Category Archives: how to

Releasing Your Own Music in a Nutshell

Releasing your own music in a nutshell.

Since I frequently get asked a lot of questions regarding distribution and releasing new music by new or newer independent artists I thought I’d write this hopefully short blog to answer a few of those questions. This is nutshell, not comprehensive!

You have a single or an album and you want to release it. First make sure you copyright your work. Go to copyright.gov to do that. Next, if you are in this for the long haul, you’ll need a PRO (Performing Rights Organization) such as BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC which are among the most recognized. Personally, I use ASCAP for both my publishing arm of my own label and personally as a songwriter, copyright holder. Go to their respective website and signup. It’s easy. Having your works registered in the database is also a bit of insurance if you run into a copyright issue and you need to prove that your work was created before a certain date.

You’ll also want to register with SoundExchange for collection of digital performing rights. Now you you need distribution. I can’t tell you who has the best prices and gives you the most of your cut, but considering the cut major labels take, this should be the least of your worries because the cut you take from ANY independent friendly distributor is WAY more than any major label will ever give you (and many indie labels as well.) So there is no sense in nickel and diming at this stage of your game.

Fact is, you are not going to sell a lot of physical or digital copies at first unless you have huge money backing you for marketing and advertising.
So the best bet is to go with an independent friendly distribution service like CD Baby. I have used CD Baby for my band Barley Station from day 1
of our first release back in 2012. And I used them prior to that for a previous band and have always have had great service and communication
with a myriad of extra benefits.

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Here’s an example of one of my own releases to the right —>

So, without sounding like an ad for CD Baby, I must say I have not felt the need to shop for other services as I have been very happy with all they have to offer. And what they have to offer answers a lot of the other questions I get.

CD Baby has a lot fo benefits for the independent artist. For one, they have been doing this for many, many years. They have made the connections you won’t need to spend the time making, if you even can.

If you need digital distribution, they cover it. They will get your music to your choice of paying platforms and/or a combo of non paying platforms as well. They get your music to iTunes, Spotify, Amazon MP3, Deezer, Tidal, Google Music Store, iHeartRadio, Pandora, Rhapsody, Groove, Rumblefish, and many more. And they are always adding what is new.

In addition to this, they offer YouTube content ID and make sure you get paid if someone uses your music for anything on YouTube, and in general, protect your copyrights there. This is an option they provide so you want to make sure that that option is for you.
And now that you have registered with SoundExchange, when you are entering your release data while signing up your single or album, they will send your release info to SoundExchange.

And if that is not enough, you need UPC bar codes? For a small amount more (usually only $5) they can assign you a bar code so that purchases of your album get registered with Soundscan and are tracked (if you want to eventually hit the charts after you sell a lot copies) OR you can always request your own UPC barcodes.

If you want radio play of various sorts you will want ISRC codes attached to your track.
(International Standard Recording Code) is the international identification system for sound recordings and music video recordings. These codes are unique and permanent identifiers for your song and are like your songs fingerprints and are used to track your spins and collection of royalties. You need these! CD Baby can assign these as well.

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Another benefit is that CD Baby often partners with other services that you may need, such as Easy Song Licensing if you want to release a cover song, and services like RadioAirplay.com if you want to test out your music on radio and have great stat analysis. And they have a number of other helpful partners, blogs, and newsletters to offer the DIY artist.

Not only that, but CD Baby has tracking and trending reports of services such as your Spotify Streams and iTunes sales before they hit your account as monies. All these services are with a basic album signup and not the Pro package. That has its own benefits but is not necesary unless you just want everything all in one place, such as ASCAP collections if your are with ASCAP.

And yet another benefit is you can opt for brick and mortar distribution so that when the demand comes for your album, CD Baby can supply that particular store for you. This is, of course, unless you’d rather do your own consignment, but I find it is much simpler to allow them to handle that unless you enjoy doing paper work and following up with all your consignments and tracking them yourself, which eventually can turn into a real pain.

The question also comes to me of having any legal issues hassles when you part ways is not a question I have had to worry about thus far because the service with CD Baby has never lacked for me and I have not as yet felt any need to part ways with them. But since they are professionals, that is not something I would worry about. The fact is, if you happen to get a major label deal, your new label would handle the legal aspects of all that for you.

Others may have other opinions, but I speak only from my own experience.
In short, CD Baby is a service I highly recommend to handle a lot of needs and keep your own work load down and get the biggest bang for your buck without having yearly fees and as many worries.

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Recording Vocals

Recording Vocals

This isn’t about mixing vocals, it is about recording them. They are two very different things. I will address mixing and EQ-ing some other time. But right now I will address some very basic but important and sometimes overlooked things about getting a good vocal track. A famous saying in my studio is “do it again.”

Having a background in musical theater and formal training in singing, I act as the vocal coach for my own band and for myself, though I am always learning something new. The learning never ends.

When recording your vocals take your time.  Do it right. Listen carefully. Did you got the right feel? Did you capture the right mood? Don’t be afraid to create the right atmosphere during recording. If your studio is set up with lights that make it feel like someone’s office cubicle, you may well get a sound that makes you feel like you are at work or somewhere you don’t want to be singing the song, much less listening to it. It will reflect in the recording.

Set up some lights that reflect the mood you need for the song. It could be candles you need, or colored lights. Or bright whites if that’s what you’re going for. No matter what your recording space is like, with lighting, you can always create an atmosphere that will help you get the song out the right way. I keep different colored bulbs on hand for just this purpose. Strings of Christmas lights of various colors will work great too and they are usually on sale cheap right after the winter holidays.

As for gear, if you don’t have an expensive tube mic, never fear. There are inexpensive ways to get around that and get a good clean warm tube sound. ART’s Tube MP Project Series Tube Microphone/Instrument Preamp is under $80 and will really get you the warmth you need in your vocal. And it works great for other instruments as well. A handy little tool even if you already have great expensive gear. In which case, great, you are lucky and all good to go and there’s no reason to hear a recording that is less than stellar. photo (300x291)

If you have the luxury of having your own studio, take the time to do it right. Take lots of ear breaks and don’t be afraid to just leave it be for awhile. Go back to it again completely fresh. Take off a week from that song. Or even longer. It could be that a new approach is what you need and a fresh view of the song. Ask the opinion of a 10 or 12 year old. They will be brutally honest. Ask the opinion of an 80 year old. They will be brutally honest too. But then take it all with a grain of salt.

Are you singing with the emotion that the song needs and that inspired you to write it? If not, get it back. You’ll need to try different positions around the microphone. Do want it more airy? Do you want it more gutsy? Do want it more plain? You need to ask yourself all these things and position yourself or the microphone to capture what you want.

Do you hear something that makes you cringe? Then do it again. It will probably make others cringe as well. Do yourself a favor and become a better vocalist and do it again until it’s right. Unless you are using autotune as part of your style, ditch it. You won’t get better that way.

If you constantly use cheat machines, you are only robbing yourself of the ability to improve. They can be useful, I’m sure, but there’s nothing that beats the self satisfaction of knowing you pulled off a great vocal performance without using machines. A live audience will certainly appreciate the time and effort you put into bettering yourself as a singer. It won’t happen overnight, so don’t expect it to. But it takes constant practice, just like when you learned to play that guitar, the piano, or those drums. Your voice is an instrument and needs to be practiced.

Now, if you are singing harmony parts, there’s some things that work great if you can adjust your voice. Again, it requires listening carefully to every nuance of the way the lead or other vocal is bieng sung. I will go back and listen to a part over and over again to figure out how my band mate sung a certain part or phrase and I will make my voice match that style to get those perfect sibling harmonies everyone covets.  Is it a breathy whispery phrase? Then your harmony needs to match it for it to be effective and not sound out of place.  An example of this would be the song “True” from my own band’s album After All.

Listen here: https://soundcloud.com/barleystation/true-1
Or on iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/true/id507047384?i=507047521

Listen carefully to how the vocals and harmonies match each other and the mood of the song. That’s what makes it work. We have distinctly different voices, but in harmony it is often hard to tell who is who when they are effectively sung. That’s your sibling effect. (It’s what I call it anyway)

Learn to harmonize with yourself and your bandmates if you have them. You need to grow as a vocalist.  In the studio, feel the right notes. Close your eyes. See the notes in your head. Find them, hit them, and remember what you did to get them.

You can be your own vocal coach if you can’t afford one if you are self-disciplined and not tone deaf. There are great voice teachers who often give good free advice online (I didn’t say free lessons) and have written helpful things, like Nashville vocal coach Renee Grant-Williams whose clients have been folks like Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus, Ben Folds, Keith Urban, and Jason Aldean.

But whatever you do, make sure you are using proper technique so you don’t ruin your voice. There are also plenty of videos that can explain it so you can understand it. Experiment with your voice but don’t mess it up.

Your voice is your paintbrush and the sound is your canvas and this is your art. Take the time to do it right!