When the emphasis on releases turned from singles to albums, the length of time between CD releases increased accordingly. The new music industry requires new thinking regarding song releases.
Excerpt adapted from Music 3.0, A Survival Guide for Making Music in the Internet Age by Bobby Owsinski, published by Hal Leonard Books.
[Ed note: Throughout this excerpt there are references to M1.0, M2.0, etc. Owsinski defines these as follows: Music 1.0 is the first generation of the music biz, where the product was vinyl, the artist had no direct contact with the buyer, and radio was the primary source of promotion. M1.5 is the second generation, where the product was primarily CDs. M2.0 saw the beginnings of digital music and peer-to-peer networks. M3.0 is the current generation, in which the artist can communicate, interact, and sell directly to the fan.]
M3.0 requires new thinking regarding song releases. If we go back to the ’50s, vinyl singles had a notoriously fast manufacturing turnaround time, despite the labor-intensive process required to make a vinyl record. At that time, it was not uncommon to have a single (the small 7-inch “45” with a song on each side) on the streets within days of recording (and sometimes even writing) the song! Of course, the quick turnaround was helped by the fact that the song was usually recorded in a few hours, since there was little or no overdubbing, so it was possible to record a song on Monday and have it on the radio on Wednesday of the same week. Perhaps the last time a record turnaround happened this quickly was with the 1970 release of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s “Ohio,” documenting the Kent State shootings.
When the emphasis on releases turned from singles to albums, the length of time between releases increased accordingly, which was natural considering that more songs were being recorded. During the M1.0 days there was a limitation on how many songs could be recorded for an album because there was a limitation of the vinyl itself. Twenty-three minutes per side was the goal to get the loudest and highest-fidelity record. Any longer, and the noise floor of the record increased as the volume decreased. As a result, artists were confined to about 45 to 50 minutes per album, but consumers didn’t seem to mind since they still felt they were getting value if they liked the songs.
The time limitation lifted with the introduction of the CD in M1.5. When first released, the CD had a maximum playing time of 74 minutes (the number rumored to be chosen because it could fit the entire Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony), which was later increased to a full 80 minutes. No longer saddled with the vinyl album’s built-in time limitation, artists were able to stretch out and add more and longer songs to each album release. This soon proved to be a double-edged sword, since it now took longer to finish recording each release because of the inclusion of all those extra songs.
But having more songs doesn’t necessarily make a better record, and it even backfired regarding the artist’s popularity. While 40 to 45 minutes was a time bite easily digestible for a listener, 60 to 70 was not. The extra songs were not only little appreciated but, even worse, thought of as mere filler. The consumer began to think (sometimes rightfully so) that the songs were there just for the sake of being there, and they began to feel ripped off. Over the years, the time between releases gradually lengthened to the point that a superstar act might take several years between releases. While this might’ve worked in M1.5 and 2.0, that strategy would never work in M3.0, as the tribe has an insatiable appetite for product. What’s worse, the tribe can actually dissipate if the product does not come at regular intervals – the shorter the better.
And with CD sales down, the album format itself seems to be going the way of the vinyl single of the ’50s and ’60s. Consumers in M3.0 buy only the songs they want, and therefore, they buy singles.
Which brings about a new philosophy regarding record making and how they are released. In M3.0, artists record fewer songs but have more frequent releases. It’s better to release two songs every 6, 8, or 12 weeks than to wait a year for one release of ten songs. This benefits the artist in the following ways:
1) The artist keeps the tribe happy by giving them a constant supply of new music. New music keeps the tribe interested and keeps the buzz and dialog going.
2) The artist gains increased exposure for every song. In a ten song album release, it’s easy for a fan, reviewer, or radio programmer to focus on just one or two songs, while the others fall in priority. When releases are in twos, each song gets equal attention and has the ability to live and die on its own merits.
3) The album still can still be compiled after all the songs have been individually released. At the end of the year, or at the end of the artist’s creative cycle, the songs are then put into an album that can be released in any format. The advantage is that the album has lots of advanced exposure and publicity thanks to numerous single releases. And it can be treated as a marketing event, which is also to the artist’s advantage.
Make no mistake, the album format is not dead in M3.0, but the emphasis has shifted to the individual song.
Combining his music and recording experience with an accessible writing style, Bobby Owsinski has become one of the best selling authors in the music recording industry with 22 books that are now staples in audio recording, music, and music business programs in colleges around the world. Read Bobby’s blog: music3point0.blogspot.com.
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