Well, it’s time for my monthly music business blog and I just happen to be in the process of working on a record release for The Tom Fun Orchestra, under my label Company House Records. I thought I’d talk about how to put out a record nationally with very little time and a tight budget. My example throughout the blog will be The Tom Fun Orchestra’s upcoming “Earthworm Heart” release.
My golden rule for releasing a record is to have the master in my hand before I give the band an album release date. This gives a nice big window of time to get people excited about the album and build lots of hype for the release. Unfortunately this time, I did not obey my own golden rule! Instead, I let the band convince me that they will be done in a few weeks and figured we would have ample time — of course, that wasn’t the case. I actually just got the master last week, the tour starts in a week, and the release is less than a month away. Needless to say, we have our work cut out for us. We are faced with almost no time to get everything in order and very little money since this timeframe leaves us no time to raise the the kind of cash normally required to properly put a record out. Nonetheless, I feel this is a great tutorial since I know that many DIY bands and indie labels are forced into this situation from time to time.
1. Situation analysis / rough planning
After a few listens through the record, we established that there are not really any tracks that would fit commercial radio. From there, we decided the focus should be on short lead press, CBC radio (the Canadian staple!) and college radio. Due to our tight budget, the focus is on finding a firm that can bundle press, CBC, and college radio at a budget rate. A cross country release tour has been booked for some time, so we know we will have the band in all of the major markets nationally. Between the band and Company House, we have a few clever social media folks. We will be making the best use of social strategy possible. This includes a bunch of live footage and other random ridiculous video footage that we will attempt to package into some form of content. Another bonus is the band has someone going on the road with them to take pictures and video. This will help ensure there will be loads of new content throughout the tour.
The band already has a fan base. They have been touring for a few years and this is their second record. Combined with nearly 3,000 fans on Facebook and over 1,400 followers on Twitter, we have some great stuff to work with. In addition, the band has an fan mailing list with over 2,000 people. We will certainly embrace all of these networks of people to spread the word about the release and tour. The record is a different sound than the last record. This could work to the band’s advantage or disadvantage. Assumably there will be people that will not like the shift in style, and others that will connect better than they did with the last recording. Either way, it is safe to say that the record, for better or for worse, could be outside of the current fan-base’s expectations.
I recommend making use of the SWOT analysis in mostly all of these situations. Though it seems like just a weird thing they used to teach you in school, it truly is a great way to understand a situation. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The first 2, strengths and weaknesses, pertain to internal conditions, whereas opportunities and threats are primarily external. This is what it looks like based on our working example:
I recommend the SWOT analysis mostly because I feel that it is essential before starting to develop a plan/team/release strategy. Everyone needs to share information and be intimately aware of the current situation. The plan can then be assembled taking advantage of the positive elements and creating strategies to mitigate the negative risks associated with the current situation.
2. Assembling a team and assigning responsibility
With the tight budget we have decided to go with an affordable press company that also services college and CBC radio. Someone from the label is going to work with one of the band members to deliver a social media campaign and make use of the photographer/videographer who will be doing the tour with the band. There should be an overall project leader designated. The distributer will help get some in-store performances and encourage the stores (what little are still left) to order the recording. Here is an example of a breakdown of our team and their responsibilities:
Label (Company House Records team):
The Band (The Tom Fun Orchestra):
Tour Photographer / Videographer:
PR & Radio Agent:
Distribution (EMI Music Canada):
3. Weekly team meeting schedule
A weekly meeting is key to keeping everyone on the same page. In our case, everyone is spread across Canada so not able to meet together in person. Skype is our tool of choice! The meetings always have an agenda which is distributed days before the meeting. This way everyone can prepare for the conversation. Additionally, all supporting documents are circulated with the agenda. With everyone well prepared for the meeting we are able to get the job done within 15-20 minutes, so that no time is wasted. Remember, 8 people meeting for 15 minutes is 2 hours of work that is not getting done, so even though meetings are important, it is also necessary to be organized, well prepared and efficient.
4. Team meeting #1 – Refine the plan
Give 40 minutes or so for the first meeting as this will be an introduction of everyone and their roles and a walk through the rough plan with the objective of defining a detailed plan and timeline. The rough plan is used as a guide and a tool to get everyone onboard, but now you should take advantage of these people and tweak the plan out to make the best use of resources. Everyone is part of the plan and it is important that everyone knows their roles, as well as the roles of others. It is critical that shortly after this meeting, a final plan is circulated around to the team so everyone can have a read. One of the key parts is the timeline. This timeline has everything that is going to happen during the project with details on who is responsible. For this we actually use Marcato Musician’s calendar and tasks modules to create every event with automated reminders programmed to keep everyone on point. Every member of the team gets a login to Marcato Musician, where they can all see and subscribe to the timeline, as well as be informed of any deviations from the plan in real time. If someone fails to do their part, it quickly becomes apparent to the rest of the team.
We also use Marcato Musician for communicating all press, radio or other achievements. Here we simply create a message thread, add the entire team and give everyone access to post stuff. As things happen that are relevant to the release, we post them in the thread. Everyone on the team will get an update. These updates are great at keeping everyone up to speed, but also they are great motivators. For example, as the band gets press and radio, the morale goes up and people get excited. As people get more excited, the project will pick up pace. The excitement tends to engage people more deeply into the project and the snowball effect starts to take place. Radio success will encourage press success, which will encourage social medial activity and so on. Since the team is checking off their action items in Marcato and posting successes and project updates in the message thread, the weekly meetings become less about “what happened in the last week” and more about how are we going to pick up velocity this week. It’s also great after the release to have a running list of your achievements to refer to if necessary.
5. Roll out the plan
Keep working on your release and keep track of everything that is going on. As the time goes by you may find processes that need revision. That comes with the territory. Keep on truckin’!
So there you have it! In under 2 weeks we have built a team, put together a plan and have devised a process for the team to collaborate efficiently and effectively. Now, this is not that much different than how I would manage a release with significant budget and much more time, however without those things, this technique may be one of our most valuable assets to this campaign. As for the plan itself, this depends on your budget, musical genre, current level of success and the countries or territories in which you are releasing. Because of these factors I tried to stay away from strategies and focus primarily on management. Managing and delivering a strategy can be much more challenging than coming up with great ideas and plans. This approach forces you to include the entire team in the building of the strategy and track progress as the project progresses. If you stick to this method, you will make the most of your resources and you will be made aware of any problems before it’s too late.
Click here to check out a free track from Tom Fun. If you have any ideas on how we can share this project with the world, please let us know!