Unbundling the Album: A Business Case for Releasing Single Songs

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There are many examples of the benefits of working in harmony with nature. When first venturing out beyond home a child is taught to walk with traffic. A carpenter achieves a cleaner result by going with the grain rather than against it. In sports a team succeeds by taking advantage of what the defense gives them, and there are countless other examples that express why it is better to work with the flow rather than push against it.  For the past ten years the recorded music industry has ignored this strategy, and stubbornly clung to a business model that is no longer in harmony with they way people consume music by predominantly releasing albums in a single song economy.

According to Nielsen Soundscan, in 2011 there were 1.374 billion digital transactions last year. Of those only 103 million or 7.5 % were for albums. This means that approximately 1 out of 14 times a consumer went to buy music online last year they were purchased an album. First with Napster and MP3s, then iTunes and the iPod, and now with streaming services like Spotify and Turntable.fm–the music consumer has repeatedly demonstrated that they prefer single songs to albums. Despite this fact, nearly 77,000 albums were released last year.

Rather than change strategy to work with this reality, most people in the industry just complained that it wasn’t fair, and continued the status quo.  I believe there are several reasons for this.  The first reason is that labels believe they can make more money selling albums. The second, is that marketing and sales processes were built for the album system and that makes it difficult to change. The last reason is because artists believe they are supposed to make albums either as a musical statement or as validation of their professional status.

This essay will attempt to prove that all three of those reasons are not necessarily true, and that selling single songs can be better promotionally, artistically and financially for artists and labels.

 

Layout of the Song Based Release Strategy

There are three key rules to the successful execution of the song based release strategy.

  1. Every song is given a reasonable amount of time to stand on its own.
  2. Every song receives its own unique marketing plan.
  3. No song is available before it is promoted.

After that there are limitless ways to release the music. An artist can release a song every week, every month, every day, or every third Monday. It doesn’t even have to be uniform.  It really doesn’t matter how the music is released, as long as the philosophy that every song is important in its own way is embraced.

 

Why this strategy works promotionally

Not only do consumers prefer music in a single format, but the outlets for music promotion are all focused on single songs as well.  Some of these formats are:

Radio: The bread and butter of radio is singles. Album Oriented Radio died when radio started hiring consultants in the 1970’s.

Blogs: Blog posts are usually about one or two songs.  The biggest aggregator of blogs, The Hype Machine, focuses on songs instead of albums.

Club Promotion: By definition the DJ at a club or bar will provide a steady mix of songs. It is quite the rarity to hear a whole album played in a club with the exception of a listening party.

Synchs for Commercials and TV: For reasons of time, cost, and artistic expression, individual songs are usually featured as synchs rather than albums.

Music Videos: Music videos are primarily made for one song. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are few and far between.

The two promotional avenues that focus on the whole album are preview streams, which have the drawback of lasting for only one or two weeks, and album reviews. Album reviews have come to mean less and less each year as newspapers and magazines cut space and syndicated their copy.  They have also lost their main purpose of previewing an album when consumers can decide for themselves whether they like an artists on streaming sites. The editor in chief of Spin Magazine recently cited that exact sentiment as justification for why Spin would be relegating the majority of their album reviews to 140-character tweets.

In addition to working in harmony with the promotion outlets currently available for music, there are several other benefits of the song-based release strategy in terms of marketing.

The first is always having new assets to promote to the media.  One thing that occurred because of the digital age is content has a much shorter shelf life. The Internet is a voracious beast and is always hungry for more content. Importance is placed on newness and exclusivity.  In a song-based system there is always something new to engage the media. If an album of songs is released you lose that newness factor when pitching for placement.

The second is that it creates a platform to consistently engage fans. In the current media landscape, attention is the most valuable commodity. By consistently releasing new material, an artist has an opportunity to engage their fans much more often than the year or more that commonly occurs between album releases.

The third is that it gives consumers a chance to know what they are buying.  This eliminates the feeling of betrayal or trickery when buying an album based on a single song and finding out the rest of the songs are either poor quality or just not their cup of tea. The best analogy I can use to explain this is the DVD compilation release of a TV show. Fans buy a DVD of a show after having seen the complete season. If DVDs of television series were marketed the way music albums were, a 12-episode season would have one show picked to be played on television repeatedly in the hopes that it would drive people to retail stores to purchase the whole series DVD. It is not an exact comparison, because of the variety of differences in how the two are monetized, but I still think it illustrates how bizarre the current album-marketing paradigm is.

 

Why this strategy works artistically

First, I want to be clear that this method doesn’t mean that an artist can’t create a full album of songs, or even a concept album. It only changes the order and format in which it is released. This results in the album not being fully experienced until all the songs are released and collected by a fan.  The baseline question that needs to be confronted when evaluating this method is “Is it absolutely necessary that the first time a fan hears my album is in its entirety?” If the answer is no, then a song based strategy can work artistically.

After that hurdle is cleared — and there should be very few bands that should answer the above question with a yes — there are several reasons why this method can lead to better artistic expression. First it forces artists to step up their game. This method puts every song on a pedestal or under a microscope. The temptation to phone it in on an “album track” is eliminated. It might be a little hyperbolic but I hope that it could usher in a new golden age of songwriting.

The next advantage is release flexibility and the opportunity to be timely. Presently, there are a number of obstacles to releasing a song about current events in the middle of an album cycle. No matter how relevant or great the song is, there is a tendency to not put full promotion behind it, because the song will not drive album sales. With the song based method there is greater flexibility to interrupt the release schedule with a timely or important song, because there is less financial disincentive.

The last advantage is counterintuitive in that it allows great albums to stand out. The true concept albums become something worth noting. If song based release strategy becomes the dominant model, and some group has another Sgt. Pepper or The Wall in them, then it will stand out. If they don’t, and have just another average album, then they will have given up their shot at sustained revenue.

 

Why this strategy works financially

This leads to the most important questions for whoever has invested in the music. Is the sustained revenue of singles equal to or greater than the lump sum of album shipments and sales? In terms of pure revenue from recorded music there is a relatively simple equation to determine how many singles an artist would need to sell to equal the money generated from the current combination of album shipments and individual track sales. This is:

((Album $ + Track $ ) / # Tracks ) /Single Wholesale =  Average Sales Per Track

Using hypothetical sales figures it would look like this:

Traditional album release A

10-track album

50,000 albums   x $6.50 wholesale = $325,000

200,000 tracks x $.70 wholesale = $140,000

(($325,000 + $140,000 ) /10 ) /$.70 = 66,428 average sales per track

 

Traditional album release B

12-track album

1000 albums x $6.50 wholesale cost = $6,500

13,000 tracks x. $70 wholesale cost =  $9,100

(($6,500 + $9,100) / 12) /$.70 = 1,857 average sales per track

After doing this initial equation for either previous or projected album sales the next step is to look at how the track sales were divided on previous releases to determine the possibility of meeting or exceeding the target average sales per track. As this is a subjective process there is no exact mathematical formula that will work every time, but I have two formulas that will give a rough idea of how a release will fare with this strategy.

Formula 1

(Sales of the promoted singles + average of all other singles) / promoted singles + 1

If that number is greater than the average sales per track needed, then a singles based release strategy is probably a safe bet.

Formula 2 (which is really not a formula and only for veteran artists)

Average first two week albums sales = core audience.

If the average of first two weeks of all an artist’s album sales is greater than the average sales per track needed then a singles based release strategy is likely worth pursuing. This method does not work for artists with one album that experienced great success after a slow build ala Mumford and Sons.

If, after running the numbers, it is still not clear what release strategy is best, there are two other financial incentives to the song based release strategy to consider. First it eliminates the phenomenon of putting all your eggs in one basket and in turn spreads out risk when developing an artist. In this case the basket is the single.

There is nothing worse than the process of picking a single. In my experience it is usually a bunch of music executives sitting in a conference room listening to two or three tracks with their most intense faces, maybe with a couple of head bobs to let you know that they really feel the music.  It is very funny to watch people try to indicate that their sense of hearing is working.

Then comes the debate. There is a discussion of what is currently on the radio and how the potential songs fits in with rest of the music landscape. There is sometimes research brought in to show what test audiences have thought of the songs.  After that it is gut feel and a bit of magic to reach consensus and a single is picked. That is it. A half hour in a conference room determines the trajectory of an entire album campaign in both focus and budget allocation.

If that single doesn’t work it doesn’t matter how many people would have liked the other songs the artist created: they will never get exposure, because of a lack of marketing funds. The majority of the budget was devoted to creating awareness for that one single, and this does not seem like a very efficient use of resources.

The second benefit is for business arrangements where there are income streams that are not directly related to recorded music, namely touring. One of the big issues that bands have is making sure there is something new to promote around a tour. Song-based release strategy makes it possible to always have something new for fans and to either be considered for tour packages or have a story for promoters. By spreading out the release of new material, the artist will increase the demand for their other revenue streams.

The last benefit is better management of manufacturing expenditures. For labels, one of the toughest costs to predict is the amount of physical albums to manufacture and ship. For developing artists, manufacturing their first run of CDs will usually cost several thousand dollars. The song-based release strategy helps determine what the demand is for the project and consequently physical product.

 

Conclusion

This article shows that a song based release strategy has promotional and artistic benefits, and that it is feasible financially. There are many factors for why certain artists or albums succeed and others fail. The release strategy is just one of those factors and will never be fully responsible for either the success or failure of an artist. There will be times when it won’t work out, but the album release system doesn’t always work either. Nothing works all the time, and nothing is the perfect solution for every situation. The premise was that it can work, and I believe this shows how it can. Of course, this can never truly be proven until artists and labels take the plunge and start releasing their music as individual songs. I hope they take that chance.

 

Common arguments against this theory and my responses

When writing this essay I floated the concept out to many people both in and out of the music industry. I received several common responses:

1. This will never make enough money if music moves to streaming as a dominant listening habit:  If streaming makes no money, then whether music is released as an album or as individual songs will be irrelevant. At that point other revenue streams become more important, and I would argue that the ancillary benefits of always having something new to promote and to engage an artists fans still makes the song based release strategy the more attractive option.

2. It is easier to record as an album: Agreed, but his strategy does not preclude an artist from recording a whole album at once, which I know is a much more efficient and cost effective way of creating music. It is focused on how that music is released after it is recorded.

2a. But what if all the tracks leak?: This is definitely the weak point of the strategy. A leak is much more detrimental to song based released system as it effectively destroys the advantages of letting each song stand on its own, and the newness quality when promoting. The only counter I have is that music most commonly leaks when it is submitted for manufacturing. As manufacturing is delayed or eliminated in this model, perhaps it would curtail the practice of music leaks. I am not certain of that though, and it is a risk.

3. This would kill record stores: There are many factors at work in the decline of physical music retail. Song based release strategy is meant to work in harmony with the existing trends, it did not initiate them.  The one positive is that after a little while record stores would have a lot more data available to gauge demand. There are many instances of something that was available online first finding a successful second life in music retail for latecomers to the band. Radiohead’s album, In Rainbows, is the best example. After the pay what you want experiment the band released it in stores and still had a #1 album. This method could ensure that only the albums with the most demand are in stores eliminating the phenomenon of shipping platinum and returning gold.

4. This won’t work if you want to go to radio: The question that needs to be answered here is whether the network effects of radio play of one or two songs will result in enough artist affinity to drive sales of the non-radio singles. When coupled with the other promotional methods for those songs, I think they will. The other possible benefit of this method would be that radio might go back to playing a diverse group of songs, as singles will no longer be dictated to them. Every song is promoted, and radio can once act as a filter instead of a megaphone.

 

Information that could make this article better

There are several pieces of information I do not possess that would make this article better. These are:

Exact sales numbers: With the Soundscan artist history (including track sales) of a large sample of artists I can run the formulas to see if there are trends between album releases and single sales.

My ideal major artist data subset would consist of a complete artist history including track sales for a selection of artists across a variety of genres.

Katy Perry
Black Eyed Peas
Kanye West
Little Wayne
Adele
Norah Jones
Mac Miller
Jon Lajoie
Zac Brown Band
Jason Aldean
Foster the People
Civil Wars
Train
Hinder
Disturbed
Pearl Jam
The Rolling Stones

Albums vs. Singles revenue from Tunecore: With this information it would be possible to go beyond the Soundscan data and look at the trends of independent artists.

Album streams vs. single song streams from Spotify, Mog, RDIO or Rhapsody: With this information I would be able to determine if listening habits change from singles to albums when streaming. Anecdotally I don’t think they will, but I do not have empirical evidence of that.

A case study – An artist who has released their album as a selection of individually promoted songs is the best way to prove the theory works.

39 thoughts on “Unbundling the Album: A Business Case for Releasing Single Songs

  1. First off, I do think this is interesting and relevant to the success of companies with large resources of capital and personnel. That said, it think there are many other issues to consider.

    When you say “consumers prefer”, and that “1 of 14 sales”, you are speaking only of digital consumers, not consumers as a whole. To say consumers prefer singles is misleading. We all know CD singles and 7″ records do not turn profits for labels or artists, but are mostly used as a means for promotion. Loss leaders. Consumers as a whole don’t necessarily prefer singles. Digital consumers do seem to.

    CDs are still the primary way people buy music globally. What percentage of music consumers are strictly digital? What is the timeline for a complete phasing out of the consumer who still goes into a store and buys something? 40 years? 50? I was born in the 70s, and of the many things I buy online, music isn’t really one of them, and I will be buying music for the rest of my life. Some record stores are still alive and healthy, though their bottom line has changed.

    You made the point about leakage; I think the likelihood of piracy affecting your bottom line when your focus is entirely (or even largely) digital is understated. I own a small label, and for our records I get emails from dozens of sites claiming to have them leaked prior to release. I can’t imagine what the piracy picture looks like for a top 40 record. If you googled the new Black-Eyed Peas single and 15 sites show up at the top of your search offering it free, how are you going to monetize that?

    The life span of a single is considerably different that that of an album. An album tends to open up to the listener over time — maybe not a Black Eyed Peas or Katy Perry album, but that of your typical band working in earnest will have that effect. Despite the dreams of marketing reps, nothing can be new forever. Change is constant and inevitable. Where that could suit your proposition, constant media saturation could also drive people to look for something else, something newer. If you are doing a hard push for a new song every week/day/month, people may become numb or over-saturated and begin to tune you out. In addition, the cost of promotion is the same for a single or an album. So, in effect, you would have to come up with roughly ten times the promotional budget to release ten singles as you would an album containing the same ten songs. That could work for a major, but not really anything else. Eve if the label can afford it, it forces the sales figure to be that much higher, given their new point of recovery — not to mention they could well be making less per sale.

    The year or so between records is an integral period in the artist’s livelihood. That’s usually when they go on tour, make most of their living, reach their fans and make new ones. If they’re a band that’s when they increase their skills to make a record better than the last. Add writing, releasing, and a constantly changing promotional schedule to that process, and it could shake things up in unknown ways. I don’t have a crystal ball, but it could be counterproductive to an artist’s livelihood and growth. This could also effect their livelihood considering streaming singles pay squat.

    The DVD analogy is interesting, but this position feels something more like: Streaming videos are limited to ten minutes. DVD sales are down, so all movies should now be less than ten minutes, or released as separate scenes to be streamed over time.

    I see how the model you’re putting forward can work for Universal, but the music industry is comprised of much more than the top selling album each year. The “new music industry” is not comprised entirely of Katy Perry’s but people doing it themselves or with limited assistance from places like Kickstarter. My personal opinion is that the majors may dig themselves a considerable hole trying to follow yesterday’s trends (which is where they are at the moment with regard to catching up with the internet). By the time they come around to new realities, these realities will inevitably have changed. Yes, there will always be a short, hot, market for Leif Garrett, NKOTB, or Justin Beiber, but that endgame runs out quickly. Some of the most solvent labels in the country are the large independents who survive by being practical and providing a high quality product.

      1. David,
        Do you know what that number is for overall transactions? How many country singles were sold digitally. With this number you can determine what percentage of country music transactions were albums or physical albums.

  2. Faris,

    What a great comment. I really appreciate you taking the time to write so in depth. There is much to debate here.

    First I say “when consumers buy music online” not just “consumers” which to me infers digital consumers, so I don’t feel I’m misleading. I try very hard not to misuse statistics. But that is neither here nor there.

    To your larger point about percentage of album transactions though in 2011 there were 223 million physical albums sold in America. (All statistics from here on out are for the United States) so there were 1.597 billion total music transactions, and out of that 326 million were for albums. This means 20% of all music purchases were albums, 80% singles. I don’t have breakdowns on genres for albums and singles possibly pop skews all the numbers towards singles, but what I would really love to know is what the ratio of individual songs streamed to whole albums streamed is on Spotify, RDIO, Slacker, Mog, etc. If those numbers skew the same way, I think you can definitively say that most consumers prefer single songs. If it leans towards albums, then I have to rethink this whole theory.

    I’m also not against physical albums. I would just like them to come out after fans have had the opportunity to engage with every song. Personally I love album, I prefer to listen to music in album format, but I believe I am in the minority. I am also very upset when I buy a whole album after hearing one song, and find out that the rest of the album was phoned in.

    Anecdotally the biggest justification I hear for piracy is fans upset that they were forced to buy a whole album for one song. I’m not sure what you mean that piracy is an understated risk. I admit it is the biggest risk of the whole system. I don’t think the current system is a deterrent to piracy either though so it is kind of a wash in my book.

    I agree with you that artists need time off to create great music. That is probably why there are so many sophomore slumps, but my system lets them record and write in the same fashion. The release schedule is different. There is also room to take time off from promoting. No one said it had to be perpetual only consistent.

    I don’t agree with your characterization of my DVD analogy. I am not trying to go lowest common denominator, but rather give each song a chance to shine.

    For the budgets, I admit it is a challenge, because the industry is so mired in the current way of doing things, but if you are building a high quality product as you claim (and I like your artist by the way) the goal should be to build a fan base for everything an artist releases, every single song should not have the same budget. There should be residual effects from the previous promotion to the next.

    And to last your point I find it a non sequitur and I’m not sure how to respond. I think you may be caught up in the emotional word of single – which to you means pop single, hence the rant about boy bands. I’m proposing single songs as in individual. I would argue that it is the opposite. If a credible band with fans is consistently releasing music then they have a much better chance with this model then an artist who only has fans because of one song. That goes back to my original intent, lets start featuring all the songs an artist writes. The current system does not do that even though the entire infrastructure currently in place enables that to occur.

    I state very clearly that it won’t work for everyone, but that it can work. I don’t think your comment does anything to disprove that.

  3. My aim wasn’t to disprove anything, just to dig deeper into some of the surrounding data and extend the conversation outward from top 40 hits a little bit more to see how that might actually play out, based on the list you made of artists who’s data you’d like to see. I mentioned the “boy bands” not from an emotionally charged place, but pick them an obvious example of something created solely for the purpose of moving units quickly, which not all music is. Some artists are deliberate in building slowly and gradually.

    I agree that this can work for some artists, and that with the right amount of resources it could really be a game changer for those artists. I question it on the basis of how well it applies to the average creator-as-owner in our current milieu, and I am also curious about possible backlashes from overexposure. If the aim is to be to able to re-place the attention on your content at will you might get what you wish for in the form of being too ephemeral.

    With regard to the piracy ‘understatement’, my point was just that if your entire product base is online, that could be a fatal risk without some very creative monetization and an army of lawyers to keep people downloading the song legally.

    Thanks for the response!

  4. Question: How does one offer one track free as promotion to get the word out if all you have is one track?

    Comment: I recommend installing Disqus comments. Much better system and it engages.

    1. Wes,

      I’m honestly not sure, maybe the free track is only for a limited time, or maybe the free track is part of a larger marketing arc, and the lost revenue is averaged out over a number of songs. I also think if streaming becomes ubiquitous, then the free track will start losing its appeal.

      Also I will check into Discuss – Thank you

  5. Great discussion. I see so many artists waiting for labels to come in and wash their dishes that I have been an advocate of smaller independent releases (singles or bunch of tracks) for some time. It keeps the kettle on the boil for longer while cutting down on the initial outlay. It keeps the artist’s name fresh with a regular drip-drip of material just when people need it.

    But it’s true that it’s a completely different way of looking at both production and promotion. I have the feeling that it works best for smaller outfits (bands or small labels) than for larger labels. It also enables one to release stuff that is far more topical and that might have a chance of picking up some airplay (imagine the band that has a release of a Prince track the week he dies – although I’d like to think he’s immortal, personally, but you get my point).

    So I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to this. It’ s a different – and very valid – way of looking at things.

    1. Thanks Peggy,

      I have album stats by genre, but I do not have digital track sales by genre. That is the information needed to make the proper inferences.

  6. Great idea!
    However, is there an assumption in the figures quoted that every track on the album will sell in the same numbers as it is released?
    How many albums have you purchased in the past that had a track you didn’t like as much as the others? I will guess all had at lease one track.
    If say, an album has 10 tracks and with each track having equal radio plays and marketing costs etc applied and if one or more do not sell the correct volumes, the benefits will be easily eroded.

    1. John,

      That is not the assumption at all. It is based on averages. There will always be songs that are more popular than others. You have to base the expenditures on those averages. I lay out formulas to determine those averages in the article.

  7. [as commented on Music Think Tank]

    Hi Frank, this is an interesting article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. As a full-time DIY artist this is a strategy that I have toyed with in my mind and I think potentially it’s a viable model for digital releases. My concerns and apprehensions are more to do with:

    A: How this would apply to a physical release/distribution strategy
    B: Overall artistic merit and reputation

    I’ll expand on these two and share my thoughts:

    A: Despite it being 2012 and digital becoming more and more important; as an indepndent artist 99% of my sales revenue is still through PHYSICAL sales (i.e. CDs). This is mainly due to how my music is promoted, distributed and sold. In fact, my album sales outstrip my single song sales massively on a per unit basis. I understand this is a rare case but it exists. Considering the cost of manufacturing a physical single is the same as manufacturing a physical album, this strategy would not make any sense once you consider how much each can be sold for.

    B: Both artists and fans like having albums as a product. Personally, I rarely buy single songs unless it’s a one off song I like from an artist I’m not typically a fan of. In most cases I will always wait for the full album and buy that. I feel I would prefer this to buying 10-12 singles over the
    course of a year. Also, there is some intangible merit in releasing albums. It does still say something about the artist also there exist both ‘single artists/bands’ and ‘album artists/bands’.(i.e. they make great singles but average albums or vice versa). I know with the model above an album can still be released but by that stage it would be more like a compilation really and
    the incentive to buy it would be reduced if the songs have already been released individually.

    Again though, interesting article and definitely worth some artists/labels considering. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on my two counter-arguments above. Respect.

    1,
    Zuby

    1. Hi Zuby,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. For your first point. It seems to me like a song based release strategy is not good for you. I imagine if you ran through the formulas I laid out, that the outcome would be to not try a song based release strategy. In fact I ask that you do that, so you can see if the result is different, and that there are situations where I need to revise my initial calculations.

      To your second point, I address it a little in the article. There are to many people who believe that an album gives them credibility. It is what this generation of musicians was raised to think, and I don’t blame them, but there were 77,000 albums released last year, how many do you think were a true artistic statement? I love great albums, Funeral, You Forgot it in People, Use Your Illusion 2, Sublime (self titled) and Rumours, are some of my favorites, but just as often I have favorite songs. One of the biggest justifications for piracy is “there was only one good song on the album”

      This is not an argument I plan to win as albums mean so much to so many that it is like arguing religion. The arguments for albums are based on faith or anecdotal evidence or some other ethereal belief.

      So I ask you, “what is a better indicator of credibility?” Letting each song stand on its own, or hiding them in a compilation (album) and asking people to purchase the bundle based on a sample of one or two songs.

      1. ‘So I ask you, “what is a better indicator of credibility?” Letting each song stand on its own, or hiding them in a compilation (album) and asking people to purchase the bundle based on a sample of one or two songs.’

        I agree with you! I think this is a really great way to think. When putting an album together, it’s easy to put in “filler” songs to complete the album. Whereas if you release singles, you feel a greater obligation to put out quality music because each song has to stand on its own. Rather than recording a series of songs and trying to find a single amongst them, doing it the other way around seems to be a great way to compile a quality “album” or artist portfolio.

    2. Interesting case! Sounds like you have what a colleague of mine calls a “happy problem”. Maybe you don’t need to do this.

      But I’d just add one thought. We all consumer differently online and off. Maybe running a separate campaign for online users is the thing. If you’re selling physical CDs so well, you are probably doing this through live appearances. Maybe a single-track approach would bring you a different set of people online. You’d be doing this with tracks from the album (or remixes). So it’s a simple case of marketing: determining the best avenue to a sale through different outlets. Some people like six-packs of beer, others the litre bottle and others buy individual cans. Although they can be more or less profitable to the producer, the customer buys whatever suits them.

      It’s true there’s a certain gravitas to releasing a physical CD. But the whole idea of physical is irrelevant on eMusic.com, for example. I buy a fair amount of singles or bunches of tracks as MP3s. CDs hardly at all any more.

      Just a thought.

  8. Frank & Michael,

    Thanks for your responses. I haven’t yet run the numbers using Frank’s formulae but I assume it would suggest this isn’t a viable strategy for me.

    Frank, to answer your question “what is a better indicator of credibility?” I’d say that it depends. I don’t believe that songs are ‘hidden’ in an album and it can definitely be damaging for an artist to be known to have albums full of duds with just a couple strong songs.

    The truth is that most songs naturally aren’t effective as singles but this doesn’t mean they’re not great songs. I view singles as a ‘gateway’ into an artist and my favourite songs are normally ‘album cuts’. Albums provide the full insight into the artist’s mind and personality. (This is more relevant to hip-hop and other genres where the writers and artists are normally one and the same) Lots of excellent songs don’t necessarily jump at you and grab you immediately like a strong single would so they work better in an album context, part of a story if you like. I don’t know how effective it would be pushing such songs individually as singles? There’s a synergy involved in strong albums.

    Michael, yes I think the digital distribution/selling beast is actually v. different to physical and it’s something I am keen to develop much more for my own music. Everyone consumes differently so options don’t hurt.

    I’m trying out a different strategy for my current album which is putting the album out and then releasing a large number of music videos over the year to ‘maximise’ the songs. It’s kind of like a reversed, video based version of your strategy! Always worth trying new things and people love videos!

    1,
    Zuby

  9. Loving this post and all the comments. I’m a songwriter who is thinking of changing my release model to standalone singles (so the true fans can savor each song) that will come out every one to two months, each with art, video, explanation and a feedback system to accompany them. The plan is to have this steady stream of good content and interaction come out all year, some songs more viral than others, and build up a demand to collect it into a special physical package (perhaps even vinyl) in the following year. I figure it will also give me a good idea of the more popular tunes and help us figure out what tracks to lead with in full-album promotion. There is a lot of food for thought here. I too would be interested in hearing some stats on a genre by genre basis. I write in a lot of different genres too, so perhaps this approach would give me more freedom to build disparate fan-bases and promote separate singles to different radio formats.

    On a last note: Piracy is a blessing. If you are popular enough to have your music pirated, you are already famous and making a good living. I would be stoked find that my music had enough organic demand to be pirated, because this means I would have enough eyeballs and eardrums to monetize in some other, new way. Quit clinging white-knuckled to the past and you’ll have a hand free to grab onto the future. 🙂

  10. great discussion– thanks!

    My experience is that BOOKERS (clubs, festivals, etc) and NON-COMMERCIAL RADIO want CD’s. They don’t want to download, they don’t want MP3’s, they don’t want to stream. They want a CD.

    My band got played on over 100 NPR affiliate stations in 2012, and its only because I mailed the DJ’s our CD.

    That’s why I spend the money and make ’em.

    Perhaps is different for bands who are in a different economic/fame stratosphere than mine.. bands that sell 50,000 cd’s and have booking agencies and don’t need a CD to prove they are legit. But for me, i think i’m stuck making cd’s!

    rock on!
    ~v~

    1. Hi Velvy,

      I think you are confusing the album format with the physical album. I am not saying don’t make physical cds, I’m saying that you shouldn’t release all your songs at once. You can even release cd singles or cassingles or 45’s. After they have had a chance to stand on their own merit, you can compile them into any format you like. Album, EP’s, hold them all over for A greatest hits. Yes at the development level you have a lot to prove, but more than anything the Bookers want people who will be successful. I think in the long run you will be more successful with this method.

      I checked out your site, your music is very pleasant.

      Good luck,

      Frank

  11. My question is about promotion. I’m sure publicists are for hire for single releases, but if you plan on several single releases throughout the year, wouldn’t it get expensive to try and promote them all and pay a publicist? As an indie band/writer/producer, the album allows me to get good bang for my buck, and reviewers (print and bloggers) tend to spend more time and give you more print/attention if they have a whole album to write about. Whether this generates sales or not is debatable, of course.

    Thanks for your article.

    Matt Lax

    1. Hi Matt,

      Did you run through the formulas based on your sales history. I checked out your site, and my gut is this strategy might not be the best for you. You have a lot of great quotes around your albums, and most likely and fanbase that prefers albums. I did not write it with the older career musician in mind.

      To your larger point, I don’t think an album is more bang for your buck. Whatever publicist you hire can only go to writers when you have something new. When you put everything in an album, your publicist can only got to the well once or twice.

      If the average PR campaign is 3 months then an alternative that is in the spirit of the campaign, but uses the pr model that you prefer, is to put out 1 songs a week for 12 weeks and give your publicist more ammo to promote your music.

      Best,

      Frank

  12. Older Career Musician…gee, thanks. I guess you wrote that with an “out to pasture scenario for me…” …BTW your article was forwarded to me by a fellow OCM who has also traditionally made albums, I’ll let him know we’re part of this discussion…. All that aside, please let me know when you see someone’s music reviewed on a weekly basis, I can’t see the average blogger/writer trying to pick up the thread every time you send them something. It’s hard enough to get their attention even once. But if you’ve got the evidence, I’ll check it out. Thanks, OCM Matt.

    1. Thats not an age crack, Matt. This would work for an older developing artist as they are starting from scratch. I again guess that if you ran through my formulas this doesn’t work better financially for you right now, if it does and you are selling a lot of digital music, then I stand corrected.

      As for publicity, just look on the hype machine and see how many artists have multiple tracks written about by the same bloggers. It is a lot.

  13. This is a fascinating read. I’ve been drafting a blog post myself about the evolving relationship between the album and the single, but you have thought of, and researched, several aspects that I had not considered.

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