Published May 23, 2010The secret to a kick-ass live set is having the whole band start and stop at the same time, so it shouldn't be a surprise that timing in other things is key. Yet a lot of artists seem to want to do everything all the time, with little analysis of whether the timeframe is beneficial to the project. It doesn't really matter when you record, but picking the right release date is really important. If you have a record label or a distributor on board, discuss possible release dates at least six months in advance of when you think you'd like to see it come out. That may seem like forever, but it takes time to set up a release properly. For one, your distributor needs time to sell your record to retailers and physically get it into stores. This takes three months at minimum.
A proper marketing campaign starts building months before the album release. Your marketing manager has to be strategic about when your marketing dollars get spent. Strategic does not mean "take out an ad in every single print publication in the country the week the album comes out." Depending on your tour and publicity plans, the marketing spend will be staggered over several months before and after the release. This takes planning, and planning takes time.
Same goes for publicity. Many bands assume that if they get a CD to an editor in May, they'll get coverage in June. Oh, so wrong! Editors plan their publications months in advance ― major stories will start taking shape two or three months before publication, and even a CD review could take couple of months to grind through a publication's processes. A good publicist will help you build up to the actual release by planning a publicity campaign that builds, too. She or he will need lots of time to get a few smaller media outlets on board, and then use those to trigger larger media and so on.
If you are using social media to help build the release (and if you're not, you're an idiot), you'll also need months of wind-up time to create a good buzz. Ideally, you'll have started collecting assets for your social media campaign while the project is being recorded ― that way, you'll have lots of goodies to give your fans before the album comes out. Have your viral content (videos, extra tracks, etc.) ready well before the release date and use those to tease the release and build a sense of anticipation.
Finding your niche in the industry-wide release schedule is also important. Major labels like to put out big records in late October/November, in time to get on the Christmas bus. Therefore, this may not be the best time for your indie project to come out, because it may get flattened by said Christmas bus. March is also a busy release month, with many labels trying to get their stuff out in time to build up to summer festival and touring season. Again, you could get buried. Exclaim.ca has a page where you can look up release dates for the next few months, and plan accordingly. (www.exclaim.ca/articles/releasedates.aspx)
Release your album when you can tour it. It's okay to hit the road before the album is out in stores (you may want to have stock to sell off-stage); it's not okay to not tour once the thing is out. It's incredibly tough to get records to sell if the artist isn't supporting the release with live appearances, so unless you want your album to flop, you've got to get on the road. Which means that you may want to plan the release around the best tour you can book.
The album release party should not be the pinnacle of your release plan. So don't sweat it if you can't throw your party until two months after the album is out. The tour and the marketing and publicity campaigns are way more important, if less fun. And last ― this one should be a given ― try not to tour when there are Canadian teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs... unless you like playing to tumbleweeds and crickets.