The New Release Schedule

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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.
CD release
[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:

The 90-Day Album Release Planner

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How to measure success (with key performance indicators)
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Planning your album: your CD release (and post-release)

27 thoughts on “The New Release Schedule

  1. I think it’s most important to remember who your audience is.

    I like the idea of feeding your fans periodically. As a fan, I enjoy it. It’s a great way of feeling connected, and it keeps my musical metabolism working overtime. For me, I’d consume much more if more were available periodically. Additionally, I may be more hesitant to buy a whole album from a band that I’m mildly into whereas I may be more willing to buy several individual tracks over time. That being said, I’m a 28 year old male, musician, early technology adopter. I don’t imagine most 60 year olds would behave the same way.

    For our band, we are pursuing our first release as a full album. We are striving to make each track a great track, and we’ve agreed that we won’t put songs on the album that we’re not happy about. We’re also trying our best to keep a steady flow of communication coming out of the band via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, ReverbNation, etc. We periodically release acoustic tracks to serve as discussion topics and teasers. I can see this working to our advantage with merchandise as well. Instead of dumping it all at once, release it gradually.

    This article has definitely got me thinking. I’m not sure that we’d do studio releases in pairs like this article might suggest, but it’s got me wanting to at least brainstorm about new possibilities.

  2. Missing the niche markets. Even though M1 was really before recorded music, when the live show and the written music was all there was for marketing—before the CD, artists stretched the time limit of the LP, but required their fans to have better quality equipment for playback (reference Todd Rundgren’s Initiation and others, like Brian Eno, from around 1975). While not generally popular, it generated a niche of audiophiles, who aligned themselves with artists who went the extra mile to put better quality music onto their LPs.
    Those types of fans are still out there, too, buying Super Audio CD’s. So don’t forget that everything’s not about MASS marketing, where I guess your blog is only about trying to sell everything to everybody. Todd Rundgren, Eno and Bob Dylan are still consistently selling to their niche markets 35 years later. And no “day gig”, either.

  3. I’m with Tony Engel – Veilside its all about the EP thats what I do it works. This is what young bands like us our doing!!
    This is what I want from the music I listen too.

  4. We have been posting our albums for free over the past 10 years, as well as providing CD’s for the shows cover charge. This year we started our “New Single Fridays” where we release a new studio track every month.

    We have had a great deal of success over the years using this method. Being able to track listens and downloads we have had our material reach places and people all over the world that would have been impossible without digital distribution. (around a half milllion song downloads since 2000).

    You can find all of our material at:

    Thanks, and best of luck to everyone in this brutal industry.

  5. Its so wonderful to have vehicles of communication like these. Im a singer/songwriter and have just released my debut cd…i feel there are these days there are so many genres, so many outlets, so many choices, so many routes that an indie singers/songwriter/band can take, which is fantastic, yet it challenges us all to be clear about our own goals. I say set your goals [short and long term], and trust that it will all manifest in the best way for you. Thanks so much for all your insights.

  6. We’ve gone the way of the EP, since we can release material once per year that way. We record 8 songs, release 6 on CD, primarily sold at shows and keep 2 “in our pocket” for promotional singles. Once we’ve just about sold out the initial print run on the EP (about 8 months for our last one) we put the full eight available on digital media (I-tunes, Rhapsody, etc) and we’ve found those extra two songs do very well – especially with the folks who bought the CD, since they are at the shows and obviously our biggest fans. Just my two cents

  7. Well, as far as radio play as far as I know for indie artists it means mostly getting played through radio promoters, and they want to work albums or EPs not singles, so for many of us it feels we can’t just put out singles. Maybe for our existing fans, but eventually I will need to put these songs on a disc that goes out to 300-400 radio stations who don’t want to deal with singles.


    1. BINGO! we have a winner! you are correct, Dan, most radio stations want a complete CD. so i guess you record and press your CD and send ’em to radio but don’t let the “tribe” get their mitts on ’em! feed the “tribe” one song at a time, right? and don’t sell ’em at gigs, they only get one song every so often, right? wait… i don’t like music 3.0.

  8. Probably all the ways discussed would provide the all aspects of the market if you so choose. I’m just getting in the game, am a slow starter but usually stong finisher that will attempt every aspect given the ching.

  9. I can see how this works, but agree with Endy & Pete. First, there is the quality issue with downloads.
    First of all, while younger generations have grown up listening to the inferior quality of MP3’s and don’t seem to know the difference, those of us who strove for decades to produce high quality full-bandwidth audio with a wide dynamic range are quite disgusted with compressed audio. ‘May as well go back to vinyl! Actually, vinyl sounds better–just a little noisier.
    Second, there is definitely an undeniable satisfaction completing an album project–whether on the production side me, or the musician/composer.

    1. Totally.
      I have a friend who’s had a great deal of success marketing himself to an indy audience by selling vinyl copies for collectors and audiophiles, while also offering digital downloads and streaming content from his bands’ sites. This way your offering the younger generation the quick-fix, lo-fi recordings for cheap (or free) while also catering to the crowd who appreciates the whole album.

      There’s also a push towards nostalgia these days– people who grew up long after vinyl had gone out of style are now buying it to be more ‘old school’. Funny how the market and consumer aesthetic have looped back around!

  10. Know you market! I am sure there are still some M1.0 folks out there. I’m a photographer and have watched everything from the stock image agency’s to portrait sales shift over the last decade. Younger folks want digital, and often only digital. Then you show them a canvas print and their head’s explode, they “have to have it”. And will pay more for it than someone who is not interested in digital copies at all.

  11. Chris – that’s a good tip, thanks. I’m aware of ReverbNation but have a long history (and pretty good cash flow) with CDBaby. Odd that their parent company is recommending something that isn’t supported.

    I’m having quite a bit of success with YouTube videos directing traffic to my site. This is mostly for instruction videos so far but it seems that a cycle of creating a combination free YouTube video and a sellable audio track might work well. Perhaps others are already doing this?

      1. yeah, but at 35 bucks per single, it’ll get costly fast! maybe that’s why they put this article out…

    1. Does this philosophy apply to children’s music? Also is there a preferred time of year to release a children’s album? I heard that the best time to release is after Christmas and definately not after September. Is this true? Do you agree?

  12. This only makes sense if your fans are into downloading music from the internet and not everyone is. The demographics of our fan base tends towards the older age group (we play traditional Celtic music). We tried using the download card idea for three tracks about 18 months ago and it was a failure, nobody bought them because they prefer CD media to downloads.

    So make sure your fan base is into downloading music before you try this strategy.


  13. I do think Owsinski is right. It’s funny how the digital culture is actually going back to how culture used to be: where music is consumed according to how the listeners want it. Since we are returning to the singles-centered business model, then releasing songs as often as you can (vis-a-vis an album) is a more viable approach to marketing your music in the digital culture.

    Yet, I think there’s still some satisfaction to be had from producing a full length album, isn’t there? Some artists I’ve listened to even marketed the CD as a story-line, with the intro, plot twist, and ending in a sequence of a dozen or so songs.

    Plenty to think about just from this excerpt alone. Thanks for posting it.


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