Understanding Your Release Strategy with Kiran Gandhi

Kiran Gandhi addressing the crowd at SF MusicTech XVII

For independent artists, it can be difficult to identify the most effective release strategy for a body of work. After spending months, if not years, fine-tuning a final product, it’s not atypical for an artist managing his or her own business to release content on a channel and expect the Internet to do the rest. This is perhaps one of the biggest mistakes an artist can make; once the product is finished, the release is only the beginning to marketing it and getting as many ears listening as possible.

While investing in Public Relations to market your content can be a step in the right direction, what is most important (and cost-effective) is understanding the ebb and flow of modern music consumption in order to optimize who hears your music and when. This comprehension of the music landscape can help you know which blogs to reach out to at the right time, or can aid in something as simple as selecting the day of the week to reveal new material. Knowing to look for this is the first step, but actually grasping when to release and what to do with your data is the real challenge.

Stem’s first Artist-in-Residence, Kiran Gandhi, faced this challenge head on during her tenure as a Digital Analyst for Interscope Records. In the second installment of our three-part series highlighting Gandhi, we discuss the solutions to two common release questions among modern musicians.

Read part one of our series here.

Kiran Gandhi speaking at UCLA Culture Talks 2015

Question 1: Which is best to release first: a YouTube Music Video, or iTunes single?

This is a question that can be reasoned in favor of both sides. According to Gandhi, “The first school of thought is, well, you want to have the video to drum up attention and excitement so when we do release the iTunes single, we can have a lot of enthusiasm and people are waiting for it. The opposite school of thought is, no way, we need to have the iTunes single ready and available for purchase, but once we put out the music video, we can direct that energy to the sales.”

Both options seem logical and can serve a purpose based on what the creator is hoping to accomplish. However, using Interscope’s data, Gandhi found the definitive option for higher success: Release your iTunes single first, and release your YouTube video within a window of seven to ten days after.

“We had [tried both strategies] on many different occasions based on who was product managing on that song. So, I looked at twenty songs from Interscope in 2012, and I said, ‘What was the most successful way of doing it?’” reveals Gandhi. “What we found was, absolutely you want to put out the iTunes single first, and then you want to put out the YouTube music video within a sweet spot of 7 to 10 business days after the iTunes single so that you can direct all energy from the YouTube video to purchase.”

Gandi also acknowledges that at the time of this study, the findings were exciting, but in 2015, we are now looking at streams as an indicator of success for independent artists versus actual sales. This solution between iTunes and YouTube can be applied to your strategy with streams as well. When releasing a new track, try adding the track to Spotify or SoundCloud first, then revealing the video on YouTube and attracting people to listen to the track on the hosting channel of your voice.

Kiran Gandhi at Ableton’s summit for music makers, Loop

Question #2: Do Spotify streaming patterns behave the same way as YouTube views or iTunes sales?

The short answer to this question is “no.” However, Gandhi offers data-supported insight into just how much the release options truly differ. First, it’s important to understand the typical patterns of YouTube and iTunes releases; with these channels, spikes in consumption are usually seen within the first 24 hours of a piece of content’s lifecycle.

“The YouTube [views] and iTunes [sales], they’ll have a huge spike on the release day, and then smaller spikes later on. But those two, those first days are really it. That’s it. That’s when the majority of the volume and traffic and sales are made.”

Of course, it cannot be assumed that Spotify, an inherently different platform from YouTube and iTunes, will behave similarly. According to Gandhi’s data analysis, the lifetime performance of a single on Spotify is incredible different than that on another channel, with spikes in growth happening as late as two months after release.

“On Spotify, because it’s not as strong a discovery engine [as YouTube or iTunes], especially for more top-of-the-pot type hits, the users and their fans usually go and add the song on their Spotify much later, and the true spikes in the growth and streams happen towards the 8 weeks out from release,” says Gandhi. “That is a very different and new thing in the music industry. It’s usually about that one first day. So to just know that, really, don’t worry if you don’t see the initial spike on Spotify, don’t fire the artist just yet, don’t give up on the album just yet, and that actually, you really could only measure the success of an album on Spotify two months out — that was huge. Otherwise [Interscope] probably would have dropped a lot of people based on their initial performances on Spotify.”

While these findings are supported by major label-level data, it’s important to do your due diligence in drawing conclusions from your own content’s performance. If you find that your fans respond better to seeing a video on YouTube before hearing the track itself, then you should follow that strategy. If you see a spike in Spotify streams a month out from your original release, then perhaps focus on getting coverage for your content around that time to boost those numbers even higher.

Your audience is the greatest tell-all for what strategy works; in order to find success in releasing your content, figure out what their consumption patterns are, and position your content to be where they will respond best to it, at the right time.

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