The question that few artists think about when launching their career in the music business is whether to release a series of singles or a full length CD. This is a very interesting topic and a very important one. It is also a changing one; the reason being is that year’s back we bought strange vinyl round discs called albums. These strange round vinyl discs played great but the idea of actually selecting a single song to play on the album, is not so simple. We had to find the wide dark groove that separated each song, and then we had to place what was called a tonearm which had this sharp thing called a needle on the groove. We would do this for each song on the side of the album that we listened to. After that these smaller silver round things called CD’s hit the market, and we could simply just push a button or easily program them to play whatever song(s) we desired, the CD led to the demise the album.
So now we are buying CD’s instead of albums. The invention of what’s called digital music changed the music listener’s experience. Some people claim that one sounds better than the other. A digital medium verses an analog medium, which really is a vinyl album verses a digital CD and it's a lengthy subject and it's not on topic. This is about whether a band or artist should release a series of singles or full length CD’s. Well that is a big question. We as baby boomers were brought up to buy albums and full length CD’s and we still do buy CD’s, but rarely an album is sold theses days (if it can even be found) it’s now more for the very few people who claim there is a sonic difference.
The CD is fine to buy, but to keep up on the times the MP3 digital format came out and changed everything once again. Yes, you can still purchase MP3 songs cataloged as a full length album or CD over the Internet through lots of sources like iTunes and Amazon. But now the option is out there to only buy the songs that you like from the full length CD or MP3 album catalog. Today MP3 sales are out selling CD sales by a widening margin. Also keep in mind what is becoming more popular and will eventually over take the CD and MP3 is something that is called digital online audio streaming. This is a system that allows you as the listener to stream songs with companies like Spotify and Apple Music over the Internet instead of having to purchase the full length CD or MP3. Again we are now asking the question, as the artist is it better to the release a series of singles or the full length CD?
As an Audio Engineer and a Studio Producer SoundBurst Studios, my take on this is to examine the market trend that is ever changing. The artist needs to change with the times to stay relevant. People are not buying those vinyl discs called albums anymore, and CD sales are in the rapid decline. But MP3 sales are still doing fine, however you must keep in mind that you now no longer have to buy the full album or CD, and with digital internet streaming it is a song by itself that can and most often be heard over the entire album. The question persists, what is the artist to do in todays market? Studies show that people in general prefer to buy the entire full length CD or MP3 formatted cataloged as an album from their favorite bands. But those people are diminishing as younger listeners are looking into the latest and most convenient way to enjoy music. They are buying singles and select songs from the full length CD at a bigger rate everyday. Some bands release a single off of a full length CD to get their fans excited for an upcoming full length CD. They will usually tour to sell more CD’s, which is great. But still the fan is now looking at the option of just buying the songs that they like over the full length CD. So again (and this is the last time) I ask what should the artist of today do, release the full length CD or a series of singles?
Here it is, if the artist is huge a Beyonce, Sting, Lady Gaga, etc. they should release the full length CD because they know they have a strong base of loyal followers that will buy it. But if the artist is new to the industry the best way to get out there is to release a series of singles. What did I say, singles and not a full length CD? Yes! Every time a single is released there is a better chance for people evaluate it and the artists has a better chance to get heard. If a CD has say twelve songs on it, in today’s fast paced world the market wants the top song(s) which are not even established yet. Example, the American hard rock band Audioslave released an album that was getting little recognition. After the album was out there they decided to release a single song, which wasn't on the album. The Producer decided to give it a shot, the song was called “Doesn’t Remind Me of Anything” the song got heard, why? It was a single and this single became a smash hit and led the full length CD called “Out of Exile” to a triple platinum status in 2006. The crazy part is that Audioslave is a big band with a large following; it took a single to get the full length album release selling. After this happened the single was quickly put on the album.
My final thoughts, after being in the music business for a long time, I am quickly realizing that the music business will always change. It used to be that the artist would put songs together that were written to be heard in order to create a full vision of their art. An album like Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of The Moon” is a great example. But, those days are gone, people moved on to now buying a select group of songs from the album. The artist now realizes it’s time to forget the vision of any entire full-length album being heard in the song order that the artist speaks and breathes and with a musical concepts of flow, tempo, dynamics and so on. But now it is a business and it is singles that sell, yes a great single can sell an album as we saw in the example with the album “Out of Exile” but it is the single that has the power in present times.
So if was an upcoming artist I would say release singles till you get a big enough following. Then release the full-length version CD and MP3 album catalog all while keeping a few singles that are not on that full-length CD or MP3 album catalog in your back pocket, you may need them one day. The single is more likely to get heard, and easier than a full-length album to promote, also they can be complied easily into a CD or a MP3 full catalog album version. It’s unfortunate that artists realistically can’t with ease release a concept CD these days, and that the idea of sitting down and enjoying a full length CD from song one till its end is over, but we live in a fast paced society and that’s just the way is, we might as well get used to it.
Drew Puzia is a multi-award winning Mix Engineer at SoundBurst Studios in Las Vegas. Drew is certified in Audio Engineering from the world renowned Berklee College of Music. His experience spans over three decades in the music industry and he has recorded and mixed countless musicians in many genres of music. Drew is the founder of SoundBurst Studios online mixing and mastering services.