If you have been sending your demo out to record labels and nothing seems to be happening - or even if you haven't - the idea of releasing your own album can be appealing. Self releasing an album can work, but don't underestimate the amount of hard graft involved. Whether self releasing is the right choice for you depends on a few factors:
- Cost - Having an album pressed is not cheap, and without the backing of a label, you have to carry that cost yourself. Labels often get better rates with manufacturers because they can order in larger volume or because they have a distribution deal in which their distributor pays for pressing. Further, without any track record behind you, a manufacturer may not extend credit to you, meaning you have to shell out up front, before you make any money on your record.
- Distribution - Self releasing an album and selling it online is fine, but if you want your record in the shops, you are going to need some kind of distribution deal. Some distributors will take on your album and simply funnel it into shops if they happen to order it, but a good distributor takes your music and ACTIVELY sells it to the music stores. Getting one these distributors is pretty hard with your first album, so you may find that your sales avenues are fairly limited as you get started.
- Promotion - An established label, even a small one, will have relationships with press/radio that they can cash in on to generate some press buzz for their releases. Most labels will also hire PR companies, which may be too pricey for you to do on your own (again, this can be a question of volume - if a label runs a lot of business through a particular PR company, they can get a better price).
Last but not least, you have to consider the nuts and bolts of the operation. Do you know how to release a record? Do you have time to dedicate to the project to make it worthwhile? Do you have the commitment to follow through with your ideas? Saying "yes" to all of these questions is crucial if you want to be successful at self releasing a record.
That's the reality check part of the answer - now here's the good news. You CAN self releases your record - and it can be a great thing for your music career. It comes down to setting realistic goals. If this is your first releases and you don't have any press coverage, start small. Sell your albums at your shows, try to get local independent record stores to take it on a consignment basis and try to drum up some press coverage. Don't forget to use your website to sell your album to your fans as well. When you have some sales under your belt and some press to show off, start looking for a distributor who can take your album out to a wider audience. Every success and every bit of progress, no matter how small, is a building block for your next step.
One caveat - if getting signed to a label is a major goal of yours, be aware that when you self release an album, a label may hesitate to release that album in the future. The reason is that if you have already gotten the press and the attention for those songs, they will be unable to re-promote them. If you want to get signed, and you want to self release an album in the meantime, consider either holding back some of your songs or continuing to write and record new ones while you are working your release. This way, a label has something brand new to work with.
The bottom line is that self releasing your album is unlikely to bring you international stardom. If you have the dedication, means and patience to treat it like a step towards something bigger, however, it can pay off for you down the line.