Last week was probably one of my best weeks as an indie artist! I released two songs: 1. Mmu$i Maimane which racked up 800k views across platforms & made the news & 2. Sugarman ft. Mathew Gold which charted at #2 on the iTunes charts. Both songs were turned down by major labels, but I released them anyway by myself – without a label or a PR team. It was very tough work & a flippen’ crazy week, but very rewarding at the same time.
Before I say anything else I’d like to point out that I have nothing against major labels. I’ve worked with them for the best part of my music career. I owe a lot of my success to these labels, and I will probably continue to work with them on future projects. But that being said, if I was still tied down to a contract with a label, both Mmu$i Maimane & Sugarman would probably still be sitting on my laptop, waiting to get out like the Robertsons cumin spice that’s sitting in your kitchen cupboard with the plastic still on its head. That’s not to say that major labels are assholes – they aren’t. I’d say for the most part they know very well what they’re doing & if a song doesn’t align with the label’s model, they’ll have very good reason for turning a song down. Mmusi Maimane for example is way too politically inclined & Sugarman is a cover, so there’s no real financial incentive for them. The point is, I could’ve easily been disheartened by the labels decision & left it at that, but I believed in both the songs. I knew that I had to get them out one way or another.
The problem with independent releases is that a lot of artists don’t know HOW to release their tracks properly. They could be sitting on an absolute gold mine, but without the right know-how, a good song can go unnoticed if it’s not released correctly. Luckily I’ve done it quite a few times & I think I have a pretty good grasp on how to go about it. So I’m going to do my best to give some basic pointers to make sure your song has the best chance of doing well:
- Make sure the song is good & sounds good
Your music MUST BE FLIPPEN’ KIFF BRUH! This should go without saying, but if the song isn’t good, isn’t recorded kiff, mixed kiff or mastered kiff there’s no point in even reading the rest of what I’m going to say. Just because a song is independent it shouldn’t mean that you should skimp on the quality of your work. There are a bunch of really good local mix and mastering engineers out there that I work with regularly. For mixing I can recommend Jürgen from Sunset Studios. For mastering I can recommend Fin Mastering & Kelsey Mastering. But if budget is tight & you can’t afford a good mix / mastering engineer, I would recommend trying out LANDR, an online algorithmic mastering tool which works pretty well.
I work from my home studio but if you need your music to be recorded there are a few spots around Cape Town that I can recommend: Popsicle Studios, Digital Forest Studios & Hey Papa Legend. From my limited knowledge of Jo’burg there are two kiff spots I know of: Antimotion Studios & High Seas Studios.
2. Use an online distributor
There are PLENTY of online distributors that can get your music onto iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify etc… The one I use is called Distrokid. I like Distrokid because they allow you to allocate splits to the different artists that worked on the song, so everyone ends up getting exactly what they are owed without the admin of sitting with a calculator at the end of each year & trying to figure out who is owed what. They also give you the option of getting your song onto Shazam, Instagram Music and other cool music platforms. Other popular distributors include TuneCore, CDBaby and more…
If that sounds like too much admin for you, you can approach guys who will do your distribution for you. Africori is a good local distributor & will handle all the admin for you. If your music sounds lank indie & hip then perhaps it’s worth approaching boutique indie labels like KuduKudu who really take care of the artists they foster. If you’re a dance music producer & want to get your music onto Beatport , there are distributors that offer support like Ditto Music which allow you to set up a your own label & release your music to Beatport through that label.
3. Set your release date at least a month in advance
The best way to rack up good streams is to get your songs onto Spotify & Apple’s editorial playlists. So when you send your track to online stores, you need to give the people at Apple & Spotify enough time to check out your music before it comes out. A month should be good. If the guys who make the editorial playlists like your song they might stick it on one of the playlists. Spotify has a feature which allows you to submit your song to their editorial playlisters before the release date. It’s pretty important that you do this to give your song a good shot.
You can find out how to do that in this video:
4. Try get as many people to pre-order your song / album as possible
Between the time that you send your song to digital stores & the day your song is released, there’s a golden window period to get your fans to pre-save your song. When fans pre-order your song, it gives them a reminder that the song is out on the day of release. And what’s really cool is that if 100 people pre-order your song on iTunes, then essentially it’s the same as 100 people buying your song the moment it’s released & that bumps it up on the charts. I think that’s partly why Sugarman charted so well – a lot of people pre-saved it. For Spotify, Distrokid has a function called Hyperfollow which allows people to pre-save your song on Spotify. When I do pre-orders, I try to incentivise it as much as possible for my fans. So instead of spamming (which doesn’t work), I normally run a competition where fans get entered into a draw to win a prize when they pre-save my song. I normally do a quirky little video / pic to go with it (check out our pre-save video for Sugarman HERE as an example).
When the song is finally out, you should direct all your traffic to a single link that allows your fans to choose which store they want to buy / stream the song from. You can stick that link in your Instagram bio, on your Facebook posts etc… I use Smart URL but Songlink is another quick & easy one to use. This link is important because it saves your fans the extra admin of having to try find the song themselves and drives much more traffic. You should end up with a neat little page that should look something like this:
5. Get your song out to the press
There are many great music blogs like Texx & the City, El Broide & Good Things Guy that support local music and entertainment news. If you write a good press release and supply them with all the necessary info, bios, press photos etc… there’s a good chance that they’ll feature your stuff on their website. There are also great platforms on television like Expresso & Hectic 99 that host artists, and if they like what you send them you might crack an invite to perform live on their show. Some artists prefer to hire PR agents for press stuff, because they can’t write for sh*t & they have no idea how to sell themselves. If you feel like you’re one of people, I would recommend speaking to a PR agent. Indie Does It is one example of a PR agency that can help you out. Rachel Crous is also really good!
Luckily I have a degree in Philosophy so I have a pretty good idea of how to write a good email & enjoy doing my own press releases. Thanks Rhodes. Thanks philosophy. (You see, BA’s are helpful).
6. Submit your song to radio
It goes without saying that having a song on radio will help your streams. Again, this is something that is quite time consuming if you want to do it yourself, so if you have budget & you don’t want to spend too much time writing emails then it’s probably worth hiring a radio plugger (Indie DoesIt also offers radio plugging). But if you like writing emails & saving money then you can do it yourself.
What I do when plugging to radio is I print out a full list of all the radio stations in South Africa that I’d like to send my music to. You can find a list of all the stations in South Africa HERE. I then go onto their websites or Facebook pages and find all their email addresses & send them each a personalised email and tick each station off the list as I go.
Das Kapital hosts a show on 5fm on the weekends & he’s really good at showcasing the work of up & coming producers. If you have a demo or a new song out, hit him up on his IG, Twitter or FB DM & if he likes it there’s a good chance he’ll play it on 5fm. If not he might send some constructive feedback on the track i.e. how to get it sounding better.
But before you email your song to radio stations for playlisting, there are a couple things that you will need to know
Below is from a status Catherine Grenfell posted on Facebook in 2017 which I found very helpful. (If you don’t know Cath she’s a champion of the South African music industry & a radio veteran. This is really good advice. Thanks Cath!)
– Decide on a single. This is really important. Playlisters at radio stations get hundreds of tracks to listen to. They don’t have the time to listen to your whole EP.
– Give a brief intro to your band in the email, with your contact and social media details.
– Attach a mp3 of your single under 5mb for listening purposes.
– Name the mp3 attachment as “Your Band Name” + “Song Name”
– Give them download links for bigger versions of the file – mp3 and wav format
– Ask them for feedback
– If someone gives you feedback, take it as constructive criticism.
– Listen to different radio stations and hear what their format is before submitting. There is no point in submitting a heavy metal track to a radio station that only plays hip hop – you are wasting your time as well as a music compiler.
– If you get no response. Try again the following week, and then the following week. Don’t spam a radio station. And don’t get your fans on social media to spam a radio station. It just pisses them off. And then you’re screwed.
– Make sure the track you are submitting is not a demo. Make sure that it is finished, mixed and mastered.
– Have a strategic plan for your tracks if you have an EP or album. Decide on the 1st Single and then your 2nd single etc.
– If your 1st single is successful, then keep an eye on how it is doing in charts etc. If it climbing the charts, then hold off on your 2nd single. If it doesn’t chart, or isn’t doing anything. Move onto submitting your 2nd single.
– If your 1st single doesn’t succeed in playlisting (after trying a few times) move onto your next single.
– If you are submitting a single to a commercial radio station (FM radio stations etc) then make sure it is clean. Meaning – No swear words
– If you are submitting to an internet radio station. Give them 2 mp3 options. The original version as well as the clean version so they can decide what they would like to playlist.
– Make sure that you submit a radio edit. Radio stations generally like songs that are around 3 minutes. So if you can edit long intros etc. Do it
– Do some investigation into radio stations and find out who is interested in music. Send those people your tracks as well as the music compiler. This means going onto the radio stations website to get the playlist email address. Or following radio people on social media to see if they support music.
– Invite radio people to your gigs. You never know – they might turn up and like your stuff and it helps with playlisting.
– If a playlister says it doesn’t suit their format, then listen to the station and understand that your track possibly doesn’t suit the format. Each radio station generally has a format they like to play. They could possibly only play kwaito, or house, or hip hop or top40 commercial music.
– Don’t give up and Don’t be a dick and get upset if a radio station won’t play your stuff!
To add to what Cath is saying, you will also need to supply them with the ISRC code (that Distrokid will give you) as well as the SAMRO registration number. It’s really important that your music is registered with SAMRO. If you’re not registered with SAMRO, I recommend going to the SAMRO building in the Jo’burg CBD, or apply online HERE
Below is an example of the kind of email I will send out to radio stations for playlisting:
I hope this article was helpful! If you liked it, please let me know. If you have any questions, please also feel free to hit me up.
Since writing this article I got the news that Sugarman has begun charting on the Kfm #CokeTop40CT. This is a huge mile-stone because while I’ve had numerous singles signed to labels that have charted, this is my first independent release to make it onto the charts. I’m posting this not to toot my own horn (as pictured), but to show that what I said in this article really works if you apply these steps.