How to Release Your First Song

All right, we’re going to the mailbag.

Last week, I asked for your music marketing questions, and the most common one you sent me was this:

“How should I approach a release if it’s my first one?”

Great question. We’ve all been there.

The first time I released music, I submitted it to two music blogs. Then I checked my email 30 times a day for two weeks.

I never heard back from the blogs and my song never made it to 1,000 streams.

I think you can do better. Here’s my advice.

1. Don’t make the first release the end game.

Okay, let’s get the bad news out of the way first: There’s like a .01% chance that your first release is hugely successful, and you almost definitely will not be satisfied with the results you get from it.

I’m talking in terms of pretty much any metric you can think of – streams, press pieces, sales. You’ll probably get better numbers than I did (because, let’s be honest, I was an idiot) but you’ll probably finish your release cycle thinking that your numbers don’t look great.

That’s okay.

Because here’s the good news: You’re rolling a snowball.

Let’s say that you put in 30 hours of work. You get two “meh” playlist placements using Submithub and one piece of blog coverage that’s basically the press release you wrote, copied and pasted.

Kind of devastating, right?

But for your second release, you can pull the best quote from that piece of coverage and use it as social proof; that’ll increase your chances of getting covered by other outlets.

You can go back to the playlist curators that listed you before –there’s a decent chance they’ll list you again – and hopefully add another placement or two.

Your first release will set the stage for your second release. Your second release will lead into your third. Your fourth might have some legitimate momentum.

A good release is not the goal. It’s just another chance to push your snowball down the hill. Another chance to make it a little bigger.

I share this example a lot, but it took my friend Joel eight years to get a track to a million streams on Spotify.

It took him three years to get a second track to a million streams.

He just put out an EP last month, and the top track is sitting at around 300,000 streams. My guess is that it’ll get close to a million by the time it’s a year old.

Marketing music is like anything else – working out, saving money, building a business. The beginning is the hardest. The key is to remember that the beginning is not the end goal.

2. Don’t make the first release the first thing you do, either.

Your first release shouldn’t be your end goal, but it also shouldn’t be the first thing you do.

If you’re a new artist and you legitimately want to build a community around your artistry, you should start right away. Like, now. Doesn’t matter if you don’t have finished songs out in the world yet.

Start building community.

You have a story even if you don’t have music yet. Clarify that story and then bring people into it.

The easiest thing to do is to create an artist profile on the social media platform of your choice (at this point, I’d recommend Instagram or Tik Tok) and get posting.

I wrote about Will Paquin earlier this year – he built a ~300k following on Tik Tok by making dumb (but also good) guitar videos, then parlayed that into 10 million streams on his first release.

It was the 0.1% of first releases that was a success. And it was a success because he’d spent a year building an audience before putting anything out.

3. Do these practical things: 

Okay, the previous two items were theory – my guess is that most of you who asked this question were also wanting some tactical advice.

Fair. Here’s what I’ve got:

  • Upload your music to a good distributor (there are a bunch of solid options – I use DistroKid) and set a release date at least a month and a half into the future.
  • Post regularly on your favorite social media platform. Focus on behind-the-scenes content – song background, studio stories, acoustic performances.
  • Submit your music to Spotify editorial playlists at least a month before the release date. This is super easy – more on how to do it here.
  • Create a good EPK. It should include stellar images, your press release for the new music, an artist bio, and a couple of sentences that call out the most interesting things about you / your music.
  • Sign up for The Music Industry Connection’s database of press contacts. Email 50 blogs in your genre asking for coverage.
  • Pay $80 to get 100 SubmitHub credits. Pitch your music to the most relevant blogs on the platform – preferably outlets that also have playlists.
  • Buy tissues and ice cream. Prepare for a lot of rejection.
  • Document every outlet you’ve sent to in a spreadsheet and track their responses. Note anyone said they were interested but weren’t into this song. Note anyone who actually covers you. Next time you release music, pitch these people first.

Ugh. As I’m writing this stuff out I keep thinking of more stuff. But I’m going to cap it here, because I’m reading those bullets back and I’m starting to get overwhelmed.

Note: I’ve put together what I think is a pretty good course on how to do the blog / playlist side of release stuff.

The stuff I cover in the course isn’t specific to first-release strategy, but it will totally work. (And it’s completely free btw.)

Here’s the link to sign up.

Two final thoughts:

1. Don’t stress yourself out too much. I know that you’ve poured your heart into this first song and I know it’s awesome and I bet it’s pretty much the 2021 version of “Stairway to Heaven” (which apparently my brother Tom doesn’t know).

So, yes, this release is important.

But if you’re really in for the artist thing, you will make more awesome songs, and you will have more (and better) releases. It’s okay to not get everything right this first time around.

Don’t freak out when things aren’t great. Learn and grow for next time. This is a long game.

2. Don’t hire a promo company for your first release. Some people might disagree with this, but I think you should give your first release a shot yourself.

That way, you’ll know what you need help with for the next one, and you’ll have a better chance of hiring the right partner.

Plus, most promo companies will have a harder time doing good work for a new artist; they don’t have a great idea of where you fit yet, which makes their network less valuable.

The bottom line is that first releases are tough.

But hey, most things worth doing aren’t easy. I hope this email was somewhat helpful anyway, and I hope your next release makes all of your wildest dreams come true.

Want to build a meaningful community around your music?

The Bundle

I’ve packaged years of experience running Two Story Melody (a top-ranked music blog) and Two Story Media (a music PR firm) into a book called How to Promote Indie Music.

It lays out a roadmap to better indie music promotion – promotion that doesn’t suck. You can check out the first chapter for free.