How many times have you seen a post along the lines of: “Our new record is out today! Purchase the physical album on vinyl from our online store or get the digital album on Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify and all other major online retailers”? The majority of fans will usually go for the cheapest option. This isn’t necessarily too much of a problem if you don’t have tangible products for sale, but when you’ve spent a decent chunk of money on merchandise, lathes, vinyl or cassettes, it can become an issue. The solution? Windowing: where you strategically stagger the release of your EP or album on various platforms to maintain sales momentum.
George Lucas was the master of windowing. He waited until Blu-ray was at its sales peak to release the original Star Wars trilogy on Blu-ray disc, right before sales of the format began to decline. Merciless.
So, how’s it done?
#1 – Make it Exclusive for Hardcore Fans
The reason that you’ve heard of bands hosting private listening parties and offering limited edition signed copies is that such exclusive opportunities really do appeal to fans. In a similar vein, selling pre-release limited edition, exclusive and signed vinyl copies at a launch gig or event is an effective starting point. If your fan base is large and widespread enough, you could even offer your LE vinyl at multiple launch events in different locations over a week. It may also be worth considering offering tickets exclusively to fans on your band’s mailing list or to those who are subscribed to the website, as these fans are more likely to be interested in exclusive band merchandise, including an LE early release vinyl.
#2 – Push Physical Sales
After the initial launch, assuming you still have physical product to sell, it is important that you continue to push the sales of hard copies before allowing it to become available digitally. You can expect to have exhausted the majority of your core fan base, but can still aim to target fans that weren’t able to attend the launch event(s) for some reason. It is at this point that you should run a social media campaign emphasising where individuals can purchase hard copies of the album (be it Bandcamp, your website, etc.). Wait until excitement and sales have died down and you feel that the campaign has run for long enough before progressing to the next stage.
#3 – Make the Album Available Digitally
Now you’ve sold the majority of your physical copies (“Great, kid… don’t get cocky…”), it is finally time to make the album available online. However, you can still maximise your profits through windowing here. Prior to releasing your album on streaming sites like Spotify and Apple Music, it should be recommended that the album is put up on a site like Bandcamp. Then, after sales have waned, the album can be moved onto other download sites, those that may offer less value than Bandcamp but still provide the artist with a reasonable profit margin.
#4 – To Stream or not to stream?
Finally, after a month or so of using social media and other methods to promote the availability of your album on download sites, you are ready to stream your album on Apple Music and Spotify. However, it should be noted that streaming generally results in very little profit and it may be worth considering giving away your music in exchange for website or email list subscriptions instead. Be that as it may, streaming sites, and Spotify especially, are extremely popular and can be used to increase the reach of your music. If you are comfortable financially and are more concerned with the availability and popularity of your music, then streaming sites may be right for you. Soundcloud.com and other free streaming sites like YouTube are also a consideration at this stage of album release. We generally recommend that free streaming sites are used only to stream short clips of songs, as featuring entire songs during any stage of release may hinder sales on other platforms.
While the usefulness of a full windowing strategy varies depending upon the size of your fanbase and whether you have physical product to sell, it is certainly worth considering staggering the relevant stages of release. We believe that when you have put your heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into an album, it deserves a proper release to ensure that the music gets the exposure it deserves and you get something back for all your hard work.
Cover photo by Roger Shultz