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10 strategies for releasing a single

10 ways to release a single

There’s a lot more to releasing a single than just throwing it up on SoundCloud or Bandcamp. And I’m not talking about distribution — though, ya know, (plug) you should totally get your latest single onto Apple Music, iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and more.

Global music distribution is important, but what I’m talking about here is the strategy behind the release of your single: How are you going to attract listeners and encourage downloads? How is the launch of this single going to enhance your relationship with your audience? How will this song help you get to the next level in your music career?

As a music marketing tool, you can do a lot of different things with a single, and there are a number of strategies you can employ for its release.

Here’s a list of options (and thanks to Jon Ostrow, from whom I borrowed some of these ideas) — and remember, you can combine some of these strategies for the same single:

1. Release the video single

With this approach, you would post your song first to YouTube, perhaps first as an album art track and then followed up later with an official music video (and then even later with live videos or lyric videos), and use YouTube cards to drive engagement. Be sure to link your fans via cards, end screens, annotations, or in the video description to a place where they can purchase the download.

Video, of course, is one of the most sharable forms of online content, so if both the song and video are great, releasing the music this way can be a smart move — especially if you manage to get a notable blog to premiere the video for you (meaning you give them a limited-time exclusive to debut the video on their site).

Be sure to upload the video directly to Facebook too (once the exclusive blog premiere is over), since Facebook favors video that is native to the platform when determining what to display in users’ feeds.

2. Release the radio single

Effective radio promotion can be pretty expensive, but if the song is right and the promoter has a record of success, it might be worth the cost. When you release a radio single (think “hit song” usually between 2.5 — 4 minutes long), the idea is to create sustained exposure to the song over a short period of time. That’s what it takes to get a critical mass of people to take notice — repeated listens. Even if it’s a great song.

Don’t have the budget for a radio promoter, you can still make a dent going the DIY route. Download our free guide to getting radio airplay.

Is the radio route still sounding like a pipe dream? If so, concentrate on getting your single added to as many Spotify playlists as possible. The biggest indicator of a song’s success on Spotify is the number of times it’s been added to playlists on the platform. In some cases, a song placement on a prominent Spotify playlist can net you more listeners than a whole radio promotion campaign.

3. Release a deep cut

Radio singles are great for catching new ears, but every once in a while you need to reward your existing fans too — the folks who love you for everything you do (not just the moments with the sharpest hooks). So feel free to release what Jon Ostrow calls a “street single,” a longer or more demanding song that offers up the goods for those who pay closer attention.

4. Release your single as the instant-gratification track on iTunes

Did you know you can run an iTunes pre-sale for a month before your album comes out? One of the features of the pre-sale on iTunes is that they allow customers to download one track right away (and then they get the full album download on the day of release). So think about what song will be most enticing. The radio single? The street single? Something else?

5. Release a bonus track with your full album

Whether you offer bonus tracks to download customers or exclusively on CD and vinyl, this gives you a great chance to feature some extra content and drive up sales. Live track? Alternate mix? Demo? An unreleased track? Acoustic version of a favorite song from your previous album? The bonus track will appeal to fans who want to collect the whole catalog.

6. Release a new song on a compilation

If the song only comes out on a compilation, I suppose it’s not technically a single — BUT it might be a smart way to put a new track to work for you. You’ll benefit from the song being featured alongside tunes by a bunch of other artists, and you can always use it again later on your own album.

7. Release a FREE single

Okay, you’ve really got options here, including:

  • using the single as an incentive to join your mailing list
  • handing out download cards of the new single to anyone who attends your single release party
  • granting a blog the premiere on your new song — and let readers of that blog download the song for free

8. “Leak” the single

This one has its ethical issues, but as Jon Ostrow says in an article for Hypebot:

If artists are planning on ‘leaking’ a track, time and attention needs to be paid so that it not only seems the track was actually accidentally leaked and not just released, but also so that the music gets into the right hands of influential bloggers and super fans who’s announcement of the leaked track will help is spread. But be careful, if it comes out that you were behind the leak, the inauthentic nature could leave a sour taste in the mouths of fans.

9. Release a remix

Remixes let you breathe new life into a song whose energy might be waning, collaborate with artists who might work in another genre, and benefit from all the cross-promotion that ensues.

10. Release a series of singles to build an album

One practice that’s become more common is for an artist to set a release schedule, for instance: putting out one new song a month for a year, and then letting fans vote on which ten tunes will comprise the next album. This is a great strategy for staying motivated, stirring fan anticipation, and giving yourself multiple chances to connect with a new audience throughout the year.

Bonus strategy: record a cover song single!

Whether it’s a holiday favorite, a classic from your own genre, or a current Billboard hit, recording a cover song can attract a whole new audience to your music. People search for a song they already love, get wowed by your creative take on it, and hopefully become a fan of your original material too.

Obviously a cover song can be promoted in any of the ways already mentioned above, but make sure you’ve secured the proper mechanical license before you distribute your cover song single. Now CD Baby makes that easy, with cover song licensing and standard single-song distribution integrated into the same simple signup process. You pay a one-time fee upfront and we’ll handle all of your mechanical licensing and royalty payments from there!


Want to distribute your single to Apple Music, iTunes, Spotify, and everywhere else that matters? Upload it to CD Baby today!

What are some other ways to release a single? Let me know in the comments below.

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  • Don’t know if anyone else has this experience, but I can post on Facebook or tweet a song only available in audio on a site that has a page counter to see how many people came over and tweet or post a link to the same song on a youtube video(not simultaneously.) They will always pile over for just an audio version and have a listen, but pretty much not bother looking at the youtube version. And I have been doing this for 9 years since we first began releasing music and still the same reaction. I have never been able to figure out why that is.

  • bydavidrosen

    I wish there was an option for “maxi-singles” / EPs on CDbaby. Something longer than just one song but not as big as an album. If love to release a new song in between albums and put a remix on there with it, something like that.

  • pietrogirardi

    Thanks for these helpful tips! Just released yesterday my first single as a singer ( https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/pietrogirardi4 ) and about to make a video for it!

  • EXEC_PROLIFIC_On_INSTAGRAM

    Chris, you’re the man!

  • Nice. Congrats! Put a link to the video here too when it’s done.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Here is my own song with a simple video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WR8AE8g-Rh0

  • Hey Chris,

    I decided to release a separate single for the summer just to keep our name out there before our EP hits (which will be a wide-release). The intent was an absolutely free track via a video.

    https://youtu.be/weben0fTiWg

    Rock Hard! Rock Sexy!
    † The Deacon †

  • Hi Brayden,

    You’d sign those songs up individually, as singles, release them according to whatever schedule you envisioned, and then sign up the whole album — coordinating with your distributor (hopefully CD Baby) to remove the singles to coincide with the release of the full album.

    BUT… you have to make sure the sound recording of the single and the version of that song which appears on the album are absolutely identical (same mix, same title, etc.). That way, the ISRC that’s assigned to the song when it’s released as a single can follow the song in the album format. I’m pretty sure that’s how Spotify keeps track of play tallies and such when a song goes from “single” to “album track.”

    Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisRobley

  • Amazing article!!! Definitely looking into the Spotify playlisting.

  • To be sure you’re doing everything correctly, I’d suggest you contact SoundExchange.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Obed Chavarry

      I ve been writing them in facebook inbox, and they just answer once like “Oh, we sorry you are having inconvenients” and nothing more… I though they would give some advice… so I dont know what to do…

      • Do you have any musician friends who’ve registered successfully with SoundExchange? Maybe they can walk you through that section?

        @ChrisRobley

  • If you’re not having luck getting the info from SoundExchange, is it possible to contact your country’s mechanical society? They may have some info.

    @ChrisRobley