The path of an aspiring musician is filled with many speed bumps and potholes. It’s never a smooth ride when the list of your competitors for the adoration of fans and the attention of record labels runs into the six-digit range. Many artists struggle to decide on a suitable release strategy to follow. Do you release an abundance of tracks and hope one of them hits? Do you take your time and go radio silent until you craft the best quality of tracks possible? It turns out, holding the interest of a listener is more than just a well-written verse or a face-melting guitar solo.
Pure talent as an independent artist is only half the battle. Emotions can be spilled putting lyrics on paper. Sweat can be shed laying down vocals in the studio. Hour after hour can be spent fine-tuning and perfecting songs. But if there’s no plan in place to unleash this art to the masses of ravenous fans, your growth can feel like you’re on a treadmill — running in place.
Fans Need Constant Engagement
Social media has completely morphed how people consume music. First meant as a tool for connection, the platform has evolved into a hub of commentary. An artist opens the floodgates with an album and keeping up with the intense flow of dissections is next to impossible. With the rise of streaming platforms giving listeners easy access to any new material they crave at any time, attention shifts from one artist to another quickly. For an independent artist, the process can become frustrating. In a social media-driven culture and competitive music industry, capturing the attention of listeners has become more and more difficult.
Nobody understood this movement quite like Russ. The Atlanta native is the definition of a self-made musician. A classic rags-to-riches story, the rapper honed his skills, secured his strategy and pounced on a practice that made his music inescapable. What was his groundbreaking blueprint? It was as simple as releasing a new song every two weeks. The routine became gospel for any fan, new or old, in his cult following. The constant flood of new material built an appreciation of work ethic and passion from the audience. A steady stream of tracks kept Russ’ name in the spotlight and became an effective promotion device — leading to organic growth. The process was long and arduous but the road from basements to stadiums is rarely traversed overnight.
Russ was just like any other small artist struggling to be recognized. He realized his talent, pictured himself performing on stage in front of thousands of screaming fans and refused complacency until dreams became reality. While the quality of his music was pristine, his utilization of marketing and an effective music release strategy was what set him apart from the rest. Constant engagement with your audience, whether through scheduled track releases or call-to-action social media posts can be the key that unlocks the goldmine of growth.
Space Out Full-Length Releases
While flooding the market has its perks, plenty of up-and-coming artists mistakenly drown in their own material. Expectations to consistently deliver new music can overwhelm even the most dedicated of creators — affecting the quality of the product. Subpar production from an independent musician can become a death sentence to a music career before it even really begins. There is little margin for error in a sea of thousands upon thousands of artists vying for the same big break. With the emergence of Soundcloud and YouTube, posting music for the world to see is now an effortless process — making the careful selection of which specific tracks to reveal more important than ever.
Think of “loosies” as appetizers, a song sampler that quickly satisfies without delivering much of a deeper meaning or purpose. Projects, on the other hand, are the main course. A full body of work is less like a collection of random songs and more like an empty canvas to fill up with ideas that blend beautifully. It is your statement piece — a way to tell fans what you’re all about. While some musicians churn out projects without much of a second thought, recognizing the benefits of increasing demand can make release day feel more like a holiday for your audience.
GoldLink recognized that without heavy demand for his music, his appeal wouldn’t resonate as effectively. The DC rapper spaced out his product, releasing high-quality projects in 2014 and 2015 before signing a major label deal, dropping a mixtape in 2017 and finally delivering his debut album in 2019. The music drought in-between made his social media flood with fans thirsty for more content. Before every release, GoldLink took a firm hold of the headlines, accepting media interviews and revealing singles from the tape in the weeks leading up to the occasion. By the time the release date arrived, interest had reached a boiling point, with a sudden burst of material acting as an oasis in the desert. As a result, GoldLink was able to steadily grow his audience into what it is today.
Building an organic and loyal fanbase from the ground up, like constructing any architectural wonder, requires a delicate and deliberate plan of action. Surprise drops from superstars look sexy on paper, but a music release strategy can turn a legacy from a mere moment to a timeless career. Holding off on releasing content may seem counterproductive to your overall goal. How will people remember your name if they rarely see it? But the race to glory is a marathon, not a sprint, and trusting the process in a supply and demand environment can fuel your ascent to the top.
Find A Healthy Middle Ground
The streaming era has kick-started and consumed many careers over the years. Navigating the landscape feels more like a minefield than a walk on the beach. Each and every musician has a core question to answer before setting out on their journey. Do you risk chasing after a hit and possibly saturating your own market value or do you space out your releases and risk your core audience losing interest? The answer varies for every content creator. There isn’t a specific formula set in stone for everyone, but the core growth qualities are all the same.
First, assess the consumption value of your art. Is your music meant to inspire a finite feeling or spark an enduring conversation? Artists like Future rapidly release tracks like wildfire, producing hits with a short, but effective shelf life. Any risk of oversaturating his own market fell to the wayside after the back-to-back releases of Future and Hndrxx both debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 in 2017 after being dropped only a week apart. Frank Ocean, on the other hand, is more meticulous with his message, hibernating for what seems like an eternity before any sort of material is released. His iconic projects are littered with so many hidden gems that a release, no matter how long apart, feels like a reunion with a life-long friend. Frank recognizes the long term impact of his albums and uses it to his advantage in his music release strategy.
Unfortunately, Frank Ocean and Future represent two sides of the spectrum that independent artists don’t have the luxury of falling under. Dropping projects as sparsely as Ocean or stuffing the faces of fanbases like Future are extremes that would spell doom for less established musicians that follow the same footsteps. So what is the most effective music release strategy for this day and age for an aspiring artist? The answer lies somewhere in the middle. The balancing act of engaging with an ever-growing fanbase and driving up demand is a difficult one, but necessary for sustained growth.
Drake has perfected this formula, delivering music morsels at key spots on the calendar to keep his name in the headlines and rile up his hungry audience for album drops nearly every year. To find your very own music release strategy sweet spot, establish a consistent release schedule of material that your audience can look forward to and remember. Make consuming your content a routine in their schedule. Treat projects like a special storytelling moment, not a collection of the latest songs recorded. Keep track of the conversation surrounding your name and promote yourself in the media leading up to a project drop, accepting interviews and delivering behind-the-scenes content on your creative process. Capitalize on increasing demand by strategizing song releases. Social media is more than a platform for connection, it’s a tool that can be used to monitor what your audience needs from you at what time.
Every artist wants a Lil Nas X viral moment that can catapult them to superstardom. While unknown musicians have a chance of stepping into the limelight overnight, the odds make the approach more like winning the lottery as opposed to a sustained practice. Most success stories take many years before reaching fruition. Quality and talent aren’t the only gatekeepers in the cutthroat music industry. Putting marketing and a calculated music release strategy at the forefront of your mission statement can reap rewards and keep your art one step ahead of the competition.