So you’ve finally finished mixing your latest project and you’re ready to release it, or are you?
I’ve met a lot of people who spent incredible amounts of time and effort making their music, only to release it without proper preparation and end up scrambling to get things sorted on the fly.
I lost count of the amount of people who called from the mastering session to ask what an ISRC is, and how they get one. So here is a list of 8 things I think are essential to have prior to releasing anything.
1. Audio files in a high definition format
The usual format for final masters is wave (.wav) at 16bit and 44.1Khz as this conforms to the standards for a CD. Some distribution platforms accept 24bit and sample rates up to 96khz, but 16bit and 44.1Khz is more than high enough quality, and nothing lower than that is acceptable for release. In terms of mastering, this is a highly debated subject with some people insisting that mastering is the most important stage of the production process, and others saying it’s completely unnecessary. Without going into too much detail, if you are only distributing online then as long as you are happy with how your final mixes sound then you need not worry too much about mastering. Either choose an affordable service or learn how to do basic mastering yourself, streaming platforms like Spotify process all the audio themselves in order to deliver a consistent listening level for the listener anyway. If you are pressing physical copies, especially vinyl, then mastering is most certainly essential. Don’t skimp, get an expert on the job, a poor master for vinyl can end up in a bad cut requiring the process to be repeated at your expense.
2. Membership to a “Neighbouring Rights” CMO (eg. PPL, Sound Exchange GVL)
If you write songs then you probably already know about performing rights societies, such as PRS, ASCAP or APRA, and the royalties they collect and distribute to writers. What you may not know is that there is a similar revenue stream for the owners of the sound recording, which if you are releasing your own music is you. Joining a society is simple, and for many societies it free, once you have joined you can register your recordings in order to receive royalties from the licenses they issue. Best practice is to register these recording prior to them being made public (this includes promos), delaying this process will make collecting the full amount due to you extremely difficult and in many cases impossible.
3. Artwork (or at least a front cover for digital releases)
More importantly, that artwork has to follow the strict guidelines laid out by the various stores. In particular, iTunes has some very strict rules that if not followed could result in your release being rejected. They will not accept artwork with too much text, anything other than the artist name and the song title may result in the artwork being rejected. It is also not permitted to put email addresses or URL on the cover art.
4. Label Copy
In publishing “copy” refers to the text in books, magazines and newspapers. “Label copy” is simply the text that goes on the label and sleeve of your release. This will include writing and performing credits, and copyright notifications. Platforms like Tidal and Spotify already publish credits and label copy, others are sure to follow suit eventually. The accuracy of this data can affect the performers’ ability to collect neighbouring rights revenue from the recordings.
5. A name for your record label
Aside from the fact that a label name is a mandatory requirement in many of the registration forms that you will have to fill in during the process of releasing your music, having a separate name and identity for your record label is useful in many other ways.
6. ISRC for each track
ISRC stands for International Standard Recording Code, and each of your tracks needs to have its own unique ISRC. You can obtain an ISRC “Stem” (the first 5 characters of a 12 digit code) from your local ISRC agency If you have your own stem then you can create codes when you need them (up to 100,000 per year). These codes are essential for identifying your releases, no matter how original you think your song title is, there is probably at least a dozen songs with that title, so a unique ISRC is required to differentiate them. It’s essential to know your ISRCs if you change distributors and want to keep your streaming stats, they are also important in tracking usage and allocating license fees such as neighbouring rights revenue. You can get complete codes from your distributor (usually for free) but having the ability to create your own means you can register your recordings with a neighbouring rights society prior to release. You can also create codes for recordings your distributor won’t be handling, but that will still attract licensing revenue, such as videos and radio edits.
7. EPK (Electronic Press Kit)
In essence, this is all your promotional material in digital format. This can be files that can be attached to an email or, better still, links to the files so they can be streamed or viewed online without downloading. Some people make a short video combining audio and video clips of live and studio recordings along with a brief interview or monologue explaining who the artist is and refer to this as an “EPK”. How you put together your own EPK is up to you, and you can get creative, it will help you stand out from the rest. At a minimum, your promo material should contain the band/artist name, details of the upcoming release, some high-quality images or video, a short biography (1 or 2 paragraphs at most) and some sort of press release or cover letter explaining why you have sent it to them.
8. Website/Landing Page
It’s often said that it’s no longer necessary to have your own website, that a strong social media presence is all you need. This is true, sort of. Social media has taken over the internet, and seemingly people’s lives, so there are obvious advantages to being active on these platforms. That doesn’t mean there aren’t advantages to having a website. I think that its important to at least have a one page website that hosts links to all your social media accounts and collects subscriptions to your mailing list. Your mailing list will be far more valuable to you than likes on a Facebook page, besides what happens if that site/platform loses popularity? Remember MySpace? There’s no real reason to not have one, web hosting is pretty cheap and you can get really good templates for websites or use a site building app like wix.com.
If you have any questions about anything I’ve covered in this blog, then feel free to drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org