As the music economy continues to shift, it's important we keep our thinking current, particularly when it comes to releasing songs. Here we breakdown what a modern release schedule looks like, as well as how implementing one will benefit the artist.
Guest post by Bobby Owsinski on Music 3.0
Our current Music 4.0 world requires new thinking regarding song releases. Here’s an excerpt from my Music 4.1 Internet Music Guidebook that outlines the new release schedule and its benefits.
“If we go back to the ’50s, vinyl singles had a notoriously fast manufacturing turnaround time, despite the labor-intensive process required to make a vinyl record.
At that time, it was not uncommon to have a single (the small 7-inch “45” with a song on each side) on the streets within days of recording (and sometimes even writing) the song! Of course, the quick turnaround was helped by the fact that the song was usually recorded in a few hours, since there was little or no overdubbing, so it was possible to record a song on Monday and have it on the radio on Wednesday of the same week.
When the emphasis on releases turned from singles to albums, the length of time between releases increased accordingly, which was natural considering that more songs were being recorded.
During the Music 1.0 days, there was a limitation on how many songs could be recorded for an album because there was the limitation of the vinyl itself. Twenty-three minutes per side was the goal to get the loudest and highest-fidelity record. Any longer and the noise floor of the record increased as the volume decreased. As a result, artists were confined to about 45 to 50 minutes per album, but consumers didn’t seem to mind, since they still felt they were getting value if they liked the songs. In fact, many hit vinyl records regularly clocked in at between 35 to 40 minutes of music.
The time limitation lifted with the introduction of the CD in Music 1.5. When first released, the CD had a maximum playing time of 74 minutes (the number rumored to be chosen by the chairman of Sony at the time because it could fit the entire Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony), which was later increased to a full 80 minutes. No longer saddled with the vinyl album’s built-in time limitation, artists were able to stretch out and add more and longer songs to each album release. This soon proved to be a double-edged sword, since it now took longer to finish recording each release because of the inclusion of all those extra songs.
Having more songs on an album doesn’t necessarily make a better record though, and even backfired regarding the artist’s popularity. While 40 to 45 minutes was a time bite easily digestible for a listener, 60 to 70 was not. The extra songs were not only generally unappreciated but, even worse, thought of as mere filler. The consumer began to think (sometimes rightfully so) that the songs were there just for the sake of being there, and they began to feel ripped off. Why pay for songs that you’ll never listen to? Because you had to!
Over the years, the time between record releases gradually lengthened to the point that a superstar act might take several years. While this might have worked in Music 1.5 and 2.0, that strategy would never work in Music 3.0 and beyond, as the fans have an insatiable appetite for product. What’s worse, the fanbase can actually dissipate if the product does not come at regular intervals—the shorter the better.
And with CD sales way down, the album format itself seems to be going the way of the vinyl single of the ’50s and ’60s. Consumers in Music 4.1 listen to only the songs they want to hear, and therefore, they consume mostly singles. Which brings about a new philosophy regarding recordings and how they are released.
In Music 4.1, artists record fewer songs but have more frequent releases. It’s better to release a song or two every 6, 8, or 12 weeks than to wait a year for one release of ten songs. This benefits the artist in the following ways:
- The artist keeps his or her fans happy with a constant supply of new music. New music keeps the fans interested and keeps the buzz and dialog going.
- The artist gains increased exposure for every song. In a ten-song album release, it’s easy for a fan, reviewer, or radio programmer to focus on just one or two songs while the others fall in priority. When releases are a single song at a time, each song gets equal attention and has the ability to live and die on its own merits.
- Each song is its own marketing event, which means it can be promoted directly to fans and on social media. Therefore, 10 songs released individually are 10 separate events, each with it’s own promotional cycle. An album just gets one.
- All the songs can still be compiled into an album after having been individually released. At the end of the year, or at the end of the artist’s creative cycle, the songs are then compiled into an album that can be released in any format. The advantage is that the album has much more advanced exposure and publicity thanks to numerous single releases. Plus it can be treated as an additional marketing event, which is also to the artist’s advantage.
Make no mistake, the album format is not dead in Music 4.0 (although sales of even digital albums are decreasing at about the same rate as the CD), but the emphasis has shifted to the individual song. The new release schedule takes advantage of how current fans consumer music.”
You can read more from Music 4.1 Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.