You either have to get them to hold a LOT of stock, or (in the case of CDBaby) they can only hold around 5 CDs at a time maximum….again, until you start shifting big figures. CDBaby also have a service where they can print CDs for you and ship on your behalf….I’m not sure, but it might be a service where they print on request (in other words whenever they receive a CD sale). This keeps them from having to warehouse large amounts of stock. This may be worth looking into. It wasn’t an attractive option back when I released ‘The Floating World’ but they are updating their service all the time, so it might be a good option now.

Can’t work out how much to sell your CD for? Okay, work out maximum postage for a CD (I recommend sending it as a ‘gift’ on the customs form so that your customer never has to pay customs or import taxes when they receive it). Now get the number of CDs you printed, work out what 80% of that is. Get the total cost of CD printing, divide that 80% figure into it. The result plus the cost of maximum postage equals your minimum price. If you’re looking at adding more onto that, I recommend doubling the result of the CD printing cost divided by the 80% of CDs produced: this means that costs for your next production run are taken care of once you sell out of the current run. And if you’re wondering why I nominated 80% of CDs produced instead of 100%, it’s because you will lose, damage, or give away around 20% of your CDs.

Promoting your music

I talked in my previous blog post about mistakes I made promoting my last release, so it might be worthwhile to check that out as an example of the “don’ts”. In a nutshell, you need to create the most amount of noise possible about your release in a short space of time and you need to create that noise for two months before and two months after your release. I can confirm that doing a ‘slow burn’ release where it is promoted in various ways spread out over a year does not work. And there are many traditional areas of media where you won’t be covered unless a good percentage of their peers are already talking about you.

Have you guys got a bio in PDF format that you can either send out, or print and mail? I believe I may have said one or two words on this topic previously. When you’re reviewed, people will want to know your label status and where they can buy your material so make sure that information is included.

Media needs to be courted. The old school radio and print media like news, and you will notice it’s called ‘news’ and not ‘olds’. If they don’t get the drop on all the blogs and websites then they tend not to give a fuck. By this point you should have your website up, your Facebook page and bio completed, and your CDs sitting in the house. It’s no use courting the press with jagermeister at the Crowbar and Big Red if you don’t have music and websites to immediately point them at. They tend not to wait for bands to get all their materials assembled.

I recommend getting online and putting together a list of at least 50 media outlets and high profile blogs, and mailing a physical promo and press sheet to each one. If you know anything about who you’re sending the press pack to then tailor it for them to increase the chances of them actually paying attention to it. Try and give the print media around three weeks advantage over online media. Once the press packs are sent, wait a fortnight and then start contacting the recipients to make sure they’ve received them. If they haven’t, keep hassling or resending promo until they either confirm they’ve received it, or tell you to go away. The majority of media – if left to their own devices – will not review the materials they receive unless given a nudge. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because you know the person you’ve sent material to, or people at that company, that they’ll do you a favour and review you. Even friends will forget about the CD you’ve given them unless you give them a few gentle reminders. And I also recommend hand-numbering the CDs – again, so that it creates the impression that they’re special or limited, and also to imply that they’re watermarked to discourage uploading.

YouTube is the most popular place for people to hear new songs, so pick the top two or three tracks and get a YouTube vid up there. If you can actually do a music video, then ace! Otherwise just do what every other shmuck does and stick a band pic or album cover to the song and upload it. Don’t put the entire album there, for god’s sake. You want to get people interested enough to buy it.

For doing PR online, use Haulix. This is what all the big boys use: you create an online digital promo so that reviewers who want to listen to your album can listen but can’t download, or the download is watermarked so you can find out who leaked. Don’t provide your mp3s out of a dropbox willy-nilly, as you will get torrented into a living death and your sales will immediately stop. I’m totally not kidding. Once the eastern Europeans get a hold of your mp3s then it’s game over and your online sales will cease.

I’ve mentioned before, but I believe the quality of your press is better than the quantity when it comes to online sales. The temptation may be to scattergun press releases and mp3s to every single blog, facebook review page, and website in the hope that you get a large difficult-to-avoid online presence. I find however that small blogs and review pages usually offer crap reviews, don’t help sales, and offer a high torrent risk. Give me two or three large magazine or website reviews over ten small blogs any day.

I had an idea – or I heard or read it somewhere else, I forget – but that idea is to pirate your own stuff first. Upload your entire album, but tweak each mp3 file so that the music fades out halfway through each track for thirty seconds and there is a big voiceover sales pitch telling people where your website is and where they can buy the music. If you get at least five up with different naming conventions and spread them across file-sharing and torrent networks then this can make life inconvenient for the casual pirate looking to rip off your stuff. You may get whiney little pin-dicked nerds whinging about how stupid it is to ruin your own tracks that way, but fuck them – they’re not going to buy your album anyway. They’re just going to pirate your work, write about how it sucks, then give it away to everyone for free before getting back to being spanked by Luke Berzerker in GT6 online. Congratulations on making a style of music whose demographic perfectly matches that of the people who understand how torrents work!

I’m seriously all out of advice.

**********

A thanks to Leon Macey for some of the advice that appeared above. The Final Torrent Solution initially appeared during a conversation with Pip….except we discussed distributing a virus instead of sales pitch/music files.  Finally, if you wish to check out aAnd? then head on over to their facialbook page.

20 inches of aAnd

aAnd? : Destined for greatness

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