Friday, January 2, 2015

Albums vs Singles for the Indie Musician

A question that has come up a lot recently from my clients is whether it is better to release an album all at once or release multiple singles over time. It has been coming up so much recently, that I felt it would be valuable to share some of my insights on the subject.  

While most of us have grown up listening to albums and still want to release our music in that format, it's proving not to be very practical in today’s market.  The reasons for this are because of the way we all listen to music now, how much social media has affected our lives, and the way these two things have changed the way the entire music industry operates.  To be clear, when I say “album", I refer to a bunch of songs packaged together, either physically (CD etc) or digitally.  
Twenty years ago, recorded music was sold as a physical product. There was a cost to create this product and deliver it to the consumer.  It made sense to package multiple songs onto it in order to be able to charge enough to make money while ensuring that people were feeling that they were getting value for the cost.  This climate created releases that comprised of a few songs that were throwaways, some that were more interesting and inventive for the hardcore fan and then the1-3 songs that would sell the whole project.  Obviously I'm generalizing here but I feel that’s an apt description for the average album release.

Fast forward to today and the world of streaming music. Whether it be  YouTube, which is the largest streamer of music or  Spotify, people no longer need to own a copy of a song when it's available at any time through a streaming service.  With this new medium however, albums are only for the most diehard fan. When you can access the whole history of music with the touch of a button, the average person is only interested in the best of the best.  In this climate, it's more important to focus on truly great songs that will cut through the noise over subpar material that would have been considered "album filler" back in the day.  I don't even mean hit singles (although you'll need those!), but your songs definitely have to be able to stand out on their own rather than just being a part of a bigger work like an album.

After your project is recorded, a promotion plan is necessary. Again, you’ll find that promoting a single can have many benefits. The reason single releases work, especially for the indie musician, is because of the way we promote music today.  Social media is great, but it's fleeting... like really fleeting.  You post a song up that took you hours and hours and lots of money to create and it's gone in a flash; lost in a sea of cat memes and time wasting top 10 lists.  The truth is it's very hard to get people to pay attention to one song, let alone a whole album of songs, when you're an independent musician.  Best to split up the promo into individual songs every month and always promote something new, rather than repetitively promoting an album for a year and getting tuned out.  What I find works for my clients is releasing a song every month or two.  At the same time as continuing to work on new material for the next release, try and get the most out of the single you’ve just put out.  Submit it to blogs, podcasts and music supervisors for sync licensing. Find new ways to make the release exciting over the month you’re promoting it.  Create a video for it, promote any use of the song (radio play, sync license, etc) while still promoting the song as well.  Basically try and find as many ways of telling people, “here’s my song” without it just being strictly about the song itself during the promotion period.

Once you have a good batch of material (between 5-12 songs) that you’ve released in this way, package them all together along with one new song as a way to launch an album or EP from that group of material. That way you're always releasing something new and you’ll have albums or EPs for those who really want them.  

As you’ve read, there's a lot of good reasons to release singles consistently over time rather than releasing albums.  It’s especially good for the independent musician who may have more limits on their time and financial resources.  Having said that, there are still reasons to release albums and if that's what you have your heart set on, then go for it.  Just keep in mind there will be more challenges with promotion when you’re releasing an album, unless you have a huge promotion budget. It’s a new world for the modern independent musician.  The more you try to adapt to the current market the more success you will experience.  Good luck with your releases!
Feel free to add some comments below on what your experience has been with your projects!  Also if you need help with your songs or recordings feel free to email me.

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