music release strategy

My overnight success was 15 years in the making

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With an adaptable music release strategy and an eye on results, I was able to get over 700,000 streams for one of my singles and over 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. Here’s how it happened.

One of my favorite sayings comes from Jeff Bezos: “All overnight success takes about 10 years.” As a musician and entrepreneur — these days, we’re all entrepreneurs — it is important to remember how important making, executing, and adjusting a plan is to achieving growth and success in your music career.

I’ve been releasing music for the last 15 years in jazz, rock, and, more recently, electronic and experimental genres. I’ve released tracks independently through CD Baby and with the assistance of independent record labels, including New Jersey’s Climax Entertainment, Toronto-based Biblioteka Records, and Drexel University’s student-run Mad Dragon Music Group.

My music has found its way across the world through various sources, including random commercials, YouTube ad placements, and even in a few independent short films. But my recent success, hitting 700,000 streams for one of my singles (“Eclipse“) and accumulating 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, has taken things to a new level for me. I figure other artists out there might benefit from hearing how I did it.

Nothing beats hard work

There’s another saying I’ve always liked: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” I am always hungry to learn and grow. So, in addition to my musical pursuits, I interned and worked with a variety of talent managers, music publishers, and producers in Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville. I also attended Drexel University’s Music Industry Program to learn both the broad strokes and nuances of the music industry. I’ve even started a few labels, a publishing company, a clothing line, and digital marketing companies that assist music artists and small businesses in developing their digital footprint.

Through these journeys, I have developed a network of graphic designers, photographers, fellow musicians, artists, and entrepreneurs who I still work with today. Most recently, I’ve had the privilege of working with the amazing people at Disc Makers as the company’s social media marketing manager.

I also have been fortunate enough to work with a variety of music artists over the years, such as JUTAUN (who have sold over 100,000 albums and have licensed music to Netflix, Nascar, Fox, TLC, and more) and R&B legend Freddie Jackson, with whom I’ve played bass since 2016. Playing with Freddie has taken me all over the world. We’ve shared stages with music legends like the Isley Brothers, Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Jeffrey Osborne, Brian McKnight, and many more. All the while, I run Mr. Jackson’s social media pages and help out with additional promotion while working closely with his management team.

So, my ten-year-overnight-success began with me accumulating knowledge of the music business and building a network of serious contacts. Now, it was time for me to use my skills to build my own brand awareness, get more streams, and find new fans.

Putting my network and knowledge to work

Before this recent release, my most successful album was my 2018 release, Epoch, which I released in partnership with Biblioteka Records. Epoch generated a combined 100,000 streams across multiple platforms, building my monthly Spotify listener totals to float between a few hundred and 1,500. It was the first time I invested serious time, energy, and money into developing my marketing and promotion. This was led by email blasts, blog interviews, social posts, and paid advertising with the focus of getting people to stream my music on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and Soundcloud. The results spoke for themselves.

Naturally, a musician will want to put out more music because we never stop creating. And it’s a special feeling when you know people are listening to what you have to say. So I allowed myself plenty of time for recording my follow-up, taking eight months to record and mix songs. I chose the album songs (ultimately choosing 13 from 20 I had ready), decided on an album theme, developed a story and artwork, prepared a release plan, and created marketing materials. The final mastering session wrapped in February 2019.

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My music release strategy

My original plan was to release the first single, the title song from the album known as Cartercraft, on April 20, 2019. Then, I’d follow up with the second single, “Cavediver,” on June 24th, with the full album to drop a few weeks later in July or August. But as my team was still tying up physical product choices, we decided to wait on officially announcing the album release itself. These gaps in timing allowed for individual marketing and promotional pushes for each single. We had space to create organic posts on my social media profiles, premiere official videos on YouTube, engage my prior contacts via email blasts, and utilize paid social media ads.

On average, I budgeted $300 for boosted and promoted posts on social media, as well as ad campaigns designed to attract listeners to my Spotify and Apple Music pages. The ads featured 30–60-second video samples of a song, and I budgeted room to adjust spending based on the results on the ads and feedback from the release. This timing also allowed time to submit my singles to algorithmic playlists on all the platforms, reach out to playlist curators, blog curators, journalists, etc., with time to feature each track.

When I released “Cartercraft” in April 2019, what I saw was a lot of response to this single from different blogs and YouTube channels, building my streaming numbers and fan base, and introducing me to a completely new audience. When “Cavediver” came out in June, a similar spark came from coverage and streams, as well as an influx of new Twitter and Instagram followers. These results gave me an idea, and in the era of streaming and singles, I decided to take a chance and make an adjustment to my music release strategy.

My new music release strategy

I believed that most of the songs on the album were strong, told their own story, and could be released as singles. After all, the album is about getting lost in a video game and each song is a different “level” in the adventure. So, rather than releasing the entire album and maybe promoting just a song or two after it landed, I discussed the idea of releasing each song as a single with my team, and they were excited to give it a shot. So we made a release plan for the next year and a half.

I strategically released songs around thematic events on the calendar. I hoped people would resonate with this and I could draw attention from the larger influencers, brands, and people who curate personal and editorial playlists on Spotify, Apple Music, etc. Each release was accompanied with a social media ad campaign, email blast, and dedicated music video, and each brought new listeners to my profiles, new fans to my pages, and a new opportunity to connect with listeners.

A few Twitch streamers and the popular Spotify channel ChillSelect featured my song “Zombies in the Forest,” which came out around Halloween 2019. I collaborated with producer Fried Monk on “Waterfalls and Lavaflows” in early 2020 that was then remixed by Canadian electronic duo Tangerine Beams and released in March. My April release, “Rainy Daze,” received great reviews for it’s moody atmosphere, beautiful piano work (by my good friend and longtime collaborator Steven Honz), and actual rain sound. Through this, I was seeing my listeners grow from a few hundred in December 2019 to around 6,000 monthly listeners by May 2020.

Understanding my fans and myself

I was now able to use these new fans, followers, and additions to my email list to create better audiences for my advertisements and find more people who were likely to enjoy my music, merchandise, and brand. I targeted specific locations and countries I knew were playing my music more and tested promoting in places I felt could be successful. And, even more important, I was beginning to understand who my fans were and how they perceived me and my music. It was the first time I realized I was in this electronic, downtempo, lo-fi community of producers and listeners that intersected jazz, hiphop, and electronic communities, and it helped me with knowing how to keep promoting my music.

The timing, combined with my growing understanding of my audience and the steady growth of my listenership and name recognition, helped me strike proverbial gold. My team’s promotional pushes attracted the ears of a few curators at Spotify and my song was added to the official Chill Instrumental Beats station as well as four editorial playlists — Chill Instrumental Beats, All Nighter, Foco com Engergia, and Enfoque con Energia. Now when people visit my profile, the “Chill Instrumental Beats” playlist comes up under my “Featuring Carter Fox” section of my profile.

In a matter of a few months, I was able to accumulate over 100,000 streams on my single, “Eclipse.” I also doubled my followers on Spotify, increased streams of my other songs across channels, and grew all my social channels. Six months since its release, “Eclipse” has over 700,000 streams and my monthly listeners have climbed to over 100,000 people. It has opened up opportunities to collaborate with amazing artists and producers, connect with new fans, reconnect with older fans, and support myself more through music.

It ain’t all about the Benjamins

That said, 700,000 streams is by no means equivalent to $700,000 or even $7,000. To me, the value comes from how many people are being reached. It is very important to do your best to capture these passive listeners and turn them into active fans! Engage these new listeners through Spotify via the Artist Pick, biography, and photo sections by engaging on your social channels, sending email blasts, taking their requests and questions on Twitch, and finding other creative ways to engage so people check out more of your music, know where to find your merchandise store, and know how to follow you or sign up for your email list and share it with their friends.

I change my “Artist Pick” on my Spotify profile often with different songs and messages to encourage listeners to follow and check out more music. In my email blasts and social posts, I encourage my active fans to check out my apparel brand, Soulful Traveler, on Bandcamp. I’ve been able to increase sales for Soulful Traveler and my own music while continuously re-engaging with active fans and building my email lists and followers.

The hits keep coming

Since “Eclipse” came out, I’ve released two more singles, “Real Life” and “Mooncraft,” which have also seen their own streaming successes, acculumaliting nearly 20,000 and 10,000 streams respectively, as well as playlist additions and critical support from around the world. I’ve even received a few offers from labels and publishers. In total, the releases from Cartercraft are approaching a million streams and growing across the DSPs, much more than every previous project I’ve released combined. We just released the Rainy Daze remix EP by Canadian electronic artist HF5 on November 5th, have something fun in store for the winter solstice in December, and the current plan is for a full album (with awesome product) release to come in early 2021. But, as I’ve already experienced, plans can change.

Eclipse may be considered a six-month success story — as opposed to an overnight one — but in truth, it was the efforts of 15 years of hard work, learning, and building my skills as a musician and marketer combined with the tenacity to continue pursuing my dreams.

On a practical level, this growth of both streams and product sales has come from planning, experimenting, analyzing results, and adjusting my plan based on those results. If I had not switched my strategy based on the data from my previous releases, I never would have gotten to promote “Eclipse,” the eighth single (i.e., the eighth-best song, IMO), which has been the catalyst for my success in 2020.

Carter Fox is a bassist, entrepreneur, and astronomical enthusiast whose spent the past 15 years as a performer, producer, and digital marketing strategist for numerous artists and businesses across the world. In addition to being an accomplished musician, Carter is also the social media marketing manager for Disc Makers. You can find his music on Spotify, Apple Music, Bandcamp, and his official website.

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4 thoughts on “My overnight success was 15 years in the making

  1. Way to go Carter, it is good to see all you hard is paying off. I like how you adapted depending upon the results of advertising and who you reached. Keep on keeping on.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, David! I read once that ‘Adaptation is not only a key to survival; it is the key to survival.’ Being open and willing to adapt while continuing to learn and grow as an artist has been absolutely key to my current success (as many other independent artists as well). Travel soulfully, my friend!

  2. Good story! Yes – most people need to have strategy and put all possible efforts in promotion. Hard work and proper direction will help! Good luck to you and all brothers and sisters musicians!

    1. I love your enthusiasm, Andrei! Thank you for it! It is so important to ‘get the word out’ and nowadays it’s pretty easy to get your music and message in front of lots of people relatively inexpensively. Of course, strategy will play a big role in keeping your costs down and performance high! Thank you again! And to echo your sentiment, best of luck to you and all brothers and sisters musicians!

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