The Self-Released Album Reference Guide for Musicians

This article is part 4 of a 4-part series by guitarist Cameron Mizell. For more information about self-releasing your album, visit the series home page:

The Self-Released Album

Should I Self Release My Album? and Self Releasing and Album – Pros and Cons by Heather McDonald at will help you decide whether or not you’re up for the task. Heather has written about her career in music on our site, and her own blog is loaded with useful articles such as these.

Before Designing Your Next Album is an article based on my experiences in the Creative department at the Verve Music Group and working with independent musicians putting together their own releases. These tips will help your CD look more professional.

Home Recording for Indie Musicians with Indie Budgets might help those of you who can’t afford the studio. In fact, I believe not all albums need to be recorded in a studio. Home recording equipment is relatively affordable now. Plus the relaxed, comfortable atmosphere of your own home relieves the pressure of budgetary and time constraints that can come along with hiring a studio and engineer.

Creating a Budget for Your New Album will give you a better idea of what recording and releasing your album might realistically cost. Avoid surprise costs that could derail your plans by creating an appropriate budget ahead of time.

How to Release an Album

An Introduction to the Self-Released Album will give you an outline of the process and a little history as to why this is even possible. This was the first article in this series on the self-released album, and an excellent place to start.

The Self-Released Album 101: The Basics discusses the different types of stores in which you can sell your CDs and downloads, the all important distribution, and some bare essentials necessary to start selling your music such as the UPC, ISRCs, and metadata.

The Self-Released Album 201: The Details continues where the last article left off and teaches you how to create a production schedule, gives you a crash course in manufacturing, and offers a little guidance over some legal matters like copyrights, licensing cover songs, and that legal line you see on the back of every CD.

What’s a Netlabel? by Andrew Dubber at New Music Strategies discusses the grey area between being signed to a record label and being a completely DIY, independent musician. There are a number of emerging business models that can help you release and market your album digitally. If you’re looking for somebody to help you the business end of releasing an album in exchange for a portion of the profits, a netlabel business model may be right for you.

Should I Pay For Music Distribution? Another article by Heather McDonald. Any article that discusses what you should or shouldn’t pay for is a must read.

How to Promote and Market an Album

How To Effectively Promote and Sell Your Music on iTunes is simply a detailed discussion about creating iMixes (now simply called “Playlists” on the iTunes Store). As I say in the article, “the one thing I’ve done that has generated more money, reached more fans, and helped me target other types of promotions, all with no cost other than a little thought and time.”

In short, years (yes, years) of generating very specific playlists of the music I love mixed with some of my own commercially available recordings has helped me sell tens of thousands of tracks and thousands of albums around the world. Don’t read this expecting a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s just part of the marathon that is guerrilla marketing.

Music Marketing with a Purpose by David Rose helps you focus on your priorities, whatever they may be. This sort of article is always good to revisit every few months to help re-evaluate your direction.

Creating Income With Your Original Music is an article about using your talent as a composer or songwriter to it’s fullest extent, and diversifying your portfolio of music assets. If you could have side projects that existed just to record niche oriented music instead of working a day job, wouldn’t you do it?

Building an Internet Presence with Allison Weiss describes how Allison has won the attention of her fans by keeping a consistent, interactive online presence. As a result, promoting her new releases has become much easier.

The Art (or Act) of Doing sums up my general philosophy about productivity. As long as there’s some action, you’re going to get somewhere. The things that work for you and your fans will become obvious and your focus will begin to shift in that direction. Sitting around reading about how to do it won’t get you there, you need to get to work.

Further Reading

As an independent musician, it’s incredibly important to have a better than average understanding of the music industry and how musicians are paid through a variety of business models. The Future of Music Coalition is an excellent resource, and recently posted an article on the Principles for Artist Compensation in New Business Models.

Speaking of the future of music, if you didn’t read the article about netlabels I still recommend reading Andrew Dubber’s excellent blog, New Music Strategies. It is insightful, well organized, and thorough. One of his more popular articles, Should I be worried about piracy? is something I frequently direct people to who about to release an album and start to worry about getting ripped off.

Not only is it good to understand the music business, but if you’re going to be marketing your music, it’s good to know how marketers think. None think better than Seth Godin, and his blog will inspire you to keep your long term goals in check. Even though most of his posts are not related to music, they are general enough that they can be applied to anything you do. There’s at least one gem every week for musicians. Take for example, this post on building a following with ten people.

And finally, perhaps nobody is more synonymous with independent musicians than Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby. Derek has many great thoughts about music, and you can find them at his website. One of my favorite posts is called Is Your Album a Starting Line or a Finish Line? Consider this the next time you set out to release an album. Will you be ready for the marathon?

As I said before, there are many more valuable resources out there, but this is a start. I recommend subscribing to all of these blogs, using RSS feeds, Google Alerts, bookmarks, and any other tool that can help you organize and filter large amounts of information. Chances are you will only release an album every two or three years, so there’s no need to commit the information to memory. You don’t have to read everything, but scan the headlines and subtitles, take note of what is discussed, and know where you can find the information when you need it.

Good luck!

Published by

Cameron Mizell

New York guitarist Cameron Mizell is involved in a wide variety of musical projects. He has released many of his own albums independently, including his latest, Tributary. Cameron's experiences as a musician and former record label employee give him a unique perspective on the musician industry, which he enjoys sharing on MusicianWages. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

18 thoughts on “The Self-Released Album Reference Guide for Musicians”

  1. It’s great to have all this useful info pulled together in one place. Nicely done Cameron! Thanks for the mention / links to

    Keep great musician info coming!


  2. It’s also important to consider NOT releasing an album. Releasing a song a month or an EP is more viable than ever, and keeps you on the minds of your (hopefully growing) fanbase.

    Labels and acts have abused the album concept as a way to get more $ by adding crappy songs to one or a couple of good ones. Now, fans have a choice, and the value of those 10-14 tracks is decreasing every day. Fewer and fewer people are willing to pay extra for songs they don’t love. iTunes and file sharing took care of that.

    Consider putting out one track at a time and see what excites people. Make all your future records a “Greatest Hits.”

    Write on,


  3. Another advantage of doing EPs is that you’re effectively bundling a small sampler for new fans. I think this works well for the exact reasons you said.

    At the same time, independent artists can take advantage of the (relatively) evenly priced albums on iTunes by:

    1) Not putting any crappy songs on your album (I mean, is it too much to ask that EVERY song be able to stand on it’s own?) and…

    2) Put 13 or 14 tracks on your album which will most likely sell for $9.99. Put 16 tracks on it if you’ve got 16 great songs.

    When I see albums like that, and everything I hears sounds good, I go into bargain mode. I figure it’s like getting 16 tracks for the price of 10, and I’m less likely to cherry pick singles. Especially with artists I don’t know.

  4. I always thought that the release and success of an album would be on the basis of a compilation of a few hit singles and new songs, with the hope that at least one or two of the new songs are just as good as the hits or even better.

    This of course is if the artist is extremely keen on maximum success other than just making a few quick bucks…where most of time you ended up buying low quality albums with maybe just one “OK” song.

    Wasn’t Michael Jackson’s (Billie Jean) and (Beat It) hit singles before he released them on the Thriller album? And didn’t Thriller bacame a big hit or even bigger than Beat It and to a lesser extent, Billie Jean? What was the result? Thriller became the biggest selling album of all time and still is today.

    I would appreciate your professional view on the above mentioned.

    Thank you.


  5. Thanks! Good luck for your sincere efforts. In short of generating very specific playlists of the music I love mixed with some of my own commercially available recordings has helped me sell tens of thousands of tracks and thousands of albums around the world.

  6. Thanks! Good luck for your sincere efforts. In short of generating very specific playlists of the music I love mixed with some of my own commercially available recordings has helped me sell tens of thousands of tracks and thousands of albums around the Fashion and Vintage world.

  7. Cameron

    I am somewhat in awe of how good a job this post does. I was thinking about writing a blog post on the same theme on our blog the other day, but intended to cover it all in about 1000 words. Not only would that have not been good enough, but it’s now redundant! I’ll just link to this post instead!

    Your focus on the DIY plan has particular relevance because you’re a musician. In my experience as a manager, the root cause of all the records that we failed to break, when we should have broken them, was always the same thing.

    We didn’t create and stick to a timeline.

    In the UK, and it’s similar in the US but more complicated as it’s a bigger area, you need 8-12 weeks to get a peak in radio play. I’d apply that same logic to any release – single or album, label backed or DIY.

    That means that before you start doing anything to promote the record – i.e. 12 weeks before release – you must have all the core elements of your release in place. In practice that means not sending out promos until you have cover art; having metadata done and filed with your digital aggregator; having an EPK set up and ready for your PR (or you!) to point people at; tour dates all set and scheduled, etc. That kind of thing.

    Basically, don’t let something not being ready and to hand, cock-up your release. That way you can focus on doing the shows to support the release, pushing promo like crazy and you’ll get the best result.

    Sod’s law unfortunately states very clearly that something will go wrong anyway, despite your best efforts, but planning and scheduling will make that bump in the road less disastrous.

    Having said that, I’ve realised that the post I should do to link back to yours is that timeline. I’ll try to get it done as soon as and post back here when I have.


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