Quality vs. Quantity: Why artistes are preferring to churn out singles instead of albums
A host of artistes are embracing this new musical paradigm, preferring to release a few singles first, before even starting their work on a new album
In 2019, when the popular rock band 'Incubus' first revealed the group's plans for releasing their new music and latest EP, 'Trust Fall (Side B)', their bassist Ben Kenney made a striking statement that many artistes have evidently appeared to resonate with in the past few years, across multiple genres, from pop sensation Camila Cabello to country superstar Sam Hunt.
Kenney revealed, "We [Incubus] have our own studio now, and we love to record and explore and experiment. It's just a great situation." The bassist also added, "But we don't want to get stacked up in a studio making an album. We have to adapt our process 'cause the albums themselves don't actually make as big a splash as they used to."
That "big splash" that Kenney was referring to is what is currently driving most popular commercial artistes to embrace a newer (and better) music model - releasing multiple singles over a short period of time versus taking many months to record and produce a full-length album. It currently seems to be a more engaging and viable solution for both the artistes and the fans, and the music industry is slowly but surely witnessing the glacial death of the LP (Long Play) record as we know it.
An album is now considered an endangered species, doomed to be usurped by its smarter, faster, better musical successor — the single.
The old, traditional album release model usually consisted of artistes rolling out a solitary teaser single in the months leading up to an album drop, and they would then release a second track to coincide with the LP’s release. However now, more than ever, it’s all about instantaneous fan engagement and throwing out easily-digestible content.
Camila Cabello famously churned out six songs before her debut LP dropped, Cardi B similarly had four singles, and the Simon Cowell-assembled boy band 'PrettyMuch' have been single-generating machines pretty much, with 18 singles and 3 EPs to date, without even a single LP to their name.
In a frantic world driven by streaming and social media, staying in touch with your audience is paramount.
“Traditionally artists would go a long time between album projects, disappear and then come back as a big event,” revealed Robbie Snow of Hollywood Records (Demi Lovato, Bea Miller). “In this day and age, we try to keep things flowing so artists almost never go away. Fans want to be engaged constantly with artistes that they like.”
“In the past, it was about vying for fans’ dollars,” adds Larry Mattera of Warner Bros. “Now it’s about vying for fans’ time – time spent consuming our repertoire, rather than our competitors’ repertoire.” Even rising stars know this now - breakout country music sensation Sam Hunt released five singles in the leadup to his sophomore album, admitting - "Putting out music as it's made, versus holding it until an album's finished, allows me to be more timely and maintain balance."
Putting out more than 10 songs at once seems like a gamble in a world where “people’s attention spans are the size of a period,” according to songwriter Eskeerdo (of Fifth Harmony and Kendrick Lamar fame). “All your music is entirely consumed in a week – if you’re lucky,” he quips.
Ilan Rubin, the drummer for 'Nine Inch Nails' / 'Angels & Airwaves' had a novel concept in mind when the time came to release his solo album 'Heart Mind Body & Soul'. Rubin chose to release it in four separate parts, with 'Heart', 'Mind' & 'Body' already released as of now, and the fourth installment 'Soul' on the way. The way Rubin rationalized it, people would appreciate the music way more if it was released in easily digestible chunks, as opposed to a full-length album that usually takes an hour out of your day.
So, releasing multiple tracks over a short time period would appear to be the safest bet - it also allows music labels to gauge the listeners' response. Ideally speaking, after a week or two of audiences reacting to their music on streaming platforms and social media, an artiste would be able to determine which of their songs are the strongest performers, and thus focus promotional efforts on those tracks accordingly.
But it's still very much a model that requires constant tweaking - sharing too many previews could actually lessen the impact of an album release. If listeners have already heard a third of your new LP, it could potentially make the album seem less fresh and exciting, if not anticlimactic. And fewer new songs also throw up fewer reasons to stream a new record. So while it's still a transitionary phase for the music industry, we can safely say that reports of the full-length LP's demise aren't really that premature anymore. Here's to many more shorter and sweeter gestation periods!