Spree Wilson is a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter and producer, well known for writing and featuring on the Afrojack international hit “The Spark.” Discovered by the legendary Q-Tip, the Nashville native most recently released “The Jealous Song,” which will be featured on his upcoming album, Thank You For Coming, Enjoy, set for release later this year.
When I first started in the music business at 18, the term “mini-budget” was unheard of. Working in the major label system, even a small budget could quickly balloon to the six-figure mark. Sure, streaming was starting to rear its head, but it hadn’t fully formed and placed its inevitable grip on the music industry’s neck—yet. We were still sitting pretty in the center of the “good ol’ days” of the music industry as some of the OG’s like to call it. But the tides were indeed turning and they were turning fast.
Fast forward to 2019, and we're in the midst of the streaming era. Anyone with access to a computer and Wi-Fi can easily create and upload a song or full project with the push of a button (or a command to Siri). But what does it really mean to properly release a song or album these days?
Of course, an artist could create an Audiomack or SoundCloud account, uploading their music without much hoopla, but what if their mission is bigger? What if you’re some kid in Omaha or Wisconsin working for seven dollars an hour at some job that you hate, and you have this insane love for music and want to put out a project, but you don’t quite have the same “budget” as some of the bigger artists who you admire?
The first and maybe the most crucial step to take is to make sure the music is jammin’. This will be key in getting any help you’ll need to push forward with releasing a project. Be critical of yourself. “Is this the BEST music I can release at this time?” If the answer is yes, you’re off to the races. If it's no, that's OK. Really hammer down and work on the project until you feel happy and completely confident in its potential.
Once you’re happy with your super jammin' project—an album, a single, a video—now it's time to start looking for other assets that you’ll need to help with the rollout. The first thing I like to focus on is visuals. It’s no secret visuals are king. They give an audience a chance to connect with who you are as an artist and to peek into your world.
With so much technology at our disposal, a music video in 2019 should not break the bank. Instead of focusing on how much a video will cost to produce, focus more on creativity. Find someone in your community, possibly someone who is pursuing a degree in film production/film directing, and ask them to collaborate. Local film schools and colleges are a great resource.
When I was brainstorming a video for “The Jealous Song,” I reached out to a friend of mine and frequent collaborator, Artemus Jenkins, to help with the vision. Since we were operating on a super, SUPER minimal budget, we had to go BIG with the creative direction. Instead of blowing money on an expensive crew and actors, we relied heavily on our closest friends. Not only did they work on the actual set as PA’s, lighting technicians, and cinematographers, but we also had them double as actors in the video as well.
We also took pictures on set, asking everyone to shoot behind the scene footage when the cameras weren't rolling, which we turned into the cover art and assets for social media. Chances are you have a host of close friends and supporters who would be excited to work on something creative with you. The problem is that we rarely ask. We always look up instead of looking laterally to see who is standing beside us.
Approximate cost, so far: $500 — $2,500
OK, now you have some jammin’ music and a super creative video, and some cool pictures taken from your video shoot, so what next? BUILD THE STORY!
As artists, we forget that fans love a great story, especially one that is relatable. With social media, it's easier than ever to bring people into your world. For the release of “The Jealous Song,” I reached out to my graphic designer friend, DyAnna Moreno, who helped me cobble together all of the photos that were taken behind the scenes at the video shoot to create images that could convey a story on social media.
Together, we pulled lyrics from the song that we felt could drive home the message behind the song to fans and listeners, and made some amazing art that we could use on social media platforms to alert fans that we were releasing something, all while also giving them a hint of the personal narrative we were presenting. From there, we set up a release calendar, and for nine days we released a cool piece of art content that tied into the story of “The Jealous Song.”
Approximate cost, so far: $1,000 — $4,000
Now, I know a lot you are probably thinking. “Spree, I can’t afford, or don’t know any graphic, design artists.” Well, fortunately, there are a lot of free or inexpensive programs or smartphone applications that you have at your disposal in order to create something really unique. One program that I really love is Canva, a completely free mobile app. I’ve made everything from party invites to cover art on that program. In no way am I an expert at graphic design, but the program is super intuitive and trust me, if I can do it, you can do it.
As for digital distribution, I've worked with both TuneCore and Distrokid. Both have their plusses and minuses. With Distrokid, for example, it costs $19.99 per year to upload unlimited songs and albums onto their server. This flat rate includes several other perks. Most importantly, you keep 100% of your royalties.
At this point, your music is finished, your visual content is in the can, your social media assets are ready to go, and your music has been uploaded for digital distribution. Maybe you've even "announced" a release date. So, what do you do now? Simple: Let the people SEE you.
As artists, social media has allowed us to reach a number of people who we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to ever connect with. But at the same time, it’s also made us forget about the people in our own backyard. Big Boi said it best on "Humble Mumble," “You wanna reach the nation, nigga start from your corner.”
Next, bring your music directly to the people, literally. Set up a free local event on your release date—made even better if you perform for your attendees—and let the people not only get a chance to connect with you directly but also hear your story and your totally jammin' music. Community pride is an amazing feeling and if people love it, they’ll tell their friends and so on and so forth. Even in this algorithmically-driven digital age, word of mouth is STILL the undisputed best form of promotion any artist can receive.
Once your project is made available to the world, the work doesn’t stop there. It's necessary to continue to spread the word via social media and through real-life interactions. Book yourself shows at community centers, local bars, local clubs… Anywhere with an audience that will give you five-to-10 minutes of stage time. Offer to perform for free. Booking agents and venues love free. Remember, at the very beginning, it's about gaining experience and an audience. You can also seek out other artists in your city and put together a mini tour. To start, you can hit other cities within your state on the weekends.
Approximate cost, final: Less than $5,000
We have ALL we need to release a project in this new digital, steaming age… Most of the time, it's sitting right next to us just waiting to be asked.