Releasing and promoting your own record with vinyls behind the words.

Releasing and Promoting Your Own Record: October 1994


Your band plays a gig at the “Joe Blo Bar.” A rep from Capitol Records is there. He is “really” impressed and pulls out a contract. You sign it and live happily ever after on thousands of dollars a year. You’re famous, just because your music is soooo good. Whatever. 

Let’s be realistic. It doesn’t happen like the movies. Record company reps don’t frequent SLC bars, and the chances are that nobody is impressed with how you sound in most of them. Even if you did get “signed,” you probably wouldn’t even make enough money to quit your day job. If you want to get noticed by companies or the public, then your best plan of action is to release your own record. 

Releasing your own record can open many opportunities for your band. It’s the best and easiest way to get press, do small tours, get more gigs and be noticed by record companies. Here’s how you do it. 

Wait. Before we start I would like to say that this little instructional article should not be regarded as the only way to do this. This is a simplified version of what record companies do. Some companies do it differently than others. But if you follow this plan you will get results.

  • Getting Your Records or CDs Manufactured 

After you finish recording, you need to get your record manufactured. There are many companies that cater to the needs of the small company or band. Most of them will play on your ignorance about the manufacturing process in order to rip you off—so do some serious comparison shopping. Generally, you will need to get at least 1000 or more CDs or records pressed to get one of these companies to do it. Make sure that the recording you give to the manufacturer is top quality and be sure that the recording levels are high enough that your finished product won’t sound “weak.” Here are some reasonably priced manufacturers. You can get more contacts from The Billboard Buyer’s Guide available at the downtown library in the Arts department:

  • Cassette Productions-Salt Lake 531-7555, CD/Cassette
  • Creative Sound-25429 Malibu Rd., Malibu, CA 90265, CD/Cassette/Records
  • American Helix-1857 Colonial Village Ln., Lancaster, PA 17601 -1-800-525-6575, CD/Cassette 

After you get your CDs or records, you are going to need to sell them. This is harder than you think. Musicians tend to think that their CD is “going to be so cool” that it will sell itself. It won’t. In fact you will be surprised that many of your fans are willing to go to your gigs and spend $5 on cover and $18 on beer, and then pass up your CD that only costs $10. If you have 300 “loyal fans,” you can expect to sell about 180 CDs. You have to get new fans. Promote yourself!

  1. Press: How To Get Record Reviews. 

Put together a press kit. You will send this kit to every single magazine in your hometown and surrounding towns. Just like AR reps, music writers are not going to come looking for you, you have to look for them. Send them your stuff or you won’t get any press. Also send this kit to magazines out of state (see list at end of article). One single review can generate tons of interest from prospective buyers and record companies. From a single record review published in Alternative Press Magazine, a nationally distributed music magazine, Mayberry received over 20 letters from AR reps from various companies including SONY MUSIC, and TVT RECORDS. And other press that the band has received has brought the same results. 

Your press kit should include a few different things. First– a bio or “one sheet.” This is one page with info about the band and your record. Write a short paragraph telling them about your success and strengths—but don’t lie. Chances are that whoever reads your bio will know if you are stretching the truth.

Put this bio on a nice looking, professional letterhead. At the top, put name of your band, name of album, date of release, song titles, band members, and which band member to contact (pick one person) or manager. This bio is just general info that will be sent to radio reps, magazines and others. 

Your press kit should also include one of your new records, any good magazine articles or reviews that you already have, and a photo of the band (take special care on the photo so you don’t end up looking like cheeseballs). If you want to, you can call the magazine and ask whose attention you should make your package to. If it is a music only magazine or a small magazine, then just send it to “attention reviewer.” For bigger magazines like Alternative Press, Option, or Spin, send more than one package. Chances are that you will not get reviews from these magazines but you might as well send to them anyway. If you do get reviewed, you will be gaining a lot, and if not, you only lost a couple of bucks for postage.

  1. Radio: Get Radio Play. 

This radio press kit should include all the same things. I think it’s a good idea to wait until some reviews of your new record are on newsstands (this, however, is not necessary and some would disagree). Make some copies of these reviews to send in each one of your radio kits. This gives the release more credibility and the chances are that someone that works in a college radio station reads the very same magazines that you sent your press kits to. About two weeks after you send your radio kits you might want to call the station and ask for the program director or the music director. Ask them what they thought of your record and if it has received any airplay. Make small talk and be friendly. This can make the difference between your record being on the air or in the trash. (See list of radio stations at the end of article.) Keep hassling them. Also, target specific areas. There are over 1000 college stations in the USA and you can’t hope to actually send a press kit to each one and call all of them several times. Concentrate on a realistic number of stations in areas where you want to tour or sell records. You might want to target only Salt Lake.

  1. Retail: Stores and Distributors.

This is perhaps the hardest part. Stores and distributors are not likely to buy something from you unless you can convince them that it will sell (they are funny that way). Send all the press clippings that you can get your hands on, send your press kit, tell them where you are getting airplay (if you know), let them know what your advertising and tour plans are. Send them a record along with all of this. Do anything that you can to convince them to take even just two records on consignment. Do this in local stores, which is relatively easy, but also to stores in other states. You can get lists of stores from promotion guides like the one that Maximum Rock-n-Roll magazine publishes. This is the most easily accessible and cheapest guide around. You can also get addresses from advertisements in magazines from other states, even the yellow pages from other cities (at the library). 

You can also find distributors by reading promotions guides and magazines. There are so many stores and distributors, most of which won’t take your stuff, that we didn’t list any. Three or four addresses aren’t going to help you. You have to find many. Direct sales to stores are very hard and very expensive so if you can get good distribution then take it and use it. For local distribution there is one company that can help. Happyville records is a company that works with Utah bands to get their music in stores. If you don’t have the time to run to every store in town (or you’re just too lazy) then you should call them. They distribute Salt Flat Records releases and stuff from bands like Daisy Grey and Swim Hershel Swim. Happyville, PO Box 299, SLC, Ut. 84110, (801) 375-1478.

  1. Advertising. 

This can get expensive. Be practical and set realistic advertising goals. To advertise effectively you must do the following: 

  1. Establish a budget.
  2. Identify your target audience and find ways to reach that audience. 
  3. Place your ads. Have a professional designer make these ads for you. Presentation is important. 
  4. Replace your ads. Run them often, in fact, run them constantly in as many ways as you can afford. 
  5. Be creative. There are more ways to advertise than just magazine ads. Realize that every record review, all airplay, or even word of mouth and concerts are advertisements of their own and, best of all, they are free. Even a well designed flyer can sell a record for you. Trade records for ads in fanzines, make T-shirts, do anything. We have listed some magazines that sell reasonably priced advertising at the end of this article. 

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Include your address (PO Box) and offer “Free Catalog” or “Free Info” in your ads. You can even include the price of the record so people can order it right away. Selling through the mail may end up being the only way that you sell records out of state so this is important.

  1. Tour.

There are a lot of ways to tour. Booking tours is difficult so I will just suggest that you hire someone who is experienced to do it for you. If you want to do it yourself then you should follow the basic plan… SEND STUFF. Packages sent to a club or venue should include the record, photo copies of any press you have received, photo of the band, a letter that says you want to play and what you want from the club. Definitely call the club and try to convince them. Chances are that they will not call you just because you sent a record to them. 


      7. REPEAT all promotions steps. Don’t just promote for a little while, keep it up constantly. 

Look. This is just a brief article on how the promotion process goes. It gets complicated and it can be much work. The best thing about putting out your own record is you can decide just how much work it will be. You can do as little or as much as you want. You decide how the band will be represented. You call the shots. Promote locally or try to enter the overwhelming world of national promotion. It’s all up to you. But don’t just sit there and hope to be “discovered” because it won’t happen. Do something for yourself.

Hey! This listing is incomplete. We have limited space here. Find your own addresses too. Remember that the more stuff you send and the more calls you make—the better response you will get.

Read more from our October 1994 issue here.