There are countless articles out there talking about how the music industry has been transformed by the “digital age”. How does this influence the frequency and the format of your releases? What are the best ways to release music as an independent musician?
A single is just what it sounds like, a single song that is released all on its own. Sometimes, an artist may put out a second song along with the single, which would be the single’s B-Side. This B-side term comes from the days of vinyls, where one side was the popular hit song (A-side), and the reverse side was a lesser known song that the label wanted to promote.
Extended Plays, or EP’s, are a handful of songs but not enough to be a full-length album. The EP usually runs 30 minutes or less.
Long Plays, or LP’s, are the format that most people think of when you say “an album”. These are usually longer than 30 minutes and can have anywhere from 8 to 20+ tracks.
So which format is right for you or your band? Read on.
Caught in the Swell
You have to assess how you fit in to the musical landscape, which is insanely saturated with artists from all levels and their releases right now.
As anyone with a Bandcamp.com fan account will tell you—there’s a TON of music being released every day.
No, not all of it is exceptional. Not all of it is really that inspired. But it’s there, screaming at subscribers and music-seekers at nearly the speed of light.
Add to this the fact that people, most of us in this age, have dwindling attention spans and diminishing patience.
You want to get your music and your musical identity out there, in the public’s face, and stay there. But how?
“We are experiencing history’s highest rate of change. So push harder, act sooner, and never give up.” – Ray Kurzweil
Back in the Day
The traditional rock-star yarn usually involves The Band playing small gigs in pubs, dives, or backyard parties. Slowly, through hard work and a buzz starting to build up, The Band is invited to open for The Mega Band at a huge stadium concert. From there, The Band begins to blow up; in the next year or so you start seeing more of The Band on MTV, hear more of their singles on the radio, and see their album and merch in every retail store you visit.
Of course, this was back in the day, and is the stereotypical, cliche, tired old tale about rock or pop stardom.
The only thing that is relevant from this story to today’s music sphere is establishing a presence, but as you’ll often hear most old-timers whinge about—times were simpler then, the pace was slower and people had a lot more patience.
I don’t know if it’s really that we’ve become less patient, or if it’s the fact that we’re constantly bombarded with advertising at every turn now that we are in a state of immediate connectivity through Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.
We’ve adopted more stringent mental filters in response, I believe, so we are more likely to reject foreign information that comes our way that doesn’t seem critical or super interesting (e.g. “hey guys, check out my new metalcore album!”).
What is important to realize is that although you put your heart. soul, time and life-experience into your new music, to many people it’s just another bid for their attention that can be lumped in with the thousands of other ad placements and brain-junk Facebook videos they see daily.
Where Do You Stand?
When I was in my twenties and first beginning to think people might actually be interested in hearing the brooding goth-metal I was formulating in my bedroom studio, I had really ambitious ideas for double-disc concept-albums where all of the tracks segued into one another, were demarcated by sweeping, atmospheric soundscapes that gently unfolded, and took the listener on a sonic sojourn through many moods and evolving worlds of sound.
Not only would that have been such a huge amount of work to self-produce that I might have flunked all of my college courses, it may not have even been worth it as an unknown artist.
Things are just moving too fast now. You need to be realistic about who you are.
If you’re an established band, and by that I mean you have hundreds of fans across the globe, your fans will likely wait patiently for you to create full-length LP’s.
This is because your band/brand is ingrained in their minds at some deeper level and although you take 2, 3 or even 10 years to release new material (*cough* Tool *cough“), no one has really forgotten you exist.
On the other hand, if you are just starting out or have a tiny fan-base, it makes more sense to go the route of EP’s and singles. This way, you’re steadily building momentum, you’re vigilantly kindling and stoking a small fire that will hopefully grow and spread.
If you reach a point to where there is a lot of fan support, and possibly a good, independent label behind you, then I think the whole enchilada, full-length LP is something worth giving to your fans.
Otherwise, the undertaking of a full-length album for a relatively unknown, un-established artist is a huge investment of time and effort without proportionate or likely return.
Quality or Quantity?
The key to building a presence may be in putting out less material but far more often.
However, don’t just throw any old song out there and call it a single, just because you want to release something every new moon!
Pick your best tracks. Take some time, maybe 2 or 3 months, to really work on arranging, tracking and production. Release good solid singles a few times a year.
Get enough material, and you could put it out as an album (e.g. “Singles 2018-2019”). Sell the album on Bandcamp with a slick t-shirt or something as an incentive, get creative.
If you’re cranking out a handful of quality songs in a shorter amount of time, do EP’s!
If you are working on an EP, you don’t have to leave your fans hanging. You can debut each song from the EP as they come piping hot out of the oven. It’s a good way to build anticipation. Once again, you can plug some cool merchandise along the way.
A good example of this is the way the band Obsydians is promoting and structuring their debut EP. These guys were members of the very well known Swiss metal band Sybreed. Even so, as a new incarnation of their musical work, they are starting from (nearly) scratch, and give some good cues for emerging artists.
Then again, there are artists out there who are maniacs and can easily write 20 to 30 tracks in a season. Besides wondering how the hell they do this, I think they should just go ahead an release it as LP’s. But for other mere mortals, especially those of us with day-jobs, school, and family, it makes life a lot more balanced and easier to just focus on one small gem at a time while keeping up the momentum.
The more often you keep popping up with a quality single or EP the more your audience will anticipate and think about you. If you’re underground and only emerge once every four years with an LP, you’re less likely to engage a broader audience or keep yourself from being forgotten.
Trim the Fat
With the back in the day model of music releases, there was a lot of filler or fluff padding full-length albums, especially by major artists who were sort of flashes in the pan. Some songs just felt like they were slapped together to meet the record label’s expectation.
As an independent musician, you have no obligation to do this. Just release your best stuff and the music that your fans will really enjoy.
You will also be able to gauge fan response when you’re doing more frequent, small releases. You’ll be able to hone in on which tracks do better, and that could inform which direction you want to steer your music to be more successful and to reach more people.
This kind of dynamic feedback would also give you a sense of whether or not it would be a good investment to produce a full-length LP in the future.
Although it sucks, the reality is that you could invest a whole lot of time, effort and money on your band’s full-length LP, realize no one is into it (or it wasn’t promoted well enough), and the band breaks up in bitter discouragement. If you are a solo act this sort of rejection or failure to launch causes you to give up on your passion for good. I have seen this happen to very talented people.
Keep it Comin’!
Having a steady momentum through debuting a new song every 2 to 3 months, all while engaging your audience through social media, is a solid suggestion for the emerging or lesser known artist.
The time in between songs, you can pique the interest of your followers by posting “studio clips” of you or your band rehearsing or tracking snippets of the new song.
Realizing that we are being inundated by a rushing stream of data every time we look at a screen will help you understand how your music factors in.
Best of luck!
Let me know in the comments if there has been a particular strategy in terms of releases that has worked well for you!