When Is the Worst Time to Release an Indie Album?
There are many factors that come into play when you're choosing a release date for your album. Complicating the issue is the fact that industry observers don't entirely agree on which dates are best avoided. One thing they do agree on is that the rules for indie albums are different from the rules for major releases. If you're releasing an album, you'll want to avoid these times of the year.
Some well-informed music industry observers believe that releasing your album much past that last week of October/first week of November means entering the danger zone.
The reason they give is simple: competition. What do people do during the holiday season? They buy gifts. What is a common gift purchased during the holidays? Music. In fact, the major labels count on the holidays to make a big percentage of their income, and this is when they step up their promo game. The promotion budgets for holiday releases are enormous.
For those who think this way, the major label game plan spells trouble for indies. With small or non-existent promo budgets, they just can't compete. The news about the release of your album, particularly if you 're a new artist or on a very small label, will be drowned out. After all, the space the media has to cover music doesn't change drastically to accommodate all of those releases, so some things have to get bumped—and that's your new album.
Other industry observers have a more nuanced few of the holidays. They agree that they pose problems for indies, but that the real problem is October. Since music promotion generally follows a three-month schedule that begins with a bang about three months before the release, then tapers down as the release date approaches, notice of major Christmas releases is heaviest in October. By the holidays, the promotional space actually clears up a bit. Scheduling a release in late December, they argue, isn't that bad.
And January, most agree, is a good time because the majors have now concluded their major promotional campaigns.
Another counter-intuitive idea is that fear of the holidays is so widespread among indies, that an actual marketing opportunity arises because the volume of new indie releases is lowest from September through December.
The Direct-to-Fan Advantage
The rules may be changing again for independent releases with direct-to-fan marketing—the direct promotion and even sale of your album through blogs and emails direct specifically to your fans.
Traditionally, indies suffer during the holiday season because 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.
But here's another way of looking at it: if you've been around for awhile and have a fan base, do you really care that the majors are saturating the media during the holidays? That doesn't interfere with your direct communication with your fans. You can even have your own promotional drive that emphasizes the sale of your album for holiday giving. You could offer discounts for fans buying multiple copies for gifts.