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When Is The Worst Time to Release an Indie Album?

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Question: When Is The Worst Time to Release an Indie Album?
Answer:

When you're choosing a release date for your album, it's never simply a matter of randomly selecting a date on the calendar. There are many factors that come into play as you attempt to perfectly time your album release, and the rules are different for indies than they are for majors.

In fact, for indie releases, there are some times that it's best to avoid completely when it comes to releasing your album. Hands down, the worst time of year to put an indie album out is the holiday season. Now, the definition of "holiday season" can vary, but getting much past that last week of October/first week of November means entering the danger zone.

The reason that time of year is so difficult is simple: competition. What do people do during the holiday season? They buy gifts. What is a common gift purchased during the holidays? Music. And so the major labels have said, "ah-ha! We shall release the albums we think will move tons of units, plus a bunch of box sets and collectable stuff, during the holidays, and people will give us lots of money." The majors count on the holidays to make a big percentage of their income, in fact, and so they go all out. The release schedule during the holiday season gets jam packed by the biggest names in music, plain and simple. They also step their promo game up to all-star level. The promotion budgets for holiday releases are enormous.

For the indie label and artist, this major label game plan spells trouble. In terms of getting press and radio plays, here's what happens. When certain artists release an album, the press just has to cover it. Their readers will be expecting reviews and interviews and such, and they have to deliver. During the holidays, there are a lot of releases that demand coverage. Of course, the space the media has to cover music doesn't change to accommodate all of those releases, so things have to get bumped. As an indie artist, especially a newer artist or a small label, you're most likely going to be the one who gets bumped. That is going to happen even if you have an in with a writer at a certain publication or if you've gotten reviews in a certain publication in the past. Sure, you may get a review at some point, but most likely not around your release date if you're competing with holiday releases - and maybe not at all, since even publications that like you have to stay current.

Ditto for radio play. Stations are only going to add so many new songs at a time, and when there at must-add songs in the midst, you take a backseat.

Another way indies suffer during the holiday season is marketing and advertising. Competition for advertising space is fierce, and the majors can outspend you every time. The same goes for retail marketing and promotion. Endcap space, point of purchase space, in-store display units, and other retail marketing opportunities are eaten up by majors. Even indie stores have to give up some of their space to these releases, because hey, they need to make money to keep their doors open.

Now, that doesn't mean you absolutely CAN'T release new music during the holidays. You just have to keep the goals, expectations, and budget in line with what you can realistically achieve during that time. If getting retail marketing and reviews in major publication is out of your reach right now anyway, then who cares what the majors are doing in that arena? If you just want to release something that you promote only through your social media networks, great. It's all about knowing what is achievable.

If, however, you've got national distribution and plan to shoot for some non-local media reviews and radio play, it pays to wait until the quiet time after the holidays have passed, when the majors slow down and you have a better chance of getting the attention your deserve.

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