The One Where Frank Shares His New Atypical Release Strategy

Sweetheart Pubstack #30

We’re Rachel Hurley and Frank Keith IV, co-owners of the Sweetheart Pub. We’re music industry veterans with over 30 years of combined experience in the music business, having worked in licensing, talent buying/booking, label management, tour management, and more. Once a week, we’ll publish a new edition of this newsletter, where we’ll share some philosophy and actionable advice on all facets of the music industry. 

We’ve been putting together a weekly playlist of seven songs (just enough to keep your attention) every week — check out The Sweet Spot to hear what we’ve been listening to.

What we’re thinking about this week…

A wild and crazy release strategy

Lately, I’ve been kicking around the idea of experimenting with a non-traditional record release strategy. There are several ways to go about releasing a record, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with the model of “drop 3-4 singles over a period of three months and then release the album” … but could there be a better way to actually SELL your record?

If you want to make some sales while you are in the midst of your promotion cycle, have you considered offering up your album on Bandcamp for a period of time before it goes to streaming?

There are several examples of this out there, but Emma Swift’s recent Blonde on the Tracks release campaign comes to mind. Her plan was, essentially, a window of time post-release date where you could only hear the full record if you bought it (it wasn’t available to stream anywhere). Just like the good old days, right? 

The idea we’re discussing here doesn’t look *exactly* like that. Emma did a traditional radio + PR + marketing push in the buildup to the album’s PHYSICAL release date. Then there was a post-release window, and eventually she released the record on streaming platforms. It was a successful release on all fronts, and I’m not knocking that approach by any means. It worked. 

My thought is this — make your record available for purchase immediately on Bandcamp or a similar platform as soon as the release date is announced. Not a pre-order or pre-save, but immediately. The record is ONLY available from you as a download (or CD or vinyl -- but at least a download), not Amazon or any other online warehouse. The record is “out” on X date, but you can buy it and download it right now. Don’t allow a streaming preview on your sales platform beyond any singles that may be floating around via press or radio as your promotional campaign takes shape. If your fans want to hear the whole thing before it goes to streaming, they can BUY it. 

This would allow you to have a clear, official release date for promotional purposes and not muddy the waters with “well, I’m gonna release it to streaming platforms and record stores a bit later when I feel like it.” This gives you an entire promotional cycle where every single time you (or the media) mention the release, there’s a way to hear the entire release that very instant. I would imagine you’d drive quite a bit of sales that way versus counting on any given individual to “mark their calendars.” 

Consider your budget and service immediate demand. Drive fans to pay to experience the full release. Only print physical copies of what you know you can sell out or come damn close to selling out. CDs are cheap, but know your audience before you print them. Vinyl is cool, but very expensive. You can always print vinyl later if you feel there’s demand for it, but that money might be best spent on promo up front.  

We’ll touch on this below, but you should also make exclusive, limited edition runs of your physical product (this includes soft goods, not just records). The physical product then holds up in value and fans are more likely to buy future releases immediately as a collectible. Sounds a bit like NFTs, hmmm? Same game, different park. 

I might ruffle some feathers here, and there are a litany of other variables / potential holes to consider, but this is a release strategy worth at least considering in my mind. What do you REALLY have to lose in trying? I say go for it, fellow indies. 

— Frank

p.s. I’m open to feedback on this...hit me with your hot takes. 

In the digital era, making your music ubiquitous makes other people money, not you.

—David Lowery

Come say hello in Nashville this weekend!

The Latest

S*** You Can Do Today

You have an online merch store, right? If you don’t, you are WAY behind in the game. The number one way musicians make money is through ticket and merch sales. If you’re not touring right now, you should be spending some time upping your merch game!

Plus, with on-demand printing and fulfillment, it’s super easy! We use Printful and an Etsy store, but there are tons of options out there. We simply upload our designs, choose the product and colors, assign a price, and add it to our store — and then we promote it. We never touch the products ourselves. Designing is also easy with free software like Canva. Don’t have a good eye for design? You can have someone else do the design work for you by using Fiverr

Don’t ONLY think band merch / branding either! Slogans, funny graphics, lyrics, etc are all fair game. The great thing is, you can try a bunch of different ideas and see what resonates with your fans. If you’re printing on demand and something isn’t selling, it’s no loss to you. Tee shirts are great, but don’t forget about stickers, coffee mugs, phone cases and MASKS! You can even run IG and FB ads at targeted audiences and get sales from people who have never even heard of you — who may BECOME your fans!

Polling your fans on what they want to buy is great, engaging content. Everyone wants to tell you their opinion on things. You can also check into what other musicians are selling for ideas:

25 Creative Merch Ideas

TikTok of the Week

Me Leaving A Meeting That Could Have Been An Email

Just for Fun

The 17 best funny songs of all time

Music Rookie Podcast

Free Advice

Have a follow-up question for one of our guests?

or…Got a tip? Did we (*gasp*) get something wrong? Our line is always open -- hit us up and if we use your question or response in a future newsletter, we’ll give you credit and link your socials.

Don’t Forget!

As we often receive requests to work with artists who don’t have the budget to afford a full campaign, we’re launching an “Office Hours”-style consulting service where you can book us for 30 or 60-minute blocks of one-on-one time. 

You can learn more here (scroll down past campaign details)

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