It’s no secret that streaming services are slowly but surely taking over when it comes how the majority of people are choosing to consume music worldwide. Billboard recently reported that retail giant Best Buy will stop selling CDs in stores next year, and Target is planning on only paying distributors for the CDs that they actually sell. We know that online streaming is on the rise, but how will this affect releases? Is the album on its way out? More and more musicians are opting to release a flurry of singles before they drop a hefty chunk of material all at once - why?
Savan Kotecha, who holds credits for international pop hits ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ by One Direction, ‘Problem’ by Ariana Grande and The Weeknd’s ‘Can’t Feel My Face,’ claims that the reason artists are now increasingly focused on releasing singles is because “it’s all about throwing out content” and to keep fans engaged and interested, one needs to maintain a more less constant flow of content. SVP of Global Marketing for Hollywood Records, Robbie Snow (Demi Lovato, Bea Miller), explains, “In this day and age, we try to keep things flowing so artists almost never go away. Fans want to be engaged constantly with artists that they like.”
While this makes sense coming from statistics of massive artists, who often don’t need to worry about a release being ‘picked up’ by listeners, what does releasing singles mean for smaller, independent artists? Well, straight off the bat, most musicians who are independent and still attempting to grow their fan base can barely afford to buy all the equipment they need, let alone pay for the recording of an entire album. If you’re looking to record your music in a professional studio, it’s cheaper to release singles, plain and simple.
However, before you rush off to record your brand new single, releasing a series of singles ahead of an album can also lead to an anticlimax and therefore a lack of interest when the album is finally shared in its entirety. This can be especially tricky if you’re a smaller artist and you are looking for all the hype you can get. It’s a precarious place between pros and cons.
Interestingly enough, it appears that many experts on this topic claim that singles and albums are consumed differently by fans situated in different genres. We ourselves are not sure though, as it seems as though everything is up in the air at the moment when it comes to releasing music. It was previously customary for EDM and pop artists to release singles, which are considered ‘easily consumable’, while rock and alternative musicians would stick to releasing full-length LPs that reflected their identity as a band. Now, all genres are trying new release techniques; nothing is set in stone in such a rapidly changing music industry. If you think about how quickly the world has transitioned from vinyl to tape, to CD, to streaming as a leading medium for listening, anything is possible.
So, albums or singles? The answer is currently unclear. Many may think that this answer is a cop-out, but we think it is exciting. Music for many artists is such a specific, personal, journey. Therefore it is important to maintain an open mind when deciding on how you choose to release your music. For example, it wouldn’t really make sense for an artist who has written a ‘concept album,’ that tells an in-depth and carefully-constructed story over a number of tracks, to release a whole lot of singles prior to when their album drops. The magic would be lost. However, if you have a stand-alone track that you are wanting to release and not too sure who your audience is (yet) or how they listen to music, a single is a fantastic way to share your music and to test the waters, so to speak.
In conclusion, and at the risk of sounding ‘wishy-washy’: there is no definite answer to the album vs. single question, well, not yet anyway. With music technology moving so rapidly, one can’t give a blanket answer to almost anything when it comes to the individual decisions that musicians make. All we know is that there seems to be more and more choice when it comes to the ‘how’ part of releasing music – so why not take advantage of it?