Building an Artist From Scratch: how to launch your first single

➤ Download and save the comprehensive Asset Checklist here

➤ If you want more about artist branding, listen to a short presentation on creating a visual brand

If this is you, you’re in the right place.

You’ve spent months, years even, working on new music, you’re finally happy and ready to put them out. It’s been a long time in the making so you want to give them the absolute best shot at success. But, you don’t know where to start.

➤ Where do you truly begin when building from the ground up?

➤ Where do you prioritize your budget when funds are limited?

➤ How do you create a succinct, focused story that introduces you to the world?

These questions get solved through marketing.

In this post I’ll lay out the precise promotional materials required to put your best foot forward for your first single release. 

It covers an example of how ASTON, an Australian songwriter and pop artist debuted her music project in December 2020. As a songwriter, she’s penned and featured on Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw (9M streams), multiple Netflix shows, and NBA’s 2K20. She is just stepping out as a forward-facing artist.

Disclaimer: I worked with ASTON on this release but that’s not why I chose to feature her in this post. I think she’s a model example of how a new artist launches her brand. It’s concise, focused, and compelling. Throughout the process, she strives for creative excellence and it shows in the marketing rollout.

Bookmark this post and come back to it every time you’re releasing a new single or artist project. Think of it as your: 

  1. Asset checklist encompassing the core elements of a strong visual brand
  2. Check-in that you’ve covered your bases before anything goes out
  3. Bar to beat. Take this as what one artist did and think about how you use these assets creatively to build your artist brand. 

If you want this checklist as a saveable Google Doc to save to your Drive then download it here:


Essential assets are the absolute minimum required to launch a new single leveraging the memorability of visuals. 

Your goal in creating essential marketing assets is to come out of the gate swinging. Meaning, put your best foot forward by building a visual identity that’s focused, clear, consistent and ultimately memorable.

For ASTON that meant creating a tone that was sharp, bold, confident, and unapologetic.

“As a new artist, I wanted to clearly identify what I looked like. Specifically in the genre (pop) that I am in. With so many names and songs being thrown around these days, I wanted people to start connecting the persona to the music. On the creative side, the visuals needed to be a representation of the artist’s tone which for me was sharp, bold, confident and unapologetic.” – ASTON

With this checklist below, your next step is to come up with concepts of what your essential assets will look like.

  • Album artwork 
  • Single artwork 
  • Press photoshoot 
  • Music video treatment & music video 
  • Logo 
  • Typography 
  • Color palette

Album artwork

Album artwork is the hero visual the whole campaign branding is built off. For ASTON, this process began in the writing room.

“Throughout the whole process from writing to release, I had mood boards that were sectioned off into artwork, video, logo, aesthetic, and a few more. I was constantly adding and deleting content within the boards until I was set on a clear style that was fluid through all visuals. It had to be so specific that no matter who I shared it with, they’d understand the direction instantly.”

Both album and single artwork should stand out when scaled down to a thumbnail on a cell phone as this is how most new listeners discovering music through streaming platforms will see the artwork.

Album cover

Front of the packaging of a commercially released audio recording product. The cover is the primary image of a digital download, CD or LP. 

Generally, most of the promotional material created for a record campaign will be built off this image, i.e.: digital ads, street ads and in merch.

Single artwork

Primary image accompanying the promotional singles (instant grat tracks) of the record. There can be individual artwork for every track in the streaming era or just promotional singles. 

Press photoshoot

Official photos accompanying the release. These are sent to media, promoters, labels, distributors and other industry connections. 

They will feature on all streaming, social and video platforms. After the music video shoot, the press photoshoot is generally the heaviest investment as it can include hair & make-up, stylist, photographer, wardrobe, equipment and location fees.

As the artist, you need to ensure anyone brought in to help execute understands the vision. This allows them to add and enhance your idea rather than detract or deviate.  

“You have to be so specific with your vision and be able to articulate that with words and visual representation. If there’s a slight sense of uncertainty when communicating with another person, you may end up with a product you aren’t happy with.” – ASTON

To maximize the day, have a second shooter doing b-roll for social media and pairing the album artwork and press photoshoot together. This way, from the one day you’ll have a library of content for future posting on social media, an album and single cover, and official press photos.

Music video treatment & music video

Our visual memory is more powerful than our audible one. When people see a song, not just hear it, their ability to recall is far stronger. 

“When I wrote Girl is a Gun, the music video instantly came to mind as it was written in a very linear storytelling way.”

Music visuals take the audible message of a song and color it in, making it more memorable to new listeners. A strong first music video has 2 things: 

  1. Shows your aesthetic that subconsciously shows the listener where they should place you in their mind
  2. Your performance that conveys emotion to the listener. You can use this asset to pitch promoters and booking agents interested in what your show may look like, as well as media for sessions/features and labels to show your skill.

‘Girl is a Gun’ music video 

Bonus: You’ll need a high-res thumbnail for YouTube. When designing this, ensure the artist is in the image, the colors are bright and it stands out when scaled down to a thumbnail size on mobile.

For a deeper look at how to write music video treatments, this video by director, Jacob Owens is excellent. He lays out the process of music video pitching, common mistakes in writing treatments and balancing story and visuals to get the idea across. 

How to write music video treatments!


Official stamp to appear on promotional materials as merch, music videos, website and social media.


Neo Afrique Pro Medium

Appears on promotional materials including album/single artwork, advertising and merch.

Color palette

ASTON stuck to a color palette that complimented the artwork and press photoshoot of white, black and maroon.


The following assets are optional. If you’re just one person, limited on time or feeling overwhelmed then just choose a few. 

Your ‘nice to have’ assets should: 

  1. Continue to push the message of your song further
  2. Give people a reason to care about your track through storytelling

Nice to haves:

  • Remix artwork 
  • Styling moodboard
  • Tour admat 
  • Social skins 
  • Merch design 
  • Visual guideline bible
  • Vinyl/CD/cassette layout 
  • “Coming soon”, release date reveal and “out now” graphics for social media 
  • Stage or livestream concept
  • Website design
  • Mockups for merch and physical products. To be used on website and social media 
  • Visualizer for YouTube 

Social skins

“Coming soon”, release date reveal and “out now” graphics for social media 

Social content is where you’ll hook new listeners through storytelling. The actual posts have a promotional purpose but won’t work unless you give people a reason to care. 

This starts with you and your story. Your promotional content will go a lot further if the images are striking and captions funny, personal and clearly written by you.

Coming soon & release date reveal 

Out now

Bonus: post-release content that deepens the connection between listeners and the artist. ASTON created a casual video shot in a studio explaining her story. This can be used to pitch media, playlists, radio, promoters, labels and other industry contacts.

Website design 

A simple splash page is absolutely fine for your first project. All you need is a landing page to host links, newsletter sign-up and official news. Don’t over think this bit.

There you have it. Your full-blown asset checklist for building from the ground up. 

For ASTON, the process of debuting her first single as the forward-facing artist, she stresses the need for managing budget and your own learning curve.

“Learning and budget! Skills to take into consideration are organisation and detail. If you’re going to do parts or the whole thing yourself, you need to be efficient with the learning process, setting out specific time to gain skills in tools such as Photoshop, Premier etc.”

Keep coming back to this post for best practices for launching a new artist project ensuring you put your best foot forward.