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My experience releasing an album as an independent artist (part 1)

Three and a half years later, an analysis on how releasing my debut concept album had informed my journey as a person more than as an indie artist.

Simone Silvestroni's avatar

Part 1 is about what the album meant to me and a few considerations about what a successful release is and isn’t.

Part 2 → is about the type of release campaign, how we approached the concept of social media marketing, why it failed and what changed in the aftermath.

Here’s the opening single, Skinny Kid:

What releasing a concept album meant to me

After 1989: A Trip to Freedom was a project that I considered a personal cornerstone well before its release in November 2019. Intimate, connected to my family history and yet charged with universal themes, difficult to reminisce about and ripe with conflicting feelings.

I spent a great deal of time thinking about it, working, tinkering and perfecting what I had done. The aim was for it to be perfect, even though I was very aware that perfection is the enemy of good enough. Perfection is akin to looking for something that doesn’t exist, which ultimately prevents people from releasing their art in public.

Even after accepting the impossibility of that goal, I wanted the album to be my best possible first solo release. For that to happen, I’d decided to hire a manager, a master engineer and have physical CDs as well, in the form of a beautiful 6-panel wallet gatefold card case.

Was the release a success?

Commercially, no. Personally, yes. The reason is quite simple: the fact that I was able to put in music and lyrics a complex story that I carried for almost 35 years and release it to the world, was a great deal on its own. I was and still am fully satisfied with it, even if I would do things differently now.

In an era of streaming only, way more people than I anticipated bought the CD. From the overkill amount of 100 copies (the minimum order at the time), I still have 45. Considering that my aim was to print 50 copies, that’s good enough.

The key concept is: what constitutes a successful music release? I’m not a career artist, I have neither a label nor lucky connections in the industry. I might even be prolific if this was my main activity — alas, it’s not, therefore I can’t use the same metrics as someone who pours every ounce of energy and time into promoting the shit out of everything they relentlessly publish.

Speaking about expenses, I also didn’t care about reaching a break-even point. Too difficult to distinguish what was personal and what was exclusively related to the music album. During production, my wife and I travelled a few times to Berlin so that I could continue my personal research and see the concentration camp where my grandfather spent four years. Are those personal expenses? Of course, I brought my Zoom H5 and captured the train tannoy system that I’d used as an intro on nine songs, among other ambience recordings around the German capital. Nonetheless, it’s impossible to discern all that was personal and what was work on the album.

Anyway, considering the expenses derived from the pure production and release process, I made a third of the money I spent. Had I mastered the songs and managed the release myself, I would have had my break-even moment now. Of course it’s a moot point: without my then manager and the mastering engineer I wouldn’t have had the precious amount of insights and experience I gained through those collaborations.

The crucial consideration is: I don’t care that I spent more money than what I earned from it. All I wanted was to tell a story in the best possible way I was capable of, hopefully expressing feelings that could resonate with someone else. That I’ve done. Way more people than I expected have been enjoying the songs and the story to the point of telling it publicly.

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