Figuring out your release schedule involves taking a careful look at what's going on with both your music and your audience.
The amount of time that lapses between an artist's LP releases varies wildly, and there's a complex system of factors that can affect that schedule. The days, weeks, or even years that are invested in writing and recording all the music is of course a key piece, but even once the tracks are in the bag, you may decide that current fan momentum isn't exactly what you want it to be. And you may have other future plans or music-career circumstances that figure into whether you're ready for an album cycle. Considering these and other variables will help you pinpoint the ideal time for a release.
Wait until you're ready
First and most important: Never sacrifice quality for the sake of speed. Sacred Bones label manager Brad Sanders, who's dealt with an array of artists ranging from the legendary John Carpenter to the hyper-prolific Thou, stresses that “a record should come out when it’s ready to come out. If a band takes four years to write a record but it’s the best record they’ve ever written, then by all means take four years.”
Sargent House label manager Marc Jetton concurs, adding that following the creative muse is the key component to releasing new material—a philosophy that has served artists like Chelsea Wolfe, Deafheaven, and Russian Circles well. “Ultimately it comes down to the artist wanting to record more music—they want to create something and do something new," he says.
Even in the hip-hop world—a singles-focused culture—it’s essential to remember that the LP is a tentpole release for the artist, so taking the time to fine-tune it as a package is wise. “With hip-hop and pop music, we’re kind of harkening back to the early days of rock 'n' roll, which was more singles-based,” explains Anthony Martini, head of Commission Music, home of Lil Dicky, Derez De’Shon, and MadeinTYO. “For new artists and people we’re trying to build up, you keep releasing songs, EPs, mixtapes, and projects until there is a demand for an album.” Through it all, attention to detail and putting your best foot forward are crucial.
The rough two-year benchmark
Is there an ideal cadence for album releases? “Every 18 months to two years is the baseline, but there are many exceptions to that rule,” says Sanders. Jetton adds, “There are a lot of factors that go into getting music recorded—band availability, when and how they create music. But in an ideal world, without accounting for all those factors as well as touring and other ideas, every two years might be a good oversimplified idea. We’ve had a lot of success with having releases around every two years, and the basis for that keeps fans engaged.”
Martini’s ideal rhythm is a little faster and more granular for the hip-hop and pop worlds, since he aims to ensure that an artist stays in the public eye through smaller releases; the LP timeline is secondary. ”You definitely want to have new music of some sort every six months or so. It keeps fans active, the algorithm stoked, and helps to continue growth,” he says. But even then, it’s important to look toward the future and make sure that when an album does hit, it hits with a bang. "You might have a single by an artist that is potentially massive, where it makes the most sense to hold it back until you have critical mass," he says, meaning it's best to keep interest simmering along with a peppering of good singles before dropping the one you expect to really hit—and then releasing an LP, when fans are truly ravenous for it.
Timelines must be planned with a focus on overall strategy. “New artists sometimes will record material and will want to put it out right away without looking at the big picture of what we and they are trying to accomplish overall,” explains Jetton. “I think it’s important for newer artists to get more songs out there in a quicker way, but if you continue to do that and you aren’t making much of an impact, then it’s important to reassess.”
Assess your momentum
If two years is the rough ideal for an album-release cycle, what are factors that can skew that timeline longer or shorter? It all comes down to a band’s momentum.
The decision to speed up the release process may come about as a reaction to unpredictable factors that have increased momentum. “If your track starts to go viral, it makes sense to try to hurry and put together an album or a project to lead into,” explains Martini. “Sometimes it’s less predictable when a track will blow up—maybe a song will start to pick up on TikTok and will go crazy. You have to be able to adjust to that and make moves on the fly.”
Similarly, lengthening the time between releases can also help elongate the tail of the album cycle. “If a band is out doing support tour after support tour and the momentum is in their favor to where it makes sense for them to headline on their own, you don’t want to disrupt that,” explains Jetton. Sanders agrees, adding, “Getting the band out on the road and in front of people can help elongate the cycle and drive late discovery, especially if they continue to play to more and more people.“
Snacks between meals
Keeping your fans engaged is the key to growing a lasting fanbase, so if the artist is seeing gains by touring or with a viral hit toward the end of an album cycle, it’s important to react to those gains accordingly, ideally by releasing new music in smaller iterations (singles and EPs).
When it comes to reading and reacting to the demands of the audience, hip-hop artists may have it a bit easier. Due to the inherent structure of the music and how it’s created, hip-hop artists are able to create and release material much more frequently than their rock counterparts. “Rock bands have a longer process with recording and mixing, whereas a rapper can take a beat and pump out a song in a day or even less,” says Martini. “It’s a little more instant gratification with hip-hop. That also helps with that singles culture—[there's a] smaller window of time needed to actually create a song.”
For a rock band without easy access to a studio or additional material on hand ready to be recorded, labels have a few additional tools in their kit to help elongate the cycle and keep interest fresh. “We’ve accelerated odds-and-ends EPs—B-sides or covers, for instance—or a deluxe edition of a previous record to help keep momentum going,” says Sanders. It’s an easier way to provide fresh material that may not be on the level of the LP, but will satiate the artist’s fans for at least a little while.
In total, the right amount of time between releases is a balancing act between the artist’s productivity and the audience's appetites, and at the center of it all is a commitment to quality and consistency of the product. “Always make sure that what you are putting out there is the best that it can possibly be,” Jetton states emphatically. “Continue honing it until you get there.”