Finding a distributor and having a release strategy has always been tricky for up-and-coming artists. These days, you can actually do it yourself and release as a DIY artist. Learn how to be an indie artist and still be known across the globe. Join your host Bree Noble as she sits down with Darryl Hurs from CD Baby & Indie Week. Darryl is the Director of Marketing Development Canada for CD Baby and is the CEO of one of Canada’s largest artist showcases, Indie Week. Join today’s conversation so you can learn how to be a creator in today’s world of music distribution.
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Music Release Strategy For Indie Artists With Darryl Hurs From CD Baby & Indie Week
I’m excited to be here with Darryl Hurs. He works with CD Baby and Indie Week and a ton of other places as far as I can tell from his bio. He consults with a lot of other companies. I’m interested to talk with him and find out all of his experience in the music industry over the past years. Before we get into that, Darryl, you want to give them a little background on how you got into the music industry and a little bit about your journey so far?
Thank you for having me here, Bree. I appreciate it. It’s been a long haul. I started way back as a guitarist in a band and went through all the progressions of being the one that does the business in the band booking promotions, all of which led to booking venues in Toronto, which led to managing artists. During that time, I started Indie Week out of frustration for allowing emerging artists to stage to be discovered. That’s how the week came about years ago.
I’ve been with CD Baby for years doing market development in Canada during that time. All the hats from management to our manager, promoter, booker, even I do a side hustle of graphic design and web design. I worked with Live Nation for about eight years. During which I rebranded the company and also did the first version of VIPNation.com for them as well.
That’s a lot of experience. I’m curious about Indie Week because it’s a pretty big thing. How did that evolve from you starting years ago to where it is now?
It’s been quite the long haul. We’ve gone through everything you could think of. It’s like an indie band. It takes ten years to be an overnight success. Indie Week was originally a hobby. It was meant to be a place for indie bands to play. International artists started coming. Through that, I started managing an artist in Ireland. We did Indie Week in Ireland for six years and we moved it to the UK and we did that for four years and then Brexit came about and we were like we’re going to not touch that for a while. We focused on Canada. It started as a hobby and it kept growing organically. Now it’s a full-time thing and we do import and export.
We do mentorships. We’re building a community online. We’re launching a podcast soon. During COVID, we moved it so that it’s online as the conference side of things because we can’t do the festival element. We’ve launched three other conferences as well online. We’re doing four conferences a year, mentorships. We also launched Indie Weekly, which is every Tuesday. We do a free session talking industry every 4:00 Tuesday, Toronto time. We’re busier than ever before. It’s crazy.
You guys are doing a lot. I had first heard about indie101 in 2020 and I was like, “What is this? Where did it come from?” I had some friends that were speaking at it or something. Was it COVID that made you decide to add all these other virtual conferences?
Indie101 was the name of our conference during Indie week when we were in person. When we did Indie Week 2020 online, we figured Indie Week is with a stronger brand. Our conference online was Indie Week and when we’re doing it online, we can’t do what we normally do in person. We’d take over a hotel and there are many rooms happening at the same time. You can’t dilute your audience that way online. It’s almost like we’ve taken our conference and split it into different tracks or demographics. SCREENxSCREEN is our February conference and that’s music and tech.
We focus on AI, VR and blockchain. This time it’s going to be metaverse as well. Indie101 is May 2022 coming up and that’s going to be a lot of how-to and presentations and things like that. Music Pro Summit was in September 2021 and we’ll be again and that’s a high-level industry discussion. Higher talks about data like we had Deezer, Spotify, Facebook all as participants and then Indie Week is now our hub where we bring it all together and we focused on community and diversity while incorporating all of those, but focused on international connections. That’s how we put it all together and it’s been working out well for us. Indie Week that happened was the highest attended of our online conferences. It’s gaining momentum, which is cool.
If all goes well in 2022, do you expect to bring Indie Week back in person?
No. We’re going to do the conferencing online. We have plans to launch a different in-person festival if it’s safe and everything, but we’ve had so much positive feedback for the conferencing. We’re getting so many results. Artists are meeting others and collaborating. There have been songs that have been written and produced, shows have been booked. We see this as a very positive thing at online, and we’re still getting results.For indie artists, it feels like it takes ten years to be an overnight success. Click To Tweet
I’ll be curious to see CD Baby and the other conferences, the ASCAP Expo, TAXI Road Rally and things that I’ve been involved in if they do come back in person or not. I would think that they are going to. What do you think?
We look at it as we’re augmenting what will happen in person. There are connections being made with artists before they go to a country because a lot of times in the past you’d get a showcase, say, in Spain and you’ve never been there before, so you’d go there, spend all the money to perform. When you’re there, that’s when you’re trying to make connections. We’re trying to be the precursor. Make connections now so that it’s a better experience when you get there.
This could augment a conference that they are going to if they’re going to CD Baby Barcelona or the things that that are maybe going to come back in the future.
We’ve partnered with many international conferences and festivals. For instance, we were online with SIM Sao Paulo, before was VMF Peru and Luke Fest, Taiwan. There are this numerous conferences that we’re participating in online for that exact purpose. The goal is to get artists booked to go there or collaborate, make songs, etc.
I love the synergy that you’re creating. For people that are reading that might be interested in these online conferences, I know that Indie Week already happened, but probably the next one coming up that I know our readers would be super interested in is the indie101. How would they get involved with that? What’s the cost for them to do that?
Everything is online at IndieWeek.com. We announced super early bird tickets and passes. Our next conference is February 2022 SCREENxSCREEN and that’s the music and tech one. One thing that we’ve introduced now is there is a past that it’s one fee and you get to go to all of them. We try to keep it cheap. I am guilty. I don’t know the price off the top of my head. I should. It’s $60 for a pass. Don’t quote me, but it’s pretty cheap. IndieWeek.com is where you could go.
You guys go check that out for sure. One of my students said they went to Indie Week and loved it. I highly recommend it. Let’s talk about distributors because I know you work with CD Baby. You’ve been involved with them for a while. I teach a course called rocker next release. Students are going through the release process. I don’t know why, but distributors are the biggest stumbling block for them.
It seems like they can’t decide which one to choose. They’re like analysis paralysis or something. I always recommend CD Baby because I have my own reasons that I like them better, mainly because I want to pay one fee one time. I’m curious. What questions do you guys get around distributors and what do you feel are keeping the artists confused about distributors?
In general, tech keeps moving and changing, which keeps us all confused. How do you monetize TikTok and TikTok wasn’t even a thing years ago. There are always new things that artists and creators have always had like, are they being underpaid and there is a concern there. There are always going to be additional concerns for signing up for anything. One of our biggest selling points is the one-time fee. When you’re uploading multiple tracks and releases, it gets costly over time, but then when you have to renew every year and it’s unforgiving if you miss that payment. It’s taken down everywhere. That means you’re going to have to pay again to get it up.
I look at it like this. A lot of DIY and emerging artists are running their businesses themselves. What helps them is the less things they have to worry about that are going to be a distraction from creating music. The better it is for the vendors. There are going to be different levels as artists progress through their careers. If they don’t have the time to make sure they’re signing up to all the PROs and the places to collect royalties properly, and then also be on top of, “Here is a new place to collect royalties that I need to check a box on a dashboard.”
That’s a big strong point of CD Baby Pro it allows an artist to be confident that the royalties are being collected and as new things open up, it’s going to also be collected and distributed. There is less work for the artist. Let them focus on creating the music and we collect the money and a big bonus. We got a lot of positive feedback through COVID because if money comes in, it’s paid the very next week. There are no waiting six months. That’s been helpful for a lot of artists, knowing that if anything comes in, they’re getting a check right away and that’s been big during COVID.
I’m going to open up this can of worms because I get a lot of questions about this with the CD Baby Pro. What if they do sign up for that? They are giving away their publishing, correct?
I’m not giving away their publishing. We’re collecting it. It looks as if CD Baby is the collector, but it’s a label so that we’re collecting on their behalf and then we pay them.
What if they want to go do something with that song? A company wants to license it for something. Would they be able to have that control to do that or would they have to get CD Baby on board?
Their song is their song. We own 0%. It’s 100% on the artists. They can do whatever they want with it. We want them to make money. There is no exclusivity on trying to sync or get a place in TV or film.
Are you more of a publishing administrator then?
In alliance with something like Songtrust.
Songtrust is ours. Songtrust is our backbone for royalty collection.
Do you have a service that does help artists try to get sync placements and things like that, that they can also opt into or is that the same service?
They opt-in and then we have a search engine that music supervisors use, which means they’re included in that. We have a sync and licensed team that does service requests that do come in for music supervisors.It is important that every artist should have an offline record of their data. Click To Tweet
A lot of that is a little bit murky for artists for whatever reason. Part of it is the way the music industry is set up. There are so many places that you can get royalties from and so many ways that you can get them and so many ways that you cannot get them.
The fear is missing out. If you’re not collecting royalties properly, it’s hard to go back and find them and get them. This is why it’s important to set it up properly. I’m big on putting out the message that makes sure your metadata is in order. I recommend that every artist create a spreadsheet and when you’re filling out a form and uploading music, create a field in the spreadsheet that matches every field on the online form so that you have an offline record of your data. If you need to place it somewhere else, you’re using the exact same data. I tell that to artists all the time.
What are some of the other tools that CD Baby has that you recommend the artists look into to amplify what they’re doing with what they’re distributing?
Show.co allows you to do advertising. Our next session is going to be walking through how to set up an ad campaign using Show.co with a CD Baby artist that has had success in increasing their revenue by using ads. Show.co is a great platform for placing your ads on websites that target the correct demographics. Think of people who like music that would go to Billboard.com or RollingStone.com.
It places your ads onto those types of websites and you don’t have to spend a lot. It could be $50 a week. It doesn’t have to be a huge budget, but the one thing I do know is when artists are not advertising, they’re giving a disservice to their craft because organic is tough these days. It’s hard. I know I’ve done an ad campaign with Indie Week and it costs me under $400, but we reached 1.2 million people. It’s worth it.
Do you still recommend doing Spotify pre-saves? Is that still a useful tool?
You have to think of your audience and out of ten people, there are probably ten personalities that are different. With distribution, if I’m in Greece and I go to a Greek island and I could go to any store and find Coca-Cola that means the distributor did the job getting it to be found wherever people are looking. When you’re trying to get discovered and get more people, you want to be in places where people are and people are going to be in so many different places.
That’s why if you think of an in-person type ad campaign, you’ll see billboards, posters, something on the subway, the bus shelter. The impressions are what you’re trying to build up so that people start recognizing the brand or name and eventually it turns into clicks and trust because you’re trying to build through online presence. You’re building trust because you want them to listen to your music and engage with it. The more places you can be found or seen, the better it is.
Following that logic, do you also recommend that you do pre-saves or promoting of your track on all the different streaming platforms because maybe your audience likes is automatically listening to music on different ones versus focusing all on, say, Spotify.
It depends on the artist and you have to know what platform is going to be your best platform to promote on. Often, artists have a limited budget and time. You want to select where you’re going to get the maximum first out of the efforts and money you put into it and then grow out from there. It’s almost like, “This one is going to get the best results. Let’s build that up and get to know what works and what doesn’t and then take that knowledge and then start building onto the second platform and see what works and what doesn’t then build onto a third.”
That gives you a little bit more calculated effort as you grow. You’ll probably produce higher-level results, as opposed to doing everything everywhere, and then finding out what went wrong here or there, and you’ve already spent time and money, and often artists do that and then they say, “I’ll never do that again.” Hone the craft a little bit on what marketing is and keep building it out. I have to say that we do have a release planner tool on our website. If you go to CDBaby.com, you can search around. We’ve got this release planner where you put in your date and it’ll create a basic timeline of points of things you should be doing to lead up to your release.
I’m big on timeline, big time. My entire program is built around a timeline. You’ve got to fit everything into it because there are so many moving parts in a release, especially when you’re looking at things like planning a tour around it and stuff like that. You can’t decide to do a tour after the release because it’s going to take you so long to get the venues and all of that. I love the idea of the timeline and integrating as much as possible into it, especially if you want to get some PR and things like that. You’ve got to get your research done and figure out who you want to talk to and stuff like that. Your planner will also help you know when you should start doing your marketing and stuff like that.
Timelines are huge. I tell artists that if they can, I know it can be tough, but if you can get there, you should have a 12 to 24-month timeline.
I say that and people their eyes get big and they’re like, “Shut off.” They’re like, “I want to release it next week.” I’m like, “No.”
I’m dealing with an artist that I’m like, “When did you put it up?” It’s like, “Five days ago.” There has got to be time. It’s tough.
I get a lot of pushback on the twelve-month thing and this is for an AP or an album. You can single throughout that time period. It’s not like you’re waiting this whole twelve months to release it, but it’s hard to have that patience as an artist.
Prior to all this, when I was managing and consulting artists, there were times where they had their album ready in April and I said October was the best time for them to release it. It’s a thing that you have to look at what is going to be happening around your release date that could influence what’s going to happen. Holidays, other events, like is the Grammy Awards happening the night of your release? Probably not too many people are going to be looking for your song. What’s your competition? You got to pick your moments.
There are outside influences here in Canada. For instance, funding, we get a lot of grants or artists have access to grants. There are deadlines. You need to have certain stats to submit, and sometimes it forces that, “You can’t submit a grant for release that’s already out or out by this time.” That’s going to influence it. I do say conferences are a way to access a large group of industry professionals. Are you promoting a release at a certain conference or not?
There are certain things to think about that are going to influence it. Timelines are big and I’m big on spreadsheets. Put it into a spreadsheet and then what’s really easy is that you’ve got the tab at the end of the year and you’d go make a copy and have a template for the timeline for next year. You see what worked, what didn’t and you adjust. You’re only adjusting things, not making it again from scratch.
It’s a total repeatable process and it’s not like you’re going to stop releasing music, so why not create this system for yourself?
People are asking us, “How are you doing for online conferences and how are you doing everything?” We build a template and it’s repeatable, which means as we do it, we get better because we’re repeating something we’ve done. We’re probably spending 25% less effort on it each time because we’re getting better at it and we’re not reinventing. Build a plan, have a timeline, but have a record of it so then you can say what’s working and what’s not. When I managed artists or artists would come to me, this what told me, do they have a plan or are they keeping records?
I’d be like, “Is your profit up by 10% this year?” By putting a number on it and stuff, they’d be like, “I don’t know.” I’m like, “If you had a spreadsheet, you would know.” That’s the first step. If you’ve got your timeline and you’re like, “We went to that conference or festival, it didn’t work for us.” You take it out, but then you find which next one you’re going to go to instead. Timelines, I’m with you on it. I applaud you as well for pushing timelines out.Artists who are not advertising are really giving a disservice to their craft. Click To Tweet
Timelines, systems and data. That’s what I got out of all that we talked about. It’s all the things that artists don’t love. There are occasional artists that love that stuff. I’m one of those, but most of them don’t love that stuff. I’ve been trying to spoon-feed it to them as much as they’re willing to take it from me because it does make a big difference.
It makes a huge difference. I started as a guitar player and I didn’t want to do spreadsheets. I didn’t want to do this stuff, but it has made such an impact on business and knowing where I am, am I doing better than last year? If not, can we adjust so that we can get to better than last year? It allows me to keep a sense of the pulse on where you are at within the year and do you need to push more or ease up? It does expose the weaknesses. When you can get rid of those, then you’re stronger.
Is there anything else we haven’t covered that you wanted to say to our readers?
I believe this is the best time to be a creator. I wish I had the tools when I was playing in bands. When I played in bands, we had to rent a studio and it was up to $100 plus an hour and then you’d have to master the songs, which was up to about $1,000 per track. A ten-song CD was immediately $10,000 in mastering. You had to get artwork. You had to get printed and copies. We were $25,000, $35,000 in the hole when we got that CD in our hand. Radio stations wouldn’t play Indie. A lot of the record stores wouldn’t carry Indie. You had to go out and flog it playing shows. That was the only way.
Now having access to getting onto a playlist and getting streaming means you have an international audience being able to produce yourself and release as a DIY artist. It is the best time. There are so many more places to collect royalties from as well. Be excited to be a creator and an artist. Get your music out there and make sure you’re promoting it properly.
There are so many tools for artists. I interviewed Jamie from Pandora. The things that they’ve created to make artists’ lives easier and be able to connect with their fans are incredible.
If artists look at fans and people and value them, you can talk to them. You can reach out on Facebook and send a direct message. You can send a direct message on Instagram or Twitter. You can build your audience. The message I’ve been saying the last few months is to take care of your audience. I’m working on this other spreadsheet, this potential profit people calculator. Imagine if one fan was worth $100 in a year, they bought a CD, shirt. Two tickets say it equals up to $100. Would you not be willing to spend fifteen minutes talking to them?
A lot of times, it’s like, “Here is my show. Come to my show. Here is my song. Come play it.” It’s not back and forth. Especially during this time, people want to be talked to, as people take care of them, that fan could turn into a super fan and imagine the value of a superfan in ten years. If you could get 1,000 of those, what’s the value of it? Take care of people and be nice, be kind and take care of your fans.
We forget how amazing it is to have someone tell you, “I’m a fan. I love your music. I’m a super fan.” I had someone say that to me the other day about my podcast because my other podcast it’s been running for years and she’s like, “I’ve done on this and this because of you.” I’m like, “That’s amazing.” Artists sometimes think of fans as another thing to deal with instead of realizing that they’re going to feed their soul, ego, creativity by talking to their fans.
I talked with Steve Stewart, who managed Stone Temple Pilots and he was talking about what they did on their first release. They put a mailing address on it. What ended up happening is all this mail kept coming in and people mailing them. He said, one day he sat the band down, dumped out all the letters and it’s like hundreds, if not thousands of them and said, “You’re going to call all of them.” Imagine this person wrote to you from Columbia or Spain. Imagine how dedicated they’re going to be if they get a phone call.
They’re going to go and tell everybody, “Scott Weiland called me.” How crazy is that? It worked immensely well for the band. That was off their first release. If you put in the time with the people and I do this bluntly with artists sometimes, how do we get more streams? More people. How do we make more money? Sell more tickets to more people and shirts to people. People are the common denominator to success.
As we were talking about data, we ignore the data or we get lost in the data and see it as numbers and forget that there are people behind those numbers.
The data can start showing what’s fake and what’s real because there’s a lot of fake stuff out there, too. That’s the bottom line. People are like, “How do I get more money? People. How to get a sponsor? Show them you have people.” When I’ve worked with artists, I said to them, “Don’t focus on the money first. Focus on the people first because the money will come if you have people and for sure, money won’t come if you don’t have people.” We focus on people first and it’s worked every single time.
I see each person in your fan base as an asset that potential future earnings and potential support and sharing of what you have with more people.
I got to be honest a lot of times. I’ll go on Instagram and voice message people that are interacting randomly. There are times where they’ve come back and said, “I’ve got a connection. I’ve been meaning to send your way.” New business has come out of reaching out to people randomly. They introduced me to somebody that now is like a sponsor or partner. All I know is when you do nothing, nothing happens, do stuff and stuff happens. I stole that from Martin Atkins.
That is a great way to end this episode. Thank you so much. Remind everybody again how can they get involved with Indie Week? What’s that website address?
Thank you so much. This has been great and I loved geeking out all over the timeline, data and spreadsheets, and all that stuff. I hope the artists that are reading take that to heart when it comes to releasing their music.
I agree. I enjoyed geeking out. I appreciate your approach and your messages as well. Thank you, Bree.
- CD Baby
- Indie Week
- Instagram – @IndieWeek
About Darryl Hurs
Darryl Hurs (CD Baby / Indie Week) has a 25+ year history in the music business including launching and running one of Canada’s largest emerging artist showcase festival/conferences, Indie Week Canada (Nov 9-13, 2021).
Since COVID began, Darryl has also launched three new online music and tech conferences Music Pro Summit (Sept 8 – 11), SCREENxSCREEN (February), and indie101 (April). Indie Week also hosts a weekly music education event Indie Weekly.
He consults for a number of international business development programs and conferences. Darryl currently is also the Director of Market Development in Canada for online distributor, CD Baby.