Zach Hangauer entered our radar when we stumbled upon his latest digital creation: http://howtoreleasearecord.com/. This is by far one of the most useful websites we ever saw: a single long page with every practical information and instruction needed to release records digitally as well as physically (including LPs and cassettes). Do check it out yourself and you will see the wealth of practical wisdom packed on a single web page! You can see how everything works and how much it all costs, so you can see what fits your pockets: audio specs, mastering, publishing, distribution, PR (EPK, publicity, radio play, SEO, social media…).
We recently had a virtual chat with Zach, who kindly accepted to answer a few questions about his music career and this specific project.
Hi Zach, could you tell us about your story first?
I was waiting tables in Los Angeles when my friends from the band the Anniversary broke up. Justin from the Anniversary, who was living in Lawrence, Kansas, started sending me solo demos that were blowing my mind. He was disillusioned with his music biz experience and wanted to release things unconventionally. I looked around at all my unfinished screenplays and decided: “I’m going to head home to Kansas and help get this music out.” So that’s what I did. We started the label Range Life Records in 2005 and released Justin’s solo debut as White Flight in 2006/2007. I’ve been running the label ever since.
What was the “big why” that led you to create this site?
It was a convergence of two things. The first is that I found myself giving out advice on a regular basis to people/friends/former colleagues who were attempting to release music on their own. The value of having a record label seemed to have plummeted, while the value of my knowledge was on the rise. The second factor is that I was having a career crisis and decided I wanted to learn to code, so I took a front-end web development class here in San Francisco. Our primary project for class was to build a website. The only concept I ever even considered was a website devoted to helping people release music.
What is the feedback from users?
It’s been really positive. I get a sense that the thoroughness of the information on the site is overwhelming, more than anything. Like people didn’t realise how much there was to consider. But I like to think of it as kind of a “Choose Your Own Adventure”. If you decide to go one route and not the other, there is a flow for how to do that. If the next time you take a different route, there is a flow for that too.
What are your next steps in your musical journey?
It’s been years now since I was involved in the actual creating and producing of an album — I hope there will be opportunities to collaborate with artists again in the future — it comes really naturally to me and I think I have a really positive impact. Other than that, I’ve been preoccupied for years with the challenge of how to evolve the online music listening experience. In my mind, it’s a matter of remodelling it — almost starting from scratch and really considering all the web-based tools at our disposal. I have various design prototypes but have had trouble really connecting with the right technical people. That would be a journey: finding a few people with complimentary skill sets to experimentally redefine the online music experience 😉
Before we part: based on your experience in the music industry, what would be the three key things you’d suggest dedicated musicians to focus on?
1) Making the songs the best they can be. I always think of it as two skills: creating and editing. So many musicians excel at creating and once they’ve got something, they throw a force field around it. My advice is to be as fearless about editing as one is about creating. Find someone whose taste you trust and ask for their honest feedback. Say “It’s still a work in progress. I just want to make it the best it can be. What do you think?” Always challenge yourself to make the songs better.
2) Be discoverable. The primary way people will find your music these days is either by searching for you or linking to you online. If someone tells me about your band and I google your band, what do I see? Ideally the first page of results would include your website and your various music platform and social media outlets – Bandcamp, Soundcloud, YouTube, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter. If you’re on all these things and they are not showing up prominently in searches, please check out the SEO & Social Media section of howtoreleasearecord.com
3) DIY. The great thing about the current music industry is that the artist doesn’t need anyone else but themselves to make it happen. Yes, it takes work. And to really make it anywhere it takes ambition, discipline and a huge amount of luck. But you don’t need a record label. You don’t need a Manager. You don’t need a Publicist or a Radio Agent or a Licensing Agent or a Booking Agent. You don’t need a Distribution deal. You don’t need to perform for a room full of suits to get the green light. No one knows where the next great band is going to come from. It could just as easily be from a small-town bedroom or a suburban basement as from Brooklyn or L.A. If music is your life and you’re always trying to get better and you are truth-seeking about the effect your music has on others, you’ll find your niche. And, of course, that’s when the industry will come knocking 😉