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Don't Release Another Song Without Reading this First: A Guide to the Waterfall Release Strategy

Forget everything you know about releasing music... It's time to embrace a new approach that focuses on building anticipation and maximising your reach.


Ever hit 'post' on a social media update only to be met with crickets? Well, you're in luck, as a mastering engineer, podcaster, and producer, I understand the challenges of getting your music heard. That's where the waterfall release strategy comes in. Let's get started, shall we?



A person holding a record in a shop, thinking about the waterfall release strategy


What is the Waterfall Release Strategy?


Build anticipation and momentum for your music


The waterfall release strategy involves releasing your music in stages, typically starting with singles, followed by an EP (Extended Play), and culminating in a full-length album.


"Waterfalling is a great strategy to maximise your play-counts, increase the amount of times you’re able to pitch music to editors, and to generate a buzz about your release with your fans." - EmuBands, Waterfall Releases

This method allows you to build anticipation and momentum for your music, gradually expose your audience to your work, and generate income throughout the release process.



Why Choose the Waterfall Release Strategy?


Here are some compelling reasons to consider the waterfall release strategy:


  • Build Anticipation: By releasing singles beforehand, you create a sense of excitement and anticipation for your upcoming album. This keeps your audience engaged and eager for more.


  • Reach a Wider Audience: Staggering your releases allows you to target different segments of your audience with each single. This can help you reach new listeners who might not have been interested in a full album right away.


  • Generate Revenue Throughout the Release Cycle: With each single release, you have the opportunity to generate income through streaming platforms, downloads, and potential licensing opportunities. This provides a financial buffer as you work towards your album release.


"One of the key reasons why the waterfall strategy may be commercially very successful for artists is that it is encouraged by streaming platforms, such as Spotify." - iMusician, The power of the waterfall release strategy

  • Gather Valuable Data and Feedback: Releasing singles in advance allows you to gauge audience reception and gather valuable feedback. This information can be used to refine your marketing strategy and tailor your album to better resonate with your listeners.


  • Maintain Momentum: The waterfall approach helps you stay present in the minds of your audience. By consistently releasing new music, you can avoid the risk of fading into obscurity between album releases.



Example Waterfall Release Strategy:


Let's take inspiration from Phoebe Bridgers' successful album release strategy for "Punisher" which utilised the waterfall approach.


  • Month 1: Release the first single, "Garden Song," to streaming platforms and generate initial buzz.


  • Month 2: Release the second single, "Kyoto," as a standalone track. However, make "Garden Song" available as the second track on this single release. This means listeners who discover "Kyoto" will also have access to "Garden Song" within the same release.


  • Month 3: Release the third single, "I See You," again as a standalone track. This time, include both "Garden Song" and "Kyoto" as tracks 2 and 3, respectively, within this single release.


  • Month 4: Release the full album, "Punisher," featuring all three previously released singles alongside the remaining tracks.



Benefits of this approach:


  • Accumulated Plays: By including previously released singles within subsequent releases, the play count for each song rises with each release. This "piggybacking" effect boosts the overall popularity of your tracks.


"With multiple releases, you can generate revenue at each stage of the waterfall process. This can help you recoup your initial investments and fund future projects." - Sonomo, Boost Your Music's Reach with the Waterfall Strategy

  • Guaranteed Additional Streams: Each new single release encourages listeners to revisit previous singles included in the package, leading to additional plays and potential discovery of tracks they may have missed initially.


  • Multiple Pitching Opportunities: This strategy allows you to submit more tracks for potential playlist inclusion on platforms like Spotify. Each single release (including previously released tracks) counts as a separate submission, maximizing your chances of getting featured.


This is just one example and the exact timeline and number of singles can be adapted to fit your specific project and goals. Remember, the key is to strategically release your music in stages to build anticipation and maximize your reach.




An alarm clock and calendar on a pink background


How to Implement the Waterfall Release Strategy:


Plan, prepare, create...


  • Plan and Schedule:  Create a release schedule that outlines the release dates for your singles, EP, and album. Ensure you factor in promotion and distribution timelines.


  • Prepare Your Music: Ensure your music is professionally mixed, mastered, and ready for distribution. As a mastering engineer, I can help you achieve the polished sound your music deserves (visit my website synthmusicmastering.com to learn about what I do).


  • Create Engaging Content: Develop engaging content for each release, including music videos, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and artist interviews. This content will help you connect with your audience on a deeper level.


"Don’t drop your singles too far apart. Otherwise, the anticipation might fizzle out. Every few weeks to months is a sweet spot, giving each track enough time to breathe yet keeping the momentum going." - Labelgrid, Mastering Your Waterfall Music Release: Tips & Best Practices

  • Utilise Social Media: Promote your releases strategically across your social media platforms. Utilize features like countdowns, teasers, and exclusive content to generate excitement.


  • Engage with Your Audience: Respond to comments, answer questions, and actively engage with your audience on social media. Building genuine connections is key to fostering a loyal fanbase.



Summary


The waterfall release strategy can be a powerful tool for independent artists and musicians looking to build their audience and establish a sustainable career. By strategically releasing your music in stages, you can generate buzz, reach new listeners, and ultimately achieve your musical goals.



What's next?


Do you have a hard drive full of unfinished songs? Are you struggling with sporadic releases? Download my FREE Producer Growth Scorecard and unlock my challenge to gamify your music production process and finish and release more songs in just 28 days!

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