Whether you're releasing a full length album, a single or an EP, and whether you've got physical copies are are going digital all the way, an album launch party works wonders for getting your fans (and potential fans) all excited about the new stuff. The nuts and bolts of holding a CD launch party isn't so different from planning a standard show. Behind the scenes, a lot of the work is the same. It is what happens during the event that sets things apart.
Consider The Budget
Launch parties have the potential to take a bigger bite out of your bank account than other shows. Why? Because, ideally, you won't be charging at the door at your launch party. Some people do, mind you, but your best bet is to treat this as a launch PARTY - emphasis on "party" - rather than a traditional show. You don't (hopefully?) charge your friends when you have a get-together at your place, so don't charge your fans to come to your album party. Plus, it's simply easier to get them through the door at a free event. You want to create an atmosphere where everyone is buzzing about your new music, and helping your fans have a good night on the cheap goes a long way to improving the mood.
But - that means you could be looking at some bigger expenses. The specifics depend on your circumstances, but you might have to pay a venue hire fee and/or bar minimum, plus posters, any advertising you do, any free merch you plan to give away, etc. Start out with a realistic idea of what you can spend, keeping in mind that this launch party shouldn't leave you with no cash left over to further promote your new release.
Locate your Schtick
The coolest thing about a launch party is that you can have a lot of fun doing something completely unique at your show. What is going to make this night special? Give your fans something to talk about. Really, you're limited only by your imagination (and the law and venue policies) here. Musicians have done everything from give away baked goods to raffling off private concerts - and everything in between - for their launch parties. Maybe you want a signature drink, a costume contest, a dance-off, a trivia contest - anything that you think will be fun for you and your fans, go for it. It will draw people through the door, give the press something to write about and be the foundation for many a "we saw this great band called so-and-so once, and at the show they..." - that is the kind of word of mouth that moves some product!
Find Your Venue
Finding the right venue for your launch party is a matter of weighing up size, cost and accommodation. Size - how many people do you think you can pull in for the party (keep in mind that free shows can bring in more people than paying shows)? Cost - since you're probably not charging at the door to help cover your costs, what venue will give you a decent hire fee/bar minimum that you think you can meet without going too out of pocket? Accommodation - remember your schtick? Which venue can/will accommodate it? For instance, if your schtick involves grub, and the venue in question doubles as a restaurant, they may balk at your idea. If you're hoping to pull off anything too out of the box during your party, be sure to consult the venue while you're booking to make sure they don't put the kibosh on your plans on the night of the show.
Put Together a Good Bill
Your launch party is definitely all about you and your new music, but putting together a good bill for the night can only up the party atmosphere. It's your special night, so you're the headliner, but pick a few other good acts in your area to draw in some people - as a bonus, some of their fans who might not be familiar with your music will come out for the free show and stick around to discover your sounds. Stick a DJ in between sets and have them hang around after your set if you've got time before the venue closes for a little post-set dance party.
Note that if you're having a hard time nailing down a venue, putting your bill together before you start booking could make it easier. This is especially true if you don't have a long track record of shows to point to. A strong bill can give the venue confidence that you're going to have a good turnout.
Promote Your Little Heart Out
The basics of promoting your launch party are the same as promoting any other kind of show - the trick is that you want to play up that fact that you're launching a new release and use the special things you've got in store for the party as a press angle. In other words, your launch party that also includes band name charades, a costume contest and a raffle to win a house concert with the band gives the press a lot more to sink their teeth into than ye olde standard "we're playing a show on Tuesday."
Never promoted a show before? Check out these tips for first time promoters and sign up for this free show promotion eCourse. Playing Live 101 can also help you make heads or tails of the whole process, from booking to promotion.
Get the Goods
You should have your new music on sale and available for fans at the show, even if you're selling download codes/coupons/what have you. T-shirts and such are great, too - you can sell a lot of this stuff when the mood is good at your gig, and since you're not charging at the door, this is your chance to make some money to cover your costs. Also, be sure you have everything you need for any special events you're holding - raffle tickets, prizes, etc.
Deliver the Goods
Don't get so wrapped up in the other parts of the planning that you let you set take a backseat. The bells and whistles will get them through the door, but a good set will keep them buying tickets for the next shows.
Have your launch party as close to the actual release date of your music as possible (if you're adhering to a strict release date). If you've got to choose between having it, say, the week before or the week after, go for the week before. Consider it a special treat for your local fans and use it to build excitement and momentum in the run-up to the big day.
Extend invitations to the press. If you're having a free show, the lure of the guest list is kind of null and void, but you can attract the press to your show with promises of a free drink.
Don't limit yourself to traditional venues. Maybe you want to have a Sunday afternoon cookout launch party out at a park so your fans can bring their families - well, ok, rent the shelter, get the permits and go for it. Maybe a house party is a better fit. A launch party is a great chance to fulfill those, "you know, I've always wanted to have a gig at...." dreams, so don't be afraid to step out of the box a little bit in terms of location. It's fun for you, fun for your fans, helps amp up that notion that this is more than a typical show and increase the likelihood that your show is going to attract media attention.
If you've got a big fanbase in an area you can't conceivably get to for a launch party, consider hosting a listening party there. You will need strong local contacts who can help you pull off the event and act as your representatives (a good relationship with a promoter, another band, a local label, etc), but you can add many of the elements of the launch party you will be attending into the listening party and simply have your music playing throughout the night.
Again, the emphasis here is on the local contacts. This idea works best if you, say, work with a label in Chapel Hill but you're based in San Francisco - you can hold the party in your home base while your label can hold the listening party for you on their turf. If you've got someone on the ground you can trust, this idea can certainly expand the impact of your launch. If you've got parties going on at the same time, you can even live link up via the web (another cool little angle to deliver to the press).