You just left the studio and recorded the final notes for your album. There’s the mixing and mastering process for your producer to take care of and the artwork for your album and any merchandise to do—but the real deal is when all of this comes together and you officially release your album at a CD release party. A lot goes into making a CD release party a successful one and it rests entirely on how well you prepare.
There are many key areas that make it successful that I will discuss below, but to keep it short and sweet I would say the most important things are: be in tip-top shape and form musically when you perform, give lots of lead time to get it ready, have your album ready in CD and digital form on the day of your show, and ask for help when you need it.
I most recently went through this process and while some things were tedious, when my big night finally came, it turned out to be everything I wanted it to be for my fans. I spent a good three months putting my CD release party together. That’s not to say yours will take as long. Depending on what you want to do may shorten or lengthen how long it can take.
But looking back on those three months, these are the 10 key things to do to have a successful CD release party.
1.Start thinking about an approximate date.
This is the hardest part. I have seen musicians book a CD release party only to have booked it too soon and not have their album done in time. The last thing you want to do for your fans, a venue, and yourself is having to cancel the show or having it without your album to sell (which looks really bad). It goes without saying that there are many things, some out of your control, that could effect the date. But things to think about are:
- your producers schedule for mixing and mastering (can be a few days to a few months)
- the time it takes to get your artwork done (depends on what you’d like done)
- the time it takes for a CD processing company to press and send you the copies (leave at least 6 weeks for)
- processing time if you’re putting you album up on digital download services (iTunes, Amazon, etc) (varies by service, but leave 6-8 weeks)
- time for your merchandise to be created, produced, and shipped (depends on what you have)
- finding a venue that will allow you to have the event (venues vary, but openings may be 2-3 months away)
I don’t want to give a specific suggestion for how far out to set the date, but I set mine three months out. I would think a month is too short. So something beyond that.
2. Find a venue.
You have choices for a venue. Where I am in the Washington, DC area, I considered going to a top music venue for the name, set up they had, and all that—but really what I decided at the end of the day was to work with one who knew me. I did not want the added stress of having to pull it off with a venue who did not know me or who were not going to do much to support me. So go with a venue where there is mutual trust, who could go the extra mile if asked.
Whatever route you go though, take a look at their schedule first in order to suggest some dates. Make sure you know how to set up the stage at the venue. Find out if you are going to have to charge at the door, sell tickets, or if it’s free. You know what to do, you’ve played a show before.
3. Get opening acts ASAP.
This is not required at a CD release show, but it’s always nice to have some of your fellow musicians supporting you. And you should realize, like yourself, they probably have other gigs lined up in advance—so once you know when your CD release show is—ask them if they’re open that date. I reached out to four or five people who either couldn’t or were not sure about the date before I found two acts who confirmed. Make sure you treat your opening acts well, promote them with your show, allow them to sell merchandise, and offer to buy them dinner or drinks for their time.
4. Send out invitations when the venues and opening acts are confirmed.
The day I confirmed everything I put my Facebook invite together. Your fans probably live busy lives and you want them there, so just get yourself on their schedule sooner than later. Why wait? You’ll probably be so excited anyway that you’ll want to tell the world about your big day anyway.
5. Start practicing.
For me this was different, because I play solo, but had a full band for my CD release show. Either way, you’ve got to have your songs down for the big night. No half-assing it or cutting corners. You’re a musician, you’ll be selling your music, so get a schedule together and aim to kick some ass.
6. Get people together to help you out at your CD release party.
On the night of your show, you should be there to meet and greet, play your music, and get your fans excited about your latest album. That’s it. Do you really want to deal with other issues like sound, lighting, the merchandise table, photos, and so on? If you have a street team or fans/friends you trust, ask them to help you out.
This is corny, but I literally wrote down what I’d need help with and came up with job descriptions for each area of help. I then emailed a bunch of people and said, what would you like to help with and gave them job descriptions to help them decide. Once everyone was on board, I tried to meet with my team as a group to explain everything and answer any questions they had.
Appreciate your team was my number one rule. I had people over for dinner to make it casual when we met. I met up with others in town and paid for food and drinks. I gave them all a free CD and t-shirt before the show (and asked them to wear the t-shirt at the show). I thanked them from the stage. I was lucky and had no issues with them during the release party, which took a load off of my mind. Here are some roles people can play at your release party:
- manning the merchandise table
- actively greeting people in the crowd and getting their email (I gave a sample cd to those who signed up)
- sound man (if venue does not provide one)
7. Announce your show in the local media.
I did a very bad job of this as my album was pressed just 2 weeks before the show, which did not give press time to devote to me. But do your best to announce the show to the local media. Newspaper, radio, bloggers, podcasters—invite them all. Send them the cd, or even a link to your album. Have a press release written up (if you can’t write one yourself, hire somebody, I had to). There’s no guarantee you’ll get any coverage, but if you do, it’s nice to have.
8. Get your fans excited.
I don’t know your fans, you do, so you should know what will get them talking about your CD release party. Of course this is a no brainer—announcing the show may be exciting in itself—but you can do a few other things. Maybe have a contest around your release party. Get them involved in some way other than inviting them.
Some things I did was show my fans the album artwork and my merchandise on social media—they got to see what I was going to sell. I put one song out from the album as a free download two months before the show. The last thing was something I borrowed from NPR’s First Listen program—I put my album up online (in many spots) a week or so before the release party and let fans listen to it before they bought it. They also got to know the songs I was going to play that night. Nothing beats an audience who sings with your songs.
9. Make Purchasing Your Album and Merchandise Easy.
At your CD release show, you should have CDs available. But some people don’t buy CDs, so be sure you use a service to get your album up on iTunes, Amazon.com, Rhapsody, Napster—all those places. The three to look into are Tunecore, CD Baby, and ReverbNation.
It’s also good to have your online store ready by the day of your release party. Word may get around that your album is great. Give people the option to buy directly from you. My online store uses Paypal, but I also looked at Nimbit, Topspin, and Bandcamp as other options to sell my music and merchandise online.
Another suggestion is to get a credit card swiper if you have a smart phone. I had ordered one from a company called Square many weeks prior, but did not get it in time. If you don’t want to deal with a lot of cash, it’s worth looking into get one of these (I now have my Square reader and it works great).
10. Learn from other musicians.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. My CD release party was the first one I ever did, and I didn’t want to do it blindly. So I asked musicians I trusted for advice. Be open to asking. People will tell you a lot of things not to do, which is sometimes more important than what to do.
You’ve got your work cut out for you, but if you focus, stay organized, and are on top of things each day leading up to your show, you’ll have a successful CD release party. I will say though, your success will come with relief you pulled it off followed by exhaustion. Rock on and good luck!
Note: This is certainly not a full on list of everything you need to do, so if you have suggestions, advices or feedback, please send a comment to add to the discussion.