You've written and recorded a great song. It's sitting on your iTunes with over 50 plays. You've made changes to the structure, the mixing, and the artwork. Is it finished and ready to be released? Well, that's a tough question that only you can answer for yourself.
But there's more to releasing a song than just finishing it. We know the urge that musicians feel when they have a good song finished – you want to share it with the world for people to react to it and connect with it. But think about your favorite artists for a moment – chances are the songs that you hear have been finished for a while before they find you, but their label was finalizing the marketing plans or sending it off to other professional mixers to get another take on it. So, you may have an amazing song, but before you release it, go over this seven-step checklist to see if your track is really ready to be put out.
1. It sounds good in the studio, in your headphones, and on your alarm clock
Making sure that your song sounds professional on multiple interfaces is crucial before releasing it to the public. You're likely going to love hearing your music the best on studio monitors or professional headphones. It makes sense, because the full frequency range is clear and full. Unfortunately, most people don't use more than Apple earbuds and Spotify to listen to music. Several people just use laptop or phone speakers, which doesn't always work in your favor. Make sure you've tested your track on your worst stereo interface, such as an alarm clock or pair of crummy speakers. You want to make sure it still sounds clear. You'll be surprised what you find about your mix once you've decided to listen to it on iPhone speakers vs. your studio headphones. If mixing and mastering aren't your strong points, make sure you hire a professional.
2. Your artwork is professional and high-resolution
Your aesthetic is almost as important as your sound. You want to be sure that you have high-resolution (preferably at least 24,000 x 24,000 pixels) artwork that's aesthetically relatable to your sound and brand. You will need the high-res artwork to put the song on iTunes, Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, etc. And even beyond the artwork being hi-res, make sure it's artwork that you love. Because we're musicians and not visual artists, we tend to brush past just how important it is to have a strong image with your music. Think of your favorite bands – chances are a few logos or consistent colors come to mind. For example, the xx have made their "X" symbol famous. It's an obvious choice of artwork, but it's worked for them, and they're consistent.
3. You've received all the feedback you can get
Always make sure you send your songs out for feedback before release. And don't just send them to people who are going to say, "Great job! You're so talented!" It's invaluable to have people in your life who will say, "This is good, but it's not quite there. Here's what you could improve." You don't have to take everyone's suggestions – keep true to yourself and what you believe is good music – but make sure you're getting good feedback. On the other hand, understand that everyone has different tastes, and you can't please everyone. Plenty of people don't like Ed Sheeran, Jay-Z, or One Direction, but they're some of the most popular, successful acts today. Don't ignore good advice when it comes, but don't feel like you have to please everyone. Get feedback from people you trust, and utilize it to make your song sound the best it can.
4. Your press release is ready to go
As much as we wish we could all just put our songs out on SoundCloud and Bandcamp and reel in all the blogs and followers, it's not that simple. As independent musicians, we need to be ready to do our own press. Even if you have a strong organic following, you can reach more people by sending a well-written press release to bloggers. If you want to be heard, putting in time to properly promote your music is just as important as writing good music! Bloggers receive hundreds of press releases each day, so do your best to make yours strong, concise, and representative of your sound.
5. You have a marketing plan and budget
Along with having a press release ready, know how you're going to promote your track and how much you're willing to spend. We all know that Facebook's algorithm is not in favor of organic posts getting much attention. It's a good idea to set some money aside to promote your music on social media, even if it's under $100. Plan out what you're going to say, what pictures to use, and where you want to reach the most people.
6. You can describe it and envision who will listen to it
"It's a combination of jazz, metal, folk, R&B, and classical music, inspired by pyramids, our grandparents, and the ocean." Wacky quotes like this seem laughable, but you'd be surprised by how some people choose to describe their music! Let's be real – have a creative, concise, and professional description of your sound ready before you release a song. What is the style of music? Who will listen to it? How will they listen to it? Is it a song for sitting at home with headphones on late at night, or is it a track to play at your barbecue? This will help you market your track to the right audience.
7. It's the best song you can make
Really ask yourself, "Is this the best that I can do?" Will you have to apologize for this track, or can you stand behind it with pride? We know independent musicians are on a budget, and often work day jobs – it's not always possible to invest in professional studio time and/or professional mastering. However, before you share a song with the public, really make sure that you believe in what you're putting out, and that it sounds as good as it possibly can. Don't be an artist who apologizes for his or her work when submitting it to professional opportunities. "Hey! Here's our new track. It's still a work in progress, but we think you'll love it!" That's not the model you should follow unless the opportunity specifies that unpolished demos are okay. Believe in what you've made, and make it the best song you can possibly write, record, and release.
Sam Friedman is an electronic music producer and singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, NY. His music blends experimental ambience with indie-driven dance music. In addition to pursuing his own music, he is a New Music Editor for Unrecorded and is passionate about music journalism. Check out his music and follow him on Twitter @nerveleak.