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Singles Strategy Radiohead Style

The album is dead. But, isn’t that old news? Tell that to the music industry.

As a music artist – and one who develops thematic albums – the death of the full-CD is something I’ve come to terms with. In fact, I’m all right with it. Really. Only thing is, try to exercise a business strategy based on singles. The industry, overall, just hasn’t caught up. Sure, there’s iTunes, but attendant parts of such a strategy are nonexistent.

Radiohead – a leader in music marketing – recently declared their allegiance to the single-versus-album strategy. As reported the other day by the New York Times, Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke said:

“None of us wants to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again,” Mr. Yorke told the Believer, a literary magazine based in San Francisco. “Not straight off. I mean, it’s just become a real drag. It worked with ‘In Rainbows’ because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we’ve all said that we can’t possibly dive into that again. It’ll kill us.”

I’m not sure if Mr. Yorke is dedicated to the modern methodology behind the single-release strategy or is just tired of making whole albums all at once.

Personally, I’ve come to terms with the single-release strategy by seeing it as a kind of serialization. After all, it’s nothing new. Serialization dates back to the “Arabian Nights” and continues into 19th century literature with Mark Twain’s novel “Pudd’nhead Wilson,” which was serialized in Century Magazine. Other authors who have employed the practice include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Stephen King.

Nevertheless, when it comes to music tracks, there’s a kind of “Catch 22” regarding single releases that are independent of the album form. Let’s examine CD Baby’s policies on the subject, since they are a big player among indie artists.

In its FAQs, here’s what CD Baby tells its members, in response to the question “Can I release just a single into digital distribution?”:

“It would have to be treated as a 1-song album. Everything at CD Baby and at the big digital-download services is still based around the ALBUM. So you’d have to set it up as a one-song album at CD Baby, pay the $35 setup, have it for sale in our store, then sign it up into digital.”

The digital download services CD Baby is referring to, include iTunes, Rhapsody, eMusic, Amazon, Napster, Liquid Digital, Nokia and Zume, among others.

So that leaves the forward-thinking indie artist in a kind of tech purgatory. Yes, I can release singles-only on my Web site and post videos on YouTube and elsewhere. That’s good for exposure, but leaves me out of the digital mainstream, so to speak.

I’ll be interested to see what Mr. Yorke actually comes up with in practice. I do hope he turns the digital industry on its head, and shows them the way. On the other hand, CD Baby, which has done a great job for indies otherwise, may take the lead.

Let’s face it, both fans and artists are way ahead of the curve. The industry needs to catch up.

Reader Comments (7)

So they should use Bandcamp instead of CD Baby.


August 25 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Or use Tunecore, which is every bit as effective and costs less.

It seems like you're stuck on CD Baby as the only option you've got...which they ain't. Plus, remember: no corporation owes us anything.

But hey, as long as we're dreaming: it would be great if CD Baby added free compact disc manufacturing to their list of services, too.

August 25 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Bandcamp's a good suggestion. I'll check them out to see if they populate digital sites like iTunes and Rhapsody with singles-only releases.

August 25 | Unregistered CommenterAllen Shadow

Nope, but Tunecore sure will.

Bandcamp is a self-contained platform, allows artists to set prices, collect email addresses, and gives excellent Urchin/Google style metrics reports. (You can also make their media player into "widgets" to place tracks on other sites, but it's not digital distribution...that's Tunecore.)

August 25 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Yes Tunecore will work with the Single which will cost the artist 9.99 per year. So if you have that 1000 true fans who will buy then it is worth it.

Another idea though is to realize that it isn't the single that is driving the future music industry. It is the playlist, you remember those mix tapes from the 70s and 80s? Well they are the driving force of digital music sales we call them playlists instead of mix tapes but they are the same things.

Several bands working together to put out an "mixtape" style album and getting that listed on the digital sites would work out almost quite well. I am sure you can see the flaws in that as well as I.

August 26 | Unregistered CommenterNetvalar

Yes, Tunecore looks good regarding singles-only releases. The playlist approach is good. Ariel Hyatt (Ariel Publicity) has covered some interesting playlist strategies for iTunes in her newsletters []. One of the suggested approaches was, I thought, kind of unethical, since it involved embedding songs in dozens of playlists created through several accounts, some of which were dummy accounts.

A singles strategy is still necessary for a variety reasons, including band promotion, pr and marketing.

August 26 | Unregistered CommenterAllen Shadow

Dude, there is only one "playlist strategy" I'm aware of: make music that's good enough for people to include your tracks in their playlist.

August 26 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

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