You’ve got a great song idea. Unfortunately, you’re not sure how to take it all the way across the finish line to share it with the world. Sound familiar?
It’s a problem artists and producers face all the time. Taking a song all the way from your DAW to being able to stream it on Spotify can be a challenge. Luckily, we’ve put together a roadmap that will help you navigate the process of preparing a song for release.
Learn how to work with others to finalize your creative ideas. Then, when you’re done recording, you can perfect the mix and master so it sounds like your favorite artists’ tracks. Finally, we’ll show you how to share it with the world via a distributor and tackle the business side of things with the right contracts and agreements.
For starters, you’ve obviously got to finish your song before you can share it with the world!
If you’re a solo artist, that may mean finding a recording engineer to help you record your music properly. Or if you’re a band, that might mean hiring a producer to help you find your sound.
Whatever the case, working collaboratively is a great way to get unstuck with a project.
Try and find like-minded collaborators who can help you at whatever phase you need it most. It could be having someone hop in with lyric suggestions to make your chorus pop. Or maybe it’s a drummer who can add a human touch to otherwise generic programmed drums.
Often, artists are able to demo a song at home but need someone to give them the extra 20% a song needs to make it radio ready. Even if you have a robust production workflow, an extra set of ears can show you new creative ideas to make your track stand out.
As you fine tune your song, find people who can give you honest and constructive feedback. Don’t be afraid to be critical to get your song done the right way.
Platforms like Notetracks let you work remotely with other musicians. You can give direction on how you want your song to sound. Share reference mixes, ideas, and get feedback on how you can take your song to the next level.
After you’re done recording and producing, it’s time to get the song mixed.
Mixing is an essential part of the production process. It combines all the elements of your song and eliminates harsh frequencies or elements that clash with each other.
To achieve this, you’ll send stems to your mixing engineer.
Stems are the finalized audio files of each element of your song. Sounds like kick drums, snares, and guitars are all exported as separate audio files. This gives your mixing engineer total control over the sound of every element in your song. They’ll add effects, EQ out badd frequencies, and make everything glue together the way it’s supposed to.
All modern DAWs let you export individual tracks for each of your song elements. As you export files, it’s important to label each element properly.
That means labeling all your drums with “DRUMS” in the file name. Or adding “SYNTHS” to all your electronic elements.
This helps the mix engineer keep their own session organized and clean as they begin the mix process. They’ll know exactly what everything is and not have to sort through dozens of sounds before even starting.
Typically, song stems are exported at the same bit rate and depth they were recorded. The two most popular recording formats are 16-bit/44.1khz and 24-bit/48khz files. These high-fidelity audio files deliver all the sonic information you captured during recording.
After your stems are exported, it’s time to send them to your engineer for mixing. Many artists and producers use platforms like WeTransfer or Dropbox to transfer these files. In almost all cases, they're too large to send via email!
Your mix engineer has your stems. They’ve made their first mix. Now it’s time to start giving them notes to finish up the song!
Your mix engineer will likely share their first mix with you via a cloud storage link or even send it to you directly.
With Notetracks, you can upload this file and share feedback directly on the timeline. Vocals too loud in the chorus? Highlight the section you want to turn down and leave a note about how much you want the volume to change. Have an idea for a delay on the snare drum? Pinpoint exactly how long and where you want the delay to come in and fade out.
Sharing mix feedback is a crucial element of finishing your song and getting it ready for release. It’s the last time you’ll get to make creative adjustments to your song!
As you’re listening, try to compare your song to similar artists. Are the vocals loud and up front? Are they using reverb on the guitars to make them wide? Take notes about what you like and don’t like and share them with your engineer.
With your engineer on the same page, they can help bring your vision to reality.
Mastering is an important final step in finishing your song. After you sign off on a mix that’s ready to go, a mastering engineer steps in.
They’ll not only boost the volume of your song so it competes with other songs on the radio and on playlists. They also take the time to ensure that technical elements of the mix are refined and don’t cause problems later on.
This could mean cleaning up some muddy low-end frequencies that sound bad when played on smaller speakers. Or it may be boosting the high-end of a track to make the vocals poke through the mix just a little more.
Mastering engineers take the time to ensure your song meets the standards of streaming and download platforms. Streaming services have different recommendations and requirements for song loudness and format. A mastering engineer keeps up to date with these guidelines and gives your song the final shine it needs for release.
As you’re working with a mixing engineer or mastering engineer, there are a few files you’ll get from them. Not only do you need your main recording, you also need some alternative versions.
Getting an instrumental version of your track is a must. For sync licensing and even backing tracks, an instrumental version is key. There are also other alternate versions such as “TV mixes” which exclude lead vocals.
Your engineers will help you mix and master these versions of your song as well.
Getting all these versions up front as you prepare for your release will save you time down the road. There’s nothing worse than realizing you need an instrumental version 3 months later for a TV licensing opportunity and not having it!
Note: Be prepared to pay your engineer for each version of your song they export.
Many of the best songs have collaborators and co-writers involved. These folks influence the direction and outcome of your final song.
In most cases, these collaborators are entitled to a piece of the pie when your song starts earning money. This means you’ll need to draft publishing and master-split agreements with them before you can post your song on the Internet.
Without permission from other people who worked on your song, you’re not allowed to share it. This is because, by law, anyone who helped write a melody or lyric in your song legally owns a piece of the song too. This is called a publishing right.
As you write with other people, the portions of their contribution entitle them to a part of the songwriting royalties you earn from the track. In most cases, songwriters often split everything evenly to avoid disputes later on.
To keep everything organized, songwriters sign documents called split sheets during a writing session. These documents keep track of songwriters' names, contact information, and how much of the song they contributed to.
Songwriting split sheets are usually signed at the beginning or end of a session. But it’s not uncommon to figure out the business side of things after a song is already complete.
Make sure collaborators know they can trust you to pay them so you can work together again in the future!
With your final song in hand, it’s time to get ready for release. There are countless independent music distributors out there. One of our partners, CD Baby, is among the most popular distributors for indie music.
Most distributors charge a small fee in exchange for uploading your music to Spotify, Apple Music, and more. CDBaby charges a flat rate and doesn't take a percentage of your future earnings. Some distributors will let you upload for free but will take a cut of your back-end royalties.
During the uploading process, you’ll choose which online stores you want your song on. You’ll include metadata such as collaborators’ names, the song title, and artwork.
Most distributors have detailed upload instructions to ensure everything is ready when you click submit. Follow their examples and instructions and check out their FAQs if you have any trouble. There are more than 60,000 songs uploaded to Spotify every day. So it’s most likely that any issues you have were solved by someone else in your shoes not long ago!
It’s recommended that you upload your song at least 4-6 weeks before the date you’d like it released. This gives you enough time to market and promote your song before it comes out.
With your metadata and artwork uploaded, you’re done! Your song is ready to release and will be scheduled by your distributor. In most cases, it only takes a few days for digital stores to approve your song. But if there are upload delays or outages, having a buffer of a few weeks will give you time to correct any mistakes.
Preparing your song for release as an independent artist takes practice. The more often you finish and release music, the better you’ll get at the process.
Be open with feedback and notes throughout the process, both while producing and mixing your track. Save your engineer time by properly labeling your stems before sending them over. And don’t forget to double check all your metadata is correct before you hit submit.