Today, we’re featuring a guest post from Benjamin Groff. Benjamin is a music executive who’s worked over 25 years in the music business holding creative positions for BMG, EMI and Kobalt Music Publishing (Exec, VP Creative for 10 years). Benjamin currently owns and runs his publishing company, Brill Building, as well as label and music blog, We Are: The Guard.
Greetings AWAL-ians. We’ve likely never met but for some quick personal context, I’ve been immersed with Kobalt for nearly 15 years, both as an executive and as a client! In 2006, I was hired as a creative executive at Kobalt and ultimately became Executive VP of Creative, where over 10 years I signed some of my favorite artists and writers at Kobalt Music Publishing i.e. Ryan Tedder, The Lumineers, Grimes, Kelly Clarkson, etc. On the label side, I’ve been a client of AWAL for over 7 years. Over that period of time as a label, my label has had over 100 releases with cumulative streams globally surpassing 200 Million.
I thought this little introduction might be valuable when it comes to your own label. Running a label which has mostly been self-funded, I’ve certainly had some great wins, and I’ve also had my fair share of misses - which, not only did I have the privilege of paying for in experience - but also, mostly with my own money! So, trust me, when $20,000 goes down the tubes, your lessons count.
Consequently - when you get things right, it’s always important to look back and see what actually worked! Eliminate those old mistakes and double down on the correct processes, experiences and people in your circle who made things happen - and you might likely be on your way.
So, on that note, the below are my Top 10 Uncommon Secrets in Uploading, Marketing and Releasing Your Music.
1. Have a Plan!
Repeat after me: “Let’s just put this out ASAP and see what happens” is not a plan! Having done this process over 100 times, I realized - “I need a real written process and one that I can share with my team, so everything is practically self-automated.”
After writing everything down, I realized that we had over 70 different process items for my independent label releases taking place in the 6 weeks leading up to our release date! Now, this is different if you’re a major label. For a major label, you might start 3-6 months before your release. For our process, however, 6 weeks works.
These 70 + steps include everything from uploading your masters to AWAL, making social media skins, pitching for DSP (Apple, Spotify, etc) playlist pitching, UGC playlisting (user generated content), pitching for YouTube distribution channels, hiring your PR person, making a one sheet, etc.
Leading up to releases, we used to get caught up in “catching falling knives” mode. You see, we forgot to do “this” and “that” and OH MY GOD - did someone upload to Soundcloud and Bandcamp - our release was yesterday! Or last minute contractual things like “Did we get our label copy done - Are the producer agreements buttoned up, etc?”
Lucky for you - I have a free bonus for you. If this release plan sounds appealing, why don’t I just ... give it to you!? That’s right. If you go here to this link, within a few paragraphs, you can find where to get the actual We Are: The Guard release plan. This plan will show you the exact process of my own label which I currently use, 6 weeks from our release date all the way up to the day of release and post release activities!
To summarize the Top Uncommon Secret #1 - Have a Plan!
2. Give Yourself the Gift of Time
This one ties into #1 above. I can’t tell you how many people will say “I want my song to come out next week, because it’s my birthday” or some “random” reason for a release date. NOPE. You really need 5-6 weeks upfront to your release. That’s what my product manager at AWAL has consistently recommended. You’ll want to have enough “upfront” time for several reasons- most importantly, to be able to pitch your music to those editorial and creative playlisters that can help support! Also, as discussed in my Release Blueprint course, you’ll want to absolutely fill out your Spotify for Artists pitch forms so that you’ll be sure to show up in your fans “Release Radar” playlist, and as - or more - importantly, make sure your music gets to the right Spotify editorial teams.
The other reason why “let’s get it out next week” isn’t a good idea is sometimes things go wrong! For instance, maybe there’s a mistake in the master, the artwork isn’t high resolution enough, there’s an issue in Apple policy on the artwork - all of this and more has happened to me! So do you want to have 6 weeks to correct the problem, or have zero time? I think you know the answer.
3. YouTube Promoted Videos
YouTube Promoted Videos (i.e. pre-roll before a video) are the biggest bang for your buck in my opinion. If you do this correctly, you should be able to get a CPV (cost per view) down to .02-.03 cents (or less). And not just a “view,” but a “targeted” view, someone who is bound to be a new fan, based on the interests and other qualifications you’ve set up in the campaign. I’d especially jump on this if you have a killer video!
4. Hiring a TikTok Influencer Company
This one is a little pricey, but if you get it right, these can be homeruns. Now, I’ll be the first to say that “let’s do a #TikTok challenge” is the cringy equivalent to saying “let’s make a viral video.” Meaning - anyone who set out to make a viral video usually never succeeded. LOL. However, for about $5,000 (starting price), you can hire one of the best TikTok influencer companies, who will outsource and hire their network of influencers to “seed” your #challenge or your original sound. From there, it’s off to the races.
This is the primary marketing tool I see the major labels using today, where they’ll easily spend $30,000 + on a campaign. Here’s the thing: it’s just not about having a great #challenge or TikTok concept. You need connectors to spread the idea. Like the proverbial tree that falls in the forest with no one around - does it make a sound? In other words, you need the right influencers to carry those sonic frequencies and spark the fire.
5. Hiring a PR Company / Publicist
I might get in trouble for saying this - but if I could snap my fingers and get all my budget back, it would be money I shouldn’t have allocated for publicity. That in no way implies that PR people aren’t valuable! It was just not the right move for the artist at the time. My “enlightened” and expensive “lessons learned” viewpoint is simple. Here’s what you need in order to make your publicist valuable: 1. Amazing music. 2. Your culture - meaning is there “weight” to your project? Are you standing for something (even if that standing for something is “partying!” i.e. remember LMFAO - they had “culture” believe it or not)! 3. A visual identity (that’s right - people respond to that). 4) Is what you’re doing actually cool? 5) Do you have an awesome story? If you don’t have all 5 of those elements, and you’re a new artist - I would seriously reconsider hiring a publicist. For now. Alternatively, if you have at least 4 of the above 5 factors, then get to it! Let me clarify!
In my opinion, any new (or even semi-established) artist who just has “another” one sheet, PR “presser,” and a “really good” song - to be honest - no one cares about that. You need the sizzle to sell the steak. You need an awesome story, so your publicist can sell you to the media and blogs. In other words, I’ve worked on projects where it was “pushing pianos up staircases” vs. a project where everyone wanted a piece of the artist. The 1st scenario simply did not have all 5 elements I mentioned. The other artist had all 5.
Having done this so many times now, I’ve come to learn that the best success arrives almost effortlessly. When you have done your job in creating that “fire,” the PRs job is essentially a “layup.” Key rule here is to make the PR person’s job easy! Also, while I love PR people, don’t feel you need a publicist on board for your release just to “tick that box.” Great publicists who can move the needle for you are worth their weight in gold, but I’ve also had tremendous wins where we didn’t use a publicist. I also HIGHLY recommend you check out Ryan Holiday’s book “Perennial Seller” and directly skip to the Marketing Section. Ryan puts the spotlight on marketing and how you need to create that “sizzle” and put the same level of originality, love and creativity into your marketing as you did in actually making the music.
6. Don’t Pay for Spammy Playlisting Directories and Fake Streams
Here’s a shortcut for Playlisting and Building Fans: There is no shortcut! A common mistake I often see is paying for DSP, Spotify, Apple playlisting directories and hiring playlist marketing services. Or even worse - “pay for play” streams. In my experience, those just don’t work. I would highly avoid any service touting that they’re going to get you official Spotify playlist ads. This is attune to paying $100 for 5,000 Facebook fans in 2008. In both cases, it might look good for a moment, but kind of worthless at the end of the day. The best shortcut to getting your music the right attention is to put in the work, have a long term objective, and a plan which allows you to consistently release high quality music.
7. Collaborate with Featured Artists
Here’s one that’s obvious, but often underutilized. You see this a lot in the Hip Hop and EDM space (and somewhat in pop), but not as much in the other genres. The idea here is super simple. Identify an artist in your genre (or even a cross genre collaboration!) that you’d love to work with. Maybe you’ve been on tour with them. Maybe you’re a fan. Maybe this artist is in your Spotify “Fans Also Like” section. Reach out to them with an interesting collaboration idea and release the song so that your collaborative efforts will impact the attention on your song (engaging both your fanbase and your collaborator’s) with all the streams counting towards your Spotify Monthly Listeners. HINT: Are you limited to just 1 featured artist? Nope! No doubt there are upwards of 3 and 4 total featured artists these days on one song. You should try it as well!
8. Who Not How? Aka Ask for Help
This is one of my favorite epiphanies, and one that I don’t think people work on enough. It’s the proverbial elephant in the room. My favorite phrase on the subject is coined from one of my coaching program mentors, Dan Sullivan at Strategic Coach. The question is not “how are you going to have success launching your music?” You see, the great movers and shakers of the world are not necessarily great “how-ers,’ but great “who-ers.” Who can help you and who can you graciously ask for help? I see this happen all the time. An artist has their big moment to release their album, and while they may have a great network of influencers, famous artists and friends around them - they ultimately don’t ask for help via a Retweet, Instagram like or mention, etc. Why? It feels a little “hand in hat” and ultimately - probably just really “not cool?” Even if you were a touring band and were in the trenches with other artists for 3 months and were like “brothers” or “sisters,” I still find artists won’t ask for help. Take a note from Steve Jobs in this video. Ask for help. For instance, I have 2 new Teachable online courses that I’m super excited about and just started promoting. I thought “Who can help me promote this?” I made a list, and on that list was my long term relationship with Kobalt and AWAL. I asked if I could write an insightful blog post and mention my course. And here I am.
9. Microsynch Agencies
There are 2 companies you should look into, in my opinion - and assuming that you control the master (like you probably will, if you’re uploading to AWAL) and you also own the publishing - meaning you control “both” sides (master and publishing) . This means that you could upload your music to a microsynch agency. Huh? What’s that?! Well, let’s say the local car dealership in Utah City really wants to use a Coldplay song for their local commercials, but they can’t afford $100,000 for Chris Martin. BUT! Maybe they can afford $1,000 for your band that sounds “like” Coldplay. Or maybe you’re an independent filmmaker. You want to use Kendrick Lamar, but you don’t have that budget, however, you do have $500 to $5,000 for a new exciting hip hop artist. The 2 companies I recommend you check out are: Music Bed and Marmoset Music. They have a great ecosystem with a robust internal search engine, where people can find and license the right music for your project. Thank me later.
10. EDM District (aka The District)
The EDM District has the YouTube market just about cornered as far as EDM, chill and also a good deal of Indie Pop. Their channels range from heavyweights like Mr. Suicide Sheep and Majestic Casual to say Indie Air and the like. If your song is chosen after submitting to the EDM District, you just need to sign a waiver allowing them to monetize the master for their channel. Their channels will make some great UGC video content, upload it, and voila - blink your eyes and you just might have a couple hundred thousand streams (or millions) within a few days.
Well, there you have it. As stand-up comics say - “that’s my time!” But once I got started, I simply wanted to continue the best Top 10 uncommon secrets in uploading, marketing and releasing your music! I truly hope it was helpful and that I can help save you time, effort and expenses by sharing my tips, what’s worked for me, and as importantly, what hasn’t worked for me!
If you like what you’ve read here, feel free to pop over to my personal website, www.BenjaminGroff.com which is all about deep level songwriting tips, music marketing, mindset and more. Also, remember there’s a coupon code: AWAL20 for 20% off my main Teachable courses, Insider Secrets to Hit Songwriting and The Release Blueprint (which could be perfect for your needs around what we just discussed today). You can find all of that available for you to dive into here. https://benjamingroff.teachable.com/courses
See you at the top!