album release

The album release in the streaming era

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In today’s streaming era, while music promotion should launch a new album release, your music is always “on the shelf” and lightning can strike long after it first hits the marketplace.

I want to tell you a story of an album that hit number one on the Billboard albums chart a whole year after it was released. I read about it a little while ago and thought, that’s interesting. And it reinforces something I’ve been mentioning repeatedly over the past year or two — that album release cycles have changed drastically in the streaming era. No longer do you just drop a new album, do six weeks of promotion and touring, and hope for the best.

That’s how it used to be when all we were doing was selling CDs and selling downloads. Today, it’s also about racking up streams. That means that while promotion right around your release date is still essential to kickstart your album’s momentum, it can actually take much longer for an album to pick up steam.

Stream your way onto the charts

One reason is that today, every play is tallied as opposed to the purchase of a disc. If I buy a disc and listen to it twice, it counts as one sale to the good people at Billboard who track this stuff. If I listen to it 200 times, it still only counts as one sale. But if I stream an album 200 times, the difference is huge to the folks tallying up the charts. But it takes time to listen to an album 200 times — or 50 times for that matter. So it takes longer for many albums to start charting.

Another reason why it can take longer to chart is that promotional activities or playlist placements that happen after the release can have a big impact. There was a CD Baby client named Perrin Lamb who, more than a year after his album was released, got a song placed on a huge Spotify playlist and ended up getting more than 10 million streams on Spotify, earning him around $60,000 in royalties for just that one song. Again, that was a year after it had been released.

So, now there’s this Australian rapper called the Kid Laroi. He dropped his latest album over a year ago — he called it a playlist, but, really, it was an album. And what he did that was different was he kept adding songs to the playlist over time and reissuing his playlist — i.e., his album — with more songs.

Every time he did that, all the streams of the new tracks were added to the existing tally that had already happened on the album, so the numbers just kept growing and growing until, a year after release, it landed him the number one spot on the Billboard albums chart.

Music promotion is a long game

So, what’s my point? Should you keep adding tracks to your album? Should you pitch yourself to big playlists? Sure, you may want to try it. It doesn’t hurt to experiment with those kind of things.

But my real point here is: don’t think promotion is something you only do at the time of your album release. I mean, that is the most important time to do your promotion, but don’t despair if your album doesn’t get significant plays 90 days after release. In this day and age, you need to keep working your album and the tracks on it over the long haul.

Your success in the streaming era gets counted not with one-time, upfront sales like in the days of exclusively physical product. Now it’s stream by stream, and it takes time to generate those streams. And your royalties also trickle in over time, so you need to keep working that album at least until the next album is ready to go.

Endless shelf life

Again, one of the differences between the streaming era and the physical era is, if your album stopped selling during the physical era, retailers would take it off the shelves, because shelf space was limited, and they would put a new album in. With streaming, your album is always available, so there’s much more opportunity over time to keep promoting and maybe lightning will strike.

Let me tell you an interesting aside. As you probably heard, we recently introduced Ads for Artists. It’s basically, an affordable ad agency that makes it easy for a music artist to advertise a song or album on Facebook, Instagram, and on big music websites like Pitchfork, Billboard, and Rolling Stone.

But the thing that is most interesting to me is that many of the artists who’ve tried it — I think more than half — had released their album a year ago. And only now are they starting to pay to advertise it.

Why? I don’t really know. Maybe it took them a while to get their budget together. But the good news is, in today’s streaming world, it doesn’t really matter when you released your music. Yes, it’s better at the time that your album is released, but if that doesn’t work, you can start promoting it whenever you want to. You have an open-ended opportunity to drive extra streams, extra sales, and extra royalties.

I did a test and personally spent $200 promoting a song that I had released way back in 1995, and that old song got over 35,000 impressions and 14,000 engagements — a stream, click, like, share, or comment. Not bad for a 25-year-old song, right?

So don’t give up hope if your album sales haven’t lived up to expectations yet. With a bit of creativity, marketing, and promotion, you have a shot that something can happen in the future.

Watch more great videos on the Disc Makers YouTube channel.


Tony van Veen is the CEO of DIY Media Group, the parent company of Disc Makers and BookBaby. As a college student, he played in indie bands, created his own LPs, cassettes, and t-shirts, and sold them at shows. Today, he collects CDs, vinyl LPs, and concert t-shirts to support the artists he loves.

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4 thoughts on “The album release in the streaming era

  1. Hello Tony Van Veen, C.E.O. of Disc Makers.

    Thank you so much for your insight and information on the many topics of the music industry that make it the challenge it is.

    I’ve been considering how Ads for Artists might be a benefit for me in promoting my four albums available on Bandcamp which I have poured much of my time and energy into.

    As you have made very clear, adjusting to the changes in the industry is an ongoing process and I take what you point out through your emails and videos to heart. You are an extra pair of eyes and ears that any marketing musician should find useful.

    However, I encountered a problem in my music marketing that you might not be aware of – at least considering the 11 tips for identifying a con that you outlined in the “Who Can You Trust in the Music Business?” video.

    I’m sure you know of the Hear Now pages made available through CD Baby.

    I was impressed by their ease of use, visual appeal and particularly the visitor stats which at that time (in 2018) were hard to come by so I signed up.

    To me it made the most sense to align my campaign with Google Ads and attract people to my music through them, to my Hear Now page then onward to Spotify and iTunes etc., but trusting Google was a grave mistake and I had no way of foreseeing what was in store.

    To conform to the regulations and demands of Google advertising takes figuring out how to write eye-catching headline text with concise descriptions and keywords and finding the right audience in a cost efficient way and of course Google offers help for improving the performance of the ad campaigns. They even claim their analytics are a useful tool for measuring the quality of the campaign. So I could see no reason to reject any of it because my Hear Now page was right there ready to showcase what I was promoting and make it accessible through online distributors and streaming sites.

    My Hear Now stats indicated that I was doing the right thing, but still I thought it would be wise to at least ask the Hear Now staff about the accuracy of the records. Responding to my first inquiry they said they were reliable, so I accepted that.

    It became clear something was still not right when the same large number of visitors to my Hear Now page was registering, so I inquired again.

    Martin from Hear Now alerted us to the invalid clicks (30Nov2018)
    “Said he did quite a bit of digging to make sure the statistics were indeed accurate
    – Since you are generating so many Hear Now Buy button clicks (over 15,000 in the past month alone is quite a bit of traffic) but not seeing them transfer into sales, their product team (Hear Now) took a close look at our traffic sales and concluded that the Google Ads are actually generating fake bot-driven traffic to your Hear Now page that’s artificially inflating your numbers.”

    I was miffed, called to speak with Martin and he politely informed me that the bots were likely introduced by someone using a dynamic proxy to remain incognito while sabotaging my ad campaign and that it was a matter to be taken up with Google.

    Google support denied the possibility of such a thing occurring within their system (many times over) – claiming that everything they did in relation to me was accurate and infallible.

    The only thing Google ads was interested in was ensuring that I was a paying customer in a position to share any wealth with them I might accumulate.

    I cancelled my ads account of course, no longer promote through Hear Now and have been looking for trustworthy alternatives ever since.

    When I look through Disc Maker’s ads for artists pages I feel the same way I did upon first seeing Hear Now’s pitch.

    All of the right things are being said, yet knowing there is so much more to connecting everything securely than putting an attractive means of advertising and promotion together it is essential that I have the confidence to move forward without suspecting the potential threat of being exposed to more technological trickery.

    I really would appreciate any feedback you can provide in regard to what I have outlined.

    Thank you.

    Lee R. Lane

    lrlane@shaw.ca

    1. Hi Lee,
      What a story! I have to be honest, this is the first time I’ve heard of fake bot traffic being driven by Google ad campaigns.

      Our Ads for Artists program works in one of two ways.

      1. We offer social ads that run on Facebook and Instagram. They don’t utilize the Google ad network at all — we place them directly with FB/Insta.

      2. We offer display ads on music-related sites served by the Google ad network.

      We do know a thing or two about advertising on Facebook and Google: after all, most artists find Disc Makers through our marketing activities there. I’m confident our artist ad services drive legitimate clicks. That said, so much weird stuff happens online I can’t guarantee that NOTHING weird could ever happen.

      Another thing you should be aware of (or, in light of your Google ad experience you already might be): It is very difficult to track a positive ROI to your music advertising activities. We will provide you with stats on views and clicks and other results, but it is very hard to see them turn into physical media sales. In my own case I’ve been able to detect some Spotify streams. However, the royalty payments from those streams over the short run were lower than what I paid for the ads.

      Of course, the hope is that your advertising activities will find you new fans who over time will stream your music enough and buy enough CDs and concert tickets and merch to have driven a positive ROI from your ad dollars.

      Will that actually happen? We hope so… So much of it depends on you and your music. And so much of it also may be hard or impossible to track. Heck, at Disc Makers we spend millions a year on marketing, and a good chunk of our analytics involve interpolating and extrapolating and projecting and (sometimes) just plain guessing.

      Long story short: For the reasons above I am not able to make any blanket statements about the effectiveness of our ad programs. But I do know that artists NEED to keep marketing themselves if they want to remain viable and continue to see career growth.

      If you’d like to try our ad program we’re happy to have you. If not, we can still be friends.

      Good luck!

      Tony van Veen

  2. If I publish an album, through CD Baby pro option for example, with a set track list; how can you add, subtract or change tracks on that album as you article suggests?

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