Releasing Music in 2017 / by Mark Daman Thomas

As the two albums I’m working on (Farm Hand & Islet) edge closer to being finished, my thoughts are turning to what to do with them and how to do it. It goes without saying that we will ‘release’ them, but what does that mean in 2017? The landscape has changed so much over the last few years that I feel unsure on how best to do it. As in, functionally, I know how to upload the music onto the internet and how to order vinyl, but for everything else I have swirling question marks. It is most likely that the question I really need to ask is “How not be disappointed by releasing music in 2017?”

When I first started releasing music in 2006, everything came really naturally to me. It felt relatively obvious what the best thing to do was and easier to be satisfied with the outcome. With Shape, our model was pretty much always press some limited edition vinyl (sold via mail order from our website, at gigs, markets and selected shops) with worldwide digital distribution. It was ‘released’ when it was on sale. We would host a launch party to try and make as much money as possible back on the releases straight away. On the whole, it worked as a strategy. It also felt like the process lasted longer and was more relaxed.

Maybe it is just me, but now it feels different. Now, releasing feels more like when you make it publicly available to be listened to (streamed) on the internet. It begins and ends pretty quickly and unless it takes off like wildfire you are left wondering what to do next. In terms of ease of distribution, things have never been better. We can ‘access’ a global audience after a few clicks. But also it means disappointment if that global audience doesn’t tune in.

Lately, I have enjoyed people like Trust Fund and Christian Fitness releasing their albums on Bandcamp literally as soon as they are finished. I feel excited by that approach. It is modern, instinctual and unfussy. I also love the relaxed approach Grouper has had over the years (FYI - I’m pretty much just crowbarring this in because I’m addicted to listening to Grouper).

The streaming platforms continue to change everything and we need to catch up and change our approaches. It is good news that ‘UK Recorded Music Industry Grew By 5.1% in 2016’ mainly owing to streaming but I’m not sure how that translates to niche micro labels and artists at the bottom. I remain optimistic.

I’ve even recently started thinking “should things be on sale before they are even finished?”. As in, as soon as you mention it / give an indication you are making a new album by doing an ‘in the studio’ photo or whatever, giving someone the opportunity to buy it at that point as that might be the only time they consider buying during this time when attention is such a precious resource. This approach is giving me a stick to beat myself with before anything is even out. Have I already missed sales? Oops. This approach was first introduced to me by Benji Rogers from Pledge Music who talks about “...widening the timeframe for sales” by letting your audience spend money and participate right from the start. This makes sense to me but, I haven’t done it. Yet.

I don’t know what exact point I am trying to make with this blog post. For some reason, It helps me to write stuff out and make it public - I suddenly get clarity. I’m leaning towards the fact that I and others like me need to get more comfortable with promoting our music ourselves. Get our hands dirty with marketing, try stuff out and try to enjoy the process.