Every month Byta’s founder, Marc Brown, sits down for an in-depth one-to-one Zoom conversation with someone who provides deep music industry insights and tips.
#HowWeListen Live: In Conversation is designed to deliver the knowledge to enable tomorrow’s artists and industry leaders to better manoeuvre their way through the music ecosystem.
This episode’s guest was Kevin Breuner, the Senior VP of Engagement and Education at CD Baby.
Previously VP of Marketing at CD Baby, Kevin’s new role reinforces what CD Baby is all about: making sure musicians are as prepared as possible when planning to release their music into the world. Kevin created the DIY Musician brand, which has become the cornerstone of CD Baby’s strategy.
Doing It Yourself: better-educating musicians so they have the confidence and skills required to take their careers to the next level is something Byta and CD Baby share as foundational. Kevin helps coordinate that flow of knowledge. Kevin has spent over 17 years working in the music business, both as an artist and an industry professional advising artists. After college, he joined the Atlanta-based band Smalltown Poets whose self-titled debut album received critical acclaim, selling over 200,000 copies. They were even nominated for a Grammy.Sign up to Byta for free
Part II of II
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Marc challenges Kevin to come up with the top three biggest mistakes people make over and over again when planning a release.
Kevin also fields a number of questions from attendees: release planning, press release strategies and how to make your money more effective when dealing with social medial ads.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Marc Brown: So since you have a lot of experience in the industry, rather than the top things you should do, can you give us the top three things people shouldn’t do?
Kevin Breuner: The number one thing to never, ever do, would be to set a release date before your music is done.
Marc: Well, that sounds so obvious, but I assume that it’s a problem?
Kevin: I’m as guilty of it as anybody! I’ve heard a lot of people say “we’ve got this really awesome show booked in a few months, and that would be a great time for our album release show”. But then the music isn’t done, and it takes longer than you think. You end up scrambling to get it done so you can’t and don’t take advantage of all of the opportunities you could have with the release.
The number two mistake that kind of goes hand in hand with this is wanting to get your music out as soon as possible. We get calls from artists sometimes who are so excited and saying they want their music out that week. And even though we could do that for them, they are losing out on all these opportunities to promote it.
Another big mistake artists make is looking at the release date as their finish line. The reality is it’s the starting point. Nowadays, the opportunities that you have to promote music before it’s released are minimal. It’s still worth trying to get press and coverage, but after it’s out is when your fans can actually do something with it.
The last mistake that artists make is only focusing on their most recent music, instead of building a catalogue. The artists that I’ve seen make the most money on CD Baby have created a big catalogue. Every time you release a new song, fans are engaging with your music again. So if you have a catalogue, people will continue by listening to your old stuff and your revenue will increase exponentially. Basically, the more music you have, the more music fans can listen to.
Marc: That insight is excellent. I never really thought about how a catalogue could be the secret to success with streaming, but I keep hearing more and more about how older songs are being uncovered and rediscovered.
Kevin: Yeah. Especially with the younger generation, what we think of as classic music is actually new to them.
Marc: I didn’t even think about that – the idea that all music is new if it’s new to you. Ok so, there are some questions. Here is one about press releases. How early should you send it and how long in advance?
Kevin: This is a great opportunity to point out that we have a free tool for this, even if you don’t use CD Baby! Our release plan generator. It helps you understand timelines because the answer can change depending on the type of press you are looking for. Generally, you’ll want to start the process at least 2 months in advance. So that means you have to get it written and if you’re working with a PR rep they’ll need time for pre-pitching which is when they’ll send it out to agencies and try to get them to look at the press release. That takes a while.
Oftentimes as artists we forget that. It takes a while to actually get attention, and then when you do, the press outlets have their own editorial calendars to think about. There are other things at play, and even if the person likes what you’re doing there are some limitations. The bigger you are, the longer lead time you’ll need to give the press outlets. Most artists don’t realize that it’s not just the day you send the email, but the day that you get them to read the email that matters.
Marc: Getting them to read it at all is an accomplishment! Giving people time to read the email you write is oftentimes the best thing you can do. So back to the release planning, how about some more broad strokes?
Kevin: You need to start by knowing what your goals are for the release. I encourage people to think about it as a “season of release”, rather than one day. A certain time period where you’ll have quite a few things dropping. Streaming has provided a new opportunity, where releases don’t have to be so precious – you can do remixes, live recordings etc, all giving people more reasons to keep coming back.
You want to have at least 2 weeks between when you upload your music and when you release it so that you can take advantage of the pitching tools that are now available through streaming platforms. Even if you don’t get on the curated playlists, it will still push that release to all of your fans on Discover Weekly and New Music Radar. If you’re trying to release something in less than a week’s time, you’re missing out on those tools.
Marc: One thing I really like about that season of releases analogy is that you can learn as you go by doing a series of different releases over time. A lot of artists feel the pressure to be perfect, but it allows for a second chance so you can learn and improve each time. It’s a building process.
Kevin: Yeah, absolutely. That’s how I look at it as well.
Now, what about goals you should set when releasing music? Well, the goals I set for myself are a certain amount of streams by the end of the first week. Then you need to work backwards to figure out how you’re going to get there. Setting that goal and defining what it is can be helpful. I often see people just shooting in the dark, so when something works or doesn’t work you don’t really know what it was that led to that.
Marc: You could even make up some random number that you think is realistic, and whether you hit it or not you then have a better idea of what ballpark you’re in. People don’t realize just how much experimentation has to go on to get where you want to be.
Kevin: Yeah, it’s really easy to kick yourself as an artist when you don’t hit a goal, but the goal is really just there to help you focus on what you want to measure. Don’t get too focused on the numbers. Goals also help you prioritize because you only have so much time and effort that you can give. I know artists don’t think about data much, but there are so many stories that are told in data when you’re doing marketing campaigns. That’s one of the things I always have to remind myself to do after I release new music – to go back and really analyze the data so that I can better inform the next release.
Marc: You’re right. It’s just asking a lot of questions and being very curious about what you know, don’t know and what you can learn. I think people get stuck on the idea that there’s one elusive answer, but instead, it’s important to just try to get close to answering one question and gaining insights from that. Would you say that’s right?
Kevin: Yeah I would say so. What works today won’t necessarily work 5 years from now, and what works for another artist might not work for you. There is a certain mystery around music and art and how people perceive it. As musicians we’re not making commodities that just sit on a shelf – music connects to people’s souls in various ways and does things beyond what we can measure. For me, it’s just about being curious and creating a process that helps you feel like you’re moving in the right direction. What might work for this release won’t work 2 releases down the line.
Marc: You’re right – it really is a process. So, here’s another question for you:
“From the perspective of an artist with little budget, what are other ways to increase monthly listeners and streams that aren’t playlisting?”
Kevin: Little budget could impact this first part of the answer, but releasing more music always helps. The act of releasing music is a promotional act now because it gets pushed to your fans by the music streaming platforms.
Other than that, the biggest bang for your buck is Facebook ads. That also includes Instagram, and they just enabled the Instagram reel boost feature. Facebook ads are typically affordable for beginner advertisers, especially “boosting”. It’s really cheap to create a nice promotional content piece, pressing boost and getting it out to your fans. Promotional videos are also a great thing to do.
Marc: Like YouTube videos or videos on social media?
Kevin: On social media! All those platforms favour video more than anything. If you’re able to do a quick snippet about your new music, those perform much better in the feed and as ads. People like seeing videos more than looking at a static image. Social media platforms are constantly evolving, like Instagram for example. They are really pushing reels nowadays so you’ll see way better performance if you focus on reels.
So going back to the question, you can reach many people for as little as $20.
Marc: That makes a lot of sense. Don’t overcomplicate it even with ads, keep it simple. There’s a lot of insight there! OK, now along the same lines is this question:
“What does social media marketing mean to you and what are the best industry practices?”
Kevin: Using social media is great, and one thing that’s important is to look at it as storytelling. It’s a pretty broad question because different platforms reward different kinds of content so understanding that is really important. The one word of caution I have for artists is if you feel like you’re on a social media platform just to be on it, and you’re not really understanding why you’re on it or how it’s benefiting your music – it might not be the right place for you. When you build an audience on social media, you should be trying to get them off of social media. You want to try to get an email address or something like that so that you own the relationship.
Marc: Makes sense. Here is another question- super detailed and international:
“If my goal is to perform and have a fanbase buy merch in a few countries in Europe, should I be running my ads to multiple countries with just one ad? Or would it be best to separate the ads per country, and if so, should I focus on one country at a time before moving on to the next one?”
That’s a really interesting one because it’s talking about where to put your focus.
Kevin: I may come up short here because my answer is… that it depends.
Marc: Ahhh no…not it depends!
Kevin: I haven’t seen the ad, but if those countries speak different languages, I’d have versions of those in their first language because it’ll feel more local to them. Also, if there are any hooks that are specific to a country’s culture, you should also just run the ad in that country. You also need to understand which kind of person likes your music, and if there’s a connection in those countries then you could combine it and run the ad in one place.
I don’t think you necessarily have to run separate ads, but that’s where you should turn to the data and see what works and what doesn’t work. If you’re looking at the data and you see that your merch is selling, but your ads aren’t performing well then you need to tailor your ad to that specific region since there might be some sort of disconnect.
Marc: I think what’s really important is don’t overcomplicate it. Start one way, see how it goes and then adjust. You’ll find the answer based on the steps you take and the questions you ask.
Kevin: Exactly. Start simple and learn as you go. See if the simple ad connected with the audience, and if didn’t then change one variable and go from there.
Marc: That’s a great place to end – SS. Start Simple! It’s so easy to go off in all kinds of directions, but what you want to do is take simple steps and build from there.
Kevin: I completely agree.
Marc: Thanks so much Kevin, it was great to chat with you!
Kevin: Thank you!