So, let's imagine I finished mixing your record here at mixed by adam, naturally it sounds amazing and you are super excited to get it out there to the world. YES! But wait! Here’s a quick digital music distribution checklist to help you through the next stage of getting ready to have a successful album release and making that process as smooth as possible.
This is kind of obvious to ask, but in this new music business do people still make singles? Yes of course! In the traditional sense, it’s one track, but the definitions for streaming services and digital music stores aren’t standard yet for some reason. Spotify has only singles (which are less than 6 tracks) and albums, Apple Music define releases as Singles, EPs and Albums - you get the idea. The key is to know what your product is and define it as that in your promo activities.
2. ) Track order and song selection
Pick the songs you actually want to release and come up with a track order. But you recorded 20 songs, you say? Well, think carefully about which ones make up the best album possible. You can always keep a few bonus tracks in the bag for an EP or later release in an online music store.
While not everyone consumes music by listening to complete albums anymore, having a track order is still really important to the flow of your record, and is also important to have BEFORE you send your tracks to mastering as the engineer may have to adjust things to make the transition from track to track artistically pleasing - another thing that a robot mastering service can’t possibly do and another good reason to use a human when mastering your record.
3.) Name your masterpiece
Your record needs a name. Don’t worry - like band names, everything sounds weird until it’s THE name. Got a key track that would be a great title? A theme running through the record? Maybe a golden lyric from one of the songs that would make a legendary album title? Apple provides a music style guide to formatting titles, so maybe have a look at that to make sure you’re within the guidelines.
Is cover art still important? Yes, of course, it is! It might not always get the 12 inches of glorious visual real estate a vinyl lp releases do anymore, but it’s still going to be the single image that is associated with your record and used all over your socials which is just as important in the modern age so why not make it iconic? Also, be sure to upload the proper album art format - no low-res images. From the technical side, each music distributor may vary, but keep the image a high-quality JPEG or PNG - 3000 x 3000-pixel minimum, 72 dpi.
It’s also going to probably be the only thing which makes it easy for people to identify your music quickly again in a playlist so think about the image carefully. Who knows, it may end up as a t-shirt, poster or the focus of your whole tour design, so this is not something to casually throw out there.
To minimise the potential hassle from your digital distributor, keep it about the art itself - no URLs, no social logos, nothing unnecessary. They are also touchy about products, nudity, and good stuff like that, so use your common sense. Why not team up with a friend who is an artist and do a collaboration and promote each other? I’m not saying you might be able to get Anton Corbijn to take your cover photo, but as an artist, you almost certainly have someone amazing in your circle to work with if you’re not a great designer yourself. Or - invest and hire someone! Designers like Hypgnosis almost defined decades of music art, perhaps the next great is right there in the wings.
Any mastering engineer that is worth using will be able to provide you with either 16-bit 44.1k WAV files (the CD standard) or 24-bit wav files depending on the distributor's requirements. Check! At the time of writing CD Baby only accepts 16-bit WAV, but note that most of the streaming services are launching higher resolution tiers...so that’s kind of behind the curve. Deliver 24-bit audio at the best resolution you can to future-proof yourself. No MP3s, no compressed formats!
One of my favourite records ever made is The Beastie Boys' second album Pauls Boutique. Each track is made of literally dozens of samples. Sampling other tunes to make a track was the Wild West back then, but today we have all seen enough YouTube takedowns in our lives to get the hint, and if your music is sample-based - or even has *A* sample - get clearance before your release. You might not get caught, but is it worth the risk? The more successful you are the more likely you will be! The Beasties ended up pretty much giving most of the money to the rights holders of the samples they used, but damn, what a record. Recently, there has been talk of the hot topic of the moment - AI - being used to analyse and track down uncleared samples so it's only going to get riskier and riskier.
8.) Choose Your Genre
There are something like 60,000 (and rising) new songs a day uploaded to Spotify, and one of the key problems we have as listeners is the overwhelming choice. So, that becomes YOUR problem as an artist! Yes, artists hate to be defined or categorised, but niches are the future, or more accurately genres, sub-genres and micro-genres are - categories that people can actively search for. It’s one of the increasingly important keys to being found and also playlisted so if you are asked for this information on your upload form - be as specific, and accurate as possible.
People love lyrics. Some services now let you upload them, so take the time to type them out and include those. Everything you can do to be less generic and show you made an effort counts. Besides you don’t want some weirdo like me guessing your lyrics and uploading them, do ya? “Ken Lee, libba dibba dow you….”
Ok, I admit it, I am somewhat biased but please submit a complete as possible list of credits for your release. That’s everyone from writers, to producers, to your mixer, mastering engineer, sleeve designer and especially collaborators. The various distributors make this varying degrees of easy, but platforms like Spotify are finally increasing the accuracy and completeness of credits. This helps the people that helped you, plus in the near future will add other aspects of searchability to the vast amount of music that’s on the net.
11.) Choose Your Countries
Most digital distros do worldwide distribution, but there might be a case you have a local record deal in which you might choose to NOT distribute to certain countries that will be handled by the local label you signed with. So, make sure you exclude those territories to keep that relationship in good shape and not step on your distributor's toes.
12.) ISRC Codes
An ISRC is an identifier used for a song that includes the country, label, year and song id. You might have to provide these yourself if you’re running an indie label ( in which case you need to get a label code) and will need to enter them at some point on the upload form, or if you don’t - these days most digital music distribution services (like Distrokid) will assign them to you.
If you have covered all of these points of the album release checklist, congratulations - you're in good shape to begin the digital release process, and need to think about the other stage - promo which luckily enough is the very next article! I hope this was useful and if you have any questions, or need a mixing engineer please feel free to reach out.
There's also a whole indie release PLAN on the homepage if you really want to go for it!