Releasing new music in lockdown by saxophonist Emma Johnson

During lockdown Leeds-based Emma Johnson’s Gravy Boat released a single called Where Were You Hiding? (feat. Nishla Smith). The track is the first song Emma Johnson has recorded with a vocalist. She has put pen to paper, specially for Jazz North, to tell us about why she came to release it, what it was like to put a song out into the world at this time, and offers a few helpful tips…

Hey! Thanks for coming to check this out. I’m Emma, a saxophonist and composer based in Leeds, UK. As a bit of background, I was due to be in the studio in April recording my debut album with my group, Emma Johnson’s Gravy Boat and had spent most of 2020 building up to that.

As a result, I’ve spent a bit of lockdown juggling between feeling a bit sad about the recording and various gigs not going ahead, and feeling guilty about that because it’s a very small, very unimportant thing in the scheme of everything that’s going on. Some wise friends have pointed out that there’s space for both of these things which has really helped me. Having chatted to many fellow artists, I think a lot of people have been feeling similarly conflicted!

The cancelling of a lot of work, and a lot of plans led to me feeling a bit lost and a bit helpless with what I could do to be useful in lockdown. It’s a strange feeling when you’re usually fairly busy to have a lot of spare thinking time, and even more strange when you realise you don’t have that many skills that are useful in this kind of crisis! Music is all I’ve worked on for the past however many years, and I kept coming back to this hazy, hopeful ballad that was sitting on my hard drive.

I last went into the studio last September to record a demo (which has turned into a single from a future album), and a ballad with guest vocals from the amazing Nishla Smith. I wanted to record this for posterity more than anything. I love what Nishla does with the song and thought it’d be nice to release it one day, although there were no plans for it to be now! We were (are?!) both working on our debut albums with different bands, so those were due to be our next releases and this track was something for the future, perhaps.

The decision to release it was a fairly quick one, as I thought it might help some people and be nice to put something positive out into the world. The band and Nishla agreed and a chance Instagram scrolling led me to find the perfect artist for the video – a guy called Dougie Harley, who I’ve been following for years. I’d just read an email saying that now was the perfect time to reach out to creatives for commissions or to ‘shoot your shot’ as many people had more time, so I did and he agreed, leading to the beautiful video that accompanies the single.

It’s been quite a while since I released anything, and I didn’t know a lot about release strategy then, but I think the extra time meant I could take it a bit more seriously, and really work on tailoring emails/press releases/review requests to each person I contacted. It was fairly hard work to sit down and do it, in the timeless bubble that has been lockdown, but I spent a couple of weeks putting in a shift at the laptop – spreadsheets, highlighting and lots of emails and I really feel like it paid off. Hopefully, it will stand me in good stead for the album – although I’ve still got buckets to learn, I think it’s a decent start.


On the release day itself, I mostly sent follow up emails with all the ‘live’ links to people who’d agreed to write reviews, share or playlist it, and then when I’d done that, enjoyed a brew whilst sending out the track to friends and family, venues I’ve played at previously and other people whose day I thought I could brighten their day a little. The weekend after the release, I had a total screen break and went for a relaxing day out (walk and car picnic because of the rain!), and just enjoyed feeling like the whole process was complete.

In terms of the release itself, the most lovely thing was the feedback I received from fans and people who hadn’t heard my music before alike. It was really powerful and reminded me of why I have chosen to do this. I gave a free download of the track to my mailing list and some of the conversations that it opened up were so inspiring and humbling.

If you want to check out the single it’s here on YouTube

Or on Spotify here


Release Tips (I’m no expert but here are a few helpful things I’ve learnt).

  1. Make a Clear Plan
    It’s all very well and good saying you’re going to email every publication ever for reviews (etc), but it takes ages and is so easy to get demotivated when you’re only five emails down and don’t know where to turn next. Take some time at the start to do some reading, make a list of appropriate blogs/playlists/radios, find the emails or a contact etc. It’s scary to start from scratch, which is what I did this time, but ask people for help or advice and keep a spreadsheet!
  2. Chase Ups
    Everyone’s busy and inundated, but most people really do want to help and hear/share your music. Polite chase ups after about a fortnight can work wonders. This kind of relies on leaving enough time after the initial contact to have time to follow up, so get started early!
  3. That Old Chestnut
    BBC Introducing, Spotify Editorial Submissions, Fresh on the Net. Tried, tested and worth a punt.
  4. Schedule Socials!
    In the run up to the release, the worst thing is realising you haven’t posted for days because you’ve been buried in emails. In your clear plan (see Step 1), work backwards from your release date and work out what you want to share with your audience and when. E.g. Pre-Save Link, Sneak Preview, Incentives, Creation Process.

A clear roadmap will save you loads of time and stress. Hope this is helpful in some way and please do get in touch with any questions!