The power of the waterfall release strategy
- 24 May 2023, Wednesday
The type of strategy an artist adopts to release their new music may be vital for how their release eventually succeeds in today’s digital era. In our previous article, we already shared with you 3 proven release strategies for independent artists and record labels in 2023. In this piece, we’ll introduce you to another strategy, called the waterfall release strategy.
What is the waterfall release strategy?
The waterfall release strategy is relatively simple and is all about increasing visibility. The strategy is characterized by the consecutive release of singles, each of which is gradually building into an EP or an album.
This approach can be continued single after single until the full album/EP is released or you can select just a few singles and release them this way. It’s essential to emphasize that the technique is based on adding one single to another (and then a third one to those too, etc.), not releasing the singles as standalone tracks.
Standalone singles (on the left) vs waterfall releases (on the right)
It’s almost like an ‘extremely slow puzzle’ – now and then you get a piece and with the last one, your picture is finally complete. The only difference is that, unlike the puzzle pieces that can only make sense once they are put together, the singles are actually independent releases that can be enjoyed on their own as well as on the album.
Waterfall release strategy among artists
Although it seems that the waterfall strategy has become a hot topic just recently, the release strategy has been widely used by artists for a couple of years now. For example, The Chainsmokers’ 2018 album ‘Sick Boy’ was released by using the waterfall approach. Throughout the year, each month (apart from May and June), a new single was released with the full album having come out in December 2018. The band is allegedly the first artist to ever implement the waterfall release strategy.
Before releasing her universally acclaimed album ‘Punisher’ in 2020, Phoebe Bridgers implemented the waterfall release strategy to put out the first three singles of the album. The album’s first single ‘Garden Song’ was released in February of that year, followed by ‘Kyoto’ in April and, finally, ‘I See You’ in May.
While all three songs then became part of the Punisher album, the plays acquired across each of those 4 versions increased each time. This is because the count-plays are linked and, particularly, in the case of ‘Garden Song’, each stream of the track on either of those 3 singles/LPs (or the final album) counts towards the overall number of the song’s streams.
What’s more, by having released the tracks this way, Bridgers could secure more streams for the previously-released singles as these would play automatically after playing the most recent one. The same approach was also adopted by British musician RAYE before releasing her album ‘My 21st Century Blues’ in February this year and is currently being implemented by Italian singer FIL BO RIVA and American singer Kelly Clarkson before their upcoming albums ‘Modern Melancholia’ and ‘Chemical Hearts’ respectively.
The advantages of the waterfall release strategy
We’ve already touched upon the benefits of the waterfall release strategy when mentioning Bridger’s work. However, there’s much more to the strategy, which makes it perfectly suitable for independent artists, too.
1. It helps you avoid long periods with no music released
According to the latest reports, there are on average 100,000 new songs per day released on Spotify. This suggests that it may be extremely difficult to not only capture the attention of your audience but also to maintain it. This puts musicians under a great deal of pressure to continuously release new music to not slip under people’s radar. This, of course, can then hurt the quality of artists’ music as well as their creative development.
The waterfall release strategy therefore comes incredibly handy allowing you to simply separate your new complete work into these individual pieces (songs) and release them one after the other. In the meantime, you can take the rest you need and/or work on something new without feeling the pressure to finalize it as soon as possible and so rushing the process.
2. It enables to optimize Spotify’s algorithm
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. The streaming platform’s algorithm very much likes it when you’re sustaining exponential growth in streams and, on the contrary, hates both drops in streams and listeners.
Therefore, increasing listeners’ opportunities to play your songs and thus allowing for continuous streaming of your work can eventually lead to greater visibility of your music to the streaming platform’s users (which means even more streams).
This will most importantly be reflected in you being more likely to enter Spotify’s algorithmic playlists, like Release Radar or Discover Weekly.
3. It increases your chance of getting into editorial playlists
To be listed in Spotify’s editorial playlists, you have to pitch your songs via Spotify For Artists. However, there’s a limit – you can only submit one track from your release. The waterfall strategy is great at helping you ‘circumvent’ this rule.
Imagine that you have an LP of 3 tracks planned out. You can either release the whole LP right away or release the tracks as singles, one after the other. The second approach will triple your chances of getting into editorial playlists – why not do it this way then, right?
4. It helps you make more money on streaming platforms
This is rather an outcome of all the previous benefits combined. However, it’s important to note that the waterfall strategy is considered to be one of the most successful ways for artists to make the most revenue possible on Spotify.
An increase in streams due to the successive release of singles means greater visibility, which potentially means an even greater increase in streams, which means more money!
How to set up your own waterfall release strategy
Putting theory into practice, the waterfall release strategy is pretty simple to implement. Let’s imagine that you, an independent musician, have written and recorded 6 new songs for your upcoming LP. You’re proud of your work and you want the songs to do especially well on streaming platforms. You select three of these six songs that you like the most) and decide to put them out as singles ahead of your album release.
However, to increase the visibility of your music, generate as many streams as possible, and potentially attract new listeners, it’s not enough to just release those songs as standalone singles. You, therefore, opt for releasing them using the waterfall method.
What comes next? Let’s go step by step:
Select the three singles that you like the most or think have the greatest potential.
Decide on the release date of each single. Preferably, the release dates should be at least one month apart.
Decide on the order of the releases. Remember that the one you’ll put out first should be your absolute favorite (the one with the most potential), followed by a second with a bit less potential, and a third with the ‘least’ potential.
This is because every time a new single is released, it will be paired with the previous one(s) (added to the same entity on the streaming platform). This means that the first single will be released individually, then paired with the second single, then with the second and third single, and, finally, released as part of the LP. This makes it a total of 4 entities/release versions where your audience can come across and listen to your first single of the LP.
Set up the release of your singles with your distributor.
How to release your music with iMusician using the waterfall strategy
Generally, every music distributor should allow you to distribute your music using the waterfall release strategy. With iMusician’s simple 4-step upload flow, it’s never been easier.
Follow these simple steps to upload your waterfall releases:
With iMusician, a single can consist of 1-3 tracks, with no track longer than 10 minutes.
You can upload a new track or, if already uploaded, you can choose the track from your library.
Pay special attention to the title of the track, its ISRC code and the contributors.
Check the summary of your order and pay for your release.
Start the process the same way as before by selecting ‘single’ as your release format.
Be careful to choose the same file, file title, the ISRC code and contributors as before to get the streams.
If you’d like to release another single, repeat the previous steps, this time adding the two previously released tracks and one new track to your release.
Some tips to avoid technical issues
Pay attention to the order of the tracks. The order cannot be changed once the release is distributed. Usually, the new track goes on top.
Use a different title for your ‘single’ releases. If you use the same name for your releases, in the end, only one version/unit will be visible in your discography of the streaming platform.
The UPC/EAN code of every ‘single’ release should be different but the ISRC codes need to be the same to identify the tracks.
Releasing new music is always a big deal and it’s essential to make the best out of it for yourself and your music. The waterfall release strategy has proven to be an effective way to do that on music streaming platforms, namely Spotify.
If, however, you’re interested in other release strategies, be sure to check out our article about the 3 proven strategies to release music for DIY artists and labels. Also, in case you’re an emerging artist or are just starting out, our guide on how to release music as an independent artist may come in incredibly handy!
Last but not least, are you considering releasing your music on vinyl? Then, our article about how to make a vinyl record may be exactly what you need during that process.
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