When Is the Worst Time to Release an Indie Album?

New Year's eve concert
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The holiday shopping season is the worst time to schedule a release date for your independent album. Generally viewed as the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, many major recording artists schedule their own release dates during these weeks to take advantage of gift purchases to boost their own sales. Independent artists trying to compete in a crowded field are unlikely to be successful.

Decide when to release your album based on your knowledge of the holiday season, its challenges, and other factors important to successful timing.

The Holidays

Avoid releasing your album as much as a month before Black Friday. Major labels step up their promotional efforts well before holiday shopping ramps up. Because holiday sales make up a large portion of their sales, promotional budgets for holiday releases are enormous.

Independent labels with small or nonexistent promo budgets cannot easily 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.

The time and space entertainment journalists devote to covering music does not increase proportionally along with the holiday surge of major releases. Some things have to get bumped, and that's likely to be your new indie album.

A Counterintuitive Approach

Music promotion follows a typical schedule that begins with a bang about three months before a release date. Major labels kick off campaigns as early as September or October for December releases, and the promotional efforts actually taper off as the release date nears. This opens a small window for artists on independent labels who might want to go against conventional thinking.

A release date in late December or early January can follow promotional efforts that ramp up in December just as marketing efforts from the major labels are beginning to taper off. Widespread fear of the holidays among indies presents an additional opportunity for aggressive artists because the volume of new indie releases is lowest from September through December.

A strategy like this works best when there is a specific reason to release your album at this time and if you already have a fan base. Don't choose to stand toe-to-toe with major labels as some means of anti-establishment vanity. Choose to do so because you have content best served by a December or early January release date. Even if there is a good reason to choose such a date, your strategy is most likely to be successful if you already have followers you can reach directly online without having to compete for advertising time or space.

The Direct-to-Fan Advantage

Direct-to-fan marketing drives a lot of promotional efforts and sales for independent labels by reaching fans through social media, blogs, and email. This is especially important during the holidays. Just as major labels can outspend independent labels in advertising dollars, they also use their financial influence to push smaller labels out of prime retail spaces.

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 major labels because they need the money this brings to keep their doors open.

If you've been around for a while and have a fan base, major labels saturating the market during the holidays should not limit your direct communication with your fans.

If you are intent on releasing your album during the holidays, focus your efforts on an online promotional drive that emphasizes the sale of your album for holiday giving. Include material with a holiday theme to help boost attention or give your promotional strategy a distinct holiday theme.

Tour Dates

While the holidays represent a fixed time on the schedule to avoid album releases, lulls in your touring schedule represent a more fluid time to avoid releasing an album. Live shows generate sales for all artists, especially those on smaller labels. Whenever you choose to release your new album, you want to be sure you have a full schedule of live shows in the months that follow the debut of your new material.

Many album releases are kicked off by a live show with online sales timed to coincide with the gig and CD sales opening at the show itself. This is another factor that also makes holiday release dates a challenge. People tend to be busier and more stressed during the holidays, and a live show/new release party is more likely to be missed by people who otherwise might attend at another time of year.