You've done the talking. You've hyped it up. You've even got it all recorded. Now you've got to figure out how to release your album to the masses. Whether you're a veteran emcee, a young new cat or a fresh indie label, there are lots of mistakes to be made, and many things to learn. Having put out an album, I'd always wanted to make a nice checklist of things to do, so that next time I wouldn't make the same mistakes twice.
At the same time, I figured there are lots of artists and labels out there that could benefit from this list. It is by no means a complete guide to getting your album out, but it could provide a pretty good starting point.
If you want to be taken seriously in this rap game, then you need to have at least an album or single professionally manufactured. Manufacturing is basically taking your final master copy of the album, along with your artwork and duplicating it to make copies.
There are many places where you can have your album manufactured. The best bet is to ask locals where they had their album manufactured. Keep in mind, that shipping costs can potentially add a couple hundred extra dollars, so try to find a company in your hometown where you can pick it up yourself. Also, some companies offer discounts if you're a member of certain associations. For example, www.blueskymedia.ca offers a 10% discount for East Coast Music Association members.
If you choose to do the design for the packaging for your album, this can save you 200-400 dollars. Most manufacturers will be able to provide you with strict specifications for the dimensions of your design. Be sure to create it at a resolution of at least 300 dots per inch (dpi) for best results. The design can be created using software programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Quark Express or Adobe Illustrator. To figure out what should be included in the design, see the 'CD Packaging Checklist' below. Otherwise, you can submit all the photos and materials you want on the design, and most manufacturers will design your packaging for $200-400.
Some manufacturers will provide you with freebies like a barcode, poly wrap, and clear CD trays with B&W printing under it. You'll need a barcode if you want to sell your product in retail stores. Be sure to ask the manufacturer what you can get for free. Don't forget that tax and shipping will usually be extra.
If you're a serious rap artist, then you'll probably be looking into making some vinyl. I've listed two websites below that support vinyl manufacturing. It might be worthwhile to consider the pros and cons of making a 7" record versus a 12" record. See the 'Promotion Distribution' section for information about shipping costs.
Overall, it's best to shop around to try and find the best price. Here are links to a few Canadian manufacturers.
www.mmsdirect.com - makes vinyl
CD Packaging Checklist
Please see the CD Packaging Checklist
Click here to download a .zip file of the MAPL, (p) and Compact Disc logos.
Retail & Digital Distribution
Distribution plays an important role in getting your album on shelves across the country or even just in your local area. You can choose to do this yourself, but will probably face a challenge getting retail stores to put your CD on their shelves. Most artists tend to seek out a distribution deal with a company.
If you have a solid marketing plan in place, or even better, a business plan, then this could help you get a distribution deal.
There are also numerous digital distribution where an artist can sell their album. I recommend checking out SOCAN's Guide to digital music platforms
If you're getting serious into this rap game, then you'll probably be looking to put out some vinyl. Vinyl tends to be quite a bit more expensive than CDs when it comes to shipping and manufacturing costs. One 12" record can cost upwards of $8-10 to ship in Canada. It's been suggested to me that taking out an account with FEDEX, and shipping by ground could reduce the cost. An alternative is to make 7" vinyl, which is cheaper in cost, but will allow for less playing time.
Record Pools are a great way to save money when distributing your vinyl release to DJs. According to Soul Choice's marketing manager, "record pools are probably the most under-used resource in the music industry." The way a record pool works is quite simple. The record pool accepts material from artists throughout the industry and then sends it to all the DJs who subscribe to that record pool usually every 2 weeks.
As an indie artist, it's usually a free service to you. You phone the record pool (see websites below) to find out their mailing address and how many member DJs they service. For some record pools, like Cheer in Toronto, you send a sample on vinyl or CD for testing, and they will determine if it is a potential club record or not. If approved, you pay for the costs of manufacturing your vinyl and/or CDs. Then you pay for one shipment to the record pool. That shipment must contain enough vinyl and/or CDs to service all the record pool's member DJs. In the majority, artists submit 12" vinyl. Also, providing a radio edit version gives you a better chance of getting played.
However beware that the DJs in these record pools generally tend to focus on mainstream rather than an underground sound. Based on his days DJing on campus radio, one indie manager felt that, "the only people in record pools are wannabes who are just in there to get the commercial stuff. You'd be better served mailing more CDs and press kits to campus radio." Since vinyl is so expensive, it ends up being a risky judgment call.
As a general rule, unless the record has a video in medium-heavy rotation or heavy radio airplay there's no point in wasting money sending the wax to pool DJs. Instead, send them directly to the right DJs based on the objectives of the artist.
If you want to get some extra exposure, then it would be a good idea to send copies of your album to radio stations, newspapers, magazines, websites and local media. You're much more likely to have your album reviewed if you send a manufactured album, as opposed to a burnt CDR of the album. It looks more professional. Remember to remove the poly wrap. It might be a good idea to put a sticker on the album letting them know which songs are the first two singles. In addition, you should include at least a biography. And if you can, include a little gift - like candy, but not crappy candy, good candy. One of the cheapest places to get padded envelopes is Dollarama.
For bigger websites or magazines, you should include a full press kit. A press kit might include a biography, discography, press clippings, list of past shows, track listing for the album and a CD containing an electronic press kit with pictures. Also, it might also be worthwhile to include an 8x10 photo in some press kits.
A good resource for finding radio, TV and newspapers in your area can be found here:
A complete list of Canadian campus radio stations can be found at the NRCA webpage:
After you get your finished product in your hands, there are number of other tasks to be carried out to ensure greater success, which are outlined in the Essential Steps page
Did you find this useful? Is something out of date (quite likely)? Please let me know.