Every artist starts somewhere: For our YouTube host Lealani - known for her 2019 album Fantastic Planet- it came with making beats on the family iPad at age twelve. For the viral star PinkPantheress, it was during the lockdown of 2020, mixing nu-jungle and pop samples to create her distinct “new nostalgic” genre. And for Rina Sawayama, heartbreak and healing brought forth her critically acclaimed debut album, SAWAYAMA.
Wherever you are, beginner or professional, this guide sets a clear path forward to producing and self-releasing your music.
FINDING YOUR DAW:
An essential first step is finding the workstation which suits you best. For beginners, or those looking for free DAWs, GarageBand and Ableton Live Lite are perfect starting points. GarageBand is extremely user-friendly and provides all the necessary basics: recording capabilities, easy-to-use plugins, and an expansive sound library with a solid collection of drums and percussion as well as synths. Ableton Live Lite takes it a step further with features such as real-time editing and the unique“arrangement view” and “session view” formats which the user can toggle between. Like Garageband, Ableton Live Lite has a solid collection of instruments as well as audio and MIDI effects suitable for any genre.
For those who are more advanced, Logic Pro and Ableton Live Suite are the next step up. Priced at $749, Ableton Live Suite offers full capabilities, boasting 5000+ sounds, unlimited tracks, fifteen MIDI effects, and more. Ableton Live Suite also features advanced updates such as MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) which allows users to pitch bend individual notes. Logic Pro is popular for its intuitive navigation, new live loops, and features such as Smart Tempo. One caveat is that Logic Pro is available for Mac OSX only.
PURCHASING THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT:
For those who don’t know where to begin, and don’t want to max out their credit card, we have a few affordable recommendations that are well-suited for beginners. For vocal microphones, the Audio Technica ATR2500 USB microphone ensures zero latency at $64, and the Blue Yeti microphone priced at $100 is highly rated with excellent user reviews. For headphones, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20X at $69 offer a perfect design for studio tracking and mixing, and are known for their excellent sound isolation. The M-Audio AV42 inch Powered Studio Monitors area solid option recognized for their frequency drivers, bass-reflux ported MDF cabinets, compact design, and affordability at around $149.
For better quality, but subsequently higher pricing, alternatives are here: The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 250 OHM Limited Edition Professional Headphones are known for their high-resolution sound, designed for professional mixing, and priced affordably at $179. For better monitors, we suggest the JBL 308P MkII which features a JBL Image Control Waveguide, 3 Series transducers, and clear sound with no build-up (commonly heard on other rear-ported monitors). For the quality of the product, we think the bundle cost of $890 is a great value.
MIXING & MASTERING YOUR MUSIC:
Now, it's time for mixing and mastering! If you are looking for an engineer to complete the job, search no further than EngineEars: a site which streamlines the process of finding the right engineer for your project. For those who prefer to mix and master their own music, here are a few great options.
Beginning with Neutron 3-- a plug in with eight modular mixing tools, a new sculptor feature and more. This plug in is perfect for both the beginners and advanced because of its professional quality and intuitive design. With three tier pricing, the Neutron 3 standard bundle is currently priced at $79 with the advanced package at $399.
For mastering, check out Ozone 9-- a plug-in featuring master rebalancing, in real time and an excellent equalizer, as well as imager. The pricing begins at $99 for the Ozone 9 Standard bundle and then goes up to $499 for the Ozone 9 Advanced bundle. For those looking for a more advanced option, FabFilter is a go-to. The FabFilter Mixing bundle includes EQ, reverb, compressor plug-ins and more for $569. And, the Mastering bundle, priced at $419, features a professional limiter, EQ, multi-band dynamic plug-ins and more. For further bundle options, check out their site.
RELEASING YOUR MUSIC:
Once the mixing and mastering have occurred, it’s time for the exciting part: distributing your music! With many options available, the decision-making comes in identifying which features you value the most, as well as your desired price point. First up, Amuse offers a rapid release timeline of four weeks, distributes music on all major streaming services, allows the artist to keep 100% of royalties, and guarantees same-day payout. For those looking to add on more features, such as creating a pre-save campaign on Spotify, you can upgrade to a higher tier for $24.99 a year.
Tunecore is a distributor well known and suited to artists who have an established and growing following. The cost of Tune Core includes an annual subscription price and set prices for singles and albums ($9.99 for a single and $29.99 for an album). Though this may present itself as a con to some, the appeal of Tunecore lies in the artists receiving 100% of royalties and releasing music to all major streaming platforms.
Comparatively, CD Baby takes a four-dollar cut on physical sales and a nine percent commission on download and streaming services. While this might sound unsettling, we think these fees are actually minimal since there is no annual subscription fee for their services (a huge plus). Pros of CD Baby include their valuable learning resources, easy-to-understand analytics, and the benefits of Show.co--which allows for artists to make campaigns to grow their following as well as easily engage with their fans.
Last, but definitely not least, DistroKid has arrived as an extremely cost-effective competitor and fan favorite. While TuneCore is priced at $29.99 per album with a yearly subscription fee, DistroKid charges just $19.99 a year for unlimited releases of albums and singles from one artist. Further benefits with DistroKid are automatic verification (the prized blue check), a very impressive same-day to three-day turnaround, and easy royalty sharing with collaborators.
MARKETING YOUR MUSIC:
To get your music out, start by establishing your social media presence via weekly content to connect with your audience. Platforms like Twitter and Instagram are tools to increase fan engagement, collaborating with other artists, and offering a glimpse into your life. Equally critical is the creation of a website that works as a hub for announcements, performance dates, and gathering emails-- which leads us to the importance of creating a distro list: compiling emails so that you can send out promotions, exclusive content, and messages which will make your fans feel more connected.
One of the most important parts of your website is your Electronic Press Kit (EPK). This includes an artist bio, photos, press quotes, linked music, and social media platforms. This information will provide the media with easily accessible information on you, the artist.
Beyond social media, marketing opportunities arise via pitching to music blogs and submitting to playlists. Pitching to platforms such as Urban Vault and IndiePulse Magazine, provide the possibility of generating publicity if published (check out Ditto for a full list of suggested platforms). Meanwhile, platforms such as Spotify provide artists with the opportunity to submit unreleased tracks to their playlists. The easy process involves going on to Spotify for Artists, creating your account, and filling out their playlist submission form: Make sure to complete the form at least seven days prior to the track’s release, to give ample time for review, and give a detailed description of the track.