The first step to getting people to listen to your music is to release it on all major platforms, such as Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes and more. Whether you’re a new artist and you want to release your first song, or you’ve been making music for a while but never finalized it and released it, this article is for you.
Here’s what we’re going to cover in this article…
How to release music checklist:
- Record your song
- Mix / Master your song
- Create artwork for your song
- Distribute your song using a distributor
- Market your new song
Nowadays it’s easier and cheaper than ever to release music. In the past most of these steps would require label or investor support, but now you can do most of these things from home for little to no money.
Record Your Song
Assuming you already have your song written, the first step you need to take is actually recording your song. There are two general approach you can take with this so we’re splitting this section into two categories: Studio & Home Recording.
Recording in a studio takes more money while recording at home takes more time. Depending on what equipment and computer you already have at home will depend on how cheap recording at home actually is, but long term it will always be cheaper than going to a studio if you’re willing to pursue this path.
Recording in a Studio
Recording music is a complicated process and takes a lot of expertise to master, so going to a studio when you’re new to recording may be the better option for you. However it can be quite expensive depending on the complexity of what you need recorded.
For example if you’re a hip-hop artist and you’ve purchased a beat online, you really only need vocals recorded. If you’re really good at performing your parts you may be able to record a song with only a few hours of studio time. Considering that studio time will likely cost between $50-$150/hour depending on which studio you go to, this makes a big difference in the total cost of your project.
Contrast that with recording drums, where you’re paying for the time to setup the drums and set all the microphones up, you can easily see how you might need double the time for drum tracking.
However if all you’re recording is vocals this is one of the easiest things to record at home. Drums are probably the hardest instrument to record well at home due to all the microphones required and the impact the room sound has on the recording sound.
Recording at Home
This is how I do all of my music. I started my journey learning how to record music back in 2010 with a 2009 iMac and a copy of Logic Pro. I was a senior in high school so I didn’t have money to spend on fancy gear, so I just used whatever microphones and amps I already had available. There are a few basic things you’ll need to have to get into recording though, so let’s go over those.
- Computer – modern music is recorded on computers, but depending on what you have you may need to upgrade to a better one.
- DAW – digital audio workstation, this is the software you actually use to record your music into. If you use a Mac you can probably just start with the free GarageBand, or upgrade to Logic Pro for only $200. If you’re an electronic music producer you might want Ableton Live which can cost up to $800.
- Monitors and/or Headphones – you need some way to listen to your music. For recording you definitely want some headphones and if you’ll be doing the mixing/mastering you’ll probably also want monitors. This can cost as little as $100 for some decent headphones but with monitors you might be looking at $500.
- Audio interface – this is how you actually plug your microphones and instruments into your computer.
- Microphone(s) – for vocals you probably just need one mic, for drums you might need 4-15 mics, guitar you might need none if you’re going direct and using software amps.
- Acoustic treatment – this might not be required, but if your room is very echoey or has an overly bass-ey sound to it you may need bass traps or acoustic panels. Don’t stress out about this though, you can add it later.
Some people might already have a solid computer and just need an audio interface and a microphone, meaning you can get started for as little as $200. Other people might need $2,000 of gear to get going.
This article isn’t to focus on the details of which particular gear items you should buy, but now at least you know what types of items you might need.
Mix / Master Your Song
Mixing is the process of getting all the tracks of your song, balancing the volumes and getting them to sit well with each other. This work is done in a DAW and common tools used are equalizers, compressors, limiters and FX such as delays and reverbs.
Mastering is the process of getting your mixed track ready for release. Commonly your tracks may be processed as groups or as the entire stereo mix, and EQ, compression and limiting is applied to bring the loudness of your song up and generally make it sound better.
This is a super basic summary of what mixing and mastering is, in reality there is a LOT of nuance that goes into each of these categories and people dedicate their entire careers to focusing on this.
Similarly to recording, you can either do this at home or hire someone to do it for you. Some people will record at home and hire someone for the mixing / mastering, others might do the opposite. If you’re recording your music in a DAW then you have the tools to mix and master your song, but it is a deep topic with a big learning curve.
If you’re recording your music in a studio i’d probably ask the studio if they provide mixing / mastering services as well, or if they can refer you to someone who does it. Depending on the complexity of your song mixing / mastering can cost anywhere from $250 to $2,000 per song. Sometimes mixing and mastering services are handled by two different people, other times one person can do both.
Create Artwork For Your Song
Every song and album that gets released has to have cover art. There are multiple approaches you can take with this.
If you’re a graphic designer or have art skills, you can probably do this yourself. But just like anything else if you’ve never designed artwork before this has just as much of a learning curve as making music. Common tools of the trade are Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, or the open source Blender.
One easy way to get great artwork is by taking pictures. You don’t have to be a talented photographer either, your cellphone is more than good enough if you can think of a good picture to take. Sometimes i’ve taken pictures and color corrected them on my phone, and used it as artwork. Other times i’ve taken pictures and manipulated them in Photoshop to use as artwork.
There are plenty of online services that will make custom artwork for you, but it will likely cost $100-$300 to have that artwork commissioned and to obtain the rights to use it. There are other services that sell pre-made artwork for $50-$150. Lastly you can hop on Fiverr to find someone doing either of these options for cheap.
There are various websites online like StoryBlocks or ShutterStock that sell artwork with commercial usage rights. This can be a cheap way to get artwork for your music. I wouldn’t just download it and use it directly though, i’d take it into something like Photoshop and color grade the artwork, put your logo on it, combine it with other elements etc.
Distribute Your Song
Music distributors are used to send your song to Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes etc. There are dozens of music distributors out there with different features and price-points. I personally use DistroKid as my distributor and i’ve been very happy with them. I’ve been using them since 2017 and have never had an issue.
With DistroKid for as little as $19.99 per YEAR, you can distribute unlimited music under one artist. Here are some reasons I love DistroKid:
- Low prices. One low yearly fee, no fee per song or commission. You keep 100% of earnings
- Super fast distribution speeds. Often you can get on Spotify within 48 hours.
- Lots of music services.
- Easy song splits, if you need to split profits with collaborators.
That being said I encourage you do your own research, so here are some other distributors you can check out.
- Amuse (cheap, has a free plan too, not as many features as DK)
- CD Baby (somewhat expensive, slow to release music)
- TuneCore (super expensive)
- Ditto (outside the US, may be preferably to EU artists)
- United Masters (somewhat sketchy platform, avoid)
Market Your Song
If you’ve made it this far, congrats! Releasing music can be overwhelming, but its when the journey begins. Let’s talk a little bit about how you can get people to hear your music.
- Create social media accounts for your music. Share your music on these pages and invite your friends to check out these pages.
- Create content for social media related to your release, but also just about your life in general. This content can drive attention to your music.
- If you play live at all tell people you have music online.
- Start a YouTube channel or blog and relate it to your music journey in some way.
- Get access to Spotify for Artists so you can track your stats on Spotify.
- Run Facebook Ads to drive people to your music on streaming platforms.
- Get access to Apple Music for Artists to track your stats on Apple.
Theirs more you could do, but it’s important to consider that one song isn’t enough to build an audience. In a perfect world you’d want to release music every 4-6 weeks and promote every single song to the best of your ability. Your first release will likely be your worst performing release ever, so don’t be disappointed with small numbers!
If you can’t release music every 4-6 weeks then i’d say every 8 weeks is the furthest you should go. If your music takes longer to make you can batch multiple songs ahead of time and then trickle it out every 4-8 weeks after that.