Lately, you may have been hearing about how the music industry has been undergoing some kind of metamorphosis or other, mostly pointing towards how the sales and distribution of new content are being handled. These aspects have certainly been getting a lot of focus from all ends (artists vs. commercial vs. consumer), especially since the advent of peer-to-peer file sharing, which has largely stripped profits from supporting the artists responsible for the productions. But… where in the infrastructure are these changes taking place?
Have you noticed that there’s been a slow shift and reversion towards releasing singles rather than putting out a full album? There hasn’t been a complete crossover or official declaration, but many artists are starting to catch on; the fans want new stuff all the time, and they tend to depend on the internet and digital outlets to stay tuned-in and to, almost wholly, supplement their acquisition process. Meaning that there has been a steady decline in sales of physical formats (vinyl, CDs, tape cassettes) as the younger generations tend to subscribe to either purchased (or pirated) downloads of musical content and “follow” the projects’ updates via homegrown websites and various social media.
The Return to Singles
These factors don’t have to be limiting, however. By taking advantage of social media concepts, many artists have been able to develop a more intimate relationship with their fans, keeping them updated on recording process, upcoming shows/tours, forthcoming releases, and the like. Some artists still, have noticed the gradual trend back to the days (“Golden Oldies” of the 1950s and ‘60s) when Billboard’s music charts were something everyone looked to for a heads up on new output and the hottest singles. There is evidence of this through Billy Corgan’s vision for the current project he has outlined for alternative rock band, The Smashing Pumpkins, entitled “Teargarden by Kaleidyscope.” Corgan has explained that his intention for “Teargarden…” is to graduate from the “old-fashioned way” of recording and releasing “12-15 songs, etc. in one small package” and instead, release a couple tracks every year for a couple of years, while maintaining a consistent theme or concept. Essentially, this “album” will be broken up as singles sometimes accompanied by art or video, managing to consistently engage the audience and almost automatically subscribe them to The Smashing Pumpkins’ subsequent outputs, as they begin to anticipate and imagine the infinite possibilities of future tracks and developments of the project as a whole.
Singles vs. Albums
This subject of releasing current or contemporary material as either singles or full-length albums has certainly struck some controversial chords over the past few years. We want it to be clear that both approaches have their benefits, and neither would be considered “most successful” in their own right. It is really all up to how these methods of distribution are implemented by the label and/or artist. For instance, Canadian post-rock band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, has always been known to release full-length albums, which are consciously presented in such a way that the audience is compelled to experience the album as a whole, starting and completing the full story arc that was intended by the musicians. I certainly don’t see this entity conforming to the “singles” distribution method anytime soon, but other bands like The Smashing Pumpkins and Red Hot Chili Peppers seem to be shifting gears a bit to try to tap into the younger generation’s short attention spans, and hunger for brand new, shiny ear candy. Singles are not destroying the industry or the concept of ‘the album’; just like the U.S. economy has been in need of “stimulus packages,” the music industry is hoping to re-stimulate sales and interest in purchasing music, with much focus on the youth’s trends lately. Both methods obviously have a place in today’s industry, but be sure to keep both in mind and use them to your advantage, and don’t discount or discredit the alternative. Why not experiment with both possibilities to compare your own results? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below!