Timing is everything when it comes to picking a release date for your indie album, but the answer ultimately depends on your final goals. If you don't think you'll garner much press or radio for your album, then there is no timetable.
Likewise, if you have a strong online presence and network of fans, develop your own schedule to market directly to them. However, if you plan to go for radio plays, reviews, and prominent in-store album placement, then circle these dates on your calendar.
Autumn for Releasing Indie Albums
College kids returning for the fall semester can be a boon for indie musicians because the college live circuit and college radio are such friendly grounds for independent artists. This time of year can also bring a glut of indie releases, but if you boast a bit of a track record and a fan base, fall can be an excellent choice for an album release.
November and December Releases
Many indie musicians choose to release albums during the months of November and December. This timing can work out well, provided you began during August or early September in getting things ready to go. November and December are months when many people purchase gifts, so, be sure to target that market if possible.
Releases in January and February
Major record companies are cooling their heels after their holiday season push during these months. That's good news for an indie musician as there is far less competition for reviews and radio plays. While some executives and media folks may extend their holidays into the early part January, overall this is a good time to grab the attention of music journalists and people in the radio biz who need to cover music. Keep in mind though that around February 15 the focus shifts to SXSW performances and parties, so stick tightly to this window.
Summer Season Indie Album Releases
If you want to make a splash at college radio, think about summer. Not every station shuts down over summer break. In fact, the stations that remain operational are often the ones that give you the most bang for your buck in terms of radio plays. Release schedules slow down during the summer, so these stations are hungry for something to play. The CMJ Music Marathon will start to heat up during the latter part of the month, so only release an album at this time if you're an established indie band.
Avoid April and October Releases
Many indie artists are still releasing SXSW albums during April, so it's a good idea to wait until mid-month for a new release to avoid the crush. The consensus is that October is the worst month to release an album as an emerging band. You won't attract coverage, and the media won't have time to give it attention.
Releasing Your Story and Your Album
What's the outlook if you just can't release your album during prime times, but you need to get press and radio? It can be done, but make sure you've got some kind of anchor, like a tour. "Band releases album" is not an exciting story that will catapult you to the top of the media slush pile. Link your release to something else, perhaps a newsworthy item, so the press has a reason to cover what you're doing.