We were excited to talk to Emma as a follow-up to our recent newsletter piece highlighting an atypical release strategy — one that does NOT involve releasing songs to streaming platforms on the official release date. Emma breaks down her impetus for doing a “physical or download-only” release, how the plan was formed, and touches on all of the moving parts of her release cycle. She’ll also provide some advice to developing artists on how to approach your next release.
As promised in the outro of the podcast, here’s info on Emma’s team that worked this release:
- UK publicist: Rachel Silver – https://silverpr.co.uk/about
- US publicist: Ken Weinstein – https://www.bighassle.com
- US radio promo: Brad Paul – http://www.bradpaulmedia.com
- Distribution: ThinkIndie in the US; MGM Planet in Australia.
- Emilee Warner helped manage my campaign for four months. She was particularly good at Nashville related hookups: advertising on Lightning100, a mural at Grimey’s, booking Blackbird for a live stream.
Frank Keith: So recently my business partner, Rachel and I have been kicking around, I say recently, it’s been just, it pops up every few months working on atypical record release strategies. And your wound on the tracks release is always first on my brain.
And I say atypical. It’s probably actually just a more traditional release, you know, giving the bird to the streaming platforms at least for a little while. So I just wanted to talk to you about how that release plan came together, kind of the Genesis of it and how you executed it.
Emma Swift: So for the record release strategy for blonde on the tracks, what I really wanted to do was treat the album as if it was 2002. So I kind of ignored the streaming model as it is today. And I really focused on selling vinyl records, cDs and cassettes and digital downloads. It was sort of born out of the idea that not only do I love physical product and I I’d made an album rather than a series of singles but also the pandemic made it kind of financially necessary. I wasn’t in any way able to take this record out on tour.
I wasn’t going to be able to sell it at shows. And I didn’t need the free advertising that is essentially what happens with streaming services to bring people to shows because that wasn’t, they didn’t matter. So, so that’s what I did.
Frank Keith: So we avoid streaming services. What does, what does that look like for the rest of a release plan? You know, all the moving pieces, publicity, radio, from where I’m sitting, I don’t think that affected you at all.
I think those, those look like they worked out for you, but did you notice a change in any of those facets?
Emma Swift: I think one of the challenges is that I’m never going to know if the record might’ve been more successful had I put it on the streaming from the get go. I feel like it was a very successful marketing campaign though, regardless.
So, I mean, what I would say to anybody is that I got played on rotation on more than 50 Americana stations across the United States; it charted in the Americana charts in Europe, UK, and the USA. It was a top 10 Australian record because they still count physical sales. And so being able to say that and being able to put that on my social media is perhaps just as effective, if not more effective than, Hey, I got added to this playlist that a hundred other songs are on and you’re going to have to look for it.
Part of the strategy was that I wasn’t making the whole… I wasn’t making it impossible for people to find the record in that while the album was not available wholesale on Spotify or Apple or Tidal, those platforms, I did put the singles up on YouTube. So there was a place online where people whose curiosity had been piqued either by radio airplay or a magazine review, to go and listen to the music for free and decide if it was something they were into before they went to band camp and committed to spending 20 bucks on a vinyl.
Frank Keith: So there were some breadcrumbs out there. I totally missed that. Forgive me.
Emma Swift: No, not at all because I’m in part of the thing with this release strategy was that it was a little bit… it was very experimental.
And, and I didn’t have everything kind of very planned out. I just sort of tried things on for size and started seeing what was working for me. And, and what’s unusual about that is I I don’t have a record label. I, I, I it’s my own record label. I do it’s my own record label. So I was able to do things that most people on a label, I think wouldn’t be allowed to do in the current climate, or they would be strongly advised against. So you’ve either got to be like me and totally indie where it’s like, I’m doing it all myself. Or you’ve gotta be like Taylor Swift on the other end and dictate the terms because you’re famous enough to be able to do that.
Frank Keith: Right. There’s she’s got the muscle now for sure. You, you touched on something that I was leading towards earlier. The thought that ran away from me was yeah, editorial playlist and labels, like you said, it’s, they’re, they’re treated like currency now, right? Like, Oh, well, This song got added to Indigo.
You know, this, this, this artist must be legit, but I’m, I’m not sure if the value is really there in that. It’s a win. Sure. But top 10 record in Australia.
Emma Swift: Yeah. I mean, it’s really, I don’t know with editorial playlist because I mean, just for, for listeners. The background of my record is that I announced it in on may 24, of 2020 as a physical and download only release for sale on band camp with videos on YouTube. The album came out on August 14 of 20 20, all old school. I had physical distribution, so it was on in record stores and, and the, and those places.
And then it went to streaming services in December of 2020. So for the bulk of my publicity campaign and for the duration of the time that I had a radio plugger and a publicist, every little bit of press was pointing towards my band camp and my YouTube and not any other channels. And then from December, it went more broad.
I did get added to some editorial playlists I’m on some editorial playlisst right now. And all I can say is that, I mean, I don’t have a huge Spotify footprint. I don’t have a huge number of followers, but I didn’t gain a huge number of followers by being on contemporary folk. I’m enormously grateful, but I, I might have 25 new people that have found out about, you know, that have bothered to look me up because I kind of think that editorial playlists in a way they’re like background music for shops. I don’t, I don’t know that people really use them as a music discovery tool, the way that we’re being told.
Frank Keith: Yeah. Yeah. I completely completely agree on that. And I think that’s good for listeners to hear. That you stayed off of streaming platforms, but still got a placement at the end. So, Hey, if that’s important to anyone listening, it’s still a possibility.
Emma Swift: Yeah. And I mean, there’s certainly people too who who do very well out of Spotify and et al, like if you have a label that is going to negotiate for Spotify to pay for your billboard, then yeah.
Knock yourself out because billboards are expensive or you could sell records and buy your own billboard, like I’ve I paid for my own mural on the side of Grimey’s records in Nashville. And part of the reason I was able to fund that was cause I sold 200 records at Grimey’s records, nashville.
The market just shifts all the time, how we consume music shifts all the time and, and being able to, to shift with it is is a really good thing for an artist.
Frank Keith: Yeah. I agree. Definitely have to stay on your toes. Let’s pivot a little bit.
Another thing we talk to our clients about all the time is that there’s certain things when you’re putting together a release plan, executing a release plan that have to get done.
And some people hire that out. Some people don’t, or they can’t find anybody that wants to work with them, worst case, but no matter what that stuff has to get done, and that’s going to fall to you, the artist. You seem like you’re pretty involved in your day to day.
Emma Swift: Yeah. I, I worked pretty hard. I pretty much treat it like a full-time job, and that involves all the unglamorous and quite tedious things of, of running a music career, but they’re absolutely so important to do. And I’m still learning stuff all the time, but yeah, I’m pretty involved.
Frank Keith: So how many, how many team members did you have working with you on this last release? And what does, does that change from release to release for you?
Emma Swift: The key thing for me for this release was that I had a a publicist in Britain, a publicist in the United States and a radio plugger in the United States as well.
It just meant it really broadened my ability to get press in different places and different markets. So that’s sort of three publicists or it’s two publicists and an, a radio plugger. And then my record got distributed in Europe by a different label and they took care of European publicity.
So. I didn’t have to be on the front foot as much there. However, By signing that deal with them, I earn far less per CD sold in Europe than I do proceed a sold in America, like from a business. But, but I know nothing about selling records in Europe, so it was a really good decision. I’m really happy.
And I also had a friend of mine a woman called Emily Warner basically manage the campaign for me. So she was on my on my website, like as my management contact, just for that four month period of time where things were pretty hectic. And, and, and we needed good communication and and good coordination.
I would recommend that to anybody putting out a record. If you can hire a project manager for three months, who is just going to be like, okay, even if they’re just someone who creates a to-do list and then helps you take that off, that is extraordinarily helpful.
Because it just helps so much with getting staying on the case. It’s I see a lot of my friends and all that, and just other independent artists in general, like put out a record and then, okay. We made the, we made the announcement and then kind of walk away from it. It’s like, Oh no, you’ve just started.
Frank Keith: Before we part ways here, advice to advice to musicians specifically independent musicians, what should you be focusing on? Or, you know, Things you would do differently in the future.
Emma Swift: My first tip is to give yourself time because that’s what all the pros do. They give themselves a really good lead time. They don’t just finish the record and then go, okay, the record’s out now. Let’s just get it out into the world. I’ve done that before. It was a mistake. You’ve if you’ve made something with love and care and put time and effort into making the recordings and the writing the songs, and you kind of have to do that on the release side too. And that means, you know, for your record to have, have good awareness, like you want to contact a good team, a good publicity or radio about six months out at least, and then decide on a release date that is about three months out from, you know, you want to have, you want to have a good announce.
You want to be building three months of hype before the record is even in the store, I think. Yeah. That, and then give yourself time. And that is exhausting. And you have to be on there telling people about the record every day and finding new ways to tell that story about, about the album is, is really important.
And I think just loving the music of other people really helps and seeing what other people have done that has been successful and kind of studying it also really helps because there’s quite a lot of successful independent artists who aren’t going to be household names, but they do make a living from music.
And they’re able to do it because they’re they’re conscientious and they, and they’re smart about it. Like following what pop stars do is not a good release strategy. Like a sudden drop only works if you’ve got 3 million followers. You can go, bam, here’s my new album. But like, if you don’t have that, you actually do need to invite people in.
Frank Keith: Yeah.
Emma Swift: Create a bit of curiosity. The other thing is that, and you know, this it’s all hard-earned stuff from, from stuff I’ve worked that before that hasn’t worked out your audience can be anywhere in the world. And so it’s really, really worth investigating who is making music similar to you or who you’re a fan of in places where that works like where, like, for me, I I’ve made an indie folk record.
I know that there’s a market for indie folk in Britain and Ireland. So I hired a publicist there. I know that there’s a market for folk and Americana in the U S so I hired a publicist there. It’s not as big in Australia know it’s, it’s getting there, but but it’s not as big.
So it’s always worth just exploring where that, that the audience could be somewhere that you don’t expect it to be. And the third thing I would say, I guess, is just, don’t be too hard on yourself because you make the music because you love it. It’s not, it it’s up to other people, whether they love it or not.
But at the end of the day, that that really doesn’t matter because it’s your baby and you are the person who has to, it’s got your name on it. It has to be something that you like. And if only 500 people like that, that’s okay. That’s great. 500 people like your thing, but like, I’ve used all kinds of platforms, like submit hub and stuff, where they review your things.
And some people say really horrible shit. And that sucks. And I guess I’m saying this, you know, as much for myself as anybody else, but. It sucks when people don’t like what you do, but at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter.
Frank Keith: yes, don’t lose sight of why you started doing this in the first place. The rest of it is noise.
Emma Swift: And I guess the flip of that too, is because there’s always going to be people who don’t like what you do when people do, like what you do. Celebrate your wins. Like some people get a bit too “I don’t want to say that I got this nice review or we got added to this station” or whatever.
It’s like, I would say be shameless, just own it. Like anything that gets your music out into the world is a really great thing to be grateful for. And it’s worth celebrating.