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« What If Radiohead And TOMS Shoes Had A 'Love Child'? | Main | Introduction: How I Became a Broadway Musician »
Wednesday
Apr132011

The Problem With Releasing A Single Each Month

This is a matter that I’ve struggled with, going back and forth. Should I release full length albums in this new music era or should I be releasing singles once per month? I was leaning towards releasing a single each month for one reason: consistent fan engagement. It’s good to always have something new to talk about with your fans!

But then, I ran into a problem - a few weeks isn’t enough time to promote a song in any kind of impactful/effective way, especially when you are an independent artist. You’ve barely promoted that song before you’ve moved onto the next one. And from the fan engagement standpoint, I found many of them didn’t know I had certain songs out. For whatever reason, all of the fans don’t pay attention all of the time. So if there’s no sustained attention/focus on the promotion of a particular release, it’s hard for people to know it exists.

Another important point is that this business has always been about THE SONG. And when you have a great song, it’s just not possible to see its full potential realized (in spreading out there) when you give it only a short promotional window. 

So then, the question became…how do I solve the need to have something new to engage the fans with and the need to keep promotional focus on one release in order to maximize its impact in the marketplace at large

For one, I think releasing an album (a body of works/songs) is necessary to accomplish this. Forget that people are going to buy whatever single song they like on your album and not necessarily the whole thing. That’s going to happen in this market. The issue isn’t point of sale. The issue is promotion. I think the album is necessary for promotional purposes. With an album, I can create a longer window for gaining awareness and discovery by new fans. And, at the same time, always have something new for the current fans, but pointing them to the same release…which will also help them discover the album and dive deeper into it. 

With an album, you can have something new to announce/promote to the fans and public each week, such as:

  • Album release (obviously for start)
  • “Making of” “behind the scenes” videos from making the album (you could have 2 or three - that’s 2 or 3 weeks of promotional time)
  • One free song from album for email announcement 
  • Upcoming shows 
  • New music videos (one video per song per week on Youtube - 10 song album, that’s 10 weeks of promotional time, it doesn’t have to be an expensive video - just interesting) 
  • Cover contest (invite fans to cover a specific song for a prize - you can do it again for another week of promotional time)
  • Tie a specific song with a charitable cause

You can go on and on…there are so many creative ways when you have a collection of songs (an album) that you’re working with to promote as opposed to just having one song. The prolonged attention you put on and generate for that album is only going to raise sales and raise your profile as an artist to the public as you progress. Moving on too quickly can really hurt your progress as an artist. I remember reading an article once about Montell Jordan. They had released “This Is How We Do It” and it was a major success. But they moved too quick on promoting a new release and it didn’t work because people were still into “This Is How We Do It”. Radio was still just spinning “This Is How We Do It” (and I’m willing to bet that it was because the market was still discovering that song; hence, the demand).  Not respecting the promotional window ended up hurting his career. 

Each release is like a spark. So you have to take time to fan the flames and let it burn. When it starts fizzling out and you’ve run out of creative ways to prolong attention on it…then start planning the next release. You can’t have fire if all you do is make sparks, but wont fan the flames. Just a thought. 

—-

Minh is an artist, producer, and entrepreneur based in the DC area. His official site is www.reachminh.com

Reader Comments (17)

Great points. I like the idea of finding middle ground by releasing shorter EPs on a more frequent basis... This allows you to maintain promotional focus on a particular project for as long as is needed, but also let's you keep things lean so that you can quickly move on to the next project when you decide it's time.

There's definitely no silver bullet, and I think each artist really needs to form their own unique model moving forward.

April 13 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Bates

Instead of one album or flagship release a year, say an artist breaks it into two sister EP's or mini-albums. It seems to me that there would be more consistent fan engagement, and one could tie in the benefits you listed in your bullets.

Though for some reason, mini-albums and EP's often seem to generate less excitement. Do you think these ideas are scalable to a smaller level of an EP-sized release?

April 13 | Unregistered CommenterWes

You make some great points there, Minh.

Another possible strategy for those who can't get an album together very easily, might be to release some singles spaced apart more, to allow for that promotional window you speak of .... maybe one every 3 months might work? A single could still be boosted with some additional material ... maybe a 'b' side, video, or remixable version.

And what about the EP? Perhaps more affordable than an album, and could include a single release off of it.

Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts on this.

April 13 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Hol

Of course, the biggest problem with releasing a single each month is that it's not enough, but I really like the question of promotion windows you raise here. At World Around Records, as we've expanded our reach and our relationship with DJs and bloggerators and podcastifiers, we've stopped looking at "promotional windows" altogether.

Now, a caveat: we've got a couple advantages that DIY musicians don't, especially in the form of a team. I work with a number of artists who are already running their own direct-to-tastemaker promo campaigns and have built their own media relationships. We've also got a big, prolific roster to work with so I don't have to be creating all the content myself while I promote it. I will pause to pour out some Jameson for all the homies who do...

So about halfway through 2010, we totally abandoned promotion windows. Every project is it's own full-time, ongoing promotional campaign and you know what? It's surprisingly easy and stoopid effective, too. Keeping track of a dozen or so simultaneous campaigns is really not that complicated, thanks to modern miracles like Google Docs.

The reality is, month-long promo windows are dinosaur behavior patterns left over from the days of monthly magazines, and depending on your genre, most of your potential customers weren't even born yet when those stopped mattering.

Building for a constant hype cycle affords you a lot more flexibility. If you've got a solid track getting a great response, don't stop pushing it. After all, let's be real, it's not like you could conceivably run out of new spots to submit your music to. Our blog list is inching towards 500 with no end in sight. Keep pushing what's really converting, and send out your new single to all the outlets who gave love to your last one.

If your best results came from your single in June 2010, you should still be pushing that every single month. There is no reason to be working sequentially in 2011....and there is definitely no reason to be playing by any rules except "Don't Be An Asshole."

April 13 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Albums are probably the way to go, but you might consider "mini-albums" (approx 30 minutes of music) if your primary distribution is digital rather than plastic. As a listener, I also find them a convenient way to sample new musicians.

April 13 | Unregistered CommenterPN NJ

'Every project is it's own full-time, ongoing promotional campaign' - absolutely. That's it.

April 13 | Registered CommenterTim London

Dammit, Justin beat me to it! Ha!

First, this article gave food for thought. I am on the path to once a month releases once my band gets rolling. It's great to see some real life thought on this.

My take on it is to mix both once a month releases with full album promotions. After enough singles have been released, create an album that has songs that haven't been previously released. Create value in the download plus all the previous single campaigning can funnel into this.

And, echoing what Justin said, a single campaign doesn't need to die at the end of the month. You can re-release the single, re-fire the campaign. Like Cee Lo, he remade a new video for his viral hit. Rekindled interest in it.

Also, from what you said, you have a ten week campaign releasing one video a week. Now you've run into the problem that your campaign is now over for the full album. Why not one song a month feeding back into selling the full length album? Then you have a one year promotional campaign for the album.

Such a great post, Minh! This has really got me thinking about how I want to promote my music!

All of your comments are great! I think an important thing to think about is this: The major labels (and management) with all of their resources and connections still has to spend a great deal of time - a year or more - to promote a record to a point of significant impact/impression on the public. Even longer if the artist has a truly different/new sound.

Now, we (the independents) usually have less resources and connections...so, the only thing that can make up for our lack of resources is giving ourselves more time and having a long-term marketing plan. You (or your artist) could very well have a song/sound that would be the next wave...but that's not going to happen if you hop haphazardly from one release to another. I don't think this is a matter of "old thinking" vs. "new thinking"...this is a matter of marketing - and when it comes to marketing, the same principles apply no matter what era you're in. Sure, it takes on different forms and means...but the time needed to properly market something and the nature of human response will never change.

I think, no matter how many connections you have, everyone still has a job to do (meaning your connections) and not everyone is going to jump on board immediately to help you get the kind of profile that you can get. I'd venture to say, most want to see where it's going to go first. Case in point, Justin Timberlake and Timbaland took a risk and came out with an incredible new sound with Futuresex/Lovesounds. Everyone thought it was a joke and it took a bit for them to break that record out. Justin talked about how his label chief wasn't happy with it when he first presented him with the record. And Justin himself had to call stations to let them know that it's not a joke to get them to consider playing "Sexyback". But it caught on because they were persistent.

Another case in point, it took a long time for Lady Gaga's team to get her sound and style through. But they took their time and put everything they had into it. And they didn't switch up. We can go on and on with so many examples of this.

All that said, I should add that you should take in what I'm saying with a grain of salt. Because there are times when you do have to go back to the drawing board when something isn't working. But when we do have something great on our hands, we have to take our time and fully maximize the market potential in that piece of work. It could change our musical world. It could be another great story to celebrate!

April 13 | Registered CommenterMinh D. Chau

Great point you raised re promo window's. This article prompted me to realise how useful it would be to create a space online where these kind of issues could be raised and discussed with a bunch of other independent music artists. The group is called 'Era of The Artist' and you can join by clicking the "ask to join" button in the top right hand corner. In the first day people are already posing business type questions that others are helping them with so I think this is really going to work.

Come along and join if you like https://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_208522732499234&ap=1

April 14 | Unregistered CommenterLee Safar

Minh, you will become my new best friend! I contemplated this issue in June 2010 before I began working on my first album. For three months of writing and recording material, I saw other artists releasing music on a constant basis, and I felt as if I was falling behind. But like you said, the next month, something new, and it seemed like the other records had fizzled. Also, with so many artists creating and releasing new music so fast...it almost devalues the music in a way. Think about it, it took a great deal of creativity to come out with Avatar, and people went crazy for it. Same thing with the iPad, it's a product that took time to develop, but people are appreciating the benefits of a full product. I might be reaching a little, but maybe not.

At the end of the day, it really is about how each artist sees it working for them. Despite all of the new releases in a short span of time, I decided to continue with the album, and post almost half the songs from the album on my website, some as downloads, some streaming only, to generate interest in the music. But you know another reason I wanted a full album...so I would have plenty of material to perform. Time and time again we see albums selling more, the more the artist performs.

Glad you posted this, and I enjoy reading all of the comments and opinions.

- Jared

April 14 | Unregistered CommenterJared Jones

Thanks for posting this, really enjoyed reading it! Definitely got me thinking and gave me some new ideas.

-Sean

April 15 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Sean

You definitely bring up some great points to ponder! I've been debating this myself as I prepare to record new music. But you're right about not enough promotional time for one song a month. I'm also doing all the recording, performing, producing, etc so one month per song really isn't a lot, and I'd like to release some quality recordings. I already put new music that I'm working on up on YouTube weekly, so releasing a single every month seems a little redundant.

I have seen it work for other artists though, so I suppose if you're already doing it and it ain't broke, don't fix it.

April 15 | Unregistered CommenterSarah LaCroix

Minh, thank you for the good points in this article.

My big problem, though, is understanding what is interesting for other people. I know what I would love to see in a "behind the scene video" from my favourite bands, but I have found out that I either film an entire day of recording (which, for me, is not feasible) or the result of "hey, pick up the camera as we do a guitar take" leaves me dry. The video seems unnatural and constructed, because the camera is there and everyone is aware of it.

Did you have the same problem? If so, how did you worked your way around it?

April 15 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Mas

Great article.

There are a couple things missing here though. One is that an album is not (for me) just a collection of songs from the past year (at least a good one isn't). Another is promoting an album is fundamentally different than promoting a single. Because for so long the majors have been delivering two singles with 40 minutes of filler & are actually promoting singles instead of albums, things get a bit confusing on those points. But album listeners & singles listeners are different types. Same with the review outlets for the two.

I would say in general if you are wanting to try the single a month thing I'd definitely suggest putting some extras in the can before you start. Maybe have 5 spares so that no matter what you will have a song available on the first Tuesday of the month (or whatever your release schedule may be). But it does also seem like right now people are more into YouTube than MP3s so it might make more sense to do a video every month as the monthly single promotion while simultaneously running your album promotion.

One thing to remember about promotion is to someone that hasn't heard it before, it's still brand new & (at least potentially) exciting.

I would say that I think there is a problem with over promoting & unless it's a pretty over the top idea (like a new song everyday for a month with it's own special mailing list) contacting fans more than once a month borders on spam.

Hey Simon, the more people I talk to, the more I realized that those who aren't in music are fascinated by how a certain musical sound came about and the final result after some "fine tuning". For example, let's say you've sat there and you came up with a nice guitar riff, out of that guitar riff, you came up with a chorus for a song, may be even a verse. So what you may want to do is record, but talk to the camera..."Hey guys, so I just came up with a pretty cool guitar riff. It goes something like this..." (play the riff)..."this is probably gonna turn into a pretty cool song...so, check out what I came up with"... now the rest of your video should consist of glued together footages of you writing the chorus and/or verse on paper from different angles with the "final" (albeit rough) song playing behind it. And there you have it, a behind the scenes video that fans would be interested in. You don't even have to showcase the full song. And when that song goes on your album completely finished...your fans will have a particular attachment to it because they sorta saw how it was born. I hope that helps.

April 16 | Registered CommenterMinh D. Chau

While I like the idea of spreading out releases and promotion so as to allow more time for a song to spread into the conscience of the audience, the idea of a Release Dates is a hold over from the major label model.

It makes sense for corporate logistics to set the release of a certain album or single on a certain day, because the sales/marketing department also has 20-30 other albums or singles coming out that quarter, and they need to budget their time accordingly.

An independent artist doesn't have such a large quantity of diverse and unrelated products, so the artist can promote their products based on metrics that aren't tied to quarterly earning statements reviewed by stockholders.

I think the better idea would be Release Goals. You release a single or video, and use that to grow the audience via email or twitter followers or facebook likes or whatever your metric of choice. You then release the next song or single when you reach x number of new signups. This engages the audience to spread the song farther because they want to hear what is next.

Release Goals not Release Dates

April 17 | Unregistered CommenterFoster Hagey

This whole focus is totally wrong. Indie artists should throw out the concept of releasing a single in the traditional sense and should follow the TV model. Shows like The Voice are flooding the charts here in Australia and in fact have blown wide open the myths of promotional campaigns. You don't need a momentum. Your track either sells or it does not. If it does great if not you bury it and move on to the next. This is the infomercial approach to advertising. You can use Youtube or indeed TV but make a weekly show and release your music off the back of it. If you can pull in a million views each week that is worth around $3000 and you can sell downloads or merchandise off the back of it. Leave normal record label practices to the majors. They will soon abandon it as it is a dying model.

May 16 | Unregistered CommenterKehinde

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