July 12, 2020

Before releasing your album independently in SA – Checklist

releasing your album independently in sa

The task of releasing your album independently can be exciting and daunting. Where do I even start and how?

You might be asking yourself that question. The following blog post will take through some of the things that you should do before even consider releasing an album.

This guide will help you save time and money so here’s what you should do:

  1. Mix and master
  2. Create social media profiles
  3. Choose a single to promote your album
  4. Create a mailing list
  5. Register a domain and create a website
  6. Submit your singles to radio stations
  7. Look for a music distributor
  8. Register with SAMRO
  9. Register with CAPASSO
  10. Register with SAMPRA
  11. Apply for a ISRC Code with RISA

1. Mix and Master

Before you can even go any further, ensure that your music is properly mixed and mastered. Even if you have to do this one hundred times that’s still fine.

You can write and record the best songs but if the final product is below par then even the best marketing campaign won’t help you.

As a musician I think you should be familiar with mixing. But if not then I’ll briefly explain this to you in layman’s terms. Mixing is the process were you take all the recorded individual tracks (percussion, snare drum, piano, vocal, bass) and blend them together into one by adding effects, panning, etc.

This is usually done by the music producer and/or sound engineer.

And mastering is the final step where you take the final mix and enhance the overall audio quality before release and distribution.

But do NOT master your own music unless you really know what you’re doing, trust me on this one.

If you write, produce, mix and master your own music, chances are you won’t be objective about your work. And this could ruin the final audio quality. So avoid this at all costs. A fresh pair of ears will help and spot things that you might have missed completely.

Instead you should hire a mastering engineer. There is a misconception that mastering is expensive (yes sure it can be). But in South Africa, there are plenty of seasoned mastering engineers who can master your project(s) at reasonable rates.

2. Create Social Media profiles

This is obvious and almost everyone that I know has at least one social media profile. But when you create a social media I would suggest that you do so with your market or audience in mind.

You can create a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest accounts, etc. But find out where your market hangs out.

For example you can (and should) create a Facebook Fan page and if you start getting a huge engagement on that platform then it only makes sense to spend most of your time there.

If twitter is where your followers spend most of their time, use Twitter to promote your music and content.

YouTube is a must for any musician irrespective of the genre and market – Because you will have to shoot a music video and promote it online at some point. As an independent artist, a music video can help generate buzz quicker, but the single has to resonate with your market. And speaking of singles, let’s look at the next point.

3. Choose a single to promote your album

Releasing your album is all about strategy but you don’t want to do this blindly by putting out a product that nobody wants to buy.

A single is a song that you can use to build up the hype and momentum before the actual project (album) drops.

The approach and process is similar to releasing an actual album but cheaper. You can afford to make mistakes and the feedback can either be positive or negative. But all that feedback will help you to make an informed decision going forward.

How you release the single is completely up to you. Some artists prefer to distribute their music online for free on platforms such as Audiomack, Soundcloud, Fakaza and so forth in order to test the waters.

But you need to have a timeline for promoting the single before the album drops.

4. Create a mailing list

A mailing list is basically your contact list. But this is not a contact list consisting of random people.

You should have a large database of people involved and working in the music industry as well as followers. A mailing list can include but not limited to the following:

  • Music Journalists
  • Music Bloggers
  • Radio Pluggers
  • Music Promoters
  • Record labels
  • Other artists
  • Retailers
  • Distributors
  • DJ’s
  • Followers/Fans

If you have landlines and mobile numbers then good but email will work better. Because when you release your music you can send out one email to say 5000 contacts (email marketing) for example.

If you have the budget you can even register for bulk SMS to promote your music. But a mailing list works better if you have a personal domain and home page and I’ll explain this to you….

5. Register a domain and create a website

Sending out emails with a customized email address will make you look more professional and organised. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a G-mail or Yahoo (I have several of those). But a personal email address looks better when you’re trying to sell selling your product.

A basic domain name costs less than a 100 ZAR (6 USD) not per not per month but per year!  I personally use Register Domain for my domain registration and hosting.

If your budget is low, you don’t even need a fully-fledged website instead you can hire a web designer to create a one-page music website which can cost you less than a 1000 bucks.

On your music website you can include the following:

  • Your artist profile
  • Music Catalogue
  • Subscription Box to capture emails to build your mailing list

That’s all you need (for now)!

6. Submit your singles to radio stations

This sounds easier said than done I know. But it has to be done even if you might be sceptical about it.

There is a right way and a wrong way of submitting your music to radio stations in South Africa. First of all make you sure that you know your market and make a list of all the radio stations that you think might playlist your music.

Once that is done, find out what their submission policy is and what is it that is required from you. In most cases radio stations will require a formal product to even consider play listing your songs.

Let me explain what I mean by that.  

You might have to spend money printing physical copies of the single(s) accompanied by professional artwork, track- listing, credits (the people you worked with), publishing information and ISRC Codes (I will explain this shortly).  

7. Look for a music distributor

In South Africa physical music distribution is a declining business (in fact worldwide).  For example Soul Candi used to own one of the biggest Independent distributors, MESH SA but they have since closed down.

I can make a list of other companies but that would go beyond the scope of this article.

Most well-known retailers such as Reliable Music Warehouse, Look and Listen are no longer in business. That leaves Musica as the sole major music retailer in South Africa.  The rest are just Independent outlets which operate as mom pop shops.

Manufacturing CD’s is expensive and not viable unless you still have a profitable market. But you need an Independent distributor to help you move units.

You can self-distribute however you will be doing direct sales to fans and this needs careful consideration.

Digital distribution is now the way to go as there is less risk and overhead involved.  It is easier to get a digital distribution deal and all you need is the product and your social media marketing in place.

A good distributor will ensure that your music is delivered to major platforms such as iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, etc.

You set the release date and deliver the master recordings to them on time and they will do the rest except for marketing and promotions (they charge you a fee if you want them to do that).

8. Register with SAMRO

Don’t release your music without registering your work with SAMRO.

When you register with SAMRO, they will have your material on their database. So that means they will collect any royalties due to you if your music is play-listed on radio, performed at a live event or restaurant.

9. Register with CAPASSO

CAPASSO will administer and collect mechanical royalties on your behalf. If you are a composer or songwriter, that means each time your music is manufactured on CD, downloaded or streamed you will earn a mechanical royalty.

But you have to notify CAPASSO about your works. You can do so by registering as a composer and/or music publisher. If you are publishing your own music, you can do a dual registration.

10. Register with SAMPRA

SAMPRA will help to collect your needletime royalties. Needletime are music royalties collected from broadcasters and each time your commercially released recordings are performed in the public.

11. Apply for an ISRC Code with RISA

Most digital distributors will request your ISRC code. Although some do provide one, but it’s better to register your own because it’s free of charge.

The ISRC Code is assigned to each sound and music video recordings that you release and contains the country code, registrant code, the year of reference and the designation code.

Conclusion

Being an Independent musician is hard work. In most cases you are the recording artist, producer, manager, label owner, etc.

And releasing an album is not cheap and requires some thought and planning. You don’t have to do it alone though and if you can team up with people and companies then great.

If nobody believes in your music but you, then it’s possible to do it on your own. This is should only be temporary though because at some point you will need assistance to avoid fatigue and stagnation.